From Coup to Constitution: Repression, Legitimacy, and Human Rights in Pinochet’s Chile (1973-1980)
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The year 1973 brought General Augusto Pinochet to power through a coup d’état that disrupted and transformed Chilean democracy. This investigation examines the first seven years of junta rule, during which Pinochet adapted various strategies to gain and manage his legitimacy. From 1973 to 1974, he violently repressed dissidents and embraced a discourse of democracy to convince Chileans of his mandate and capacity to protect them from communist takeover. A climate of fear prevailed throughout society, and within two years, organized opposition was either exterminated, exiled, or retreated, which created space for Pinochet to exert his authority. The junta’s confronted new pressures in 1975 with the Church Committee investigations and a highly publicized assassination in 1976 that fractured its alliance with the US government. The military regime faced high political costs for its extreme use of force, and Pinochet struggled to defend his right to rule to the international community that condemned his human rights violations. He distanced himself from mass repression and instead prepared the way for a Constitution that would centralize his power, while pushing back on a strained US government to uphold its commitment to their alliance. This narrative explores how Pinochet struggled to maintain international standing when external forces kept his legitimacy in tension and prioritized human rights as a condition for democracy during this era.