"Today, near the end of my days, I want to say that I harbour no rancour against anybody, that I love my fatherland above all. ... I take political responsibility for everything that was done."
-- Augusto Pinochet, 11/26/2006 (eight days ago, on his 91st birthday)
Augusto Pinochet was given the last rites today, following a severe heart attack that left him hovering near death.
At age 91 he is a frail old man. Too frail in fact, his lawyers have repeatedly claimed, to stand trial for the dozens of crimes for which he has been arrested and indicted. More than likely, he will go to his death under house arrest, charged, but having never faced a trial, never having had to face his accusers, nor having been pronounced guilty of anything.
: I am not a historian (IANAH) and this is not complete. (Much of this comes from googling and/or Wikipedia. All images are from Wikipedia.)
"In the wind, we hear their laughter
In the rain, we see their tears
Hear their heartbeat
We hear their heartbeat
Thirty-three years ago, the U.S. was mixed up in another "regime change". Salvadore Allende, a Marxist, had been elected president of Chile in 1970. In the midst of the Cold War, this could not stand. The U.S., via Henry Kissinger's foreign policy and CIA Project FUBELT, undertook to do its duty to "replace him".
On September 11, 1973, they succeeded in a violent, but relatively bloodless coup (even compared to our invasion of Iraq). However, there were a few people killed, including Allende himself who allegedly committed suicide with a machine gun. (This is disputed.)
The new, "democratically-installed" regime consisted of a military junta including Pinochet, two other Generals and an Admiral. Pinochet was the chairman of this junta and later proclaimed himself President.
This new bastion of democracy proceeded to quickly "clean up" the country. Indeed, one might say that September 11 changed everything. In the following months, thousands were killed, tortured or "disappeared", and tens of thousand more (around 40,000) were held prisoner, concentration-camp style, in the National Stadium (where many were tortured and murdered). Thousands more fled the country or were "exiled" to neighboring Argentina.
The coup was such a "success", that the U.S. tried to repeat it around South and Latin America in the next decade. By the mid-1970s, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay all had their own right-wing dictators. With encouragement from their friends up north, the secret police, intelligence and security organizations in these countries, led by the Direccion de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA) in Chile, combined forces and proceeded to carry out a genocidal campaign of "counter-terrorism". (Not quite a "global war", but certainly a "continental war"!) An orgy of assassinations and human rights abuses followed, including widespread torture, "extraordinary renditions" (a.k.a. "disappearances").
DINA was able to largely finish the job it had started in 1973 of exterminating all the Chilean leftists (and their friends and family) by, for example, crossing the border into Argentina to assassinate those in "exile" that had fled the initial purges. Indeed, during this time, DINA can claim some of the first acts of "international terrorism" on U.S. soil, including the carbombing assassination of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt in Washington, DC.
Interestingly, the DINA "had the power to detain any individual only so long as there was a declared state of emergency. Such an administrative state wound up lasting the entire length of the Pinochet dictatorship." [cite]
Meanwhile, Pinochet, champion of the "free market", was busy making his local and international corporate friends (including Milton Friedman) happy by deregulating and privatizing everything.
Thanks to declassified documents and our Freedom of Information Act, we are starting to get a clearer picture of the U.S.'s role in all of this.
"Night hangs like a prisoner
Stretched over black and blue
Hear their heartbeat
We hear their heartbeat
Fortunately, the nightmare -- and Cold War -- came to end end. Pinochet was finally voted out of office in 1990.
However, he remained the Commander-in-Chief of the Army until 1998 at which point he was appointed "Senator-for-life" (a position created by the constitution he had rewritten in 1980). This, combined with his status as a former head-of-state, protected him from prosecution for many years, despite mounting evidence of the atrocities committed under his rule.
In 1998, in an amazing, significant and nearly unprecedented act of international law enforcement, the UK arrested Pinochet while he was in London getting medical treatment. He spent the next year and a half there under house arrest while an international battle raged over what to do with him. He, of course, claimed immunity, but this was eventually rejected by the UK House of Lords and he was set to be extradited to Spain to be tried for his involvement in the torture of Spanish citizens. However, under pressure from George H.W. Bush and Margaret Thatcher, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw decided to release him back to Chile (seven years ago), claiming he his health was too poor to survive a trial. (He has dementia.)
In the last 5 years, the Supreme Court in Chile has voted several times to revoke Pinochet's immunity for various specific crimes. He has been indicted a couple of times, and placed under house arrest. He has also continued to use his poor health as an excuse to avoid trial. However, in 2004, the Supreme Court revoked his dementia status thanks to an interview he gave to a Miami TV station in which he appeared healthy, coherent and composed. And two months ago, the court opened the way for prosecution for the atrocities committed in the Villa Gimaldi prison, where Chile's current president and her mother, along with thousands of others, were tortured; he was indicted October 30. It appeared that the slow wheel of justice was turning.
Yesterday, while under house arrest awaiting this trial, Pinochet had a severe heart attack and today was administered the last rites.
"In the trees, our sons stand naked
Through the walls, our daughters cry
See their tears in the rainfall."
-- Mothers of the Disappeared, U2, 1987
George W. Bush is 60.
Tick... Tick... Tick....
The clock is running. For the sake of the hundreds of thousands around the world whom have been murdered, detained, and/or tortured thanks to his lies and greed, let's learn from this: don't let it expire!
Justice delayed is justice denied.