Monday, December 11, 2006

Pinochet: the end

A rare free afternoon provides some much appreciated time for me to blog a little, read a little. There are often stories and events that I feel compelled to write about but quail at when sat in front of a blank monitor for reasons too numerous to list. Part of my reasons for blogging were to see whether I was firstly any good at it, secondly to see if I stuck at it (five months and counting!) and in the hope of crystallising thoughts and arguments aided by debate and disagreement (more of that would be welcomed).

So it's with no little hesitation that I turn my keyboard to Pinochet. I know little of his history other than what's currently being reported on. As such, I've just read two articles from sources you would perhaps expect to assume divergent stances. One is in the American online magazine 'Slate' and is written by Christoper Hitchens and the other from the Telegraph. Both would appear to agree on the numbers where Pinochet's concerned: 3,000 dead between his 'rise' to power in 1973 and his stepping down as president in 1990. That Pinochet was on nodding terms with Thatcher and Henry Kissinger doesn't bode well where I'm concerned. In another piece in the Telegraph, he's attributed as being the architect of a strengthening of Chile's economic status in South America. While the author acknowledges that he wasn't above profiting personally from that economic success. Hitchens also acknowledges this but points out that even the most fervent Friedmanite stopped short of advocating state sanctioned torture as a means to economic licence.

We've long known that the military coup of 1973 was CIA-backed. But the Allende government was none the less democratically elected. Thatcher said that Pinochet saved Chile from a small minority of communists who nearly wrecked the country. She is reported to be "greatly saddened" by news of his demise. However, Thatcher feels she owes him a debt for Chile's support during the Falklands war. She has tempered whatever emotions she feels by not releasing a formal statement, mindful perhaps of those who will be angered that he has eluded trial. Furthermore, a posthumous uncomplimentary word may be interpreted as a tad discourteous by Pinochet's supporters. Pinochet himself made it known that he felt betrayed by the land of Thatcher when he was arrested in 1997, lamenting:

"I am saddened that the experience of my arrest has shaken my belief in Britain. Previously, I never doubted that Britain was a country where people may move about freely. I did not believe that I would be the subject of spurious attempts by foreign prosecutors to convict me on unproven charges."

Perhaps inadvertently letting slip how unaccustomed he was to the normal processes of a fair judicial system, i.e., one which first lays charges and then sets about proving or disproving them at trial. The same kind of trial he consistently managed to avoid and will never now face.

Addendum 15.51: the list of political opponents we know Pinochet had murdered and the generally agreed condemnation those actions are now viewed with should present a timely reminder to those in authority that the murder of Alexander Litvinenko ought to be investigated as rigorously as possible no matter into whichever lofty corridors the investigation may wander.

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