The Extradition of Chilean General Augusto Pinochet: Justice Delayed?

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Author: DeeAnna Manning
Editors: Sonia G. Benson , Nancy Matuszak , and Meghan Appel O'Meara
Date: 2001
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 10
Content Level: (Level 5)

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General Pinochet led a coup in Chile in 1973 following which there were killings, torture, and "disappearances" of dissenters. Then Pinochet, no longer the head of the government, traveled to London, England; Spanish government officials sought to extradite him from England for crimes committed by him and his administration.


  • Political leaders are responsible for the crimes committed by their governments.
  • It is the world's responsibility, including international courts or country-specific courts such as Spain's, to make sure suspected criminals—including heads of government—are held responsible.
  • If political leaders are held responsible, any leader traveling outside his or her country could be charged and tried.
  • It is the responsibility of Chile to decide whether to charge Pinochet with crimes.

Efforts to extradite General Augusto Pinochet (pronounced Pin-O-Shay) to Spain captured the attention of the world from late 1998 through early 2000. Charges of human rights abuses by Pinochet's administration, which governed Chile from 1973 to 1989, revived the interest of international observers. Many had long questioned the activities of military dictatorships in repressing their own citizens, as well as foreign visitors, for alleged political crimes. Amnesty International and the families of the "disappeared," who were victims of Pinochet's military and paramilitary forces, actively sought the former dictator's extradition for trial. Supporters of Pinochet clashed, sometimes violently, with those who supported the extradition proceedings. Protests took place in London, England, in Santiago, Chile, and in several other cities worldwide. The conflict reopened painful wounds of the Chilean people, who had been struggling for a decade to reestablish the rule of democratic government and bury their memories of a barbarous and all-too-recent past.


Chile's economic development hinged on the exploitation and export of an abundant and very profitable natural resource: copper. The three largest copper mines in Chile, together called the "Gran Minería," were developed during the twentieth century through investment capital and technology from the United States. The U.S. multinational corporations that controlled these mines were called the Anaconda Company and Kennecott Copper Company. Many Chileans resented the control these companies exercised over copper production, pricing, and sales. Chileans also alleged that the U.S. government tried to dominate Page 205  |  Top of Article Chile through its influence over the copper companies or by fixing the prices or amounts of copper that the companies sold. A large percentage of Chile's treasury receipts came from taxes on the production and sale of copper, so these allegations meant that many Chileans felt that their government had been unjustly deprived of revenues as a result of the actions of these companies. Chile's dependence on the copper industry caused many nationalists to push for "nationalization," or government takeover and administration of these economically important mines.

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The Chilean people lived at both ends of the economic spectrum. Chilean elites in the manufacturing or agricultural sectors made up the "bourgeoisie," and enjoyed a comfortable or even prosperous standard of living. The Chilean middle class sought to obtain the benefits held by the bourgeoisie, and many of them worked as bureaucrats, ran small businesses, or owned small to mid-sized farming properties. The lower class in Chile, however, lived a life of hunger and deprivation. Shantytowns, built from scrap lumber, corrugated tin, and even cardboard, housed many of the poor; their tiny dwellings were often poorly furnished with dirt floors and no electricity or running water. The need for reforms in housing, education, working conditions and compensation, and land distribution was most strongly felt among the members of the lower class. Nutrition and health among the poor suffered as a result of their meager earnings.

When the conservative administration of Jorge Alessandri gave way in 1964 to the presidency of Eduardo Frei, the hopes of the middle and lower classes rose. The Frei administration fulfilled some of its promises of labor and agrarian reform, and its social welfare programs drew the attention of the Alliance for Progress, which deemed Chile a "showcase" of its policies. The original intention of the Alliance for Progress, created by U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1961, was to offer funding and incentives for reform in Latin American countries as a way to deter them from turning to Communist-inspired social and economic reforms. U.S. policymakers feared the alternative that could result from these pressures for reform: a revolution that could follow the example set by Fidel Castro's Cuban revolution.

Salvador Allende Gossens

Frei's policies proved insufficient to meet the demands of Chile's hungry and exploited masses, and the election of 1970 offered them an opportunity to elect a candidate whose agenda more closely matched their own desires. Chile's democratic systems and traditions, which encompassed a multitude of political parties, often required candidates to form alliances between parties, or coalitions, in order to obtain the necessary number of votes to win elections. Salvador Allende Gossens, a member of the Socialist party and perpetual contender for president, ran as the candidate of the Popular Unity coalition. Allende's coalition included several parties, including dissident factions of the long-established Radical party, certain reform-minded splinter groups, the Socialist party, and the Chilean Communist Party. Allende's philosophies positioned him as a moderate reformer, attempting to "ride herd" over a stampeding coalition of reformers and revolutionaries who cried out for rapid fundamental change. The Popular Unity coalition platform included sweeping agrarian reforms, nationalization of the foreign-dominated Gran Minería, labor reforms, and far-reaching social welfare and economic programs.

Richard M. Nixon, then president of the United States, was an avowed anti-communist. His resolve against Latin American revolutionary sentiment had grown since Castro's takeover of Cuba. His strong anti-Communist stance had become a personal issue following an attack on his motorcade by an angry mob of Venezuelan students (later labeled by the U.S. State Department as "communist-inspired") protesting his "good will" visit to South America in 1958. Nixon had Page 207  |  Top of Article been pelted with rotten tomatoes, spat upon, heckled, and nearly killed by an angry mob. This experience shaped his view toward Latin America and Nixon became more determined that ever to fight the spread of communism in the western hemisphere. Nixon set out to prevent Allende's election and, when it later became necessary, to destabilize his regime with the intent of removing him from office. One operation, called Track II, encouraged a military coup before Allende could be inaugurated. Henry Kissinger, then national security adviser to Nixon, and several other officials linked the Socialist Allende with the communist members of his Popular Unity coalition. According to Harold Molineu in U.S. Policy Toward Latin America, Kissinger echoed Nixon's desire to prevent Allende's election and, later, to ensure his ouster, when he was reported to have said, "I don't see why we have to let a country go Marxist just because its people are irresponsible."

Richard Nixon, the CIA, and the funding of the U.S. multinationals such as AT&T, combined with conservative elements within Chile, were unable to prevent Allende's election to office in 1970. He quickly introduced an amendment to nationalize the Gran Minería. Congressional approval in July 1971 was unanimous, with 158 senators and deputies voting to ratify the congressional amendment that would be necessary for nationalization. In response, and with the aid of several U.S. multinationals affected by Allende's nationalist policies, Washington intensified its covert activities to undo Allende's regime. Nixon ordered that the Chilean economy "should be squeezed until it screams," and attempts were made to strangle Chile's economy, to create panic among the people, and to disrupt normal life. The United States imposed an "invisible" economic blockade aimed at creating economic chaos and destabilizing Chile's Marxist government. Allende protested this "grave aggression" aimed at his government in the international arena, but his December 4, 1972 speech before the United Nations failed to elicit sufficient support to halt U.S. efforts.

The Allende administration proved incapable of coping with the onslaught. The economic chaos caused by the invisible economic blockade led to hoarding of goods and the growth of a black market; the conservative sectors of society staged protests; and labor responded with general strikes that plunged the population into turmoil. Parliament blocked Allende's reform attempts at the same time that members of the Popular Unity coalition urged him to speed up the pace of change. Chilean owners of small to mid-sized properties and business feared that the seizure of their lands by peasants and workers through tomas, or takings, such as those that had already taken over larger enterprises. The conservative right encouraged these fears, and newspapers such as El Mercurio, which received millions of dollars in support from Chilean conservatives and the CIA's "front" organizations, heightened the sense of impending disaster. Chilean society became polarized between left and right, leaving the country without the stabilizing influence of a middle political sector.

While its economic manipulation wrought havoc with Chile's economy, the United States continued to maintain close ties with those organizations that it deemed to be most susceptible to U.S. influence. The Chilean military, which had been the beneficiary of increased U.S. military aid to the region since the 1960s, did not suffer the same fate as the Chilean government. Although all loans and credits to Chile's Popular Unity government were cut off in the "invisible" blockade, the United States continued to spend massive amounts in military aid to Chile during the Allende regime. At the same time, the United States continued to assert that it had been merely a disinterested bystander since Allende came to power, except for protests against his expropriation policy. A New York Times article the day after Allende's overthrow alleged that this increased military aid had been the central element in Washington's attempts to demonstrate cooperation and even-handed treatment of the Allende government.

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Chile's military plotted to overthrow the Allende regime in order to halt further disintegration of Chile. The Allende administration's food rationing program, begun in response to widespread hoarding of staple goods such as meats, milk, diapers, bread, and coffee, only worsened the panic, and a black market trade in these commodities flourished. General strikes in 1972 and 1973 crippled the nation's transportation industries and virtually shut down Chile's major cities. Several coup attempts failed in 1973; some called for Allende's resignation. The sense of impending doom was not dispelled by a parade of more than one million peasants and workers to commemorate the third anniversary of Allende's election to the presidency. Many of the marchers requested that they be given arms with which to defend the government, but Allende refused, fearing that it would lead to a massacre. Allende intended to call for a national plebiscite, or people's vote, on September 11, 1973, which, he was sure, would reveal the widespread support for his government's programs and dampen the military's enthusiasm for another revolt.

Despite Allende's optimism, the military attacked La Moneda, Chile's presidential palace, on September 11, 1973. Allende's first reaction to news of the impending attack was disbelief, then defiance, and finally resignation to the inevitability of battle. His final address to the Chilean people, broadcast over the radio as the army began its assault on the palace, was a moving defense of political principle and a poignant expression of his personal commitment to the betterment of Chile.

The attack on La Moneda was the first of many attacks by the Chilean military in an effort to "extirpate the Marxist cancer from the body politic" of the country. As thousands fled to friendly embassies seeking protection from the military's excesses, thousands more were rounded up and taken to interrogation centers for detention and "questioning." A rash of "disappearances" became a bloodbath of vindictiveness and rage, as bodies were found floating in the Mapocho River, lying in the blood-stained streets, or hanging as examples to the unwary political left. These methods became, as Hernan Valdés described them, part of a very effective campaign of "political detergency" aimed at silencing all attempts at protest.

General Augusto Pinochet

Gen. Augusto Pinochet was one of the members of the military junta that overthrew Allende; within days of the coup it was clear that Pinochet was in charge. He ruled Chile for the next seventeen years. Thousands of deaths occurred in the early weeks following the coup, among them Victor Jara, a well-known Chilean folk singer, and two U.S. citizens, Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi. Even Chileans who fled into exile were targeted by the Chilean secret police forces; former Allende cabinet officer Orlando Letelier was killed by a car bomb in Washington, D.C. in 1976. Evidence pointed to the direct involvement of Pinochet's secret police, and six persons were imprisoned for their part in the car bombing. The U.S. Justice Department reopened its grand jury investigations into the matter in March 2000.

International pressure to stem the tide of human rights abuses combined with domestic protest against the dictatorship restored democracy to Chile; in October 1988 Pinochet held a plebiscite to extend his term of office. When the result was overwhelmingly against his continued rule, Pinochet agreed to hold democratic elections in 1989. General elections led to the election of Patricio Aylwin, a moderate conservative, as president. Democratic government in Chile paved the way for conciliation, and Chile's civilian president Aylwin appointed an eight-member commission in 1990 to investigate the extent and nature of the human rights violations. The commission, headed by Raul Rettig, issued its formal report in February 1991; that report was followed in 1996 by the report of the Reparation and Reconciliation Corporation. The two reports brought the number of "disappearances" to 1,102 and deaths by execution or torture to 2,095, for a total of 3,197 cases that were officially recognized by the Chilean government. Thousands more cases of torture remain unrecognized, and the totals continue to climb as mass graves containing the bodies of bound and tortured victims are found and additional cases are brought to light.

In 1978 Pinochet decreed an amnesty (Decree 2191) designed to shield those responsible for human rights violations committed between September 11, 1973 and March 10, 1978 (including himself). The Chilean Constitution drafted during the Pinochet dictatorship included a provision that created certain parliamentary positions called "senators for life;" these parliamentarians have complete immunity under Chilean law. When Pinochet negotiated the transition to democracy and later agreed to step down as head of the armed forces, Pinochet guaranteed himself a position as senator for life. He could not be prosecuted for any of the executions or torture within Chile unless a constitutional amendment lifting the decree was passed.

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The victims of human rights violations in Chile and their relatives, with the support of international organizations, lawyers, and judges, had campaigned for a quarter of a century for justice. The whereabouts of many of desaparecidoes, the Spanish term for "disappeared ones," remain unknown because the immunity granted to so many has prevented discovery and prosecution. The Chilean Constitution appears, therefore, to guarantee the rights of those in power to commit human rights abuses and other crimes with without fear of punishment.

Human rights abuses were not committed only against Chilean citizens. Victims included citizens of Spain, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, and Sweden, among many others. In those countries, criminal proceedings were instituted in national courts against Pinochet. The Spanish courts, for example, wanted to bring Pinochet to Spain, to be prosecuted for crimes against Spanish citizens committed by the dictatorship. The Spaniards did not believe that Pinochet could receive a fair trial in Chile due to the constitutional immunity provisions. In October 1998, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón issued a provisional arrest warrant alleging that Pinochet had been responsible for the murder of Spanish citizens in Chile. A supplemental warrant was issued a few days later alleging that Pinochet was responsible for systematic acts against Spanish citizens including murder, torture, "disappearance," illegal detention, and forcible transfers in Chile and other countries.

The Appeal for Extradition from London

While he was in Chile, however, Pinochet was outside the reach of these foreign courts; Chile would not extradite him for trial in another country. When he went to London for back surgery in October 1998, Pinochet was served with the first warrant and placed under arrest by a Scotland Yard official. Pinochet's lawyers immediately Page 210  |  Top of Article brought a petition before the English courts, asserting his immunity from arrest and extradition as a former head of state. The High Court for England and Wales agreed, but the British government, acting on behalf of the Spanish authorities, appealed to the judicial committee of the House of Lords. The House of Lords originally ruled 3-2 in favor of the extradition, but that decision was annulled a few weeks later when it was revealed that a conflict of interest existed. Lord Hoffman, who had voted with the majority in favor of extradition, had ties to Amnesty International, one of the international groups involved in the case. The annulment led to a second hearing in January 1999, by a panel of seven British judges. The panel considered alleged offenses committed in Chile as well as assassinations of escaping leftists committed in Italy, Argentina, the United States, and elsewhere. The government of Chile was permitted to intervene in the case on behalf of Pinochet.

On March 24, 1999, the panel issued its ruling that Pinochet had no immunity but that he could not be extradited to Spain for acts committed before Britain enacted the International Convention Against Torture in December 1988. This effectively reduced the number of charges for which Pinochet could be extradited to Spain for trial to thirty-four. Further, the House of Lords suggested that British Home Secretary Jack Straw review his earlier decision allowing the extradition to proceed.

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Pinochet's supporters in Chile and in Britain began to lobby for his release. Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, a long-time friend of Pinochet, joined in the appeal for his release. Straw encouraged both sides to present their written positions and considered the findings of a team of doctors who examined Pinochet to determine his fitness to stand trial. Pinochet, who suffers from diabetes and depression, wears a pacemaker, and has difficulty walking, was found to have suffered brain damage as a result of several strokes during September and October 1999. Straw concluded that Pinochet was unfit to stand trial due to his poor physical and mental health, as well as his advanced age, and ordered his release on "humanitarian grounds." Pinochet was released and returned to Chile on March 2, 2000.

The decision set in motion a series of efforts in Chile to strip Pinochet of his immunity from prosecution for human rights abuses committed during his regime. Claims were brought before Chilean judge Juan Guzman for criminal complaints including torture, "disappearances," execution, and murder. Among them is the most famous case picked by Guzman to seek the lifting of Pinochet's immunity: the so-called "caravan of death," in which a group of high-ranking military officers toured several Chilean cities shortly after the coup, dragging political prisoners from jail and executing them. The number of claims continues to climb as the victims and families of victims seek justice for the human rights abuses committed during the 1973 to 1990 dictatorship.

International Interest in a Trial for Pinochet

The magnitude of the human rights abuses in Chile cannot rival the numbers of "disappeared" in Argentina between 1976 and 1983, where official figures acknowledge more than ten thousand people killed for their opposition to the military government, and human rights organizations estimate three times that number. The dismal theme of the "Dirty War" waged by the Argentine military against subversive elements in its own country is being replayed in recent years as Argentina, like Chile, investigates the theme of justice versus national reconciliation. Many senior military officers who served in the Argentine dictatorship are currently imprisoned or involved in legal battles over the cases of babies who were born to imprisoned political prisoners, taken from their mothers, and placed for adoption. Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón has been active in preparing charges to include terrorism and torture against many of the leading figures in the Argentine military dictatorships.


Brazil and Uruguay, too, are grappling with similar issues of past military repression and the need for retribution for their crimes. The military forces of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile even cooperated in the 1970s and 1980s to target and detain escaping leftists in an effort called "Operation Condor." Since the Pinochet extradition case has thrust the issue of human rights abuses into the international arena, Brazil Page 212  |  Top of Article
MAP OF CHILE. (© Maryland Cartographics. Reprinted with permission.) MAP OF CHILE. (© Maryland Cartographics. Reprinted with permission.) recently agreed to open its archives on Operation Condor. The United States, too, has pursued a policy of active declassification and released of many of its files on the Chilean 1973-78 era, when the worst of the abuses took place. As the Pinochet conflict is played out in Chile and the world arena, these countries as well as the international human rights community have reopened the debate on the issue of human rights abuses by military governments. Opponents argue that the core issue is accountability for crimes committed, while others say that the true motivation behind the international justice movement is revenge. They say that the "key player" nations, motivated by organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have set aside the rhetoric of the Cold War to seek, instead, a sense of international community that is acutely aware of its new role as moral police officer to the world.


Chile promises today to eliminate the mere suggestion that authoritarian dictators can act with impunity. Yet, it rejects the notion that international means can or should be used to enforce the principles of human rights (or to bring retribution for violations of human rights). Chile, which was willing to submit its appeals before the World Court in order to free Pinochet from extradition proceedings in Britain, now alleges that the Chilean judiciary should be left alone, without undue pressure (domestic or international), to resolve issues that should properly be addressed within Chile's borders. It defines the key issues, therefore, as autonomy and Chilean nationalism, rather than human rights and the global community.

Chile faces many compelling issues. How will the recently elected Socialist president, Ricardo Lagos, handle conflicts between Chile's right, left, and centrist parties? What impact will the economic instabilities of the global market have on the tenuous state of calm that exists among these sectors? In addition, the middle and upper classes that supported the Pinochet government and its policies must now reconcile their newfound economic prosperity with an awareness of crimes against humanity. These issues have received increased news coverage since the Chilean judiciary's decision to lift Pinochet's immunity from prosecution. Pinochet's legal team has appealed the decision, but the toll of legal cases brought against him in Chile continues to climb; over one hundred claims were filed in Chile within the first three months after Pinochet's release from Britain. Sporadic public demonstrations, both in favor of and against Pinochet, disrupt daily life in the capital. Finally, with the Chilean military staging demonstrations of its power as recently as 1993 (after the election of a civilian president), conflict over the Pinochet issue could lead to a deterioration of relations between the government and the armed forces. This could be a source of major worry in a country still deeply divided over the legacy of military rule.

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Agosin, Marjorie. Tapestries of Hope, Threads of Love: The Arpillera Movement in Chile, 1974-1994. Albuquerque, N.Mex.: University of New Mexico Press, 1996.

Koonings, Kees and Dirk Kruijt. Societies of Fear: The Legacy of Civil War, Violence and Terror in Latin America. New York City: Zed Books, 1999.

Oppenheim, Lois Hecht. Politics in Chile: Democracy, Authoritarianism, and the Search for Development. Bolder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1998.

U.S. Congress. Senate. Covert Action in Chile, 1963-1973, Staff Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, 94th Cong., 1st sess., 1975 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1975).

U.S. Congress. Senate. Hearing Before the Subcommittee to Investigate Problems Connected with Refugees and Escapees of the Committee on the Judiciary, pt. 1, 93d Cong., 1st sess.; pt. 2, 93d Cong., 2d sess.; pt. 3, 94th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1973; 1974; 1975).

Wright, Thomas and Rudy Oñate. Flight from Chile: Voices of Exile. Albuquerque, N.Mex.: University of New Mexico Press, 1998.

Valenzuela, Arturo, et al. "Chile." In The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.

DeeAnna Manning

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September 3, 1970 Salvador Allende Gossens is elected president of Chile. This marks the first democratic election of a Socialist to the office of president of a Latin American country.

September 11, 1973 Augusto Pinochet Ugarte heads four-man junta that overthrows Allende government.

October 5, 1988 A "No" vote reveals a popular mandate of fifty-five percent voting against Pinochet's continued leadership of the country.

December 14, 1989 Patricio Aylwin wins a democratic election for presidency of Chile and assumes the office in 1990. Pinochet steps down from the presidency but remains in charge of Chile's military forces.

March 10, 1998 Pinochet resigns as head of the armed forces after twenty-five years but the following day assumes that the post of "senator for life," a title that carries with it immunity from prosecution for acts committed during Pinochet's term as president of Chile.

Septemer 21, 1998 Pinochet travels to Europe on a private visit and is later detained in London pursuant to formal indictments and an arrest warrant handed down by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón.

October 1998 The Chilean Foreign Ministry protests the detention, saying that Pinochet enjoys diplomatic immunity. The British Foreign Office does not agree.

November 25, 1998 Pinochet celebrates his eighty-third birthday. The House of Lords' magistrates rejects his claim of immunity.

December 1998 Pinochet appears before the Bow Street Magistrate's Court, at the start of his extradition hearing. The court accepts the defense argument and annuls the November 25 ruling.

March 24, 1999 Britain's House of Lords dismisses all charges against Pinochet except the charges of torture and conspiracy to torture after December 1988.

April 15, 1999 Britain's Interior Secretary Jack Straw states that extradition proceedings may go forward.

October 8, 1999 British Magistrate Ronald Bartle says that Pinochet could be extradited to Spain for trial on charges of torture and conspiracy to torture dating from the last fourteen months of his military regime.

October 14, 1999 Chile asks Britain to free Pinochet on humanitarian grounds, citing his deteriorating health.

October 22, 1999 Pinochet's attorneys lodge a formal appeal against decision to extradite him to Spain and apply for a writ of habeas corpus for his release.

January 11, 2000 Britain's Home Office announces its decision to allow Pinochet to return home to Chile on "humanitarian grounds." Straw grants seven days to submit an appeal for his consideration.

March 2, 2000 After hearing arguments from both sides, Straw announces his decision to set Pinochet free, deeming the eighty-four-year-old too frail to be extradited to Spain, or any other country, to stand trial for human rights abuses.

April 26, 2000 Appeals Court of Santiago begins hearings on whether to lift Pinochet's immunity from prosecution. Indictments brought by Chilean judges total fifty-eight as of Pinochet's release from London on March 2, 2000 and jump to ninety-five by May 3, 2000, the date on which the appeals court concludes its hearings on immunity.

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1908-1973 Salvador Allende was born July 26, 1908 in Valparaiso, Chile. He became politically active while studying medicine at the University of Chile. Although his education was disrupted by frequent suspensions and two arrests, he earned an M.D. in 1932, and the next year helped organize the Chilean Socialist Party. Elected to the Chilean legislature in 1937, he developed a reputation as a champion of the poor. As the minister of health from 1939 to 1943, Allende addressed social causes of poor health. He served four terms in the Senate, from 1945 until 1970. That year, he became the first popularly elected Socialist head of state in the western hemisphere.

As president, he developed the "Chilean Road" to socialism, a combination of economic reform and democracy. Striving to improve the conditions of most Chileans, Allende diminished the role of private corporations through institution of land reform policies and nationalization of Chile's banks and major industries. Other programs froze food prices, subsidized milk, increased the minimum wage, and provided medical care and education programs for children.

On September 11, 1973, a military junta overthrew and, possibly, assassinated him, though it was claimed he "committed suicide after refusing to step down."

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Surely this will be my last opportunity to address you … . My words are not spoken in bitterness, but in disappointment. They will be a moral judgment on those who betrayed the oath they took as soldiers of Chile … . I shall pay with my life for the loyalty of the people … . The seed we have planted in the worthy consciousness of thousands upon thousands of Chileans cannot remain forever unharvested … . They have the might and they can enslave us, but they cannot halt the world's social processes, not with crimes nor with guns … . These are my last words, and I am sure that my sacrifice will not be in vain. I am sure that this sacrifice will constitute a moral lesson, which will punish cowardice, perfidy, and treason.

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1915- Augusto Pinochet was born November 25, 1915 in Chile. After graduating from Chile's Military Academy in 1936, he rose through the ranks of the army. Shortly after appointment as commander of the army, Pinochet led a military coup, which overthrew the Chilean government.

With the support of the army, he installed himself as head of the military junta and assumed sole authority as head of state in June 1974. He repressed civil liberties and, in 1977, his regime was condemned by the U.N. Human Rights Commission for torturing detainees. An assassination attempt in 1986 resulted in further oppression and disappearances of suspected critics of Pinochet's government. Following a 1989 referendum, he was denied the right to continue as president. However, he retained command of the army until 1998 and was appointed a "senator for life."

Although the constitution provided him with immunity from prosecution within Chile, he was arrested in Britain while seeking medical attention in September 1998. A judge had requested his extradition to Spain to stand trail for human rights violations. He was released March 2, 2000, on humanitarian grounds, and returned home to Chile.

AUGUSTO PINOCHET. (AP/Wide World Photos. Reproduced by permission.) AUGUSTO PINOCHET. (AP/Wide World Photos. Reproduced by permission.)

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Britain's Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), acting on behalf of Spain, introduced the charges against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet at the beginning of the extradition hearings. The charges included thirty-four claims of torture, for which individual victims were named, and a more general allegation of "conspiracy to torture," arising between December 1988 and December 1989.

The allegations included graphic descriptions of beatings, electric shocks, sexual abuse, and intimidation. In five of the cases, the alleged torture eventually led to death. Twenty-seven of the victims were men; seven were women.

Agence France-Presse's September 27, 1999, listed the allegations: "One woman was beaten and threats made to rape her sister. Several victims were suspended, beaten, electrocuted and suffocated. One man was forced to take hallucinogenic drugs, another was locked into a small cage and suffered electric shocks, and another had a tube inserted into his anus. In another case, a woman was allegedly interrogated while she was naked and threats were made against her nine-year-old daughter. Other victims were deprived of sleep, food and water. Some were threatened with death or disfigurement."

The allegations also included a count of "conspiring to abduct and torture known or suspected political opponents. It was agreed some of the victims would be killed and others tortured, the charges said. The policy would be operated through public officials, either in the military, or another state authority, under the general's command." The conspiracy charge alleged that the aim of this policy was not only to elicit information, but to frighten other potential critics. It also accused Pinochet of deliberate efforts to conceal the whereabouts of "the disappeared."

Alun Jones, on behalf of the CPS and Spain, argued that although the charges did not actually accuse Pinochet of inflicting the torture himself, he was a "secondary party, counseling or procuring them."

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Pinochet's Response

In a statement read to the magistrate court in April, Pinochet declared, "I do not agree with this … I have nothing to do with any of these charges … . I am being humiliated. I am a general with sixty-four years service and I am a gentleman who knows about honor."

Barrister (lawyer) Clive Nicholls argued in Pinochet's defense that because the legal definition of torture was the infliction of severe pain and suffering, "instantaneous death cannot amount to torture," as the victim had not suffered. Similarly, he argued, the cases of people still classified as disappeared did not amount to torture—for them or for their relatives—as they were not "victims."

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3410600029