Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Patricio Aylwin Has Died

Former Chilean President Patricio Aylwin has died. He was 97. He was a major political figure in 20th century Chilean politics. As a leader of the Christian Democratic Party, he played an important role in opposing Salvador Allende's policies, and shed no tears when he was overthrown. However, he came to regret that attitude after seeing, as so many of course did, that the military solution was far worse. As a news article wrote at the time of Aylwin taking office:

A day after the armed forces and police toppled Allende's Communist-backed government after three years of strikes, inflation and conflict, the Christian Democrats said that Allende had brought the coup on himself. They added that "the armed forces didn't seek this, but rather acted out of patriotism, with a sense of responsibility in the face of the historic destiny of Chile." 
That embittered Allende's Socialists and others in Allende's ruling Popular Unity coalition. Aylwin would later acknowledge that while the majority of Chileans agreed at the time, "in a variety of our evaluations, we were mistaken."

He quickly became highly critical of the dictatorship and was elected president in 1989, taking office in 1990. I did my dissertation research (which became this book) in the mid-late 1990s, and although I never interviewed him I talked to many of his associates as well as military officers. With Augusto Pinochet hovering around, he faced difficult trade-offs between stability and military accountability. The Rettig Commission, which investigated deaths but didn't name names, is an example of that trade-off. The 1990s was a time of complicated civil-military incrementalism.


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