Letter: Chile awakens

Sir: The judgment of the Law Lords on Pinochet's immunity has been historic for the Chilean people.

Just before Pinochet's miscalculated trip to England, our country had been portrayed as an example of a civilised nation that had left the sins of its past behind. Chile has been marketed to the world as a country with a great entrepreneurial spirit, a strong economy, as a model of transition to a democratic state. Pinochet was transformed from dictator to wise elder statesman. He was presented as a key political figure in this transition process, able to effect agreements between the military, the right, and the government.

Forgetting the crimes of the dictatorship was central to this peculiar Chilean democracy.

Chile has a new constitution that enshrines the right of the military to intervene if governmental policy does not go its way. It ensures a right of veto to the most conservative sectors of Chilean society by giving 22 per cent of the senate to unelected members. The armed forces have the right to appoint their commanders-in-chief; they have 10 per cent of the income from the revenues of Chile's main natural resource, copper; they are protected against criminal investigation by the 1978 Amnesty Laws.

In Chile justice has only been symbolic. The crimes of the military regime - torture, hostage-taking, genocide and exile - have been side-stepped in order not to upset the armed forces. Economic triumphalism has been used to show that Chile is a model of stability and economic growth, and all of this thanks to Pinochet. (Figures from the Inter-American Development Bank show that Chile is one of 10 nations with the worst distribution records; most wealth goes to less than 10 per cent of the the population.)

Thanks to Pinochet's trip, the Chilean people have awoken to reality. Pinochet has no immunity beyond Chile and can be brought to trial for his crimes against humanity. The whole structure of the protected Chilean democracy has been shaken by the ruling of the Law Lords.

The return of Pinochet to Chile would mean impunity and would be an obstacle to further progress on Chile's democratic process.

Pinochet should be extradited to Spain. He and those involved in crimes against humanity should be held accountable by the international community. This would be the best way to help Chilean democracy.


Hanover, New Hampshire, USA