Crime and Punishment
by Christopher Henning, Sydney Morning Herald
from World Press Review, January 1999
Margaret Thatcher had an old friend to tea at her home in
October. Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator, was in
London for a back operation. The two former leaders have been
comrades since the days of the Falklands war, when Chile gave
the British significant help in their campaign to win the islands
back from Argentina.
The two see eye to eye on economics. Chile, after Pinochet
took control, became the testing ground for the monetarist prescriptions
of Milton Friedman and the Chicago school of economics. Britain
under Thatcher followed half a decade later. Anglophile Pinochet
believes that Britain is "the ideal place to live."
Or at least that's what he used to think, before British police
arrested him on October 16.
Following a request from Spain, officers from Scotland Yard's
organized crime group arrested Pinochet as he lay in hospital
recovering from his surgery.
Two Spanish investigating judges, Baltasar Garzon and Manuel
Garcia Castellon, had requested Pinochet's extradition from Britain
to face charges in Madrid regarding the murder, torture, or disappearance
of 79 Spanish citizens during the years after the coup that brought
him to power in 1973. Later, Garzon widened the indictment to
include charges of genocide and to increase the number of victims
to 94 by including 15 non-Spanish citizens.
The arrest appears to have been the work of the judges. The
subsequent turmoil in relations between Chile, Britain, and Spain
came out of the blue. Britain's Labor government has not so far
interfered with the impartial workings of international justice.
Though its forty-something and fifty-something cabinet members
may now be Thatcherites, they were lefties when they were young
and grew up in an age when Pinochet's coup against the democratically
elected government of President Salvador Allende was as one analyst
put it, the closest thing Britain's '60s generation had to the
Spanish civil war. Peter Mandelson, the trade secretary whom no
one would dream of accusing of left-wing sympathies, said: "The
idea that such a brutal dictator as Pinochet should claim diplomatic
immunity, I think, for most people in this country would be pretty
Spain's right-wing government is making a public show of non-interference,
although legal proceedings have begun there to try to overturn
Garzon's judicial investigation.
One of the main supporters of the case against Pinochet is
Joan Garces, who was a legal adviser to Allende. While Pinochet's
soldiers were rounding up leftists and political opponents, murdering
more than 3,000 of them, torturing thousands in the infamous Villa
Grimaldi in Santiago, and kidnapping thousands more whose fate
has never been ascertained, Garces fled to Spain with tens-of-thousands
of others who chose exile rather than life under the dictator.
For years Garces has been building a case against Pinochet.
He says that much of the evidence came from Chilean government
reports published in 1991 and 1996 on the murders of political
opponents committed by the Pinochet regime. Another source was
declassified U.S. government documents that detail the Nixon administration's
dislike of Allende's government and its efforts to overthrow it.
Garces spent time in the U.S. combing through documents for facts
on Pinochet's victims, which were cited in the warrant against
Garzon - known in the Spanish press as "super-judge"-
has been involved in his country's highest-profile cases. He has
prosecuted corrupt government ministers, Basque terrorists, and
Colombian drug barons. In his office in Madrid, he has a picture
of a colleague who was assassinated by Basque terrorists after
an investigation. More than two years ago, Garzon and Garcia Castellon
took up the cases of Spanish citizens killed in Chile under Pinochet,
after the Spanish government passed a law allowing foreigners
to be prosecuted for genocide against Spanish citizens even if
the events took place in another country.
In Chile, the arrest has been greeted with outrage among the
military and right-wing politicians and also, though perhaps less
virulently, in the present government. Chile's ambassador in London
has protested to the British. Chile's president Eduardo Frei,
has protested to Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.
The effect of the arrest, says Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman,
has been to bring Pinochet and his repression back from the wings,
where they had been relegated by tacit consent of both left and
right, and onto center stage. "There is a consensus in Chile
in the last eight years in the transition to democracy whereby
Pinochet is forgotten or left apart," Dorfman says. "Both
the left and right agree on this, but the victims don't agree,
and the great part of the country doesn't agree. This arrest .
. . people just are not going to be able to forget him. I think
it is an extraordinary, in fact for me a jubilant and glorious,
moment of our national history."
Professor Benny Pollack of the University of Liverpool says
that although no polls have been taken on Pinochet's support in
Chile, he would be popular with the 40 percent of voters who support
right-wing parties, as opposed to the 60 percent who voted for
the center-left coalition presently in power. Pollack believes
the arrest will open up old wounds. "There is a danger of
a right-wing coup again. I was listening to the right-wing parliament
members. Their message was: Either you release General Pinochet,
or else. That is blackmail."
Pinochet's support in Chile is based on the economic transformation
his free-market policies worked on the country. But many Chileans
are not seeing the benefits. Under Pinochet, 40 percent of the
population lived in poverty. Although the figure is now 27 percent,
that is still about 4 million people. And with investment down
following the Asian crisis and the price of copper-Chile's main
export-falling, things are not going to improve for a while.
Human Rights, Justice, Reform