On March 3, 2000, I was in Santiago de Chile covering for TV3 the return of Augusto Pinochet after almost three years of arrest in London, following an order issued by Judge Baltasar Garzón. We broadcast live the arrival of the military plane that was transporting him, supposedly suffering from serious mental deterioration that prevented him from being tried. Suddenly, he stood up from the wheelchair and, after hugging the army chief, reviewed the troops who were honoring him. Not a hint of the disease, much less dementia. It had all been a farce, the penultimate mockery of the old codger.
Fifty years after the coup that ended Salvador Allende's regime on September 11, 1973, the open wound in Chilean society still bleeds with pain and rage. Right-wing revisionism has taken advantage of the anniversary to rewrite a history of barbarism that left more than three thousand dead and tens of thousands imprisoned, tortured and exiled. The sinister imprint of Pinochetism seems indelible in a country so politically fractured that it is even incapable of reforming the Constitution approved during the dictatorship.
The rift that divides Chileans is no exception on the American continent. Apart from the communist dictatorships, autocratic populism in the style that Jair Bolsonaro once imposed in Brazil, has appendages in Honduras, El Salvador or Nicaragua, countries forged in the episodes of barbarism that have marked their history.
The next domino piece could be Argentina, where the extreme right led by the ultra-liberal Javier Milei establishes itself as the first force in the general elections on October 22. Self-defined as an anarcho-capitalist, Milei proposes the dollarization of the economy, prohibiting abortion, erasing the dictatorship or legalizing the trade in human organs. And, above all, he guarantees a strong hand to eradicate crime and corruption, laudable objectives but which in the hands of these contemporary autocrats become appropriation of democratic institutions, repression and elimination of rights and freedoms. The broken mirror where Pinochet's image is reflected has a very long shadow.