Searing account of life in Chile under the general who overthrew a socialist president in 1973, then hung onto power through internal terrorism for nearly two decades.
Currently Chile’s ambassador to the United Nations, Muñoz served as a young man in the government of President Salvador Allende. Pinochet, then commander of the Chilean army, despised Allende both for his vast education and his democratic tendencies. On September 11, 1973, the general led a military coup that was, the author writes, “Chilean-made [but] undoubtedly U.S.-sponsored,” a statement substantiated by the Nixon administration’s haste in recognizing the Pinochet regime a mere two weeks after its violent overthrow of a democratically elected government. Fearing for his life, Muñoz ended up in the United States at the University of Denver, where his classmates in the international-relations program included brainy, hardworking Condoleezza Rice. He could not turn his back on Chile, however, eventually choosing to return and work against the murderous totalitarian government. Although horrified by the general’s thuggery, Muñoz is objective enough to credit Pinochet with helping improve the national economy. This was no small feat, and University of Chicago economists played a significant role in it; the account of their involvement in Chilean policymaking under an immoral dictatorship provides a fascinating glimpse of academics embroiled in the messy real world. The author doubts that Pinochet ever actually understood the policies of “the Chicago boys,” since in his view the dictator was not very bright and never had an original thought. Still, Pinochet somehow managed to win the allegiance of those far more intelligent than he and thus maintain power in the face of massive internal and external opposition. The narrative seethes with palpable tension, as Muñoz shows Chile’s citizens desperately hoping for an existence free from fear.
The author’s shrewd insights into international relations, national politics and human nature make this a valuable text even for readers who have rarely thought about Chile.