...I'm okay with being REALITY-based.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003
      ( 11:40 AM )
A Somber Irony

I find it sobering, if not instructive, that tomorrow is both the second anniversary of a huge terrorism committed on the United States and the 30th anniversary of a huge terrorism committed by the United States. Tomorrow marks 30 years since Augusto Pinochet's US-backed coup in Chile which not only overthrew a democratically elected president (and killed him), but disappeared, tortured, imprisoned, kidnapped, and killed hundreds of thousands of people and literally ripped apart the fabric of the entire country. An article in Latin American Press today discusses the fact that in the years since Pinochet stepped down, little has been done to right the wrongs committed. Many in the country want to lift the law that has allowed human rights criminals to go unpunished - the Chilean version of the "Truth Commission" isn't so palatable. People aren't so willing to accept the small gestures any more:

"It’s not possible to let human rights violators go
unpunished in exchange for a little more truth, a little
more justice and a little reparation for the victims," the
Ethical Commission Against Torture, which is made up
of human rights organizations and former political
prisoners, said in a statement.

While Pinochet and his minions, and those on the hard right in Chile's government following Pinochet's rule, are to blame for the acts of horrible violations against mankind, it cannot go without saying that his rule over the nation's collapse would not have been possible without the help of... us.

And yet, some on the American right laud Pinochet as an economic miracle worker. How is this possible? Well, because he brought the free market to Chile! It was not only Kissinger and the CIA that helped to create the abysmal results of the 1973 coup in Chile, it was a group of American economists led by Milton Friedman that participated in the economic devastation of that country after its leadership and all dissenters had been "dealt with." From Greg Palast in a revealing article written several years ago:

In 1973, the year the General seized the government,
Chile's unemployment rate was 4.3%. In 1983, after
ten years of free-market modernisation, unemployment
reached 22%. Real wages declined by 40% under
military rule.

In 1970, 20% of Chile's population lived in poverty.
By 1990, the year "President" Pinochet left office, the
number of destitute had doubled to 40%. Quite a miracle.

Pinochet did not destroy Chile's economy all alone. It
took nine years of hard work by the most brilliant minds in
world academia, a gaggle of Milton Friedman's trainees, the
Chicago Boys. Under the spell of their theories, the General
abolished the minimum wage, outlawed trade union
bargaining rights, privatised the pension system, abolished
all taxes on wealth and on business profits, slashed public
employment, privatized 212 state industries and 66 banks
and ran a fiscal surplus.

and yet...

Freed of the dead hand of bureaucracy, taxes and
union rules, the country took a giant leap forward
... into bankruptcy and depression. After nine years of
economics Chicago style, Chile's industry keeled over
and died. In 1982 and 1983, GDP dropped 19%. The
free-market experiment was kaput, the test tubes
shattered. Blood and glass littered the laboratory floor.
Yet, with remarkable chutzpa, the mad scientists of
Chicago declared success. In the US, President Ronald
Reagan's State Department issued a report concluding,
"Chile is a casebook study in sound economic management."
Milton Friedman himself coined the phrase, "The Miracle
of Chile." Friedman's sidekick, economist Art Laffer, preened
that Pinochet's Chile was, "a showcase of what supply-side
economics can do."

It wasn't Pinochet or the US that saved Chile in the end, it was their slain leader, Salvador Allende's work before the coup that ended up setting the country back on track.

Riots and strikes by a population too hungry and
desperate to fear bullets forced Pinochet to reverse
course. He booted his beloved Chicago experimentalists.
Reluctantly, the General restored the minimum wage
and unions' collective bargaining rights. Pinochet, who
had previously decimated government ranks, authorized
a program to create 500,000 jobs. The equivalent in
Britain would be a government program for 4 million workers.

In other words, Chile was pulled from depression by
dull old Keynesian remedies, all Franklin Roosevelt, zero
Margaret Thatcher. (The junta even instituted what remains
today as South America's only law restricting the flow of
foreign capital.)

It was not only in the coup itself that the US was an implicit partner, but it was the following complete collapse of Chile's economy. It is has been a harsh 30 years for the people of Chile. Their rise back out of the hole created by Pinochet and his US backers has been slow and torturous. That our current government continues to spout the ludicrous line that "free market" is the savior and that the IMF and World Bank are not crippling countries like Chile and Argentina is unforgivable. This is yet another example of how the lessons of the very recent past make not one impression on the current leaders of this country.

While we mourn the loss of the 3,000 people killed in the US two years ago by terrorists, will we shed a tear for the hundreds of thousands killed in Chile by acts of terror backed by the US government, its money and its policies? And if we don't, what have we learned at all?

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