'The Glass Has Broken'; New Revelations, and a Looming Murder Trial, May Permanently Disgrace Former Leader Augusto Pinochet

By Langman, Jimmy; Contreras, Joseph | Newsweek International, January 17, 2005 | Go to article overview

'The Glass Has Broken'; New Revelations, and a Looming Murder Trial, May Permanently Disgrace Former Leader Augusto Pinochet


Langman, Jimmy, Contreras, Joseph, Newsweek International


Byline: Jimmy Langman and Joseph Contreras

Augusto Pinochet's twilight years have not been kind to him. The former Chilean dictator has long been scorned for alleged human-rights violations--political violence claimed the lives of some 3,200 people during his 17-year rule (from 1973 to 1990). But his many right-wing supporters always considered him an enlightened despot. One reason was that he implemented free-market economic policies that were a catalyst for steady economic growth. Another was that he didn't seem corrupt. As Ricardo Israel, a political scientist at Santiago's Autonomous University, puts it: "Pinochet supporters looked the other way at the human-rights violations because he was unlike other Latin American dictators [and] didn't enrich himself." But recent investigations and revelations are shredding Pinochet's already damaged reputation--and after a new Supreme Court ruling last week, the 89-year-old former dictator may yet find himself in the dock for his alleged role in the in the murder of one Chilean and the disappearance of nine others during the country's "dirty war" in the 1970s.

Heretofore, Pinochet has sidestepped all attempts to hold him accountable for human-rights violations during his long reign. In 1998, he was detained in Britain on an international arrest warrant issued by a Spanish magistrate; Prime Minister Tony Blair later ordered him released on humanitarian grounds. In 2002, the Chilean Supreme Court ruled that he was mentally unfit to stand trial on mass-murder charges. But now the investigating judge, Juan Guzman Tapia, has determined Pinochet is fit to be tried and the Supreme Court has allowed that judge's indictment to move forward. Pinochet was placed under house arrest at his coastal estate last week.

The ruling comes on top of other setbacks. A U.S. Senate report revealed last July that the former dictator had stashed up to $8 million in secret accounts at the Riggs National Bank in Washington--calling into question claims by Pinochet's family that he'd amassed a fortune through mere savings and successful investments. And in November a governmental torture commission heard testimony from 35,000 people who claimed they were physically abused by law-enforcement or military personnel during Pinochet's rule. These details have caused serious soul-searching in a nation where Pinochet's popularity has been resilient. A September poll showed that Pinochet had lost credibility among his strongest supporters, and two thirds of all Chileans said they didn't believe his family's explanations for his wealth. …

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