Pinochet is dead, and it looks certain that Fidel Castro will soon follow him to the grave. I don’t have the same visceral loathing of Castro that I feel for Pinochet, whose brutal coup in 1973 was one of the big political events that formed my view of the world, along with Brezhnev’s invasion of Czechoslovakia five years earlier.
Viewed objectively, though, the similarities between the two outweigh the differences. Any good they have done (education in Cuba, economic growth in Chile) is less substantial than claimed by their admirers, and in any case outweighed by the central fact that, to impose the policies they thought were good, they were willing to jail, torture and kill those who got in their way. And Pinochet’s gross personal corruption is matched by Fidel’s conversion of his dictatorship into a family business, to be inherited by his brother.
Moreover, Pinochet and Castro were two sides of the same political coin. Pinochet justified his destruction of Chilean democracy by the fear that Allende would turn into a new Castro. Castro used Pinochet’s coup (among many other US-backed attacks on Cuba and other Latin American countries) as a justification for repressing domestic dissenters. The world will be a better place when both are gone and, hopefully, democracy comes to Cuba.
Update Predictably, Andew Bolt defends Pinochet. It’s important to observe that Bolt is even-handed in these matters. He would be just as eager to excuse Castro’s crimes if Fidel happened to change sides (hat tip: Tim Dunlop)