Chilean soldier who overthrew Salvador Allende to become president of Chile (1973–89).
Pinochet was born in Chile and educated at the Military Academy School of Infantry, having joined the army in 1933. A professional soldier, Pinochet rose to become sub-director of the War Academy in 1968 and commander-in-chief in 1973. In this position he led the coup that overthrew the socialist government of Allende, thereby ending a long-established tradition of democratic rule in Chile. Pinochet's regime suppressed dissent with arrests and torture, murdering some 3000 and driving at least 30 000 Chileans into exile. Completely reversing Allende's socialist policies, which were intended to narrow the gap between rich and poor, Pinochet exploited free-market policies to achieve a regular 5 per cent annual growth rate by the mid-1980s. The cost of this high performance was the impoverishment of those forming the bottom 50 per cent of the income pyramid.
In 1980 a plebiscite confirmed Pinochet's position as president until 1990. In 1988 he lost a plebiscite that would have extended his term of office by a further eight years, and the following year handed over the government to a civilian administration, having first secured legal immunity from prosecution for the human-rights abuses perpetrated during his period in power. He remained commander-in-chief until 1997. In October 1998 Pinochet was arrested in London pending his possible extradition to Spain to answer charges of human-rights abuses against Spanish nationals during his presidency.