Inside File: Pinochet's shopping spree gets green light in Britain

NOWHERE can General Augusto Pinochet have felt more welcome during his extended arms shopping spree across Europe over the past few weeks than in Britain. Contrast, for instance, the comment of the Foreign Minister of Switzerland last week, who said he was 'very uncomfortable' about the general's 'private visit' and expressed regret that no measures could be taken to expel him.

Here, British Aerospace executives marvelled at the continuing support they enjoyed from Her Majesty's Government over sales to Chile; and many who used to be leading voices in the anti-Pinochet campaign did not even know he was here.

Jeremy Corbyn MP, after learning of the General's visit this week, said he planned to put a few questions to the Foreign Secretary today. 'I shall be asking how it is that such a man was allowed to visit Britain, and how much money was spent on his protection. He is the second most evil man of the century, after Hitler. He is responsible for the deaths of 50,000 civilians.'

It is 21 years since General Pinochet began his rule by torture. Chile now has a civilian government, but the General remains the head of the Chilean armed forces and as such gets to travel around buying weapons for his country. The Royal Ordnance division of BAe held talks with him on Tuesday to discuss 'Rayo', a planned multiple-launch rocket system that is a recurring theme dear to the General's heart.

It was not their first meeting. Talks on Rayo have been going on for four years. If the system is built, the contract 'would run into certainly millions, and potentially tens of millions of pounds', said a BAe official. 'Pinochet is the armed forces chief and as such he is the man we speak to. We have the British government's support on arms sales to Chile. As you know, we operate within the rules of the Government, and those rules are even more tightly observed these days. So long as we have the blessing and support of the Government, it is potentially very good business for us.'

General Pinochet has always been popular with the right-wing in Britain. Baroness Thatcher dined with him in March after recovering from her fainting spell in the Santiago heat. When Alan Clark, as trade minister, visited Chile seven years ago, he recorded in his diary an account of a spat among Chileans 'about who 'denounced' whose sister during the period of military rule. Frankly, I'd have put them all under arrest as they left the building. I might say that to Pinochet, if I get to see him (tomorrow).'

General Pinochet slipped in and out of Britain with little public notice. But three weeks ago in Amsterdam he was told by staff at the Amstel hotel that his security could not be guaranteed. A week later in Prague, Jan Urban pointed out that 'there is no justification for dealing with this man. It is one thing to be involved in the arms trade. It is quite another to sell to Pinochet'.

British ministers would argue there is no choice. General Pinochet made a deal before handing over power that he would remain as head of the armed forces, and with it the platform of jetting around buying arms. Britain's arms industry accounts for 9 per cent of the manufacturing GDP; 400,000 people depend on it for work; it must sell to whomever it can. Or must it?

Mr Corbyn says: 'It is time we started using the skills of arms manufacturing workers to make civilian goods. We'll never be able to be critical of human rights violations around the world if we have to sell arms to these countries all the time.' Some hold that view to be naive. As a British ambassador to a massive arms importing nation put it recently: 'Morality in foreign policy may be a priority. But it is not the priority.'

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent