Reaction to the death Sunday of former
Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet has been decidedly mixed, both in and
outside of Chile. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from Washington, human
rights workers are expressing regret that the onetime coup leader was
never held to account for atrocities committed during his 17-year rule,
but they believe his case ultimately strengthened the application of human
Within hours of his death, pro- and anti-Pinochet demonstrators took to
the streets of Santiago, and security forces were dispatched to restore
To his supporters, General Augusto Pinochet was a national savior who
prevented Chile from succumbing to communism.
Other Chileans are expressing conflicting emotions over Pinochet's
death: satisfaction that a man they regard as a murderer has perished, yet
sadness that a wave of lawsuits brought against him are now moot.
Isabel Allende is the daughter of the late Salvador Allende, the
socialist president Pinochet overthrew in 1973 with the covert backing of
the United States. She spoke with reporters in Madrid.
"It pains me that none of the accusations against him [Pinochet] could
be pursued to the end," she said. "I would have preferred for my country,
for its dignity, for the rule of law -- that the trials against him would
have gone forward. Obviously this was a despicable person with many
questions surrounding him, including the inexplicable fortune he amassed."
General Pinochet ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990, during which time
thousands of suspected leftists are believed to have disappeared in the
country. Thousands of others fled into exile. At the same time, Chile
embarked on a free-market reform initiative and emerged as one of the
strongest economies in Latin America.
In 1988, the general lost a vote on whether to remain in power. Chile
returned to elected government two years later, but Pinochet remained the
head of the country's armed forces as well as a senator-for-life.
In 1998, while in London recovering from back surgery, Pinochet was
arrested on an extradition warrant from Spain for alleged torture and
murder. The director of the Americas Program at Human Rights Watch, Jose
Miguel Vivanco, notes that Pinochet was traveling on a diplomatic
passport, and describes the general's detention as a landmark event.
"The precedent that was established when he was in detention in London
is a turning point for the history of human rights," he said. "that helped
going after the perpetrators of gross violations of human rights all over
the world by applying international treaties that were considered for many
years as 'soft law' - but that could be invoked in many similar cases.
And, indeed, that is what is happening now."
After months of detention in Britain, Pinochet was eventually sent home
to Chile due to his deteriorating health. But lawsuits continued to hound
him, and not just for alleged human rights violations. Allegations also
surfaced that he had pocketed millions of dollars during his rule and
funneled the money to foreign bank accounts.
In the end, Pinochet
was never formally convicted of any crime and never served a day in
prison. But the lawyer who initiated Spain's case against Pinochet in the
late 1990s, Juan Garces, says Pinochet has made it harder for future
dictators to act with impunity.
In a VOA interview, he said, "The Pinochet case shows that
international laws originating in Nuremberg in 1946 are still alive and
relevant. With these laws and others that have been formulated, a person
who comes to power in a country - if he uses his authority to commit
crimes, he may terrorize and control society, but he must know that his
impunity can be terminated by the application of international law."
Pinochet had some admirers among Western leaders, most notably former
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who labeled legal proceedings
against the general as a "political vendetta." Pinochet was one of the few
Latin American leaders to ally his country with Britain during the 1982
conflict with Argentina over the Falkland Islands.
Much that has come to light about Pinochet's rule was uncovered by
truth commissions and other investigations in Chile and elsewhere, along
with the declassification of U.S. government documents pertaining to Chile
in the 1970s.
Pinochet, who was 91 at the time of his death, will be given a
military, not a state funeral on Tuesday.