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Genaro Arriagada

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Genaro Arriagada Herrera is a Chilean attorney, political scientist, diplomat and politician.

Arriagada was born in 1943 and studied law at the University of Chile, graduating in 1965. He became active in politics and affiliated with the Christian Democratic Party in 1963. He worked on several of the party’s political campaigns. Following the military coup d’état in 1973, the regime of General Augusto Pinochet banned political parties. Arriagada became active in the democratic opposition to the military regime. From 1980 to 1989, he served as vice president of the Christian Democrats.
In 1988, Arriagada was chosen as Executive Secretary of the Concertación, the Coalition of Parties for Democracy, a broad coalition of political parties from across the political spectrum that opposed the military government.

In October 1988, the Pinochet regime called a national referendum asking Chileans whether they wanted to continue the military regime. As Executive Secretary of the Concertación, Arriagada became the director of the historic “No” Campaign, which opposed extending military rule. The opposition organized a large voter registration effort and mounted an upbeat campaign that urged voters to restore democracy to Chile.

As Chile returned to the democratic path, Arriagada served in multiple senior positions. He led Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle’s successful presidential campaign in 1993 and then served as a minister in his government. He also ran the successful presidential campaign of Ricardo Lagos in 1999. In the late 1990s, Arriagada served as Chile’s ambassador to the United States.

Since leaving government service, Arriagada has held a variety of academic positions and has been affiliated with institutions such as the University of the Americas, the Inter-American Dialogue, the Wilson Center, and Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. He has also worked with democratic groups in countries like Bulgaria, Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Serbia. 

The story of the “No” campaign begins about three years prior to the referendum and has much to do with the fact that we were profoundly moved by what had happened in the Philippines. [The “No” campaign was a Chilean campaign to persuade citizens to vote “No” in the 1988 nation-wide plebiscite that would have prolonged the rule of the Pinochet regime.]
… Where a referendum, an election, a movement for free elections had defeated Marcos’ dictatorship.

[Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos, Sr. (1917 – 1989) was a Filipino lawyer and politician who served as President of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986.]

In turn, we arrived at the conviction that if we wanted to get rid of Pinochet’s dictatorship, we had to do so upon the basis of a simple agenda that would succeed in mobilizing the people.

[Augusto Pinochet (1915-2006) was dictator of Chile between 1973 and 1990.]

That agenda was human rights, democracy, greater social justice and a new political order where there would be a place for everyone, including the supporters of the dictatorship.

For this reason, we spoke of wanting a homeland for all. Some movements for free elections were formed. The opposition was very fragmented.

There were about thirty political groups. The inevitable result of dictatorships is that small parties begin to form. Then three free elections committees were formed.

One for the left, headed by Ricardo Lagos, one for the Christian Democrats and the Radicals, headed by Andrés Zaldívar, and one comprised of personalities from the intellectual world - writers, painters, and some of the country’s prominent moral figures.

[Ricardo Lagos Escobar (1938 - ) is a lawyer, economist and social democrat politician, who served as president of Chile from 2000 to 2006.]

[Andrés Rafael Zaldívar (1936 - ) is a prominent Chilean Christian Democrat politician.]

There was an agreement to name a joint executive secretary for those three movements. I ended up being the joint secretary of the three movements for free elections.

As the referendum drew near, the Concertación coalition was created, which is the Coalition of Parties for Democracy; then the “Command for No” was created. It was sort of reasonable that if I had been three committees’ secretary… there was an agreement that I had to be the operational head of the Command.

[The Concertación is a coalition of primarily center-left political parties in Chile. The Command for the No was the anti-Pinochet campaign organized for the 1988 referendum.]

But much more important than the personal thing was the fact that we formed a remarkable campaign in every sense.
…Because it was a coming together of groups with very different philosophies, that in the past had had big differences: some supporters of Salvador Allende, others supporters of Eduardo Frei, some split from the dictatorship.

[Salvador Allende (1908-1973) was president of Chile between 1970 and 1973.] [Eduardo Frei Montalva (1911 –1982) was president of Chile from 1964 to 1970.]

There were only a few from the right but they were very important. So a group of people comes and begins to sketch out a dream of the country, which was not to turn the tables [in revenge]. On the contrary, if the tortured became torturers, if the victims became victimizers, that would be our downfall.

What we had to do was to create a way where people could feel they were part of a process. That meant respecting the rights even of those who favored the military regime. But human rights abuses were a different problem, because those were crimes.

Those were crimes that were condemned by the Penal Code, by universal legislation, by international treaties. Consequently, those responsible had to go to prison. But not for their political beliefs, but rather for their crimes.
That is what the Chilean transition has done better than any other transition I know of.

Here, all of the generals that were heads of the political police have been prosecuted and the majority has been imprisoned. The number of people that have been prosecuted for human rights violations has no parallel with what was done in the Soviet Union, where to my knowledge no one was condemned…

In the German Democratic Republic, in East Germany, they could not even prosecute [Erich] Honecker, the dictator, because at the time of the prosecution they chose to declare him incapable of standing judgment due to his age. Honecker came to Chile to die.

[Erich Honecker (1912 –1994) was a German politician who, as the General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party, led East Germany from 1971 until the weeks preceding the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.]

Here there was a great effort to create a common space of civilized coexistence between those of the right, the left, and the center, and at the same time, to punish, to judge those who had committed violations, crimes, and torture. In that sense the Chilean transition was a notable effort to carry out justice. But it was also very notable in how it restored and reestablished rights for all. 

Chile is a narrow country of over 17 million citizens on the western coast of South America. Economically, Chile is regarded as a developed country, with the highest per capita gross domestic product in Latin America. The country is rich in resources, including excellent conditions for agriculture and has vast mineral deposits, especially copper.

Spanish conquistadors led by Pedro de Valdivia conquered Chile in 1541. The country’s capital, Santiago, was founded in the same year. Throughout the 277 years of Spanish rule, there was resistance by indigenous groups, such as the Mapuche.
In the early 19th century, an independence movement began in Chile with the establishment of a national front. The front maintained power from 1810 until 1814, when Spain reestablished control of the colony. Many leaders of the pro-independence movement reorganized in Argentina. In 1817, the exiled rebel independence leaders regained control of Chile and formally declared independence on February 12, 1818.

While initially under the leadership of authoritarian General Bernardo O’Higgins, Chile later established a tradition of democratic rule that largely continued until the 1970s. In 1970, prominent Marxist leader Salvador Allende won power in democratic elections. While the economy initially boomed under Allende, domestic opposition and international pressure, especially from the United States, led to increasing difficulties for the government.

On September 11, 1973, a military coup overthrew Allende and installed General Augusto Pinochet as president. Allende committed suicide as troops advanced on the presidential palace.

The sixteen years of Pinochet’s military dictatorship were marked by significant human rights violations and the abolishment of civil liberties. The dictatorship jailed dissidents, prohibited strikes, and dissolved the national congress and political parties. Thousands were tortured and killed; many more were forced into political exile.

In 1980, the Pinochet regime promulgated a new constitution. It included a provision calling a referendum in 1988, allowing voters a yes or no vote on whether to prolong Pinochet’s tenure as president. The referendum campaign saw massive opposition efforts to encourage voter turnout, with nearly the entire democratic opposition united against the military government. While the Pinochet regime belatedly began making reforms, 56 percent of the population voted “no” to continuing the dictatorship, setting the stage for a return to civilian rule.

In 1989, Chilean democracy was fully restored by a democratic election to choose a new president, the first free election in nearly twenty years.

Since the return to democracy, Chile has implemented significant economic and political reforms, including a free trade agreement with the United States. Although there have been major strides in promoting equality and human freedoms, the human rights violations of Pinochet’s dictatorship still haunt many people. The Rettig and Valech Reports investigated and documented the human rights violations and torture under Pinochet’s government, but many Chileans continue to demand greater accountability for those responsible.

Freedom House’s 2014 Freedom in the World report categorized Chile as “free” with an overall freedom rating of one, with one being the freest and seven being the least. The country also received ratings of one in political rights and civil liberties. However, in the 2014

Freedom of the Press report, the nation was categorized as “party free” due to a lack of diversity in the media.


More from Genaro Arriagada

Genaro Arriagada: The Start of the No Campaign “Our program was human rights, democracy, social justice and a new political order.” Genaro Arriagada: Implementation of the No Campaign “The people wanted a message of confidence, of joy.” Genaro Arriagada: Importance of Democracy “In politics one must see democracy as the only political system that guarantees liberty.” More + Genaro Arriagada: Separation of Military and Government “We had to be very careful that the Army did not regain power.” Genaro Arriagada: Transitional Challenges “Transitions to democracy are very difficult and Chile’s was very difficult.” Genaro Arriagada: Youth Get involved “Young people became excited at the idea of reclaiming the universities.” Genaro Arriagada: Building Alliances “The defense of human rights helped in the rebuilding of old friendships.” Genaro Arriagada: The Role of the Church “There were very few voices that arose to defend the rights of the persecuted.” Genaro Arriagada: The Price of Politics “The regime attacked them without any concern for their dignity or their rights.” Genaro Arriagada: Pinochet's Brutal Coup “Within 48 hours the army had control over the entire country.” Genaro Arriagada: Opposition to Allende and Pinochet “The Chilean Communist Party was the most pro-Soviet of the world’s communist parties.” Genaro Arriagada: Entering Politics “The fight between the Christian Democrats and the parties of the left opened the door for the coup d’état.”