Santiago Appeals Court apparently voted 13-9 to revoke General Augusto
Pinochet’s parliamentary immunity. This makes Pinochet vulnerable to prosecution
in Chile for allegedly ordering his subordinates to carry out a mass murder
campaign – which they did. The court can now prosecute him in more than 100
cases of people murdered in the so-called "Caravan of Death" cases.
Needless to say, the appeal process will take years. "Poor Pinochet,"
a conservative Chilean politician remarked to me. "A man who brought order
to our country, dealt with the troublemakers and put good people in charge of
our economy. He’s being nibbled to death by the leftwing courts."
agreed on the nibbling process, but I don’t quite share the politician’s
admiration for Pinochet, who led the 1973 military coup. He ruled for 15 years,
before calling and losing a 1988 plebiscite and, in 1990, a presidential
election. So, he made himself army chief for a decade. In 1998, he retired and
made himself Senator for Life. "Poor Pinochet," said his supporters
after he had ventured to London in October 1998. (At the rime, his Riggs Bank
checking account had $1.8 million.) Indeed, "poor Pinochet" never
dreamed that a Spanish judge would issue an arrest order and that British
authorities would hold him prisoner for some 15 months for the solid
anti-Communist work he had done in Chile.
Kissinger had praised his efforts. Former Prime Minister Thatcher regularly
invited him to tea. And, Kissinger and Thatcher both chimed in on his behalf.
"Poor Pinochet," they intoned. "Let the poor old man alone."
Then, in March this year, British Home Secretary Jack Straw, bowing to this kind
of pressure from the old boys and girls network, declared that in captivity
"poor Pinochet’s" deteriorating health made him unfit to stand trial.
those opportune southwesterly winds accompanying his airplane back home proved
recuperative powers for the ailing ex-dictator. After landing in Chile, poor
Pinochet bounced out of his wheelchair and danced a cueca step on his way to hug
his old military pals. Then, he recovered enough cogency to complain about how
Chileans didn’t appreciate all he’d done for them. Poor Pinochet felt downright
sorry for himself. The mighty Chilean military would not-could not-allow lowly
civilians to pester the great hero further. They made martial noises. But
incoming President Ricardo Lagos gave the Chilean joint chiefs a finger-wagging
lecture on the nature of their subservience to civilian authority. And, behind
the scenes, the Chilean corporate elite sent their warning to the military: this
is not the time to threaten a coup, lest it interfere with business. President
Lagos pledged that he would allow the courts to handle the Pinochet affair.
Judge Guzman, deaf to the military’s hollow thunder clap, has accepted more than
100 complaints charging Pinochet with murder and disappearing people. To elude
human rights monitoring, Pinochet’s secret police used to abduct their victims,
leaving no records. Some 1,200 people disappeared. That ploy has now
boomeranged. European judges ruled that disappearances are kidnappings, ongoing
crimes. Judge Guzman accepted that legal gimmick and the Appeals Court decision
Pinochet also faces possible prosecution from Washington. Last month, two
Assistant US Attorneys and twelve FBI Agents descended on Santiago to
investigate Pinochet’s role in the 1976 car-bombing in Washington DC of exiled
Chilean Chancellor Orlando Letelier. A car bomb killed Letelier along with Ronni
Moffitt, his colleague at the Institute for Policy Studies. FBI Agents traced
the killings to General Manuel Contreras, Pinochet’s secret police chief, who is
finishing a seven year term in Chile for that crime. Contreras also faces
prosecution on a host of other murders. He is the one man who could convincingly
finger Pinochet by saying: "He gave the order to kill Letelier."
Contreras could also implicate Pinochet in some 3000 plus other killings and
tens of thousands of torture cases.
just like London," moaned General Pinochet’ son, shortly after the old
general returned to Chile. "We believed it would be different in
Chile." Poor Pinochet now worries that his military pals have backed down
from their militant "don’t-touch-him-or-else" stance. Former murdering
subordinates may very well rat on him if it will help them save their own hides.
Chilean sources say that Pinochet’s backers will pull out the
"unfit-to-stand-trial" ploy will pull the wily old general out of
trouble again. So, be skeptical when powerful people say "Poor Pinochet."
The proverbial fat lady has not yet sung.
Landau is the Hugh O. LaBounty Chair of Interdisciplinary Applied Knowledge at
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, 3801 W. Temple Ave. Pomona,
CA 91768 tel – 909-869-3115 fax – 909-869-4751 www.csupomona.edu/~slandau