Assassination, Justice And Chile's Presidential Election
LIANE HANSEN, host:
Journalist John Dinges was a special correspondent in Chile for The Washington Post and is a former managing editor for NPR. He's on the phone now from Santiago, Chile. Welcome to the show, John.
Mr. JOHN DINGES (Journalist, The Washington Post): Glad to be on.
HANSEN: We just heard from NPR's Juan Forero about the charges issued in the murder of the country's former President Eduardo Frei. What's the motive? I mean, why would they want to kill Eduardo Frei?
Mr. DINGES: Eduardo Frei initially supported the military coup that brought Pinochet to power. By 1978, he had come out making critical comments against Pinochet because of violations of human rights, and because there was really no sign that they were returning to democracy.
And in 1980, he led, really, the first public demonstration in which everybody for the first time could come and protest the Pinochet government. And then he formed, in the subsequent months, he formed an alliance of all of the people who had been against the socialist Allende government, who had initially supported the coup and now he was bringing them together in an opposition movement against Pinochet.
That political movement - which died in its infancy, obviously, with the death President Frei - I think would have changed history. And there's a pretty clear motive as to why Pinochet would want to get rid of him.
HANSEN: As you know, Chile is holding presidential elections today and polls are suggesting that the right wing candidate, Sebastian Pinera, will win. What would his victory mean for the country?
Mr. DINGES: I think it is probably less change than many people think. He has mapped out a government program that is similar in many ways - in many important ways to the Concertacion government, the government that's been in power ever since Pinochet left in 1990. He's kind of like a Republican but I would put him in a category of a moderate Republican, more like a liberal.
He says he doesn't intend to shrink the state. He intends to continue the anti-poverty programs of the Bachelet government, the current president. And he basically is saying we're not going to have a different kind of government. We're going to have a better kind of government.
HANSEN: You were one of the few American journalists to live in Chile during its most violent period of military rule. How would you say the country's changed since democracy was restored almost two decades ago?
Mr. DINGES: It's day and night, literally. This is one of the most democratic countries in Latin America. Freedom of the press is absolutely unrestricted. It's a free market economy. It's one of the least corrupt governments in Latin America, considered to be the best-run government probably in all of Latin America. I can't think of one that I would put above it.
Economic growth averaged a 5.8 percent during the last 19 years, that's pretty amazing. And even during the current economic downturn, Chile still has positive growth. So it's been a good news story consistently during all these years. And human rights continues to be in the background, as we find out with this current investigation of the former president's alleged murder.
HANSEN: Journalist John Dinges joined us by phone from Santiago, Chile. Thanks, John.
Mr. DINGES: You're very welcome. It's great to be on the show.
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