CBSN

Pinochet's Death Met With Tears, Cheers

Opponents of former Gen. Augusto Pinochet stand next to burning barricades in downtown Santiago, Chile, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2006. Pinochet, who ruled Chile after a military coup from 1973 to 1990, died Sunday from heart complications. He was 91.
AP
Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who overthrew Chile's democratically elected Marxist president in a bloody coup and ruled this Andean nation for 17 years, died Sunday, dashing hopes of victims of his regime's abuses that he would be brought to justice. He was 91.

Pinochet suffered a heart attack a week ago and underwent an angioplasty, and the brief announcement by the Santiago Military hospital said his condition worsened suddenly on Sunday. Dr. Juan Ignacio Vergara, spokesman for the medical team that had been treating him, said his family was with him when he died.

Vergara said Pinochet died at 2:15 p.m., surrounded by his family, according to the Chilean daily La Tercera.

Police surrounded the hospital, but by late afternoon about 5,000 Pinochet supporters had gathered at the entrance, according to Chilean television. The supporters, including some weeping women, repeatedly called out "Long Live Pinochet!" and sang Chile's national anthem.

Roughly 4,000 Pinochet detractors, meanwhile, uncorked champagne bottles, honked horns and waved Chileans flags at Plaza Italia, in central Santiago, according to La Tercera.

Violent clashes broke out between police and Pinochet opponents who threw rocks at cars and set up fire barricades on the city's main avenue. Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd. Authorities said there were a number of arrests, but no immediate reports of injuries.

Chile's government says at least 3,197 people were killed for political reasons during Pinochet's rule, but after leaving the presidency in 1990 the former dictator escaped hundreds of criminal complaints because of his declining physical and mental health.

Pinochet took power on Sept. 11, 1973, demanding an unconditional surrender from President Salvador Allende as warplanes bombed the presidential palace in downtown Santiago. Instead, Allende committed suicide with a submachine gun he had received as a gift from Fidel Castro.

As the mustachioed Pinochet crushed dissent during his 1973-90 rule, he left little doubt about who was in charge. "Not a leaf moves in this country if I'm not moving it," he once said.

But when it came to his regime's abuses, Pinochet refused for years to take responsibility, saying any murders of political prisoners were the work of subordinates. Then on his 91st birthday — just last month — he took "full political responsibility for everything that happened" during his long rule. The statement read by his wife, however, made no reference to the rights abuses.

"The death of General Augusto Pinochet gives some closure to the victims and families of those who were tortured and killed during a dark and repressive period in Chilean history," says CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk, "although the inability to bring him to trial for the crimes of his regime leaves many victims, including the current President, Michelle Bachelet, who was a victim of torture, without the closure that justice would have provided."

Pinochet, born Nov. 25, 1915, the son of a customs official in the port of Valparaiso, was commander of the army at the time of the 1973 coup, appointed 19 days earlier by the president he toppled.

The CIA tried for months to destabilize the Allende government, including financing a truckers strike that paralyzed the delivery of goods across Chile, but Washington denied having anything to do with the coup.

In the days following Pinochet's seizure of power, soldiers carried out mass arrests of leftists. Tanks rumbled through the streets of the capital.

Many detainees, including Americans Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, were herded into the National Stadium, which became a torture and detention center. The Americans were among those executed by the Chilean military, their deaths chronicled in the 1982 film "Missing."

Other leftists were rounded up by a death squad known as the "Caravan of Death." Victims were buried in unmarked mass graves in the northern Atacama desert and in the coastal city of La Serena.

Pinochet pledged to stay in power "only as long as circumstances demand it," but soon after seizing the presidency, he said he had "goals, not deadlines."