But the truth is very different.
Pinochet came to power in 1973 after leading a coup against Chilean President Salvador Allende. Liberals speak of Allende as practically a paragon of virtue and decency. The truth is that Allende was a Stalinist communist who was leading a revolution to convert Chile into a totalitarian communist country. Allende led communist forces who terrorized Chile, murdered innocents, stole land, destroyed the economy, and ended the rule of law.
Liberals never tire of praising Allende as "democratically elected." That much is true enough. Allende won all of 36% of the vote in a three-way race. That's less than the 44% that Adolph Hitler won in 1933. Just like Hitler, Allende was elected democratically, and worked to transform his country into a dictatorship. The difference is that Allende was stopped before it was too late.
The coup took place on September 11, 1973. While it was not peaceful, it was hardly the bloodbath that liberals portray. The coup was over within a few hours; about 400 combatants were killed. Allende committed suicide with a gun given to him by Fidel Castro.
Then there is the claim that Pinochet "terrorized his political opponents." This is rather like claiming that George Washington "terrorized his political opponents" without pointing out that his "political opponents" were fighting a war against him. The difference is that while the British were perhaps the best people in the world at the time, Pinochet's "opponents" were communist terrorists who were seeking to overthrow his government and impose communism on Chile.
After the coup, communists launched a terrorist campaign to overthrow Pinochet's government. The resulting conflict amounted to a small-scale civil war. During the seventeen years of Pinochet's rule, about 2300 people died on both sides of the conflict, almost half within the first few months of the coup. As late as 1986, the government intercepted an arms shipment big enough to arm 5000 terrorists and Pinochet narrowly survived an assassination attempt involving 70 terrorists.
Unlike most "dictators," Pinochet promoted liberty. Under the advice of Milton Friedman and other "Chicago school" economists, he cut taxes, cut spending, cut regulation, and privatized social security. He limited the powers of government. In almost no time, Chile's economy had recovered, and soon it experienced new levels of prosperity.
Also unlike most "dictators," Pinochet voluntarily stepped down. In 1990, after a majority of Chileans voted to restore democracy, he relinquished power. His rule provided a clean transition back to democracy. Since then, Chile has continued to prosper, and the threat of a communist takeover has faded away.
The truth about Pinochet can be found in these articles.
Patriot Enchained by William Jasper
Augusto Pinochet: A 20th Century Hero by James Whelan
Persistent Persecution of Pinochet by James Whelan
Augusto Pinochet: The Untold Story by Humberto Fontova
Pinochet's Legacy: A Free, Non-Communist Chile by Paul Weyrich
Pinochet was a consistent target of the left. While he was in power, they demanded sanctions, divestment, condemnation, and more. After he gave up power, and was no threat to anyone, liberal "human rights" kept attacking him. In 1998, he was arrested in Britain on a warrant issued by a socialist Spanish judge. This was completely illegal, but Pinochet spent the next four years under house arrest. His health deteriorating, Pinochet returned to Chile, where he spent the last four years of his life.
If Pinochet wasn't really such a bad guy after all, why is it that liberal "human rights" advocates have been so insistent that he be put on trial? Some comparisons may be illuminating.
Idi Amin was the dictator of Uganda from 1971 to 1979. During his eight year rule, he murdered 300,000 people and ate some of them. He also aided terrorists. After being ousted from power, he retired to Saudi Arabia, where he lived the final twenty-four years of his life. He never had to worry about liberal "human rights" activists putting him on trial.
Yassar Arafat was a lifelong terrorist and dictator of the Palestinian territories. He was responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. He pioneered many forms of terrorism. Yet he was actually awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and was the most frequent visitor to the White House under President Clinton. There was never a liberal campaign to put him on trial either.
This list could go on and on. It wouldn't even be sporting to bring up how the left treats Fidel Castro.
How can it be that Pinochet is pursued while people guilty of crimes far greater than anything he was even accused of are ignored, if not praised, by the left? It becomes clear that there is a tremendous double standard for how the left judges political leaders. But why?
Pinochet's real crime was not "human rights abuses," it was being anti-communist. He saved Chile from becoming another communist dictatorship. In addition, he promoted prosperity through economic freedom, and helped to discredit socialism in the process. Liberals still hate him for it.
As Ann Coulter put it on page 323 of Treason:
Incidentally, those who would deserve a place on the Mount Rushmore of Cold War heroes include Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain and President Augusto Pinochet of Chile. Pinochet proved to the world that market economics could work in a backward Third World country on the brink of becoming the next Cuba. And the world took notice. It was a tremendous blow to the left. Pinochet did that. As with Nixon, liberals are still trying to get back at Pinochet. To this day, they are trying to put him on "trial" for "war crimes" against Communist insurgents.Pinochet wasn't perfect; no one is. But the world was better for his actions.