Chile

Prosecute Pinochet

The Globe and Mail (comment)
August 27, 2004

Augusto Pinochet must have thought he was in the clear when he gave a television interview to a Cuban-American journalist last year. Chile’s Supreme Court had ruled him mentally unfit to stand trial in 2002, and it looked as if he would never have to face justice for the crimes of his reign from 1973 to 1990.

But in the interview, broadcast to a Miami TV station last November, he was lucid and self-assured, making jokes and stoutly defending his record. That performance, which outraged many Chileans, became a key piece of evidence in a renewed attempt to put the former president on trial. Yesterday, in a ruling that surprised the nation, the Supreme Court ruled nine to eight to uphold a lower court ruling that stripped him of his immunity from prosecution.

A travesty, say his supporters. What point is there in putting an 88-year-old invalid in the dock for events a quarter century ago? Well, it appears that General Pinochet is not quite so infirm as he made out. It does not help his case that a U.S. Senate report found last month that he has $8-million stashed in overseas bank accounts. Gen. Pinochet clearly has both the funds and the wits to defend himself in court.

The campaign to put him on trial is not driven by a mindless thirst for vengeance. The victims and relatives of victims of his regime simply want to see someone held to account before the law. More than 3,000 people were killed after Gen. Pinochet overthrew the government of Salvador Allende in 1973. Thousands were tortured and thousands more driven into exile. To have the leader of such a regime living comfortably among them, unpunished, is an affront to the victims and a black mark on the face of Chile, now a thriving democratic nation.

The latest charges against Gen. Pinochet focus on Operation Condor, in which secret police in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil collaborated to crush their political enemies. Across Latin America, former dictatorships are beginning, belatedly, to come to grips with the horrors of that era. It is about time.

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