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Declarations & Statements


The Independent, 6.3.00

It is up to Chile to try the General now. Ariel Dorfman

Has so much hope come to this? A dictator flees a rainy England at dawn in a military plane that hastily takes off before his victims have time to appeal, and a fascist multitude of supporters in the streets of Santiago shriek their joy at the return of their Father and their Leader. Is this the end of the Pinochet affair?

For the European courts that sought the extradition of the former Chilean president and especially for the Spaniards at the vanguard of this transcendental struggle, it is true that there is little more to do; apart from ensuring, via Interpol, that the fleeing general never tries to leave his country to take tea once more with Baroness Thatcher, or perhaps with his new friends Jack Straw or (Spanish Foreign Minister) Abel Matutes, each of whom in their own way saved him from the prospect of a long trial in Madrid.

And the victims? There is no doubt that for the thousands who suffered the assaults and crimes of the Pinochet regime, his flight, however ignominious and grotesque, leaves a bitter taste. With this denouement, we will finally have to arouse ourselves from a dream that always seemed too perfect to be true, a dream in which a powerful and arrogant man ends up a prisoner, harassed by his own dead victims, and subjected to the law he never respected: hysterically demanding for himself the rights he denied to his compatriots.

If this dream has died, there are, however, other collective dreams arising from the detention of the general for more than 17 months that, far from having concluded, have just begun.

Precisely for the way that Pinochet was freed and for the new international jurisprudence that, because of his case, asserts that national borders cannot stop the trial of the most extreme human rights violations, a series of tasks remain for the courts and lawyers of the world. Heaps of despots are running around, and it is difficult (and it would be too shameful, almost laughable) that the next tyrants accused of crimes against humanity will resort to the spurious excuses of mental health that Pinochet employed to slink from justice.

We can glimpse, rather, a near future when torturers will be treated like pirates of old, runaways without refuge, still less golden exile. And alongside this global dream, there's another more modest, local dream: that Pinochet might be tried in Chile.

We will see in the coming weeks if the will exists to strip the general of his immunity as life senator. This act is indispensable not only to force him to appear before the courts where 60 suits have been filed against him, but also to measure to what extent we are effectively sovereign.

The democratic government of Chile invoked that sovereignty - falsely in my view - to demand Pinochet's return, alleging we were capable of resolving our own dilemmas, proclaiming that to try Pinochet in his own land was absolutely feasible. The entire world now hopes that with the new government of Ricardo Lagos we know how to express that sovereignty to the full. Sovereignty in the face of armed forces that will oppose putting their former commander in chief in the dock as if he were an ordinary citizen.

But sovereignty too in the face of so many accomplices of the dictatorship who occupy positions of power and wield virtual veto in the legislature, not to mention the Pinochetistas who dominate the business world and the press. And the most arduous sovereignty of all: that which must be exercised upon our own past that belongs to us as if it were a piece of national territory.

Because the Jefe Maximo did not act alone. Countless people participated in and permitted his abuses. There are, of course, the hundreds of military men and functionaries who carried out the general's orders, who pulled the trigger or plunged the electrode into another person's eye or tightened the vice upon the genitals of a defenceless man or woman. Not to speak of those who bought the materials with which such horrors were perpetrated, who rented out the cellars and cleaned them, who paid the agents' wages and typed the reports and served the coffee and biscuits during the warriors' rest breaks. And who include, less visibly, thousands who denied the crimes while knowing them to be true, or justified them as unavoidable to save the country from barbaric Marxist hordes. But I'm not just referring to them. I'm thinking of others: those who closed their eyes so as not to see, who decided to ignore the screams, who murmured publicly that the mothers of the disappeared were mad and how much longer would they keep causing trouble. Those who used the dictatorship to become rich, to buy the patrimony of the state, to dismiss the defenceless worker. And still others: those who later, when democracy came, preferred to forget, preferred the amnesia of uncontrolled consumerism while pain stalked the side alley, while grief rose from every corner and conscience of the country. I'm referring to those whose silence allowed Pinochet to exist and prosper.

I refer to all those who, if Pinochet faces trial, would have to ask themselves - perhaps, who knows - the really important question: to what extent am I responsible for there not being justice in my country and, a more crucial and urgent question: what am I willing to do to remedy this situation?

Pinochet is a mirror.

And his return to Chile is a historic opportunity to look in it and see our true face.

Are we really willing to try him? We have to ask ourselves this question, whatever happens to the perishable body or the arteries or the weakened mind of the man who reigned over our destinies for 17 years. Whether or not he is stripped of immunity and tried.

Are we willing to judge the country that produced Pinochet? That is the question and the ultimate mirror that the general brings us, like a perverse and marvellous gift, from the wider world. This is a dream that has only just begun.

The award-winning Chilean author has recently published his latest novel 'La Nana y El Iceberg' (The Nanny and the Iceberg) in paperback (Sceptre, pounds 5.99)

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