Can Chilean Society Close Its Wounds?

Chile's former dictator General Augusto Pinochet wipes away tears during his farewell speech on March 10, 1998.  (Photo: Cris Bouroncle/AFP-Getty Images)

Looking like any grandfather leaning on a cane, it appeared that dictator Augusto Pinochet would end his days in Chile untouched by justice, as if the tragic events in that Andean nation during recent decades had nothing to do with this old man allegedly suffering from irreversible dementia.

It is true that there is little physical resemblance between this 88-year-old man and the heavyset, military officer with dark glasses who personified fascism in Latin America (1973-1990), after mounting a cruel coup d'état to defeat the constitutionally elected president, Salvador Allende, bombing La Moneda Palace and turning Chile into a graveyard of revolutionaries.

But apart from his current facade, Pinochet has not changed. As arrogant as ever, totally lucid, he recently granted an interview to a Miami TV network, a determining factor in the Santiago de Chile Appeals Court decision to revoke his immunity as former president, and to reopen - three years after a similar privation was denied - a new chapter in legal proceedings against the military killers of his regime.

May 28, 2004 will go down in Chilean history as a memorable day. Analysts estimate that the Appeals Court decision has left the door open for a re-examination of the charges pending against hundreds of officers from the Pinochet dictatorship.

If the Supreme Court ratifies the ruling, the ex-general confronts a trial for the disappearance of persons during Operation Condor, a macabre mechanism composed of a network of security apparatuses created during the military regimes of the Southern Cone in the 1970s with the aim of exchanging information and capturing members of the Left in any of those countries...Such a trial would also involve various former members of the DINA intelligence agency and more than 600 pending human rights' cases, which could be definitively continued or closed.

…According to analysts, with the ruling against Pinochet, the Appeals Court has sent a message to the Supreme Court: the time has time to close the wound definitively and bring those guilty to justice.

…Meanwhile, coup leader Pinochet received the news of the revocation of his immunity with "concern but also serenity," according to his spokesman, retired General Guillermo Garín.The spokesman stated that what has happened would seem unwarranted, given the precedents of earlier rulings in the context that the ex-dictator cannot be tried for health reasons.