Augusto Pinochet assumed power in Chile following a United States-backed coup d’état on 11 September 1973 that overthrew the democratically elected socialist Unidad Popular government of President Salvador Allende and ended civilian rule.The military junta that took over dissolved the Congress of Chile, suspended the Constitution, and began a persecution of alleged dissidents, in which thousands of Allende’s supporters were kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. Following his rise to power, Pinochet persecuted leftists and political critics, resulting in the executions of over 3,000 people, the internment of as many as 80,000 people and the torture of tens of thousands.
Margaret Thatcher’s support for Chile’s former torturer-in-chief General Pinochet is no secret; it was something she was proud of. Despite her assertion that “The United States and Britain have together been the greatest alliance in defence of liberty and justice,” Thatcher refused to back down in her support of a man who overthrew a democratically elected government. This was a man who initiated the notorious Caravan of Death, the army unit that travelled the country by helicopter, murdering and torturing the General’s opponents.
Pinochet’s rule was inhumane and brutal, but was it terrorism? In the words of a soldier in Chile’s Talca Regiment at the time of the abuses: “It seems to me that one of the reasons for the [Caravan of Death] mission was to set a drastic precedent in order to terrorise the presumed willingness of the Chilean people to fight back. But without any doubt, it was also intended to instill fear and terror among the commanders. To prevent any military personnel, down to lowest ranking officers, from taking a false step: this could happen to you!”