April 7, 2000

First Person

Pinochet's Trial and Tribulations in Chile — The Murderer Returns to the Scene of the Crime

By Tito Tricot

VALPARAISO, CHILE — The murderer returned to the scene of the crime walking — even though the British authorities found him too sick to face trial. Augusto Pinochet arrived on a sunny morning, smiling and saluting his supporters, walking unaided — once again laughing at the world and making a mockery of international law as he did all throughout his 17 year-long dictatorship.

For Chileans, the dictator's miraculous recovery brought back disturbing memories of that Tuesday in September 1973 when the armed forces took power. The general's return involved another display of force — essentially another coup but on a smaller scale, including a Prussian-style reception for Pinochet, despite the government requests that they keep a low profile.

The dictator arrived at the Air Force's Group 10 complex at Santiago airport, off limits for the general public. No aircraft were allowed to operate in the skies over the capital while Pinochet was being transported from the airport to the military hospital. Finally, in an impressive military operation led by the "Cobra" elite unit, he was driven to his home in the outskirts of Santiago.

The government had no knowledge of this, and it was not until much later on that Minister of Foreign Affairs Juan Gabriel Valdés pronounced the reception "a disgrace" — too late. The armed forces had shown they are in power. Perhaps this explains why outgoing president Eduardo Frei left for the north of the country that very morning and President-elect Ricardo Lagos traveled to the resort town of Viña del Mar to chair a meeting of his future cabinet. It also explains Pinochet's arrogant and defiant attitude not only in relation to Chile, but as regards Europe as well.

The murderer returned to the scene of the crime walking to the tunes of "Erika" and "Lily Marlene" played by the army's band. What did British, Belgian and French people feel when they heard these reminders of Nazi atrocities? Maybe they feel as we do now that the tyrant is back, because we too knew of concentration camps, torture centers, mass rapes and mass graves, untold suffering and injustice.

Lucia Pinochet, one of the dictator's daughters, said, "We have withstood a lot of pain in the last 503 days." But what does she know about pain? Her father was never in prison but was in a mansion in Surrey; he was never tortured, never taken away in the middle of the night to vanish forever; he was never blindfolded and stripped naked so that electricity could be more easily applied to his genitals.

Viviana Díaz, chair of the Association of Relatives of the Disappeared, believes "Pino-chet's detention constitutes a landmark in the history of mankind, for it has made sure that no dictator can travel around the world thinking that he is immune from prosecution."

Maybe she is right. But I just can't be that generous, because Pinochet is still free. He was supposed to be extremely ill, but seconds after landing he got up from his wheelchair and walked unaided. He was supposed to be senile and mentally incapacitated, but he had no problems recognizing and embracing each and every one of the commanders-in-chief of the armed forces.

Shameful. Disgusting. Sickening. An affront to all those massacred by Pinochet's army. An affront to Patricio who went mad one day when he learned his brother had been arrested by the secret police. Patricio was young and thin, always smiling even as the concentration camp guards forced him to get up early every morning. One day, his smile froze, his dark eyes rolled back in their sockets and he began drooling. He never talked again.

I met Patricio because I was arrested in 1973 and spent 18 months in concentration camps and prisons. In 1987, while researching political violence and human-rights violations, I was arrested again. This time I was kept in prison for 14 months and tortured — fracturing one of my vertebrae, which put me in a prison hospital with a plaster cast from neck to waist.

Pinochet's homecoming was an insult to Angélica, whose pregnant body was found riddled with bullets. She had been kidnapped by the secret police — Pinochet's police — tortured and murdered. Her assassins are still at large, just like Pinochet.

Only a fool can believe that General Pinochet is going to be tried in Chile. That's why more than 6,000 people took to the streets of Santiago to demonstrate their anger — human rights organizations, students, workers, shantytown dwellers and ordinary people gathered peacefully outside the presidential palace but were violently repressed by the police. Even so, we managed to lower all the flags at Constitution Square to half-mast and paint "Trial to Pinochet" in big black letters.

The murderer returned to the scene of the crime walking. It's embarrassing for the government, it's embarrassing for the British government. Above all, it's an offense to the Chilean people.

Tito Tricot, a former political prisoner, is an independent journalist and a sociologist. Tricot directs academic programs in Chile for the School for International Training, the University Academy of Christian Humanism and the University of Art and Social Sciences. E-mail him in Valparaiso at ttricot@agata.ecored.cl.

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