Written by Sarah

Chilean and Iranian Dictators Edit

In the 1900s, two major dictators changed the future of their countries. One of these two was Reza Shah of Iran, a young and indecisive ruler who made several unpopular decisions for his country. Reza Shah came to power in Iran after his father, also named Reza Shah, stepped down from power in September 1941, during World War II. In his first few years as the shah, many other powers tried to influence him, and several new political parties began to grow, leaving him in a chaotic and difficult position. World War II left Iran with a failing economy, widespread famine, and the continued involvement of foreigners in politics. At first, Reza Shah was considered to be weak, and other political parties began to rise up against him and prepare to take power. The international community and the Iranian people themselves were discontent with his actions as shah, and put pressure on him to change his policies, especially in the areas of economics and human rights. In response, Reza Shah took action to give the people what they wanted while still retaining full control of Iran, and he implemented new reforms such as loosening press censorship, allowing more political participation, and lessening the punishments against those who opposed him. However, he soon began to find that Iran was slipping away from him as the people continued to protest, and after a failed economic reform in the summer of 1978, he decided that complete control of his people, like his father had done before him, was the best method. He put in place a series of harsher reforms to silence the Iranian people from protesting, and ordered his soldiers to use violence against demonstrators. However, all of this occurred too late to bring the country back into his control and stop the Iranian revolution, which was already in motion. Once the military revolted against him in late 1978, Reza Shah was forced to flee the country and find refuge elsewhere. In the end, a religious leader named Ayatollah Khomeini started a new government in Iran, and Reza Shah was remembered by the Iranian people as a harsh and controlling dictator.

Meanwhile, a few years before Reza Shah's reign ended, a new dictator was rising to power in Chile with very similar views. Augusto Pinochet was brought up as a man of the military, and had risen to the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean army. Salvador Allende, a democratically elected Popular Unity candidate, was President of Chile, but a failing economy and opposing political party caused him to be unpopular with much of the Chilean people. In 1973, Pinochet led a military coup d'etat that overthrew Salvador Allende, after which many Chileans believed him to be a hero, allowing him to rise to complete power as President in 1974. Once in power, Pinochet’s government used any methods possible to stay there despite much discontent from those who had supported Allende during his presidency, about 33% of the population. During Pinochet's rule, his government tortured or killed over 40,000 people who were suspected or known to be against his political party. These terror tactics were what allowed him to retain control of Chile for seventeen long years. Pinochet believed that control and military strength were the keys to a successful government, and as a result he tried to manage many aspects of the Chilean citizens’ lives and rights. The military aspect of his new government was successful in retaining control, but the other parts of the new government were not so strong. Allende had left a badly declining economy in his wake, and Pinochet's new economic policies, such as free-market reforms and the introduction of foreign companies in Chile, were too lax and approached the problems in the wrong way. They only caused family incomes and budgets for programs to drop further. This played a huge part in the fall of his government in 1990, as the people were dissatisfied with Pinochet’s approach to economics. Under pressure from his country and government, he finally conducted a national vote on the validity of his presidency whose result forced him to step down from power in 1990, although he continued to be involved in the Chilean military until 1998. His methods of control and military strength had failed to benefit the Chilean people, and when he died in 2006 and the truth came out about his actions during his presidency, he was no longer believed to be a hero by his people.

While Reza Shah and Pinochet ruled very different countries in separate time periods, their dictatorships were similar in the approaches they took to fix problems, and the two had a similar reason to why their government failed. Both came to power after a period of turmoil in their country, and were left in a large amount of debt and economic failure. The two dictators both chose to solve this problem by increasing the role of the military and focusing on using strength to control their people. However, Pinochet was more easily prepared to rule with an iron fist and control his people's rights, as well as being more open about his intentions as the President, while Reza Shah was more changeable in his policies. Pinochet closed the gates to foreign involvement, while Reza Shah allowed the Americans and the British to control the Iranian economy and oil industry. In the end, however, neither of these contrasting positions was successful. Arguably, the reason that both of these dictators failed was their inability to find the happy middle, or the balance, in any situation. For example, Reza Shah was considered weak when he let foreign powers influence him and eased off on economic policies, but was considered repressive when he took full control of the economy and used Iran's military to suppress the people. He could never find the balance between too much control and not enough, and therefore the Iranian people were never satisfied with his government. Pinochet had this same problem, in that his terror tactics used to silence opposing political parties were too harsh and eventually caused protest and outrage among the citizens of Chile. Because of this lack of balance in their politics, much of the world remembers these dictators as harsh and cruel, and Iran and Chile are still recovering from their rule.