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Liberty and security:

International | Post-Pinochet Chile

Issue: "A warmer Chile," Nov. 9, 2002

As the Pinochet government stayed in power, the left regrouped. International groups and domestic critics circulated lists of human-rights violations. Mr. Pinochet denied any wrongdoing, but it's clear that in the aftermath of Sept. 11 some soldiers, some farmers whose land the left had seized, and some others of a revengeful mind, seized their opportunity to murder. Mr. Pinochet's partisans pointed out accurately that there was no evidence that the military junta was ordering executions. They also noted that the 2,000 Chileans said to have died (half during the fighting of Sept. 11 and thereafter) made up a number far fewer than had died in civil upheavals in Mexico, Nicaragua, or Cuba itself. But it's clear that some grisly murders did occur, and that some of the blood seemed to splash on the uniforms of the military.

As memories of the chaos of 1973 faded, more Chileans called for a return to normal political debate. In 1988, 54 percent voted to have elections the following year. Mr. Pinochet assented, and relinquished power when Chileans elected Patricio Aylwin Azocar, head of the Christian Democrats. According to Mr. Perez de Arce of El Mercurio, 20 percent of Chileans now see Mr. Pinochet as Chile's savior, 50 percent are favorably disposed to what still seems to have been the least worse alternative, and the other 30 percent are negative concerning the coup because of human-rights violations.

But whether warranted or not, the backlash against Mr. Pinochet's government had led to the political success of the center-left since elections returned in 1989. These recent developments are all coolly analyzed at Chile's premier think tank, the Instituto de Libertad y Desarrollo (Institute of Liberty and Development). The Institute's library is a cool, quiet place, with walls of white and bookshelves featuring multicolored series of public-policy studies, all under a gently ineffectual ceiling fan. The wood floor reflects the light off the walls so that the entire room has a cool, bright look, as does Cristian Larroulet V., the Institute's director and one of "the Chicago boys."

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Mr. Larroulet, wearing a white short-sleeve shirt on a warm morning and carrying a Mickey Mouse mug, was able to go from calm to very animated as quickly as a sports car can go from zero to 60. He readily compared Chilean and American politics: Ricardo Lagos, the current president, is like Clinton, while Santiago Mayor Joaquin Lavin, narrowly defeated in the presidential race two years ago, is a compassionate conservative. The think tankers are policy wonks without being economic determinists; they talk about the problems of broken families and see culture, not just finances, as crucial. They ask, "Do we have a culture that breeds character? that generates entrepreneurs who want liberty, not just security?"

Massive Santiago offers one perspective, but to get another sense of how Chile is changing it's useful to visit smaller cities such as Rancagua, 50 miles south of Santiago on the Pan-American Highway. This city in a prime agricultural area, but also close to the El Teniente copper mine in the foothills of the Andes, is home for the past six years to Ray Harbaugh of the Gospel Mission of South America.

Rev. Harbaugh introduces visitors to members of his congregation like Miguel Cespedes, who lost parts of two fingers in an El Teniente explosion a few years back. His wife had it worse: Attacked by cancer, Mrs. Cespedes went to a Pentecostal healing service, confidently stopped her treatment, and went back to the doctor a few months later only to find that the cancer had spread through her body. When she died, Mr. Cespedes did not want to have anything to do with churches, but after Rev. Harbaugh's son Jonathan befriended his son, both came to an evening class on creation. Mr. Cespedes loved the class, since he had never learned anything about how things began, and soon was coming regularly to services.

Mr. Cespedes now drives a colectivo, a jitney cab that can legally pick up as many as four passengers along its set route. His tiny living room shows that his vision isn't restricted to the streets of Rancagua: Magazine photos of natural wonders-a stream with seven waterfalls-and beautiful vistas serve as wallpaper, and wispy leaves hang down from the ceiling. His son Felipe also would love to travel far and has also put up with frustration: He was a promising soccer player until an injury ended any prospects of a professional career, and he now wants to be a physical education professor. But Mr. Cespedes expresses Christian contentment, and it's easy to see why Marxists see Christianity as a tough opponent.

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