Pinochet was a vile Fascist but Allende was no hero

A relatively free society was on the brink of Marxist terror as his tanks took to the streets

Andrew Neil
Thursday 22 October 1998 00:02 BST

WHY DID the British liberal left not demand that Spain arrest Fidel Castro while he was in Madrid this week? They were cockahoop, after all, when Britain arrested their old bogeyman, General Pinochet, at the request of Spain. Yet Castro's killings and brutal repression of human rights dwarf even the most exaggerated accounts of the former Chilean dictator's evil ways. For the sake of consistency as well as morality, surely Castro should have been rounded up, too.

But ageing British lefties are not interested in being consistent or moral. They are motivated entirely by a desire for revenge against one of their old hate figures who so comprehensively saw off all their previous attempts to do him down. This is a replay for the left, an opportunity to make up for past defeats and humiliations at the hands of a second- division Fascist, a chance to relive their glory years as naive revolutionaries manning the barricades (or, more likely, organising the workers' paradise from the LSE coffee bar).

Among the outpouring of leftist bile since the old tyrant was arrested you will not learn that there would never have been a Pinochet if it had not been for Castro. The Chilean Marxist, Salvador Allende, was elected president in 1970 on only 36 per cent of the vote. He needed to govern in a moderate centre-left manner to carry the 60 per cent-plus who had voted for centre and right-wing parties. Instead, with the encouragement of his own hard-left and Castro agitators, he struck out in a Marxist direction.

Student revolutionaries and other middle-class trendies of the time rushed from all over the world to Santiago to help in the cause. A few went from Britain, many more from Spain, where the Franco regime did not tolerate their Marxist fantasies. The consequences for Chilean democracy (until his accession the most stable in Latin America), human rights and prosperity were disastrous.

The Allende regime set about implementing dogmatic far-left reforms for which he had no mandate, confiscating property, debasing the currency (inflation at one stage topped 1,000 per cent), seizing businesses, intimidating the opposition and bankrupting newspapers which dared to criticise him.

Within months of Allende taking power, armed gangs of leftist thugs invaded homes and took over factories. It was all done with the active encouragement of Castro, which saw Allende's Chile as the new beachhead for Cuban-style Communism throughout Latin America. By 1972, while the Soviet Union was awarding Allende the Lenin Peace Prize, Chilean society was in meltdown.

A relatively prosperous country was now gripped by food shortages and strikes. Farms taken over by Communist cadres discussed Marxist dialectics while crops failed. Factories in the grip of Soviet-style committees produced next to nothing. A relatively free society was on the brink of a Marxist terror as Allende's tanks took to the streets and military henchmen were shoehorned into a civilian cabinet.

"The task of the moment," claimed one of Allende's Marxist allies "is to destroy parliament." The hard left was now systematically arming itself for a full-blown Communist revolution - it had more guns at its disposal than the Chilean army. It was then that Pinochet and the generals seized power and their Fascistic reign of terror began.

Terrible things happened. But Allende had brought a stable, mixed economy to its knees: terrible things were in store for the country at the hands of either the far left or the far right. In the chaos he had created, there was no prospect of any other kind of government at the time. We can be sure that if a nasty, torturing, murdering Chilean Castro had emerged triumphant rather than Pinochet, the British left would not be cheering his arrest in a London hospital in the middle of the night.

The brutal ineptitude of the Allende years is now well-documented. The spin put on it by today's left is that it was all fomented by the CIA, which plotted to undermine the regime; and that, whatever Allende's shortcomings, there was something uniquely evil about the Pinochet years. Neither is true.

The Americans did not become involved in Chile until they realised that it was being turned into a Marxist enclave by the Soviet Union and Cuba, who saw it as a major centre of subversion for the purposes of exporting Communism to the rest of Latin America. Within the context of the Cold War, the Americans were right to be worried.

Nor, sadly, is there anything uniquely evil about Pinochet. In this most violent of centuries, he merits little more than a footnote in the roll- call of brutal dictators. Compared with Castro, Hitler, Pol Pot, Mussolini, today's numerous African tyrants, the current bevy of Arab despots, or the leaders of the Taliban, Pinochet is an also-ran.

That is not to forgive him for what happened under his watch but it is important not to fall for left-wing exaggerations about him. The left, including several government ministers, want to paint him as uniquely evil not just because he punctured their youthful Marxist dreams but to justify his arrest. The official line is that it is purely a matter for the legal system but Mr Mandelson has had his anti-Pinochet outburst and Mr Cook's spin-doctors have let it be known that he regards his arrest as a testament to his "ethical" foreign policy.

Pass the sick bag, quick. What is ethical about arresting an 82-year- old has-been dictator, who relinquished power without a struggle and bequeathed a prosperous economy to his democratic successors (I suspect that is what really rankles with the unreconstructed British left), while supping with the butchers of Tiananmen Square in Peking?

Do we intend to arrest the President and Prime Minister of China when next they visit these shores? Or every African despot on an official or unofficial trip to London. Or any one of the current tyrants for Araby? Just to ask the question is to illustrate the ludicrous position in which Britain now finds itself.

There is nothing ethical about being prepared to upset the fine balance that has served post-Pinochet Chile well for the sake of reliving your revolutionary youth. Yet, as Santiago seethes over Pinochet's arrest, that is precisely what the "ethical" British left is prepared to do. They still have Chilean blood on their hands for being so blind about Allende and his Cuban allies. They could have Chilean blood on their hands again if they insist on making Pinochet a cause celebre.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in