Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte, born November 25, 1915, was a Chilean army general and President of Chile from 1973 to 1990. In 1935, he joined the army after graduating from Military School and rapidly rose through the ranks. In 1973, Pinochet was appointed Commander-in-Chief and ruled Chile first as leader of the Military Junta, then as President of the Republic, and finally as de jure President following a divisive referendum held in 1980. His regime is notorious for the atrocities committed against members of the opposition and for implementing controversial economic policies. On his birthday, we recount the major events in his career.
Augusto Jose Ramon Pinochet Ugarte was born on November 25, 1915 in Valparaiso, Chile. He was the son of Augusto Pinochet Vera and Avelina Ugarte Martinez. Pinochet attended schools mostly in Valparaiso before enrolling in Military School in Santiago in 1931. He graduated as Second Lieutenant in the infantry in 1935. Pinochet served in various regiments before entering the Chilean War Academy in 1948. He returned to military school in 1951 as Officer Chief of Staff to teach. He gradually rose through the ranks of the Chilean Army teaching classes, continuing his studies, and serving in missions until he became General Chief of Staff in 1972. A year later, Pinochet was appointed Commander-in-Chief, staged a coup d’état, and seized power of Chile, ending civilian rule.
In 1974, he was appointed Supreme Head of the nation by the ruling military junta. Pinochet’s right-wing ideology shaped his subsequent authoritative regime. He ruthlessly persecuted opposing parties and political critics resulting in over 3,000 executions and disappearances. Over 80,000 people were interned with tens of thousands tortured and sexually abused. Influenced by free-market principles, Pinochet’s military government implemented economic policies such as currency stabilization, privatization of social security and state-owned enterprises, and reversal of tariff protections for local industry. In a true dictatorship style, his policies restricted freedom of speech and banned trade unions. He retired in 1998 and became a senator-for-life.
Pinochet was arrested in London in October 1998 for human rights violations and was prosecuted for embezzlement and tax fraud and accused of having corruptly acquired at least $28 million. He died of congestive heart failure and pulmonary edema on December 10, 2006. At the time of his death, he had about 300 criminal charges from during and after his rule that were still pending against him. Pinochet was survived by his widow Lucía Hiriart Rodríguez — who he wed in January 1943 and their five children.
Pinochet graduates as second lieutenant from military school, after studying military geography for four years.
Pinochet returns to military school as Officer Chief of Staff to teach.
Pinochet is appointed General Chief of Staff of the army.
President Salvador Allende appoints him Commander-in-Chief of the army and he seizes power of the country with a coup d'état.
Pinochet steps down from Presidency but continues to serve as Commander-in-Chief.
Pinochet officially retires and is arrested on a visit to London for human rights violations.
Why We Love Augusto Pinochet
His economic policies
Under Pinochet’s rule, Chilean exports and GDP per capita rose steadily until the 1997 Asian crisis. Chile was also the best-performing economy in Latin America for most of the 1990s as an indirect result of Pinochet’s divisive policies.
He was a patriot
Pinochet is remembered for having a profound love for his country. Supporters who remember him from his early days commend his patriotism and nationalism.
He was authoritarian, not totalitarian
Chilean democracy was already crumbling when Pinochet took over. Although his methods were aggressive, his regime ended with a peaceful constitutional transfer of power.
5 Surprising Facts
He has an interesting mixed heritage
Pinochet is of French Breton heritage from his father’s side and Basque heritage from his mother’s side.
He admired the French
Pinochet learned the French language from an uncle and he admired Napoleon and Louis XIV.
He overthrew the leader that appointed him
In August 1973, Pinochet was appointed Commander-in-Chief by President Salvador Allende, but Pinochet overthrew him weeks later.
Torture was a part of his regime
In 2004, the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture confirmed over 30,000 cases of torture under Pinochet’s regime.
He lived his last years in seclusion
Upon returning to Chile in 2000, Pinochet was shunned by his former colleagues and supporters for his war crimes.
Augusto Pinochet FAQs
What was Pinochet’s ideology?
Dubbed ‘Pinochetism’, Pinochet’s ideology is right-wing and far-right based on principles of authoritarianism, conservatism, anti-communism, neoliberalism, nationalism, patriotism, and chauvinism.
How did Augusto Pinochet violate human rights?
During Pinochet’s regime, many detention sites were solely established to sexually abuse, torment, and humiliate the prisoners.
Did the U.S. help Pinochet?
In a report issued in 2000, the C.I.A. concluded that while the U.S. supported the military junta after the overthrow of Allende, they did not assist Pinochet in the coup.
Augusto Pinochet’s birthday dates