The long-running grudge by the left against dictator Pinochet and by the right against his predecessor, President Salvador Allende, has played out in every medium from street marches to documentaries.
The drums were beating for a week leading up to the "Homenaje a Pinochet" – homage to Augusto Pinochet. It would be hard to come up with three words likely to provoke more intense emotions in Chile. The feelings overflowed Sunday as demonstrators let loose insults and even physical blows against attendees at the premiere of "Pinochet," a documentary remembering the positive side of the dictator who ran Chile from 1973 to 1990.
The long-running grudge by the left against Pinochet and by the right against his predecessor, Salvador Allende, has played out in every medium. Street marches, books, articles, and now documentaries. The most damning film made in opposition to Pinochet was probably "The Battle of Chile" (1978), which portrays the Chilean right as an irrational beast, organized by US intelligence and driven by hatred for the poor. And now comes "Pinochet," portraying him as someone who struggled to improve his country, who rescued it from the ostensibly dreadful fate of communism, who expanded state services to underserved areas, and who peacefully handed over power. Chile has a long way to go before these two images of the ex-dictator can be reconciled.
Part of the problem is that Pinochet has been portrayed for decades as the epitome of an evil dictator. This was, in part, because he was an evil dictator. He really did kill thousands of political opponents, create torture centers along the length of the country, and generally terrorize his population. Over 1,200 people remain "disappeared." But it was also partly about propaganda. Unlike the orders-of-magnitude-more-violent dictators of Guatemala, for example, Chile sent thousands of its most talented, smartest leftists into exile. When they settled in Canada, Sweden, Australia, and other countries, their messages were promptly broadcast to a global audience.