With the prospect of Gen. Augusto Pinochet being tried soon in
Spain and never returning home, Chileans are feeling freer to
complete a transition from authoritarian state to democracy that
their leaders say is unfinished.
"Three months ago people were afraid to bring up human rights,
fear of looking like an extremist or because it just wasn't 'in,' "
says public opinion analyst Marta Lagos. Now, with Britain's
decision on Wednesday to extradite Mr. Pinochet on charges including
torture and terrorism, "people know it's an issue that is well-
outside the country," she adds.
It's perhaps the only issue that could deliver a big enough
majority in December 1999's presidential elections to set off reform
of Pinochet's 1980 constitution, Ms. Lagos says.
The news of the former dictator's continued detention delighted
some Chileans and deeply disappointed others. For some, the
lingering aura of Pinochet's 17-year rule has been one of fear; for
others, one of reverence.
"Pinochet has been a bit like the fearsome, ever-present dictator
who never dies, but this situation is dissipating the fear" of that
looming force, says political analyst Raul Sohr.
The return of human rights to Chile's national agenda is one
result of more than a month of looking back at a regime that is
respected for restoring order after a chaotic Marxist experiment but
reviled for horrific excesses.
That could open the door to a deeper reexamination of the 1973
coup against President Salvador Allende and subsequent years of
battling between the Pinochet regime and leftist subversives that
left more than 3,000 dead and disappeared, according to official
The current Pinochet crisis began Oct. 16 when the retired
commander of the Chilean Armed Forces was placed under arrest in a
London clinic on a Spanish judge's request. It has not led to the
acts of violence or political instability that some had feared.
"We have an imperfect democracy, it is incomplete, but it is
sufficiently solid to resist this crisis," says Francisco Rojas
Aravena, director of the Latin American Social Sciences Faculty in
"People took their position on Pinochet on Oct. 5, 1988," says Ms.
Lagos, the public-opinion analyst, referring to the date of a
referendum that determined if Pinochet would remain president or
leave office after multiparty elections. "There hasn't been much
change since," she adds. Pinochet lost that vote, 54 to 43.
A NATIONAL survey published last week showed 71 percent of
Chileans stating they and their families were not affected by
Pinochet's detention. The survey - by the Santiago Market Opinion
Research International (MORI) office that Lagos manages - also found
that about two-thirds of Chileans believe Pinochet is personally
guilty of crimes committed under his regime, with a somewhat smaller
percentage saying he should be tried for them. …