General Augusto Pinochet: a profile

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General Augusto Pinochet: a profile

General Augusto Pinochet: a profile
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In 1973, a photo of Augusto Pinochet was seen around the world. The Chilean general entered history as the archetypal Latin American dictator. On September 11 the same year, Pinochet seized power after leading a coup against President Salvadore Allende – to whom he swore his allegiance only 18 days earlier when he was made head of the Chilean army.

Pinochet was born in Valparaiso on 25 November 1915 to a family with French origins.

After three attempts he made it into a military academy at the age of 18.

He later married Lucia Hiriart, with whom he had five children – three girls and two boys.

Some critics say his military career was not exceptional and that after the coup, Pinochet quickly revealed himself to be a cruel dictator who dealt ruthlessly with his left-wing enemies.

The political police, known as DINA, was only answerable to Pinochet who declared himself supreme leader of the nation in 1974. He was made president of the republic in 1981.

More than 3,000 people are estimated to have been victims of his dictatorship – a third are classed as having disappeared – a sinister practice emulated in Chile’s neighbouring regimes.

Pinochet’s popularity waned towards the end of the 1980s and an opposition alliance led by Patricio Alywin took over.

But Pinochet remained in power as head of the armed forces – immune from prosecution having rewritten the constitution.

And when he stepped down as armed forces chief, his immunity was guaranteed as he became a life senator.

But the past caught up with him where he least expected it – in London after a Spanish judge issued an international arrest warrant accusing the general of genocide, torture and human rights abuses.

Pinochet subsequently spent 17 months in the British capital while an extradition battle raged in the courts.

Freed on medical grounds in 2000, he returned to Chile where strong protests forced authorities to press for his prosecution on various human rights abuse allegations.

Despite the numerous long legal battles to make him answer charges in Chilean courts, Pinochet maintained he was above reproach but he recently admitted “political responsibility” for acts that took place under his rule.