The Audience of Repression: Killings and Disappearances in Pinochet's Chile

69 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2018

Date Written: August 28, 2018


Authoritarianism literature emphasizes that repression suppresses dissent, while co-optation builds support. This paper theorizes that repression can serve not just to eliminate opposition, but to appeal to supporters. I argue that regimes can use political killings to justify rule, by demonstrating a danger to the state that requires authoritarian controls to manage. I test this with evidence from Chile, where the military government enjoyed support on the basis of fighting an exaggerated communist threat. Original data on the regime’s 3,000 victims shows that killings were more likely in high-support areas – wealthy, conservative districts – but targeted suspicious individuals, signaling a direct threat to supporters. Evidence additionally shows that repression increased in high-support areas following a negative shock to support; public arrests were more likely in high-support districts; and the regime fabricated subversive activities to inflate threat. By incorporating authoritarian supporters, this research improves our understanding of subnational patterns of violence.

Keywords: repression, dictatorship, authoritarianism, political violence, Chile

JEL Classification: Y8

Suggested Citation

Esberg, Jane, The Audience of Repression: Killings and Disappearances in Pinochet's Chile (August 28, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Jane Esberg (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

616 Serra Street
Stanford, CA 94305
United States


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