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The Dictator's Shadow: Life Under Augusto Pinochetby Heraldo Munoz
Synopses & Reviews
Augusto Pinochet was the most important Third World dictator of the Cold War, and perhaps the most ruthless. In The Dictators Shadow, United Nations Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz takes advantage of his unmatched set of perspectives—as a former revolutionary who fought the Pinochet regime, as a respected scholar, and as a diplomat—to tell what this extraordinary figure meant to Chile, the United States, and the world.
Pinochets American backers saw his regime as a bulwark against Communism; his nation was a testing ground for U.S.-inspired economic theories. Countries desiring World Bank support were told to emulate Pinochets free-market policies, and Chiles government pension even inspired President George W. Bushs plan to privatize Social Security. The other baggage—the assassinations, tortures, people thrown out of airplanes, mass murders of political prisoners—was simply the price to be paid for building a modern state. But the questions raised by Pinochets rule still remain: Are such dictators somehow necessary?
Horrifying but also inspiring, The Dictators Shadow is a unique tale of how geopolitical rivalries can profoundly affect everyday life.
"Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet's reign (1973 — 1990) still resonates for its brutality and its role in pioneering controversial free-market development policies. This thoughtful retrospective explores that history from a unique perspective. Muoz, an official in the Allende government overthrown by Pinochet in 1973, found himself vainly confronting the coup with a revolver and a fistful of dynamite, dodging arrest while friends disappeared into the junta's dungeons. In the 1980s he became a leader of the moderate left opposition. His first-hand account of the political movement that, with crucial help from abroad, forced Pinochet from power in 1990, is both shrewd and inspiring. Muoz, who is now Chile's ambassador to the U.N., is measured in his condemnation of the dictatorship and cognizant of the unstable political environment that formed it. He gives the regime's economic program mixed reviews, on the one hand crediting it with reinvigorating Chile's economy while admitting that it has left most Chileans worse off. He paints Pinochet as a complex character — a canny operator, a 'man of limited intellect' and an ideological lightning rod. Combining sharp historical analysis with telling personal recollections, this is an excellent assessment of a tyrant and his legacy. Photos. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
One fall day in 1991, not long after Gen. Augusto Pinochet lost his grip on Chile, Heraldo Munoz, a socialist who had spent his life in both clandestine struggle and open opposition to the Pinochet regime, saw the old man himself approaching across a room at the Army War Academy. The former dictator had a pacemaker and was no longer Chile's president but remained commander-in-chief of the army, a post... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) he'd held since 1973. Munoz, a diplomat and intellectual, had accepted an invitation from Pinochet to give a lecture, not expecting the general to attend. When Pinochet attempted to greet him after his talk, Munoz abruptly turned his back. "I could not bring myself to shake his hand," Munoz writes. "That was my closest brush with the man who had had such a baleful influence on my life — and on the lives of a whole generation of Chileans." This anger, verging on disgust, toward Pinochet is the driving force in Munoz's meticulous and vivid new book, "The Dictator's Shadow." He calls it a "political memoir," but it reads more as a compendium of crimes, whose specificity — names and dates, weapon calibers, entry wound locations, torturers' techniques — has a prosecutorial flavor, as if Munoz seeks to secure the conviction that Pinochet, who died in December 2006, successfully avoided during his lifetime. Munoz's impulse seems justified given the political climate in Chile, where Pinochet's legacy remains an open debate. The leftist leaders who came to power after Pinochet, now led by President Michelle Bachelet, galvanized popular support in response to the dictator's repression. Many suffered personally. Bachelet herself was imprisoned, and her father was tortured in jail and died in captivity. But other Chileans remember Pinochet as the economic savior who embraced privatization and free-market economics, allowing Chile the robust growth that made it the envy of other South American countries. "The agonizing question is: Was Pinochet necessary? Could Chile have reached its present prosperity without him?" Munoz asks at the outset of his book. Yet he does not really agonize over the question. The best he can bring himself to say about Pinochet is that the general sometimes selected competent economic advisers, even though he did not fully understand what they were telling him. Under Pinochet's long watch, an entrepreneurial spirit emerged in Chile, inflation was kept under control, and exports grew. But Munoz argues that this recovery could have occurred without the violence and repression. In the end, he contends, it was democracy, not Pinochet, that was necessary. Given Munoz's experience, it's hard to see how he could come to any other evaluation of the Pinochet regime. He was a socialist and a member of President Salvador Allende's leftist government (he served as national supervisor of the People's Stores, a food distribution program in poor neighborhoods) who went into hiding after Pinochet and other military officers overthrew Allende in a 1973 coup. The book opens with Munoz's recollection of retrieving four sticks of dynamite from a secret cache and rushing to a safe house, prepared to begin an armed resistance that did not materialize. He later took refuge in the United States, where he studied international relations alongside Condoleezza Rice at the University of Denver and was a fellow at the Brookings Institution. After Pinochet lost a 1988 plebiscite and eventually stepped aside, Munoz became a diplomat and is now Chile's ambassador to the United Nations. His access to top Chilean officials and once-secret documents enriches this history, allowing him to trace not only the conflict between Pinochet's team and the opposition but also the divisions within each camp. His account of an attempt by militant communists to assassinate Pinochet is particularly gripping. Munoz draws a damning portrait of the dictator as an officer of "limited intellect" who "was, above all else, a survivor." Raised in an upper middle-class family, Pinochet reluctantly joined the coup against Allende, then systematically pushed aside his fellow conspirators (and executed his political rivals) to seize sole control of the country. The qualities that put Pinochet in this position, Munoz writes, were uninspiring: "Insensitive and sardonic to those below him, he was crafty, submissive, and obsequious with his betters. Though Pinochet was anti-Communist, his ideology was self-interest." Once he seized power, as jets bombed the presidential palace and Allende committed suicide, the situation quickly turned grim. Several of the worst atrocities recounted in this book — corralling opponents into the national soccer stadium in Santiago and executing more than 100 of them, the international plot known as Operation Condor to track down and kill dissidents — have been documented at length elsewhere. Still, Munoz recounts them in chilling detail. He notes, for example, that to advance his career before the coup, Pinochet used to visit regularly with Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and his family, bringing presents to the children. Yet a few years later, the author alleges, Pinochet ordered the assassination of Letelier, who was killed by a car bomb in Washington's Sheridan Circle in 1976. Even though democracy has returned to Chile for nearly 20 years, the wounds of Pinochet's 17-year reign are still being treated. In June, Gen. Manuel Contreras, former head of the secret police, was sentenced to two life terms in prison for his role in political slayings. And Chilean officials have proposed converting a former government torture house in Santiago into a museum. Munoz's memoir is part of a long, collective effort to uncover what the dictator and his henchmen buried in secrecy, fear and blood; in that sense, this book is a contribution to Chile's healing process. It can be slow reading, particularly when the author dwells on the minutiae of opposition politics, the endless meetings and internal disputes. But Munoz delivers a compelling, personal account of life in a police state and a strong reminder of how far Chile has come. Joshua Partlow is South America correspondent for The Washington Post. Reviewed by Joshua Partlow, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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A gripping memoir of life in Chile under Augusto Pinochet, the horrors perpetrated by his regime, and what it took to overthrow him.
About the Author
Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz was Deputy Foreign Minister of Chile in 20002002 and Minister Secretary General in 20022003 at La Moneda Presidential Palace before assuming his present post as ambassador to the U.N., where he has served as President of the Security Council. The author of several scholarly books, he is frequently quoted on international issues by the New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, and other journals. He lives in New York City.
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History and Social Science » Latin America » Chile