December 20, 2004
Buenos Aires: Lawyers representing Augusto Pinochet were expected to turn to Chile’s highest legal authority after the country’s Appeals Court on Monday upheld last week’s indictment of the former dictator. The unanimous decision by the Appeals Court is a big blow for the 89-year-old Gen. Pinochet, who was on Monday recovering in a military hospital after suffering a reported stroke on the weekend.
Gen Pinochet, who rose to power in 1973 after a bloody military coup, was last week formally accused of ordering the kidnapping of nine people and murdering another between 1976 and 1977.
The accusations, brought against the former military leader by Juan Guzmán, a Santiago judge, are part of an investigation into Operation Condor, a plan drawn up by South America’s military regimes in the 1970s to stamp out any opposition.
Prosecution lawyers said on Monday the court’s decision was a clear sign that the tactics used by Gen Pinochet’s defence to avoid trial were no longer working. “We are finally reaching the point where Pinochet has no more excuses,” Juan Pavín, a lawer representing two of the nine kidnap victims, told the FT yesterday.
Mr Pavin admitted that the defence has used the issue of Gen Pinochet’s deteriorating health with considerable success so far, and that such tactics have kept their client from answering the charges levelled against him.
Such was the case in 2002 when a trial into his alleged involvement in the kidnapping and disappearance of 75 Chileans in the so-called Caravan of Death was dismissed on health grounds.
But on Monday Mr Pavin said: “There is a generalised recognition by Chile’s justice system that the health card is no longer valid. I am confident the Supreme Court will reject Pinochet’s appeal.”
If that happens Gen Pinochet is expected to be placed under house arrest and will likely have to appear in court to answer the latest charges.
Human rights lawyers say such a possibility would have been almost unthinkable a few years ago. Indeed, until recently many Chileans were prepared to turn a blind eye to the accusations connected with Gen Pinochet.
But that has changed since the publication of a report this year by US Senate investigators, which revealed secret US bank accounts belonging to the former dictator containing millions of dollars.
That revelation was followed last month by the publication of an exhaustive report detailing the systematic use of torture during the 17-year military regime. The report, commissioned by President Ricardo Lagos’ administration, was based on more than 35,000 interviews with detainees in which they described the horrors they had to endure at the hands of the military government.