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History, Pinochet Government

Beagle Channel, Pinochet, military coup, car bomb, iron grip

The military ruled through a junta headed by General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. It immediately suspended the constitution, dissolved Congress, imposed strict censorship, and banned all political parties. In addition, it embarked on a campaign of terror against leftist elements in the country. Thousands were arrested; many were executed, tortured, or exiled, while still others languished in prison or simply disappeared.

For the next few years the junta retained its iron grip on the country, although some token relaxation could be seen toward the end of the decade. In 1976 Chilean opposition leader and former foreign minister Orlando Letelier and his U.S. secretary were killed by a car bomb while in Washington, D.C. At the time, the assassinations were widely believed to have been ordered by Chileís secret police. The state of siege was lifted in 1978 (although a state of emergency remained in effect), and more civilians were added to the cabinet. Chile, however, remained a police state. A new constitution, accepted by a referendum on the seventh anniversary of the military coup, legalized the regime until 1989, and Pinochet began another eight-year term as president in March 1981.

Economically, the Pinochet government, with its austere controls, slashed inflation and stimulated production between 1977 and 1981. Starting in 1982, however, the worldwide recession and declining copper prices led to a downturn in the Chilean economy. There were large-scale protests against the government in 1983, followed by a wave of bombings in major cities. Rising popular unrest and continued economic deterioration led Pinochet to reimpose a state of siege in 1984. A treaty signed with Argentina that year ratified Chileís claim to three islands in the Beagle Channel. After an unsuccessful attempt on Pinochetís life in 1986, he launched new repressive measures.

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