Friday, December 15, 2006

Death and the Chilean Miracle

With a little time passed, it is probably worth thinking about the recent passings of Milton Friedman, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Augusto Pinochet -- three figures who were part of shaping the legacy of Cold War era American conservativism. All three, of course, are bound by the sense that free market capitalism must be spread, defended, and enforced by any means possible.

Kirkpatrick, the American representative to the United Nations under Ronald Reagan, famously argued that there ought to be a double standard in US tolerance of evil, murderous, torturing dictators. Right-wing dictators ought to be supported and a blind eye all but turned to their atrocities while left-wing dictators ought to be violently opposed using all available means because right-wing dictators leave intact a demand-based economy and therefore will most likely, eventually transform into free-market liberal democracies. Left-wing dictators, on the other hand, dismantle economies and thus hold little hope for democratization which, it was posited, requires capitalist infrastructure. And so it was that torture, rape, mass disappearances and killings, political repression of the most brutal and inhumane sort was not only tolerated by the Unites States' government, but the perpetrators and designers aided, trained, and supported with American tax dollars.

John Negroponte was the American ambassador to Honduras when it was ruled by one of these right-wing friends of the Reagan administration and under his watch, the Honduran army's infamous battalion 316, aided by US special forces, became a brutal death squad of tragically historic proportion. Declassified documents contain details about the training manuals used by the CIA to teach torture techniques to the Honduran unit. Similar tactics were used by Negroponte to try to ramp up the brutal capacities of the Contras in neighboring Nicaragua even after it became explicitly illegal. For his commitment to a Kirkpatrick-style foreign policy, he was named by George W. Bush to be our current Director of National Intelligence.

But the hallmark of support for evil right-wing dictators was Pinochet. After an American supported coup that overthrew popularly elected leader Salvador Allende because he was from the Socialist Party, Pinochet began his horrible regime. From a CIA report:

CIA actively supported the military Junta after the overthrow of Allende...Many of Pinochet's officers were involved in systematic and widespread human rights abuses....Some of these were contacts or agents of the CIA or US military.
These systematic and widespread human rights abuses conducted with American approval and funding included "Operation Condor" in which 3,000 political opponents were murdered and 30,000 others tortured.

Lest we think that those with the loudest voices would be appropriately ashamed of this legacy and the Kirkpatrick doctrine that so clearly states it, we see this in the Washington Post's mortemmotum of the dictator,
It's hard not to notice, however, that the evil dictator leaves behind the most successful country in Latin America. In the past 15 years, Chile's economy has grown at twice the regional average, and its poverty rate has been halved. It's leaving behind the developing world, where all of its neighbors remain mired. It also has a vibrant democracy. Earlier this year it elected another socialist president, Michelle Bachelet, who suffered persecution during the Pinochet years. Like it or not, Mr. Pinochet had something to do with this success. To the dismay of every economic minister in Latin America, he introduced the free-market policies that produced the Chilean economic miracle -- and that not even Allende's socialist successors have dared reverse. He also accepted a transition to democracy, stepping down peacefully in 1990 after losing a referendum.
Stepping down peacefully? Yeah, only after forcing the government to pack the legislature with pro-Pinochet allies to make sure he could never be held to account for the horrors he perpetrated on those who merely disagreed with his inhumane reign.

The Post's editorial here is not accidental. The "Chilean miracle" is one of those case studies that achieved mythic status with certain sets on the right. After Pinochet overthrew the government, the head of the junta was visited in 1975 by none other than economist Milton Friedman who was able to stock Pinochet's government with his "Chicago boys."

Friedman is well-known for his view that the only moral responsibility that corporations have is to their own bottom line. Corporations, he argued, are artificial entities created by and accountable only to the desires of shareholders. Any corporation that seeks to be a good citizen and thereby fails to maximize their profits has done wrong because those who bought the shares did so with the expectations of profit. The shareholders money is not the corporation's to use for "good works," to do so would amount to theft -- it would be like giving money to someone who promises to go to the store to buy you a gallon of milk and finding that the person instead gave it to a homeless person leaving you without milk.

Unregulated markets and privatization of all economically vital institutions, he argued, is essential for fiscal health and growth. Disparaties between rich and poor? Suffering among the needy? Ecological disasters? Too bad. Ultimately, the market will correct it. The gods of the laissez faire require some sacrifice in blood, but ultimately we must have faith that they will provide. It will all be better in the end. We saw in Friedman the same spirit we saw in Kirkpatrick, a sense that the suffering of the present was not be alleviated, but ignored in the name of ideological beliefs that declared a better world would be coming. If people like Pinochet needed to have their death squads trained and financed, so be it.

Pinochet had 3,000 people killed, but now we've seen the deaths of 3. With the passings of Jeane Kirkpatrick, Milton Friedman, and Augusto Pinochet, we may be closing the sad shameful chapter that was American involvement in the inhumanity perpetrated in the name of the Cold War. But with bridge figures like John Negroponte among the neo-conservatives, we cannot rest easy, thinking the story is over.