Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Tale of Two Dictators

Castro and Pinochet

Last Sunday Augusto Pinochet died. Elsewhere in Latin America, another dictator lies died or dying somewhere in Cuba. These two men were the same in many respects but have been viewed as widely different and leave different legacies.

Fidel Castro seized Cuba from the forces of the Dictator Batista. Batista ran a plutocratic government which was generous to business and individuals which played the game of corruption. Reformers, revolutionaries, and others who refused a corrupt government were brutally repressed by the military police. Many groups fought on many levels against Batista. Fidel Castro successfully realized the importance of media in making him the iconic head of "liberation movement."

Augusto Pinochet was the head of a military coup which deposed Salvador Allende. While Allende was elected by plurality, his coalition of socialists and communists managed to upset or terrify nearly everyone and destroy the Chilean economy within three years. On September 11, 1973, the military conducted a coup which installed Pinochet.

Machiavelli wrote the first thing for a leader to do was establish order. Castro and Pinochet accomplished this through a terror campaign against their own people.

Castro ordered the execution of thousands of Batista supporters, moderates, reformers, socialists who were not part of Castro's wing, religious "oddities" like Jehovah Wittinesses, and even homosexuals. Tens of thousands more were exiled or fled their homes for safety in the United States and elsewhere.

Pinochet feared a revolution by Allende supporters. Pinochet was one of the founding members of Operation Condor, a preemptive terror campaign against real and perceived enemies of the state. The height of the terror was done within the first three years of Pinochet's reign when over 3,000 people were killed and many more tortured.

This where the two men differ.

Pinochet, going against common wisdom liberalized the economics of Chile, reduced government's presence in business and allowed the markets to be free. While still being a dictator, he slowly loosened his grip on the country. In 1988 he held a referendum on whether he should stay in power, he lost. After then holding multi-party elections for his replacment, he peacefully stepped down from power in early 1990. Today Chile is the richest country in South America, a democracy, and even the Socialist president and her predecessors dare not change the economic style set by Pinochet.

Castro went the other route. Instead of being a liberator he became an even greater tyrant than Batista. Businesses were nationalized, really Castroized; military secret police still hold political prisoners, freedom of speech is nonexistent, opposition from all sides is crushed. Today Cuba is meeking out an existent surviving on generous gifts of funds and supplies from allies like Hugo Chavez.

And here things get really strange. Everyone pretty much either hates or very, very strongly dislikes Pinochet. The best that is commonly said about him is he built Chile up and left. But Castro is different. While many on the Right hate the man, those on the Left (the Left, not all or even most liberals) seem to have a sort of Castro-fetish. He wines and dines Hollywood stars like Jack Nicholson, Danny Glover, and others. Several college professors in schools I have attended had posters Castro and several extremely intelligent academics I known have said positive things about him while downplaying the negative aspects. And don't even get me started about the weird love affair with Castro's murderer-in-chief Che Guevara.

There is a double standard which even the Washington Post recognizes. It seems the old anti-communist attitude of "they all right with us as long as they are with us" has been adopted by the anti-American crowd. Those who will blame Bush for "destroying freedom" will gladly ally themselves with Islamic Fascists or Communist monsters who oppress and kill their own people as long as they hate American and its leaders.

Pinochet and (possibly/probably) Castro are dead. Let freedom ring.

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