The defeat of General Wonderful

He has been confined to a barely furnished house with chat-show hosts and disc jockeys for neighbours
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The Independent Culture
THE FATE of Augusto Pinochet will be announced today in the House of Lords, and tension among those interested is intense. But as one who was on the spot to watch his coup d'etat in the Chilean capital in September 1973, who had friends killed and tortured by him and who has followed his arrest in London with close attention - and no little glee - I am supremely relaxed about their Lordships' verdict.

We who have wanted him and his like punished for their murderous ways have already won. He and his like will never be the same men again. Like some minor warships he and his like have been holed below the waterline.

He has been accused with a wealth of evidence in open court of the most heinous offences. His lawyers have had to argue about their client's crimes in the context of Hitler's. He has been confined to a barely furnished house somewhere south of Staines with disk jockeys and chat-show hosts for neighbours. Consequently, whatever international prestige he could aspire to in the evening of his days has been blown away by Judge Garzn's avenging wind from Spain.

His crimes have been rehearsed to the enlightenment of those who were too young to remember the putsch a quarter of a century ago. Many more people than before now know how his torturers used dogs and mice to violate the women prisoners he was responsible for arresting. The details of the huge fortune his family has accumulated from the privatisations and arms deals his regime carried out have been picked over and publicised.

But, most intimately, he has been knocked off a personal pedestal on to which he will never be able to scramble back, however many supporters are pressed to fete him at the airport if he eventually returns to Santiago.

When he was still commander-in-chief of the Chilean army less than a year ago you could watch him glorying at being on parade. As one who wore one for a short time many years ago, I could empathise with his enjoyment of an army officer's uniform. His was splendid, a cape with red gorgets at the throat picked out with gold braid.

But the image of General Wonderful in his cape has been superseded by the picture of him squashed between two policemen in the back of a none too spacious saloon car being rushed along the M25 to an encounter with the beaks at Belmarsh magistrates' court, somewhere in the wilderness of East London's Erith marshes.

The recent high jinks in London led me to recall a similar humiliation he suffered in 1980 when President Marcos and his wife, Imelda, carried out the only act of public service they ever could be proud of. They cancelled Pinochet's visit to the Philippines when his plane had already taken off across the South Pacific from Santiago and was within hours of landing in Manila. With little fuel left Pinochet landed in Fiji where he suffered further indignities. Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, the gallant Fijian premier, cancelled his meeting with the dictator, which he had not wanted anyway.

And not only were there great difficulties in getting the aircraft refuelled, even on payment of a hefty premium, there was no little delay even in getting a gangway to the plane. So the captain found himself in the position of having to shut down the air-conditioning in order to save aviation spirit, thereby gently broiling Pinochet and his fellow travellers. After the gangway at last arrived, everyone's luggage was minutely checked by Fijian customs, who conveniently forgot the English they had learned as former subjects of the British Empire and who insisted on reverting to their own exotic South Pacific tongue. To crown it all, on the way to his hotel at one o'clock in the morning Pinochet's car was pelted with eggs and tomatoes by well prepared Fijian demonstrators.

Sadly the world's press and camera crews were not there in force to give the events the coverage they deserved. They have made up for it in recent months in London; this time the dictator's humiliation has been broadcast worldwide.

The effect has been notable. In Sao Paulo the other day a Brazilian senator remarked to me that, through its treatment of Pinochet, the House of Lords had earned respect around the world. In the streets of Asuncin, the capital of Paraguay, the case of Pinochet in London has prompted calls for the old dictator General Stroessner to be brought back from exile in Brazil to stand trial.

The detention of Pinochet has had exemplary results already. I would like to see him in court again in Madrid. But objectively speaking it doesn't matter. The Spanish judge's action has already had its effect. Viva Garzon!

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