There is another dark 9/11 in world history that is not the one of 2001. In this case, it is a 9/11 carried out by the author of the first foreign attack carried out with a car bomb in the U.S. capital (that is, a case of international terrorism). The same man who in his own country ordered the murder of more than 3,000 civilians and authorized the collective rape of almost 3,400 women. The terrorist in question is a man for whom Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has already declared his admiration. No, we are not talking about the pedophile Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner, whom Bolsonaro called a “great statesman”. In this case, today we are referring to the falsetto-voiced Chilean general, Augusto Ramón Pinochet Ugarte, Chilean dictator between 1973 and 1990, commander of the military coup of September 11, 1973.
Attack 20 blocks from the White House
On 21 September 1976, the US capital was rocked by an international terrorist attack. It was the first terrorist car bomb attack in Washington with fatalities. At the time, the world was living the Cold War. But who was responsible for the explosion? The Soviets of the KGB? Niet. The Cuban communists, wanting to take revenge for so many assassination attempts against Fidel Castro? No, señor. Would it be the Palestine Liberation Organization, which was beginning to build up tensions with the US? Neither. The perpetrator of the attack was a US ally, General Pinochet, who did not even care if the attack was on American soil.
Pinochet had ordered the assassination of Allende’s former chancellor, Orlando Letelier, who was in exile. The dictator’s men planted a bomb in his car less than 20 blocks from the White House in Sheridan Circle, the heart of the diplomatic district in Washington. Letelier’s secretary Ronni Moffit was also killed in the explosion.
The terrorist attack in Washington triggered an FBI investigation that, by domino effect, unleashed inquiries into human rights violations in Chile (and also in Argentina and other countries in the region with military dictatorships). This also marked a gradual estrangement of the government of the democrat US President Jimmy Carter with Chile.
However, the US break with Pinochet would take another decade and would occur – paradoxically – with the hardline Republican Ronald Reagan in 1986, when the White House realized that the Chilean dictator was no longer functional for its interests.
Planes were also a crucial part of Chilean 9/11, as the most striking scene of Pinochet’s coup is the hours in which military planes bombed La Moneda Palace, the seat of government in Santiago, where civilian president Salvador Allende was.
The attack was carried out with Hawker Hunter planes, which fired Sura P3 rockets. The air force carried out five consecutive attacks. In the last one, the planes fired their Rolls Royce Aden automatic cannons.
The historic palace was semi-destroyed. Due to Pinochet’s attack, historical documents and works of art were incinerated. That day, in order not to be imprisoned by the coup plotters, President Allende committed suicide.
Torture and assassinations
In 2010 the Valech Commission (the Chilean Truth Commission) determined that during the Pinochet dictatorship (between 1973 and 1980) 40,018 civilians were detained and tortured. Of this group, the report stated, 3,065 civilians were murdered. Another 1,200 are still missing.
Among those tortured were 170 children under the age of 13, considered “subversive” by the paranoid regime. The dictator claimed that he was informed about everything: “in this country, not a tree leaf has fallen without my knowledge!”.
Another 200,000 people went into exile to escape torture and murder. After the end of the regime, Pinochet made a self-assessment: “this was never a dictatorship…it was a smoothship!”.
Pinochet used Santiago’s National Stadium into a mega-prison, where 40,000 civilians whom the new military regime considered opponents were detained. Many were tortured in the stands and several were murdered on the pitch. A kind of concentration camp within the capital. In a way, it was like a Coliseum, although without an audience.
One of the most famous executed was the American Charles Horman, whose death inspired the film “Missing“, by the Franco-Greek director Costa Gavras. Because of the Missing, the stadium was declared a national monument by the Chilean government. There, in an area preserved as it was in 1973, a poster bears the words “A people without memory is a people without a future”.
Pinochet’s obsession with women
The Chilean regime had an obsessive obsession with women. This is evident in the report of the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture, which recorded that of the 3,621 women detained, 3,399 suffered some kind of sexual abuse. The report indicates that 316 were raped individually or collectively by the military and police. Some women were raped on a specific day. Others were raped over weeks or months.
A total of 216 women became pregnant. The majority, with the series of tortures that they continued to suffer, had abortions caused by the sequence of electric shocks, the beating of a stick, “submarines” (the “wet submarine” consisted of putting their heads in buckets of water filled with urine, feces and other waste. The officers also applied the “dry submarine”, that is, asphyxiation with a plastic bag), simulated shootings, among others. Of the women made pregnant by the torturers, six gave birth to unwanted children by their torturers.
The Pinochet dictatorship applied medieval tortures against several women. One of the modalities was to force fathers and brothers to attend rapes to force them into “confessions”. In several recorded cases, the military forced fathers and brothers to have sexual relations with their daughters.
Another modus operandi was to put live rats inside the vaginas of female prisoners. The Pinochet military also used dogs (German shepherds and mastiffs) to rape the women.
One person who was part of the team of torturers was the policewoman Ingrid Olerock, daughter of German militants of Nazism who became famous within the DINA (the secret police of the dictatorship) for using her dog Volodia for the rapes. One of the survivors of this hell, the Chilean Beatriz Bataszew, declared years ago that “this was not only sexual violence…it was sexual-political violence, because it had the aim of domesticating us, of disciplining us, and especially of punishing us because we were women who were fighting decisively against the dictatorship.”
Pinochet’s ok with pedophilia
In 1961 the German Paul Schaefer, an evangelical pedophile preacher who during the Third Reich had participated in the Nazi party in Sieburg, fled from the German justice system and migrated to Chile. There he created the “Beneficent Society Dignity” in the Maule region.
The “Colonia Dignidad” was a 17,000-hectare farm that had been transformed since its creation in the 1960s into a “State within a State”. A kind of “country-church”.
After the 1973 coup, and thanks to his friendly relationship with Pinochet, Schaefer turned the place into a clandestine DINA center. In this way, hundreds of prisoners were detained and tortured there. At the time a secret network of tunnels and bunkers was installed. Colonia, surrounded by barbed wire fences, did not appear in the censuses carried out in Chile. Pinochet visited Schaefer relatively often.
The dictator took advantage of the isolated and secretive conditions of the place for the clandestine manufacture of sarin gas. The dictatorship used the gas in small doses to carry out attacks against political exiles abroad.
Schafer maintained a Nazi regime within the colony, preventing the settlers (mostly Germans or children of Germans) from leaving, and supervising all letters that entered and left Colonia. The inhabitants had minimal contact with the outside world and were constantly indoctrinated. The emotional relationships were controlled by Schaefer and could only take place after his permission. The peasants outside the settlement handed their children over to Schaefer, as he promised them that their children would get a “free education”. Instead of education, however, they were sodomized by the former Nazi corporal.
With the return of democracy in 1990, the courts went after Schafer. He escaped and went missing for years. It was suspected that he was hiding in a bunker inside the colony. But he was finally found and arrested in Argentina. Extradited to Chile, he was convicted and imprisoned.
The Condor Plan
In 1974, Pinochet designed the “Cóndor Plan” for his fellow dictators in the region. It was a way to coordinate the repression operations of the military regimes of the Southern Cone. It served to exchange information on the so-called “subversion”, to exchange prisoners, and also to collaborate in the kidnappings and murders of political opponents in exile in countries outside the region.
In the internal area Pinochet also carried out the so-called “cultural genocide” with the burning of dozens of libraries. The regime itself, in 1988, admitted the burning of 15,000 books, but experts maintain that the real number was much higher.
One of the most bizarre cases was the burning of books on the “cubism” painting style. The reason? The provincial military believed that “cubism” had to do with Cuba, the “communist Cuba”.
Bolsonaro admires what the Chilean right-wing already rejects
Currently, the image of Pinochet, increasingly worse and with fewer defenders in Chile, is leading the UDI, a right-wing party that since the return of democracy has always backed the former dictator, praising him almost permanently – to move away from his figure.
In recent years, Pinochet’s photos have been gradually removed from the walls of the party headquarters, until no image remains. In 2019 the then president of the UDI, Jacqueline van Rysselberghe, maintained that it was necessary to “adapt” the party’s identity “to the new times”. She, therefore, removed from the party’s declaration of principles any laudatory reference to the overthrow of President Allende and Pinochet’s coming to power.
In 2019 the right-wing President Sebastián Piñera himself declared that he did not share absolutely with the allusions made by Bolsonaro about the Chilean dictatorship.
Phrases from the author of the other 9/11
General Pinochet uttered in public a hail of phrases about his own dictatorship. The following is a brief anthology:
- This was never a dictatorship…it was a smoothship.
- I don’t know this human rights stuff…What is it?
- I get my strength from God.
- I consider myself an angel. I’m a good person. I have no resentments. I don’t consider myself a dictator but a patriotic angel who doesn’t have to ask for forgiveness from anyone.
- God put me here.
- What a great way to save money! (a phrase uttered excitedly when he was informed about graves with two or three corpses of political prisoners in each grave).
- I have this grumpy face…. maybe that’s why they say I’m a dictator!
- Students have to go to University to study, not to think…and if they still have energy, let them do some sport!
Recycling and recreational uses
In May of this year, the Chileans elected the members of a Constituent Assembly which took office in July and which has a maximum term of 12 months to draw up a new Magna Carta. This will mark the end of the current Chilean constitution, created by Pinochet in 1980.
In other words, in the second half of next year, the millions of copies of the Pinochet constitution printed over these four decades will become pulp recycling. However, the magazine “The Clinic” has ironically suggested some creative alternatives:
- Use the old constitution to level the washing machine (when it’s missing putting extra support)
- Use it as flammable material to help prepare the Sunday barbecue.
- Do a scientific experiment and check what the ignition point of this stuff is.
- Another scientific test: leave it in a basin immersed in a soft drink to see if it dissolves.
- Chop it up and use it as confetti to throw at the stadium during the game.
- Attach some rubber bands and make a Halloween mask out of it.
- Play basketball with the sheets in the wastebasket.
- Use the sheets to make little paper airplanes or boats. There is also the possibility of making origami.
- And, as the last option, “The Clinic” suggests writing your telephone number on the front page, leaving the copy on the bus bench, and seeing if one day someone picks up the old and unpopular constitution, opens it up, and calls you to return it…
(Translated by Isabela Fleischmann)