Pinochet in Power





After the death of Allende, the leaders of the coup: General Gustavo Leigh (Air Force), Admiral José Merino (Navy), General Caesar Mendoza (carabinero chief) and General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte (Army) were sworn in. They appointed Pinochet as acting President, but agreed to a rotating presidency, which Pinochet swiftly did away with. As President, he instituted laws which cemented his position as leader.

He was soon in a position to retire or promote whoever he wished. He chose to retire 15 out of a total of 25 army generals by April of 1974. In three years, he retired almost all of the other leaders who had been instrumental in the coup. He also took General Oscar Bonilla, interior minister, and General Sergio Arellano, commander of the Santiago garrison, out of power by moving them to less influential posts and discrediting them, respectively. Pinochet would continue this series of retirements and transferals whenever he found a rival. Decree law 527 was by far the biggest step taken towards absolute military dictatorship. This law gave the army commanders "indefinite" terms in office ending only in "resignation, death, or incapacity." On December 18, 1974 Pinochet was made "supreme leader" of Chile.

A career in Pinochet's government was substantially different than a career in Allende's government. Meetings were conducted with military precision and organization. Officials had to speak formally and could not "upstage" General Pinochet.

In 1978, Pinochet forced a referendum, giving the people the power to keep him in office. Voters read a statement that said, "Faced with international aggression launched against our fatherland, I support President Pinochet in his defense of the dignity of Chile and reaffirm the legitimacy of the government..." The votes were counted (blank ballots were counted as "yes") and Pinochet remained in power.

Under Pinochet, funding for the army soared, in comparison to the Allende years when it had dwindled. Colonels made 191,000 pesos/month and captains made 146,000 pesos/month, in comparison to the average "veteran high school teacher or engineer" salary of 50,000 pesos/month. Perhaps the greatest legacy of the Pinochet regime is its outstandingly horrific violation of human rights.