In Bed with Chile's Torturers

By Marriott, Edward | The Evening Standard (London, England), June 10, 2002 | Go to article overview

In Bed with Chile's Torturers


Marriott, Edward, The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: EDWARD MARRIOTT

PINOCHET IN PICCADILLY: Britain and Chile's Hidden History by Andy Beckett (Faber, [pound]15.99)

JUST before midnight on 16 October 1998, two London plainclothes policemen arrested an 82-year-old South American.

The old man, who spoke almost no English, was on a private visit, having surgery at the London Clinic for a spinal hernia. And, like the typical wealthy tourist, he had done the sights: Madame Tussaud's, the National Army Museum, Fortnum and Mason. He had bought books about Napoleon at Foyles. The charges laid at his door, however, made it clear that General Augusto Pinochet, former dictator of Chile, was not your run-of-the-mill visitor. He was arrested for crimes against humanity, including torture, genocide and ordering disappearances.

Yet few Britons appeared to know who he was. Fewer still had any memory of the fact that, in September 1973, he had overthrown Chile's democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende, and presided over a regime that saw - according to official human-rights figures - some 2,095 people killed and a further 1,102 "disappeared".

And hardly anyone had any idea of why he had come to Britain and why, most bizarrely, senior figures in the Tory opposition chose to speak out so volubly in his defence. It is this intriguing web that Guardian feature writer Andy Beckett sets out to unravel in Pinochet in Piccadilly, his first book.

Britain's "hidden history" with Chile, Beckett shows us, dates back to the start of the 19th century when Chile was angling for independence from Spain.

Answering the call came adventurer Thomas Cochrane, 10th earl of Dundonald.

His "liberation" of Chile was successful, and also opened up the country to capitalists, of whom the most vigorous were the British. This theme - "the use of force to clear the way for profit" - would find its most extreme adherent in Pinochet.

The first decades of the 20th century, however, saw a gradual drifting apart of Chile and Britain. Between 1900 and 1960, Beckett writes, Chile was "industrious, democratic and stable". …

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