State Repression and Opposition Survival in Pinochet’s Chile


Why do some groups survive government repression while others get eliminated? This paper offers a corrective to the widely held theory that locally embedded opposition organizations with large and interconnected networks of civilian supporters are better adapted to survive. It argues that extreme and selective violent repression from a capable state requires strict compartmentalization and social detachment. These measures slow the speed and reach of repression. I test these propositions by examining the top targets of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. Cross-checking individuals on the Pinochet’s target lists against the victims lists, the article shows that the Revolutionary Leftist Movement (MIR) had a significantly lower rate of victimization than the other top targets. Archival and interview data demonstrate that MIR’s higher survival rate is due to the mechanisms proposed. This study renders intended repression observable and offers implications for the survival of a wide range of actors.

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