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Near the end of his days Near the end of his days
by Amin George Forji
2006-11-29 10:11:34
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The former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet took the world by surprise by assuming full “political” responsibility for the misdeeds under his regime. Pinochet’s military junta ruled Chile between 1973-90, in what was generally considered to be a brutal military dictatorship.

It is estimated that a thousand people disappeared during his regime, 3,200 others killed and many more thousands seriously tortured, illegally imprisoned or forced to go into exile. It is the very first time that Pinochet has made any kind of admission for the crimes he has long been accused.

The admission came through a statement read out to the public by his wife, Lucia Hiriart, during a celebration at his suburban Santiago residence to celebrate his 91st birthday, attended by a crowd of supporters and the mariachi band that animated the occasion with songs, including his favorite, ‘El Rey’ (The King).

Pinochet, who sat behind his wife and was surrounded by guards and family members, seemed to enjoy every moment of the celebration, occasionally lighting an electric smile, as the band played his favorite songs, wishing him a long life.

In the statement, Pinochet began by first pledging his total allegiance to the fatherland, before assuming full responsibility for the misdeeds orchestrated under his rule. "Today, near the end of my days, I want to say that I harbor no rancor against anybody, that I love my fatherland above all and that I take political responsibility for everything that was done."

He nevertheless remained defiant, justifying his bloody coup that overthrew the democratically elected Marxist President Salvador Allende, saying it had "no other motive than to make Chile a great place and prevent its disintegration". The statement further qualified his military subordinates as national heroes, "Thanks to their courage and decision, Chile moved from the totalitarian threat to the full democracy which we restored and which all our compatriots enjoy….It left a vigorous, modern, admired country."

He further denounced any attempt to bring any of the military officers on trial, including himself. "It is not fair to demand punishment for those who prevented the continuation and worsening of the worse political and economic crisis than one can remember."

On assuming office, Pinochet established a military junta led by him, representing the army, navy, air force and the uniformed police. Power remained concentrated in the hands of Pinochet, with all major opposition parties and movements banned, especially the leftist, communists and socialist parties that preached the ideals of the old regime.

Many leading opposition elements were killed, tortured, imprisoned or disappeared under the state secret security apparatus. Some of the key figures killed by Pinochet’s forces included Orlando Letelier and Carlos Prats. Orlando Letelier was the country’s former US ambassador and was assassinated by a bomb planted in his car, while Carlos Prats, an army commander under Allende, was killed under similar circumstances in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires.

Pursuant to an arrest warrant from Spain for crimes against humanity, the London police decided to arrest General Pinochet on October 16, 1998. He was detained and indicted accordingly, but later returned to Chile in March 2000 on medical grounds, and has since been ruled unfit to stand trial on the charges levied against him. However, the arrest in itself has been conceived as a boost to human rights in the South American nation.

Reacting to Pinochet’s admission, the Associated Press quoted Ricardo Israel, a political scientist at the University of Chile, as saying, "I think it's too late…he should have done it while he was in power, or when he remained as army commander after stepping down. Things would have been different."


 
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