Tuesday, 9 April 2013

A Letter to Santiago: Thatcher and Pinochet

The list of reasons to dislike Thatch is long indeed, at several points in my life as an analytical exercise I tried to list them all as part of a Pros and Cons sort of thing. I swear each time the Cons column got longer.

But one thing that stuck in my mind as a warning of how dangerous she really could have been and why her loss of power, even though her party full of her acolytes remained firmly in control was a very good thing for everyone in Britain was Thatcher's relationship with Pinochet. Due to the brutality of the Pinochet Junta It's one of the few parts of Thatcher's legacy that isn't aggressively defended by her yuppie admirers. It's usually brushed off with an attempt to frame it as a pragmatic alliance strenghtened during the Falklands conflict where Chile sided with Britain as its relations with  neighbouring Argentina where even poorer then Chile's average minimum wage.

But that isn't really true as the above image shows, there was a mutual respect and relationship between the two. And why not they were very much alike, both had a religious zeal for Market controlled economies, both had a genuine hatred of Socialism (and both used an exceptionally wide definition of Socialism) both liked to style themselves as military leaders tough enough to handle any challenger.

But there were some differences and I wouldn't be doing a fair job if I didn't acknowledge that.

Thatcher merely prosecuted an armed conflict in Northern Ireland, Pinochet did that the length and breadth of Chile.

Thatcher split the opposition electorally Pinochet split opposition heads.

Thatcher had Cavalry charges against striking workers,Pinochet had Armoured cavalry crush their heads.

And Pinochet turned football stadiums into cages while Thatcher merely.... actually this probably belongs in the similarities column.

Anyway the point is the two were different leaders, unfortunately they were different by degrees not kind. Thatcher knew full well what her Latino friend was getting up too, and rather create a rift between the two she admire him for his vindictiveness. I saw a documentary once that claimed that Thatcher went as far as to confide that she wished she could have a society has pro-market as Pinochet's but she lamented the fact that she ruled a democracy and didn't have a repressive force strong enough to keep the people in line. Well today I finally found that letter and can confirm that it is has hateful as I feared.

The original copy
Thank you for your letter of 5 February. I was very glad that you were able to attend the dinner so thoughtfully organised by Walter Solomon. It was not only a great pleasure for me, it was, as always, instructive and rewarding to hear your views on the great issues of our time.
I was aware of the remarkable success of the Chilean economy in reducing the share of government expenditure substantially over the 70's. The progression from Allende's Socialism to the free enterprise capitalist economy of the 1980's is a striking example of economic reform from which we can learn many lessons.
 However, I am sure  you will agree that, in Britain with our democratic institutions and the need for a high degree of consent, some of the measures adopted in Chile are quite unacceptable. Our reform must be in line with our traditions and our constitution. At times the process may seem painfully slow. But I am certain we shall achieve our reforms in our own way and in our own time. Then they will endure.

Emphasis my own.

In her own words she admits that the Britain she dreamed of was akin to a colder and wetter Chile, and acknowledges that the only way Pinochet was able to advance so far was by the use of the military and police against his own people. Her weak criticism of his brutality smacks more of practical concerns rather then moral indignation.

For me this will be Thatcher's legacy, an admirer of a dictator who sulked about not getting to be as viscous in her own playground. Her heavy handed policing and attempts to destroy the Labour movement in Britain were just supporting evidence that her infatuation had the potential to become a reality if she were given the chance. 

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