Reckoning with Pinochet

The Memory Question in Democratic Chile, 1989–2006

Reckoning with Pinochet

Latin America Otherwise

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Book Pages: 584 Illustrations: 29 photographs, 1 table, 2 maps Published: April 2010

Author: Steve J. Stern

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Southern Cone, Law > Human Rights

Reckoning with Pinochet is the first comprehensive account of how Chile came to terms with General Augusto Pinochet’s legacy of human rights atrocities. An icon among Latin America’s “dirty war” dictators, Pinochet had ruled with extreme violence while building a loyal social base. Hero to some and criminal to others, the general cast a long shadow over Chile’s future. Steve J. Stern recounts the full history of Chile’s democratic reckoning, from the negotiations in 1989 to chart a post-dictatorship transition; through Pinochet’s arrest in London in 1998; the thirtieth anniversary, in 2003, of the coup that overthrew President Salvador Allende; and Pinochet’s death in 2006. He shows how transnational events and networks shaped Chile’s battles over memory, and how the Chilean case contributed to shifts in the world culture of human rights.

Stern’s analysis integrates policymaking by elites, grassroots efforts by human rights victims and activists, and inside accounts of the truth commissions and courts where top-down and bottom-up initiatives met. Interpreting solemn presidential speeches, raucous street protests, interviews, journalism, humor, cinema, and other sources, he describes the slow, imperfect, but surprisingly forceful advance of efforts to revive democratic values through public memory struggles, despite the power still wielded by the military and a conservative social base including the investor class. Over time, resourceful civil-society activists and select state actors won hard-fought, if limited, gains. As a result, Chileans were able to face the unwelcome past more honestly, launch the world’s first truth commission to examine torture, ensnare high-level perpetrators in the web of criminal justice, and build a public culture of human rights. Stern provides an important conceptualization of collective memory in the wake of national trauma in this magisterial work of history.


Reckoning with Pinochet ... completes [Stern’s] comprehensive trilogy The Memory Box of Pinochet’s Chile, which offers a multifaceted analysis of struggles over memory since the military dictatorship headed by Augusto Pinochet brutally crushed Chile’s brief experiment in creating a democratic transition to socialism.” — Rosalind Bresnahand, Latin American Perspectives

“...[I]t is a milestone of scholarly achievement – important for its
comprehensive treatment of these important decades and for its insights into Chile and the broader field of historical memory.” — Alexander Wilde, Bulletin of Latin American Research

Reckoning with Pinochet is an essential work on post-dictatorship Chile and on the implications of the Chilean case for the global struggle for human rights.” — Brian Loveman, Hispanic American Historical Review

“Drawing on the obvious split of loyalties within Chilean society, Stern vividly portrays the memory of both sides, bringing to light a conclusion which, despite the obvious, has the tendency to remain cloistered in a realm of its own.“ — Ramona Wadi, Upside Down World

“In terms of disciplinarity, the book reaches beyond Stern's own background as a historian, in a valuable and largely successful effort to break new ground in offering a social history of memory. Political scientists, cultural and memory studies specialists and ethnographers will each find echoes of their own preoccupations here. . . . Stern ranges widely and confidently through high politics, grassroots organising, cultural history, legal change and even popular song and theatre to make his point about the need for a comprehensive history of memory to be truly social. It is not necessary to agree with all aspects of his interpretive framework to be duly impressed with the scope of the achievement.” — Cath Collins, Journal of Latin American Studies

“Stern has provided the reader with an informative and interesting view of contemporary Chilean history from a new perspective.” — Michael R. Hall, Journal of Third World Studies

“Stern’s immense explanatory framework, coupled with his exhaustive researching of events and his extraordinary ability to control a complex narrative, make this book a marvel of historical scholarship. Anyone with an interest in the way post-dictatorial, transition governments handle the combustible question of state-sponsored terrorism needs to read this book. Its value should not be limited to Latin Americanists. The Chilean people’s struggle with historical memory, as Stern argues persuasively in his conclusion, was central to the development of an international legal culture of human rights. It is a fitting tribute that their sustained activism on behalf of truth in Chile might help bring other human rights violators to justice.” — James A. Wood, The Latin Americanist

“Stern’s research is innovative and careful, integrating ethnographic and archival sources with audiovisual and digital materials. . . . The final installment of Stern’s trilogy is a poignant story of Chileans’ reckoning with painful memories, whether in presidential palaces, supermarkets, or in the streets. Thus, Stern has created his own memory script that readers should debate, discuss, and benefit from.” — Brenda Elsey, The Americas

“Stern’s third volume transcends the realm of Chilean politics to force twenty-first century citizens of all states (democratic states, that is) to consider culpability and resistance to the many wrongs which we often witness and which quickly lapse into the realm of memory.” — Isabel DiVanna, Journal of Canadian History

“This book, the most comprehensive of its kind to treat the subject of struggles over historical memory in the post-dictatorship period, is a must-read for those wishing to understand contemporary Chilean history and politics. . . . Reckoning constitutes an impressive study and establishes a strong foundation for future research into the post-1989 period.” — Alison J. Bruey, History

“This volume concludes a monumental work, and, in writing it, Stern has provided an erudite and insightful study of the entire period.” — Michael Monteón, The Historian

“This well-written, superbly researched, and important book is a ‘must read’ not only for Latin American specialists but also for all those interested in how historical memory affects the way any nation and its peoples come to understand and to deal with their past.” — Richard J. Walter, American Historical Review

“While Reckoning with Pinochet advances notably our understanding of Chile's recent history, it is much more than that: it is ultimately a path-breaking study of the contentious role of memory and human rights in democratizing societies. . . . Stern's larger trilogy will long be remembered as a tour de force. It is the most sophisticated historical account of Pinochet's Chile and a creative exploration into the role of memory in human rights struggles. Scholars working on issues of human rights truth-telling and accountability, in any region of the world, will benefit from Stern's complex conceptualization of memory.” — Sonia Cardenas, Human Rights Quarterly

Reckoning with Pinochet is an elegantly written, comprehensive account of Chile’s memory struggle during its transition to democracy. The book, and the trilogy of which it is a part, should be required reading for all students of Latin America who are interested in contemporary political and historical issues, particularly in processes of authoritarian backlash, democratization, and memory construction. Steve Stern is a master storyteller who manages to combine rigorous historical analysis with firsthand knowledge of Chile that is so detailed the context is palpable.” — Michael J. Lazzara, A Contracorriente

“In this well-researched book, Stern covers the broad swath of history from the end of the Pinochet regime to Pinochet’s condemnation by the international community to Chile’s leadership under Bachelet. . . . [T]he book’s greatest strength is its elucidation of symbolic acknowledgment as a form of memory politics by both the state and local community. . . . Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.” — R. L. Bowman, Choice

“Stern’s now-completed trilogy is a remarkably varied, multi-disciplinary, and well-researched study of the Chilean memory question and recent history in general. It provides a number of insightful frameworks to describe the relationships between history, memory, and politics in the process of democratic reconstruction. By virtue of its clear explanations and graceful prose, it is well-suited for any readers interested in Chile or general issues of human rights and memory studies. It lays the foundation for more work in cultural and literary studies, and will surely remain one of the most important works in the field for years to come.” — Patrick Blaine, e-misférica

“With this book, Stern has completed a monumental trilogy, begun with Remembering Pinochet’s Chile (2004) and continued in Battling for Hearts and Minds (2006). . . . Perhaps Stern’s greatest achievement lies in maintaining a human perspective: there are many personal testimonies throughout these pages that complement, represent, and at times contradict or qualify his judgments. . . . In the end, this is a story about the deepest questions, and Stern never resorts to facile shock-tactics, never plays tricks on the reader, and always insists that something very big and deeply human is at stake.” — Paul Grant, Books & Culture

Reckoning with Pinochet is the best account of the trajectory of historical memory under Chile’s restored democracy from 1989 until 2006, and a revealing window on that era and its democratic transition. It reflects Steve J. Stern’s comprehensive knowledge of this period in Chile’s history and his empathetic sensibility, which enables him to see the issues he discusses through the eyes even of people with whom he profoundly disagrees.” — Peter Winn, editor of Victims of the Chilean Miracle: Workers and Neoliberalism in the Pinochet Era, 1973–2002

“This is a master work on what has proved to be one of the late twentieth century’s key events: Chile’s transition from General Pinochet’s brutal rule to a growing promise of democracy. But it is much more. Steve J. Stern not only convincingly argues that the transition was made possible by a fierce battle over the ‘memory’ of Pinochet’s rule and a ‘healthier, accountable democracy,’ but concludes by placing this struggle in a profound global context: in the early 1970s many nations began a historic shift toward human rights concerns and democracy, a shift on which Chile’s experience has had a major, and reciprocal, influence.” — Walter LaFeber, Andrew H. and James S. Tisch Distinguished University Professor Emeritus, Cornell University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Steve J. Stern is the Alberto Flores Galindo Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the author of books including Battling for Hearts and Minds: Memory Struggles in Pinochet’s Chile, 1973–1988, winner of the Bolton-Johnson Prize (the Conference on Latin American History), and Remembering Pinochet’s Chile: On the Eve of London 1998. Both books received Honorable Mention, Bryce Wood Book Award (Latin American Studies Association). Both are also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments xiii

Maps xviii

Introduction to the Trilogy: The Memory Box of Pinochet's Chile xxi

Introduction to Book Three: Reckoning with Pinochet 1

1. The Perils of Truth: Opening the Memory Box, 1989–1990 13

Afterword: "My Dear President" 61

2. Toward Memory Impasse? The Truth Commission Moment, 1990–1991 65

Afterword: The Futility of History? 99

3. The Circle of Truth, Justice, and Force, 1990–1994 106

Afterword: The Sound of Tick-Tock 136

4. Between Prudence and Convulsion: Memory, Triumphalism, and Disenchantment, 1994–1997 143

Afterword: The Joys of "Not Too Much" 200

5. The Turn: Consequences of 1998 211

Afterword: Covering History with History? The Making of Silence 265

6. Memory as Unfinished Work: New Reckonings, 2002–2006 273

Afterword: Unsettled Moments: The Struggle for Londres 38 314

7. Reframing Democratic Transition: Toward the Memory Paradox of Bachelet's Chile 324

Afterword: The Curious Burial of Augusto Pinochet 348

Conclusion: Reckoning with Pinochet 357

Abbreviations Used in Notes and Essay on Sources 387

Notes 389

Essay on Sources 503

Index 525
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4729-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4712-5
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