- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 10, 2006

SANTIAGO, Chile — Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who terrorized his opponents for 17 years after taking power in a bloody coup, died yesterday after a decade of intensifying efforts to bring him to trial for human rights abuses blamed on his regime. He was 91.

Supporters saw Gen. Pinochet as a Cold War hero for overthrowing President Salvador Allende at a time when the United States feared his democratically elected Marxist government wanted to export communism in Latin America.

The world soon reacted in horror as Santiago’s main soccer stadium filled with political prisoners to be tortured, shot or forced into exile. Some simply disappeared.

Gen. Pinochet’s dictatorship laid the groundwork for South America’s most stable economy, but his crackdown on dissent left a lasting legacy: His name has become a byword for the state terror that retarded democratic change across the hemisphere.

Gen. Pinochet died with his family at his side at the Santiago Military Hospital, a week after suffering a heart attack.

“This criminal has departed without ever being sentenced for all the acts he was responsible for during his dictatorship,” lamented Hugo Gutierrez, a human rights lawyer involved in several lawsuits against Gen. Pinochet.

A small group of Pinochet supporters gathered outside the hospital, weeping and trading insults with people in passing cars. Some shouted, “Long Live General Pinochet,” and sang Chile’s national anthem.

Many other Chileans saw his death as reason for celebration. Hundreds of cheering, flag-waving people crowded a major plaza in the capital, drinking champagne and tossing confetti.

“Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile represented one of most difficult periods in that nation’s history,” said Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman. “Our thoughts today are with the victims of his reign and their families.”

Chile’s government says at least 3,197 persons were killed for political reasons during Gen. Pinochet’s rule, but courts allowed the aging general to escape hundreds of criminal complaints as his health declined.

The mustachioed general left no doubt about who was in charge after the Sept. 11, 1973, coup, when warplanes bombed the presidential palace and Mr. Allende committed suicide with a submachine gun that Fidel Castro had given him.

“Not a leaf moves in this country if I’m not moving it,” Gen. Pinochet said.

He refused for years to take responsibility of his regime’s abuses, blaming subordinates for slayings or tortures.

Only on his 91st birthday last month did he take “full political responsibility for everything that happened” during his long rule. The statement made no reference to the rights abuses, and said he had to act to prevent Chile’s economic and political disintegration.

Born Nov. 25, 1915, the son of a customs official in the port of Valparaiso, Gen. Pinochet was appointed army commander just 19 days before the coup against Mr. Allende, who mistakenly thought Gen. Pinochet would defend constitutional rule.

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