Augusto Pinochet Chilean Dictator 1915-2006
Augusto Pinochet was not an overly sentimental or loyal man. Appointed Commander in Chief of the Chilean Army in August, 1973 by Salvador Allende, the current democratically elected President, Pinochet waited less than a month before violently overthrowing Allende’s government and shelling his presidential palace—leading to Allende’s death.
Upon taking control, Pinochet’s government worked aggressively to silence criticism, immediately banning all leftist political parties and ordering the “indefinite recess” of all others. His government caused the “disappearance” of thousands of political dissidents and tortured countless more, famously rounding up during a two month period an estimated 7,000 suspected communist party members and their families and holding them hostage in the National Stadium while torturing several and executing others. In addition to kidnappings, torture, and murder, an estimated 200,000 Chilean citizens were either forced into exile or sought asylum in neighboring countries.
Despite the violence and repression, many credit his massive privatization campaign with greatly improving an ailing economy, while others accuse him of increasing already massive inequality between upper and lower class. Recent investigations estimate that he embezzled and laundered over 25 million dollars during his presidency, much of it from bribes he received through the illegal arms trade.
He finally died in 2006 while under house arrest for various human rights violations, the assassination of a former army colonel, tax fraud, and passport forgery.
Anastasio “Tachito” Somoza Nicaraguan Dictator 1925-1980
Standing 6’4”, weighing 250 lbs and married to his first cousin, Anastasio “Tachito” Somoza had little use for the opinions of others. Like his father before him, if he had a problem with you, you would likely be tortured. Somoza’s father, “Tacho” had imposed his tyrannical dictatorship on Nicaragua from 1936 to 1956, continually ordering the assassination and torture of political opponents until he himself was finally assassinated in 1956 by a young poet disguised as a waiter. Somoza himself spent time as head of the National Guard, before his assuming the Presidency after his brother—only a mild human rights violator—ended his presidency and then died a short time later.
Somoza’s father had become the largest landowner in Nicaragua, stealing large tracts from previous owners while appointing himself head of the nation’s railroads—privileges which allowed him to manipulate foreign investments and trade and ultimately accumulate over $40 million in personal wealth. Tachito continued similar practices; ignoring his impoverished constituents and stealing public funds, while torturing his opponents and manipulating constitutional laws and various appointed “puppet” presidents to maintain control of the country.
When a disastrous earthquake struck the capital city of Managua in 1972, he reportedly stole millions of dollars of international aid money sent for relief. Civil war finally broke out in 1979, influenced largely by his increasing censorships of press and the recent assassination he allegedly ordered on the editor of his country’s main newspaper. The following year, while exiled in Paraguay, he was assassinated by a rocket launcher fired by a group of Nicaraguan Sandinista revolutionaries.
Fidel Castro Cuban Dictator 1926-Present
Quite likely the most controversial political leader in the last half century, Fidel Castro has survived over 600 assassination plots while spending his free time enjoying fine cigars and baseball. Castro became involved in revolutionary politics in his early 20’s, enjoying a brief friendship and even receiving a wedding gift from then Cuban President Fulgencio Batista before joining a failed overthrow attempt in 1953.
Castro returned to Cuba in 1956, after imprisonment and exile, along with revolutionary Che Guevara and only 80 others to begin the two year long guerilla warfare campaign that ended in the successful overthrow of Batista’s regime. When they achieved victory, Castro and his men were praised as heroes.
A courageous fighter and charismatic leader, Castro declared that his motives were to depose dictatorship and restore representative government through elections. He claimed to have no desire for power himself and that he would not nationalize private industry. Upon assuming control of the country however, he soon rescinded, declaring “the revolution has no time for elections” while banning elections and declaring Cuba a socialist state.
He began nationalizing several industries while re-appropriating much of the nation’s foreign owned land to impoverished locals. He became a hero to many of the poor, while alienating much of the wealthy class. His social leanings led to several US embargos and increasingly close ties with the communist Soviet Union. His government is simultaneously admired for its education and health care while drawing intense criticism for its consistent human rights abuses and denial of political freedoms.
For over 40 years, Castro survived embargoes, assassination attempts, and massive political pressure to maintain his presidency. In the process he has become a hero and inspirational figurehead of anti-capitalism in Latin America and abroad.