Monday, 11 December 2006

Pinochet dead - good riddance.

By dying yesterday Pinochet managed to elude justice for one last time.

Of course he had already managed to con Jack Straw in to believing that he was unfit to stand trial (and so avoided extradition), and he had managed to get a spurious constitutional immunity in Chile by being declared a senator for life. I didn’t wish some summary justice for him, or his disappearance, but a public trial, as was denied so many of his opponents.

Growing up on the left in the eighties, Pinochet was THE universal hate figure. A few personal memories of the Pinochet era:

• Meeting Chilean exiles in the UK in the miners’ support groups. In particular Mario, an air force technician who had organised committees of servicemen loyal to the Allende government at the time of Pinochet’s coup. He escaped from Chile when he hid in the cargo-hold of a military aircraft at freezing temperatures .

• Being given a cassette of the music of Victor Jara, the Chilean Bob Dylan, arrested and tortured for three days, before being killed and his body dumped by a roadside.

• Attending a fringe meeting at Labour Party Young Socialist’s conference where members of the Chilean Socialist Youth movement spoke. Their faces were concealed to avoid identification because they planned to return to the interior.

• Picketing the private nursing home in a leafy London suburb where Pinochet sought sanctuary whilst fighting extradition.

And now, on his death, we have the same old arguments again put forward in Pinochet’s defence:

• He was simply a loyal soldier
But the role of the military in Chile has always been in the streets against their own people, not on the battlefield.

• He was a patriot
So much so, that he embezzled something like $28 million. Like Al Capone, it was the tax dodging that caught up with him.

• He was the saviour of his country from communism.
The US might not have like the fact that Allende was a socialist, but (inconveniently) he was democratically elected.

The only honest defence that can be made for Pinochet is “he may be a bastard but at least he’s our bastard”. This of course may be sufficient for his former allies in the US and UK but not for the 35,000 victims of his regime.

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