An excellent, in-depth examination of the repression under General Augusto Pinochet's rule -- and the human-rights movement that followed. The account begins by describing Chile's ideological polarization that led up to Pinochet's 1973 coup and the military's violent assault on the left in which many socialists "disappeared." Once in power, Pinochet marginalized the judicial system, consolidated executive powers, and built up the secret police and intelligence services. Ensalaco then examines Chile's more recent attempts to face this legacy. Pinochet's civilian successor, President Patricio Aylwin, was obliged to accept the general's continuing presence as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, which was a condition for the peaceful transition to democracy. Aylwin nevertheless sought a careful balance by addressing the consequences of Pinochet's rule. Not surprisingly, many critics charged that Aylwin's "truth and reconciliation" commission was too timid in confronting the regime's crimes. Such compromises did help make democratization possible by pursuing accountability rather than prosecution. But justice was postponed as the commission was unable to penetrate the wall of impunity and discover the truth about the "disappeared." This shortcoming, Ensalaco writes, produced an imperfect democratic transition. Pinochet's 1998 arrest in London and recent return to Chile have reopened these issues -- and shown how they continue to plague the country's democracy. An essential guide to understanding Chile's past.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.
More Reviews on Western Hemisphere From This Issue