Chile can still get its general home

If Pinochet dies abroad, it will be because his followers did not try to deal with the past
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The Independent Culture
DO GENERAL Pinochet's followers want him to return to Chile, or are they willing to let him die abroad?

They howl that their leader's arrest is unbearable. They swear that national sovereignty has been trampled by Jack Straw's recent decision to allow the extradition proceedings to go forward. They solemnly announce that it is up to Chileans to deal with their own internal affairs. And they claim that my country's delicate transition to democracy must be defended.

The Pinochetistas are now about to be given an opportunity to secure the repatriation of the man who used to be their president, the possibility of interrupting and impeding what they consider an affront to the honour of a former head of state. This opportunity will be handed to them by none other than the extremely maligned (by them) Home Secretary of Britain, the admirable (for me) Jack Straw himself.

Indeed, if, as seems likely, the British courts find that there is valid cause for extraditing the dictator to Spain to face charges of genocide, terrorism and torture, then Jack Straw will find himself yet again confronted with the need to adjudicate whether General Pinochet should or should not be put on trial. The Home Secretary has promised that, if that occasion should arise, he will then re-examine any new reasons and circumstances that might move him to reconsider his initial opinion.

One of those circumstances could, of course, be Pinochet's health, but what might in fact change Jack Straw's mind would be a more crucial political and moral consideration: proof that a genuine attempt has been made by Chilean society to have Pinochet tried by Chilean judges.

My country is confronted, therefore, by a challenge. And a deadline. We have a few months in which to convince Straw and the conscience of the world that there is indeed accountability in Chile and that it is in his own country where the general should be held responsible for his crimes or prove his innocence.

There is only one way to make these aspirations come true, to test these statements. And that is to institute significant changes in Chile. Changes in the amnesty laws that Pinochet employed to pardon himself and his underlings. Changes in a constitution that has allowed the right wing, with only a third of the votes, to block legislation. Changes in the penal code that would punish those felons who, knowing where the "disappeared" of Chile are buried or how they were killed, hide that information from the law. Changes in the status of the armed forces so that in the future they will be subject to the popular will.

All these changes are difficult to carry out, but they at least have the advantage of being transparent and open and, therefore, negotiable. What is less easy to transform is something more intangible and yet also more consequential: the intimate identity of the Pinochetistas, the way in which they see the country and understand the democratic process.

The extreme right wing of Chile, particularly after so many years of dictatorship during which they monopolised power, continues to consider my country as if it were their private feudal preserve, somewhat like an old-fashioned hacienda. It will take years, perhaps generations, to modify this kind of authoritarian mindset.

Those who were once the owners of Chile, those who act today as if they were still the only owners of the country, would have viscerally to interrogate their own conscience and comprehend the deep and irreparable pain they have inflicted on their compatriots. They would need to accept yesterday's enemies as their equals today. They would have to miraculously transfigure themselves into truly democratic members of the species.

As this moral transfiguration seems highly improbable, I prefer to appeal to something more concrete: their immediate interests, their yearning for the return of their beloved general. If his devotees really thirst for Pinochet to come home, if they are really worried that the fatherland has been desecrated by a "colonial power", if they really wish to end the inevitable division between the majority of the country who suffered terror and the minority who imposed that terror, then the key is in their hands: they must agree to allow Chile to become a full-fledged, unguarded democracy where nobody - absolutely nobody - is beyond or above the law.

I would be surprised if Pinochet's followers were ready to pay this sort of price for the freedom of their captured leader, willing to sacrifice their privileges and power in exchange for his liberty. If they refuse, as I suspect they will, to co-operate in the democratisation of Chile, we should not hesitate to point out that, were Pinochet to die in a foreign land, it would be the sole responsibility of his devotees.

Let me repeat this: if General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte dies abroad, it will be because his followers did not make the effort, a tremendous and truly patriotic effort, to bring him back to the country where he was born so that we could finally, all of us together, begin the terrible task of dealing with our past and our memories and our dead.

Ariel Dorfman's latest book is `Heading South, Looking North', a memoir about surviving the Pinochet regime