Mi General

Early this year, the British Home Secretary,
Jack Straw, announced that he was “minded” to send General Augusto
Pinochet back to Chile. Pinochet has been detained in Britain for 18 months
awaiting extradition to Spain, there to be tried for human rights abuses committed
during and after the 1973 coup he led in Chile. Straw instructed a team of
doctors to examine Pinochet in the clear expectation that they would find
the ailing 84-year-old General unfit to stand trial, thus getting the British
government out of a tight corner. However, Sir John Grimley-Evans the Professor
of Gerontology at Oxford leading the team, leaked to the press that he and
his colleagues had not ruled out the possibility of Pinochet’s recovery
and fitness for trial at a later date.

Why would Jack Straw—a young socialist at the time of the coup who must
have been sickened by Pinochet’s crimes—want to save this wicked
man from extradition? The answer is that the United States wanted Pinochet
back in Chile and British Prime Minister Tony Blair was happy to oblige. The
American government  maneuvered back-stage from the moment Pinochet was
arrested in a private clinic in London.

The Chilean coup was bought and paid for by the CIA. This much has been established
for some time. Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissin- ger,
were determined to oust the socialist President Allende that Chileans had
elected. The military take-over was savage, and let us not be squeamish about
confronting the torture that the conservative Catholic Pinochet permitted.
A Chilean-based journalist, Duncan Campbell, interviewed survivors of the
General’s torture chambers and had this to say: “What has emerged
is the sheer pornographic sadism of his (Pinochet’s) subordinates: a
father forced to bugger his son; a dog made to rape a woman; relatives of
the victims brought to watch or listen to the torture…suspects opened up
with carving knives before they were dumped into the sea, so that their bodies
would not float.”

If all this were to come out in a public trial, the U.S. claim to be a champion
of democracy and human rights would be seen as bogus. Moreover, the U.S. could
become liable for reparations to the families of the 3,000 or more killed
by Pinochet’s goons as well as to those who survived torture. A foreign
junket could expose Kissinger and others to arrest for crimes against humanity.

If the U.S. fears what a trial of General Pinochet might reveal about its
preference for murderous right-wing dictatorships in Latin America during
the long years of the Cold War, the Vatican also had a stake in preventing
his prosecution and called for his repatriation. The Church never distanced
itself from the Pinochet regime, which was largely comprised of Roman Catholics
in good standing. (One of the think tanks instrumental in planning the coup
was staffed by zealous, far-right Catholics.) No one was ever excommunicated,
and when Pope John Paul II celebrated a public Mass during his visit to Chile
in the late 1980s he gave the Eucharist to the General and his cronies. Some
of these men must have been involved in the Santiago Stadium where so many
Chileans were liquidated. At a rally in Chicago not long after the coup, I
heard Victor Jara’s widow describe the manner in which her husband—the
great Chilean folk-singer and poet—had been killed in the Stadium. His
hands were cut off; then a guitar was thrust at him and he was told to play.

Rome, understandably, wants to close the book on this chapter in Chilean history,
especially as it could lead to scrutiny of the Church’s current role
in the country’s politics. In the run-up to Chile’s presidential
election last month, the British newspaper, The Guardian, took a close
look a Joaquim Lavin—the right wing’s candidate. While he lost the
election, Lavin’s high profile revealed that Pinochetistas are still
trying to take the country back. A former Pinochet collaborator, Lavin is
a member of Opus Dei, which The Guardian described as “an ultra
conservative Catholic group.” It continued: “Although there are
only five thousand Chilean members, the group (Opus Dei) includes powerful
business leaders—the men who have financed and pushed Mr. Lavin as the
ideal President for their extreme free-market platform.”

This snippet of information is, in its way, quite stunning. Pope John Paul
II has from time to time made noises about the morally unacceptable aspects
of the free market. Yet, Opus Dei, a hive of free marketeers, has no greater
supporter than this Pope. He has given the sect carte-blanche in its crusade
to make the Church over in its own image.

The Chilean hierarchy has a full quota of Opus Dei prelates (so does the Austrian
Church, which is interesting given the current furor over the resurgence of
the fascist populism represented by Jorg Haider).

For over a century, a morbid fear of communist or socialist movements has
compelled the Roman Catholic Church into alliances with the political right,
even when this meant strategic support for fascism. As Pope Pius XII accommodated
Adolph Hitler on this basis, so the Vatican for the past 27 years has turned
a blind eye to Catholic fascists in Chile.

Some days it is hard to be an impotent bystander at history’s evil moments—having
to watch those with power to do good, squander or abuse it. Just when Jack
Straw was telling the country that he was “minded” to send Pinochet
home, the unctuous Cardinal Thomas Winning of Scotland was making scurrilous
headlines calling homosexuality a perversion. He had no comment on the real
pervert in our midst, the one with the blood of thousands on his hands about
to escape from justice. Washington and Rome got their way. Pinochet has returned
home and their dirty secrets are safe once more. For this act alone, Tony
Blair’s government deserves a crushing defeat at the next general election.

Ann Pettifer is the publisher of Common Sense,
the alternative newspaper at the University of Notre Dame.