Sunday, December 10, 2006

Death To Dictators

[I wrote most of this post about a week ago. Pinochet's death this morning spurred me to finally go back and wind it up.]

Perhaps it's fate's little joke, the possibility of a simultaneous demise of two ideologically opposed tyrants, Fidel Castro and Augusto Pinochet. As just about every country between Brownsville and Ushuaia has veered left (or at least much more left than we would have liked), it might be instructive to reflect on the opportunity cost of our support of one tyrant, and our disproportionate rage at the other.

How different would the course of policy in this hemisphere had been if we hadn't clipped Allende, and/or if we had found a way to work with Castro? It's something to consider, as the actual course of things set a lot of nasty dominoes in motion. The argument against Castro has been that we don't work with regimes which violently repress dissent, and keep and execute political prisoners. This is so patently ridiculous it is not even worth the bother to rebut.

As for Chile, the argument has been made that after the initial "growing pains" -- you know, the torture and murder of dissidents, including several Americans -- Pinochet set Chile on a course of privatization and prosperity. But there is no reason to believe that Allende, not unlike da Silva of Brazil, would not have done the same things anyway, given the opportunity and our cooperation, or at least the lack of our interference.

And that's really at the heart of what's at stake here, and the reason behind all the animosity in Central and South America these days. When a European country elects a leader who is perceived as a cheap populist demagogue, we find a way to deal with it. When China rounds up Christians or Tibetans and beats them to death, we look the other way. When Russia elects a former KGB colonel who has been accused of everything from false-flag terrorism to pedophilia, we look into his eyes and assay his soul as 24-karat gold.

But this has rarely been the case in former colonial areas, in South America, Africa, the Middle East. We seem to think they don't understand what's going on, or else we just don't care whether they do or not. But they rightly understand the situation. Only a reliable strongman, beholden to our commercial extraction interests, can be trusted to oversee the teeming masses. And if they happen to feel differently about the course their lives and country should take, we intervene to set the record straight.

Would we put up with that shit from anyone else? Of course not. So what makes us think they will?

Assholes like Castro and Pinochet were effective because they understood how to harness peoples' worst instincts to their best abilities. One hopes that in both cases, the people who were and are subject to their respective regimes and policies can separate those policies from the personalities. It's the cult of personality paradigm that allowed each of them to accede to and retain excessive power in the first place.

[Update: TBogg has a nicely detailed rundown of Pinochet's terrorist activities including, it can never be reiterated too often or strongly enough, the car-bomb assassination of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt in Washington DC. Castro was a bad guy, but Pinochet was pure vicious scum. It's only a very small sense of justice that he was more or less legally hounded to the very end. Strapping him to a chair in the bowels of a soccer stadium and juicing up his nutsack would have been better.]

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