In Context

In 1973, General Augusto Pinochet led a military coup in Chile that ousted the world's first democratically elected Marxist president, Salvador Allende. With U.S. assistance, Pinochet's military and intelligence forces consolidated power with a campaign of anti-communist violence that included secret prisons, torture and murder.

As seen in Nostalgia for the Light, Pinochet was responsible for converting the 19th-century Atacama mining base in the town of Chacabuco into a concentration camp where political prisoners were held. More than 3,200 people were executed or "disappeared" under the Pinochet regime, and thousands more were detained, tortured or exiled.

The 17-year dictatorship was embraced (and even now continues to be seen positively) by a large segment of Chilean society. In the United States, C.I.A. complicity in the coup was hotly debated, and the 1976 car-bomb assassination in Washington, D.C., of anti-Pinochet exile Orlando Letelier, along with Ronni Moffit, Letelier's assistant, alienated many of the general's North American supporters.

That double assassination, committed by the DINA (Chile's secret police under Pinochet) damaged the regime's reputation, and its legitimacy both at home and abroad began to be questioned as domestic opposition reignited and spread. The murder would later be identified as part of Operation Condor, in which the Pinochet government pursued and targeted Chilean exiles.

General Pinochet gave up his presidency in 1990. In 1998, he was arrested in London while undergoing medical treatment. Initially, a Spanish court requested his extradition for human rights violations and the British government placed him under house arrest. Doctors deemed Pinochet too ill to stand trial, and he stayed in Great Britain until 2000, when he was flown back to Chile. His immunity was taken away, and in 2006, several judges indicted Pinochet and high courts ruled him mentally competent to stand trial. He was placed under house arrest and was awaiting trial on multiple counts of fraud, torture and murder upon his death on December 10, 2006. Ricardo Lagos, a socialist, was elected to succeed Pinochet.

Caption: Nostalgia for the Light   Credit: Courtesy of Icarus Films

» PBS NewsHour. "Politics in Chile."

» POV. "Earthly and Celestial Quests Meld in Chile's Remote Atacama Desert in POV's 'Nostalgia for the Light,' Premiering Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012 on PBS."

» POV. "The Judge and the General."

» Serrano, Alfonso. "Death of a Dictator." CBS News, February 11, 2009.