Agusto Pinochet’s death and the looming execution of Saddam Hussein inspires former “60 Minutes” producer Barry Lando to compare and contrast two of America’s favorite dictators.
You have to admit there are certain ironies to the situation: on one side of the globe, General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, a ruthless, corrupt dictator, expired from natural causes in a hospital in Santiago, Chile. Though he will not be granted a state funeral, (after all, the current president of Chile was tortured during his reign), Pinochet is to be buried with full military honors. Meanwhile, in Baghdad’s Green Zone, another brutal, corrupt tyrant, Saddam Hussein, is on trial for his life, and will probably be twitching at the end of a hangman’s noose within the next few months.
Though Pinochet’s dictatorship was far less murderous than Saddam’s, just the same, at least 3,000 people were killed or “disappeared” during the Chilean tyrant’s reign. Thousands more were tortured and imprisoned, while others considered enemies of the regime were murdered abroad, including [Salvador] Allende’s former foreign minister, Orlando Letelier, blown apart by a car bomb in Washington, D.C., on Pinochet’s orders.
Pinochet and Saddam also had friends in common. During some of their most repressive periods, both tyrants were strongly backed by the U.S. government. Pinochet was seen as a staunch ally by the U.S. in the 1970s, during what the Nixon White House regarded as a life-or-death struggle against international communism.
After first failing to block the election of the Marxist Allende in Chile, under President Nixon and Henry Kissinger’s direction, the CIA then spent millions to destabilize the new Chilean government. When the Chilean army under Pinochet finally overthrew and murdered Allende, they launched a wave of brutal repression. As thousands of bodies piled up in Santiago’s Central Morgue, Secretary of State Kissinger battled all attempts by the U.S. Congress to enact sanctions against Pinochet’s regime.
The late Agusto Pinochet (left) and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.