Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Pinochet is dead--I hope

Pinochet is dead. It's a pity he wasn't behind bars when he gave up the ghost.

There's still a core of people ready to revive him as the classic developmental-state autocrat. Columnists for the Washington Post, LA Times and others are--with the necessary caveats--praising Pinochet's tough choices to save his country from "communism," his championing of the middle class--that pure, blameless, hopeful, apolitical creature beloved by liberals on sight (but especially when far off and out of sight)--and his alleged success at "restarting" the economy.

Never mind that Allende's government was the victim of a concerted campaign of economic sabotage before Pinochet took over (the Nixon administation spoke of making Chile's economy "scream"), that the first years of Pinochet's rule were marked by utter economic ruin, or that Chile's fortunes eventually turned around as much because of state re-intervention in the economy as the cleverness of "the Chicago boys."

If he wasn't an economic savior (other than in terms of his own ill-gotten gains), what did Pinochet accomplish? He left thousands dead or tortured. He divided his nation, as last week's protests and counter-protests show. And, equally importantly, I am told Pinochet created a deadened political culture in Chile and a disengaged and wary youth.

This comes as the Economist reports that confidence in democratic institutions in Latin America is higher now than it has been for years. Corruption may be down. Businesses in the region are reviving.

And the Left on the continent has arguably never been stronger.

So, of course the old coup plotters are back. They nearly knocked off Chavez (with kudos from the NY Times). They were underhanded to say the least in Mexico's last election. And they have plans for Bolivia's Santa Cruz (see today's NY Times article).

Bush tells us that democracy is rough. But south of the border, he seems eager to smooth things out. Give things back to the good old boys who shook their heads at Pinochet's excesses but still did business.

Pinochet remains a model--in the minds of some--for every state facing a little too much democracy, a "transition" figure to, uh, democracy again. But without all that messy "participation."

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