Pinochet and The Partridge Family

Augusto Pinochet, 1915-2006
The thing about Pinochet is that he’s a kind of retro dictator. When I was growing up he was the man: the dictator’s dictator. A proper big-hat, braided demagogue. Funded and armed by the CIA, overthrowing and murdering a left wing icon (Allende), snuffing out practically the only democratic promise on the whole continent (how different things look now) and killing 30,000 democrats and radicals. Pinochet was a proxy for the evil machine of American-sponsored anti-democratic corporate imperialism. He was the preening mascot of a very bad time for democrats and progressives.

From here, though, from the other end of the very long telescope of the last twenty years, he looks almost quaint: another funny Seventies figure, like the Partridge Family. Two decades of escalating horror in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Baghdad, Chechnya (and lower Manhattan, London and Madrid) provide a grim lens through which to view Pinochet’s unattractive achievements. Events thirty years ago and more are difficult to keep in focus anyway but, alongside a rollcall of scumbags that includes Milosevic and Bin Laden and the Burmese generals and the nameless Rwandan slaughterers and hundreds of suicidal nihilists in exploding vests, he begins to look like a comic book villain in a silly hat.