While traveling by bus in Chile in January 2008, I drew the attention of two other English-speaking passengers to a graffito, which read:

Viva Pinochet


As people whose sole knowledge of the world came from the left-wing press and broadcasters, they were both shocked and puzzled that Pinochet and liberty could be linked in praise.  How could a man who had been responsible for 2,000 to 3,000 deaths, caused many more to be jailed and tortured, and created the conditions whereby well over 100,000 people went into exile inspire such a tribute?  Pinochet had overthrown a democratically elected socialist government by a military coup.  How could he be a champion of freedom?

Shortly afterward there came a curious but decisive answer.  The gaga dictator Fidel Castro resigned, though only to let his brother take over.  Castro was not truly leaving voluntarily but merely going the way of Mao and Tito.  Pinochet, by contrast, allowed the Chilean opposition parties to organize fully in 1987 and gave the Chileans a plebiscite in 1988 as to whether he should continue as military ruler or allow a democratic regime to take over after multiparty elections.  When he lost the referendum, he resigned.  Even so he had got 45 percent of the votes, which is a lot of support.  He had been in office for a mere 15 years when he quit.  The leftists in Chile are still complaining that the plebiscite was unfair because Pinochet had undue influence over the mass media; curiously, this objection is never made in Europe when the European Union pours in money to advertise its cause in national referenda.  Like the European Union, Pinochet lost his referendum.  Unlike the European Union, he accepted his defeat.  Had there been any such vote in Cuba they would have made sure that 98 percent or even 105 percent of the votes would have gone for Castro.  The proof that the Chileans had a fair vote is that Pinochet lost by ten percent.  It is rare for dictators to cede power in this democratic way.  Castro would never have dared even to put it to the test.

Today, Chile is both prosperous and democratic.  Cuba is a dictatorship with an appalling human-rights record and a socialist economy that is in a shambles.

Many of the left-wing Chilean exiles have returned to Chile, and there is nothing to stop them all from doing the same.  None of the more than one million Cuban political refugees has been able to go home.  Even post-Castro, most will not want to because their country is in economic ruin.  A Chilean can return to a free and prosperous country; it will be a long time, if ever, before Cuba is as attractive.  It is worth noting that Cuban refugees very greatly outnumbered Chilean ones even though the population of Chile is 18 million, and Cuba’s, only 11 million.  Likewise, there were far more executions in Cuba, as well as more torture and more political prisoners.  Even among Cuba’s large numbers of prisoners locked up for criminal offences (there are more than twice as many as in Britain, a country with five times the population), a large proportion are incarcerated for trivial economic malpractices, such as illegal petty trading, that would not be a crime in a democratic country.

The person who wrote the graffito knew that his government had bestowed on the people the kinds of economic freedoms that are unknown in Cuba.  That is why Chile is now the most prosperous and fastest-growing country in Latin America.  The Chilean economy had long been in serious trouble, particularly in the 1960’s, because, even before the election of Marxist President Salvador Allende, it was characterized by price controls, permits, subsidies, and a high proportion of nationalized industries.  Local industries that could only survive on subsidies inefficiently produced expensive and substandard manufactured goods.  Price controls on food meant that neither landowners nor farmers had any incentive to invest in agriculture.  It was a recipe for failure, and it was that failure that brought Allende to power on the promise that he would intensify those very causes of failure.

Leftists used to love to call Pinochet a fascist, but his economic policies were as far from fascist as any in Latin America.  On the advice of the “Chicago boys,” Chileans who had studied under Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago, Pinochet’s government scrapped controls and subsidies and privatized most of the economy.  Friedman himself, though no supporter of dictatorship, wrote to Pinochet to advise him on economic policy.  The full benefit of these policies was not felt until the mid-1980’s.  Pinochet’s democratic successors have been the greatest beneficiaries; even their enhanced welfare spending is based on the strong and free economic institutions they inherited.  If anyone can complain, it is the old oligarchy of state-subsidized businessmen who went bankrupt when competition hit.

When Friedman was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics, radicals tried to disrupt the ceremony in Stockholm because they hated the advice that he and his former students had given the Pinochet government.  It was proof that they had no serious interest in the economic progress of poor countries but merely loved to indulge in slogans and gestures.  The Nobel laureate who should have been booed was the ideologue Gunnar Myrdal.  Many people live in poverty today because of his economic policies, yet he received nothing but plaudits.  Similarly, leftists have praised the “visionary” Samuel Beer, Allende’s British economic advisor who connected Chile’s factories by telex to a computer in a central operations room to allow central planning in real time.  This was a recipe for economic disaster.

Our Chilean graffiti artist well knew that if Allende had not been ousted, his country would have slid into the hell of Cuban-style communism.  Pinochet’s coup happened in 1973 when Brezhnev’s Soviet Union was powerful, confident, and expanding.  It happened just before another military coup, the one that, in 1974, established a Marxist totalitarian regime in Ethiopia, which was propped up by Cuban troops.  The Soviets provided aid to Cuba in exchange for Cuban mercenaries to Africa.  One way or another Castro was responsible for the death of several hundred thousand people.  Curiously, the same progressives who railed so vociferously against Pinochet had little to say about Ethiopia and even less about Cuban involvement there.  A war was on, remember, and it was not always a Cold War.

Supporters of the Marxist Allende claim that we cannot be sure that a communist revolution would have happened in Chile.  Certainty is not necessary.  Communism is so evil that even a substantial risk of such a regime taking over would have justified a military coup.  Wouldn’t the world have been a better place if the German army had seized power from a more or less democratically elected Hitler in 1933-34, at a time when the future horrors of Nazism were mere possibilities?

Then again, Allende’s democratic credentials were not very good.  He had not been elected outright.  He garnered 36 percent of the vote in a three-way race, with the conservative candidate getting 35 percent and the centrist Christian Democrat, 28 percent.  Allende was then made president by the Chilean parliament, but only on condition that he behave constitutionally.  He did not.  The parliament would censure Allende, including a particularly strong condemnation, a month before Pinochet’s coup, calling for his removal.  The Chilean Supreme Court condemned him for failing to execute the laws of the land.  It is hardly democracy when a president who had only squeaked into office defies and overrides the constitutional rights of the other branches of government.

Many of Allende’s illegalities were carried out by his wilder supporters on the Marxist left who formed “workers’ militias” to seize factories and land.  The more disciplined Communist Party was horrified because it was playing the longer game of gradual Soviet takeover and knew that such overt activities might provoke a coup.  Many Chileans desperately wanted the military to step in.  When the troops marched in a public parade, women would throw chicken feed in the street to underscore the military’s cowardice; 60,000 truck owners went on strike and had the support of other small businessmen and professionals.  Perhaps Washington provided the strikers with financial aid, but this is no more shocking than left-wing countries providing “fraternal support” to labor unions striking in Europe.  The CIA files on Chile, now open for inspection, show that the agency disfavored instigating a coup, believing that Allende’s grossly unconstitutional behavior was going to provoke one anyway, since the Chilean army was the guardian of the constitution.  Pinochet’s former aide-de-camp recently told a British researcher, “We had the most professional army in South America.  Why would we need the help of the CIA?”  Chile was already a divided country, and Allende illegally used his presidency to exacerbate those divisions and to encourage and permit others to do so.  His opponents were unarmed, so instead of plotting a revolution they called for a coup.  It was not a sudden plot hatched by a discontented military.

Critics of the coup confuse, often deliberately, two quite different questions.  First, was the coup morally justified?  (Yes.)  Second, was the degree of brutality used to implement it necessary?  (Probably not.)  It is legitimate and necessary to use violence to prevent tyranny and chaos, but it is also incumbent upon the liberator to use the minimum amount of force required.  The rules of what constitutes a just war apply to coups.  You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, but it is a sin to waste them.  The Anglo-American war with Nazi Germany was a just cause, but it is very difficult to justify the terror-bombing of German cities in 1942-45 by the RAF and the USAF.  But that is not what the leftists are saying.  They are citing the mere existence of casualties to argue that Pinochet should not have acted at all, which would have allowed them and their friends to take over and kill far more people.  Under the red banner everything is permitted, although for propaganda purposes it may not be admitted.  How many people know that far, far more Ethiopians lost their lives when the Reds took over in the 1970’s than Chileans died during Pinochet’s coup?  Mengistu, the communist dictator, was convicted of genocide in Ethiopia after his fall in 1991 but fled to his friend and fellow murderer Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, who refused to extradite him.  Did “progressive” countries pressure Mugabe to comply with Ethiopia’s request for Mengistu’s extradition?  No, they were too busy illicitly attempting to put Pinochet on trial in European countries such as Spain or Belgium that had no jurisdiction over matters that had taken place in Chile.  Were there street protests outside the Zimbabwean embassies by those who mendaciously scream “genocide!” at any Western country involved in an armed conflict?  No.  Few Western leaders publicly expressed support for Pinochet when he was illegally arrested in London at the request of a malicious Spanish magistrate in 1998.  Apart from Prime Minister Thatcher and Chancellor Lord Norman Lamont, both of whom were indebted to Pinochet for Chile’s aid in helping to free the British inhabitants of the Falklands from Argentine invasion and tyranny, only the Polish statesman Michal Kamin-ski stood by him.  Kaminski defiantly went to London, where Pinochet was held under house arrest by Britain’s socialist government, and awarded Pinochet the Breastplate of Our Lady.  The gallant Kaminski knew full well the nature of the kind of communist rule from which Pinochet had saved Chile.

Leftists will doubtless protest that I am using a utilitarian, end-means, cost-benefit argument to compare Pinochet’s Chile with Castro’s Cuba by pointing out that Pinochet’s regime was less brutal than Castro’s, achieved more benefits for the people, and eventually enabled a smooth return to democracy.  How dare I reduce their issue of grand slogans, posturing, and images to sordid questions about the welfare of ordinary people!  How can I possibly denigrate the revolutionary fervor of the brutal executioner Che Guevara that has led radical students everywhere to put his visage on their T-shirts?

Yet in the days of Cuba’s twilight the radicals themselves have been forced to reach for utilitarian arguments; they merely happen to be wrong on the facts.  When confronted with the deplorable lack of human rights in Cuba, the leftists simply appeal to statistics that suggest that Cubans have good healthcare and live longer.  Yet those same statistics do not indicate any significant difference in longevity between Chileans and Cubans.  Besides, you can easily check on whether the Chileans are telling the truth, whereas our information about Cuba is based on dubious government data, the testimony of such “useful idiots” as Michael Moore, and brief visits by foreign doctors to Potemkin hospitals.  Medical treatment for the elite and for tourists with hard currency is good, and it is even exported to Venezuela in exchange for oil, but as undercover medical anthropologists have reported, ordinary Cubans fare differently.  Even the most basic drugs are unavailable, though, of course, there is plenty of money for the instruments of repression.  It was like that in Gorbachev’s Soviet Union, where I had the misfortune to be felled by bronchitis and had to return to Britain for treatment.  The Soviet doctor prescribed for me an obsolete drug that the pharmacists did not have anyway.  Despite my protests that I had lifelong perfect eyesight, she then sent me to have my eyes tested, since they had not run out of eye charts.  Then the French-speaking optician discovered that she had no eye chart in the Latin alphabet, only ones in Cyrillic.  After rummaging around, she felt compelled to make me describe (in French) the shapes on a chart designed for “illiterate Gypsies.”  Illiteracy under socialism?  Whatever next?  Likewise Cuba’s seemingly low incidence of infant mortality is based in part on a deliberate failure to record deaths in the first couple of days after birth as well as a high incidence of late abortion.  The weaker babies are never born.  In 2000 a doctor, Oscar Elias Biscet, who protested this state of affairs was jailed for three years.

Left-wingers still mull over the unhappy events that preceded Chile’s eventual success and yet refuse to condemn Castro.  The Spaniards sought to persecute an old, frail, and sickly Pinochet, but Castro has been treated by Spanish doctors flown to Cuba.  Even if Castro went to Spain or came to Britain for treatment, no action would be taken against him.  When Castro dies, they will mourn him and speak of his “achievements.”  Likewise, leftists have always been quick to condemn anyone taking a vacation in a country burdened by an unfashionable “right-wing” regime, but it never seems to occur to them that taking a holiday in Cuba and enjoying the sex tourism (which, on that egalitarian isle, caters to both women and men) is helping to prop up a despicable regime with foreign currency.  How can you argue with bigots so fiercely committed to double standards?

Better to boycott Cuba altogether and go hiking in Chile libre.