After the Earthquake, a Military Chile Can Love Again





At Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s funeral, one of his grandsons, an Army captain also named Augusto Pinochet, gave a eulogy so defiant and aggressive that he was cashiered the next day. Earlier, as the general lay in state in his dress uniform and Chileans filed by his casket to pay their last respects, the grandson of another general, assassinated by Pinochet’s secret police, spat on the former dictator’s cadaver full in the face.

That was barely three years ago, and it suggested that the ghost of General Pinochet, who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990 and continued as army commander until 1998, would be hard to exorcise. But the scenes of Chileans’ embracing soldiers who aided in rescue and reconstruction efforts after the huge earthquake last month make all that divisiveness seem an eternity ago.

“This disaster was so immense that what people are seeking above all now is stability,” said Gregory B. Weeks, author of “The Military and Politics in Postauthoritarian Chile” and a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “This is the first real troop presence since the end of the dictatorship, and obviously raises a certain amount of nervousness. But it marks a return to a normal civil-military relationship.”...

Traditionally, Chileans are said to have had a cordial relationship with their military, at least in comparison with some other Latin American societies. That explains in part why the bloody coup that brought General Pinochet to power in 1973, and the extensive human rights violations that followed, were so traumatic for Chile....

Other Latin American societies also put their armed forces on a pedestal; the attraction of all things military is one plot line in the Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa’s play “La Señorita de Tacna.” But Chile was always considered especially conservative in valuing order and stability. Even the Socialist Salvador Allende, whom General Pinochet overthrew, had military officers in his cabinet and staff; Ms. Bachelet’s father was one....

In January, Chile became the first South American country to join the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, also known as “the rich countries club.” But that opportunity to project an image of modernity and prosperity was undermined last week when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, visiting Santiago, handed out 25 satellite phones, including one to Ms. Bachelet.

“Chile wanted to be compared to Japan, not Haiti,” Mr. Navia said. “For a country that wants to prove it’s a developed country, accepting aid is complicated. It was the first response, and it was a mistaken response.”


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