Pinochet: dinner with Thatcher was like an enema

My visit was to cure arm trouble - Chile needed more arms, so I arranged to buy them over here
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I AM very pleased to offer the hospitality of this column to General Augusto Pinochet, who has been looking for a safe refuge ever since he arrived in this country. He has kindly agreed to give me the day off while he acts as guest columnist and answers the queries of our readers. All yours, General.

Dear General Pinochet, Do you now regret coming to England for medical treatment? Do you wish you had stayed in Chile?

General Pinochet writes: No, my friend. What I was looking for was something I could only find in Britain.

And what was that?

A dinner date with Mrs Thatcher!

But I thought you had come here for medical treatment?

You think a dinner date with Mrs Thatcher is not medical treatment? Mi Dios, it is very similar to colonic irrigation or an enema or any of those scouring operations which leave you feeling battered, exhausted, empty but hopeful. Maybe more like electric shock treatment. Anyway, after my dinner with Senora Thatcher, I felt I could face anything. That is why I have been so resilient under arrest. If I am sequestered by the police, I thought, at least that saves me from another dinner date with death.

You're joking, surely?

Yes, I'm joking. I am merely trying to show that we Chileans also have a sense of humour.

So what was the medical problem that really brought you here?

I had arm trouble.

Arm trouble?

Yes. Chile needed more arms, and I agreed to come over to Britain to buy them.

Is that another joke?

I have always admired the British sense of humour. After all, any nation which could put up with Mrs Thatcher for 10 years must have a very advanced form of humour.

Tell us, General - what does it feel like to be a mass murderer?

Yes, I thought we might get a question like this. Well, let me tell you, I have no idea. Yes, bad things were done in Chile while I was leader. They were very bad things. But I did not do them. They were done with my knowledge and by my government forces. But never was I present when anyone was killed. Has Tony Blair been present when someone was killed? I think not.

But Tony Blair is not a mass murderer!

Nevertheless, he stands by while people are killed. Every year on British roads 5,000 people are slaughtered. Even by my standards as a so-called "mass murderer" that is impressive. Now, Tony Blair does not kill any of these people personally. But he has it in his power to stop it happening. By not doing so, is he a mass murderer?

That is pure sophistry!

Thank you very much. Next question? Preferably not about my career as a mass murderer?

This one is about philology, General. I am very interested in your name, Pinochet. It looks very French. It sounds very French. But Chile is a Spanish-speaking nation. Can you explain this?

Easily. When an immigrant becomes assimilated to a new country, he loses everything of his old identity except his name, and often not even that. You have people in Britain with French names. Your general in the Gulf War - what was he called ? Peter de la Billiere ? And what of your actress lady, Frances de la Tour? And Philip de Glanville? Are they all French?


Claro que no... Now, the BBC makes the mistake of pronouncing my name in the French style, Pee-no-shay, but in Chile I am Pee-no-chet. You know the Chilean footballer Marcelo Salas? Everyone in Britain calls him Mar- chello, but that is the Italian pronunciation. In Chile he is Mar-sello. The problem, is European ignorance. Which is also why I am still here.

Do you have no regrets at all, General?

Yes. I regret that Chile has no national dance. Brazil has the samba, Argentina has the tango, Cuba has the salsa, but Chile has nothing. Even our old enemy Peru has the Andean pipes, and revolting they are too, but we have nothing. That is my one regret. Nothing else.

I very much hope to get the General back again soon so that the old rascal can deal with more of your queries, so keep those questions rolling in.