In the video on learning, Robert discusses a trip to Chile that had a profound effect on his life. The state of unrest in Chile and the responses of those he trusted left Robert doubting many things he thought he knew.
The unrest in Chile that Robert experienced was right in the middle of a 17-year military dictatorship. The turmoil he faced and the oppression he felt the weight of were results of the 1973 Chilean coup d’état, in which democratically-elected president Salvador Allende was overthrown and the country was taken over by military junta leadership.
Salvador Allende served as president for three years. He was elected fairly and democratically, but under his leadership the economy plummeted. This opened the doors for military leaders to move in and take over. Allende died during the overthrow.
As the leader of the Army, the oldest military branch, General Augusto Pinochet became the leader of the junta. Shortly after the overthrow, he became the President of Chile.
The authoritarian military rule moved quickly to eliminate political dissidence. Anyone deemed “leftist” or who showed opposition to the new government was harshly suppressed. Over the course of the their rule, over 3,000 people went missing or were killed, and more than 27,000 were incarcerated and likely tortured. Over 200,000 Chileans were exiled, fleeing or being forced out by the government.
The military leadership adopted a systemic suppression of political parties while definitively persecuting dissidents. While the overtake was initially supported by many foreign and domestic institutions because of the crippled economy under Allende, over time they became known less for their economic policy and more for their human rights violations. The U.S. Government supported the coup – in fact, the CIA backed it. But by 1980, when Pinochet was elected for another term, the US was no longer in support of this extremist rule.
The Catholic Church also initially supported the military rule, but over time they became one of the most outspoken critics.
In 1980, when Robert was in Chile on assignment from the Orthodox Church, the government was passing a new constitution to better reflect the policies of the military junta. Unrest was at its peak after years of oppression and silencing. Dissidence was not tolerated, and Robert fell victim to the ransacking of homes and violation of human rights that was widespread in Chile at that point.
In 1988, Pinochet stepped down as leader. This again opened some doors for a new government to take over, and in 1990, democracy was restored to Chile.