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Thousands murdered under Pinochet's reign of terror
Death of a dictator

December 15, 2006 | Page 2

ORLANDO SEPÚLVEDA celebrates the death of a dictator.

AUGUSTO PINOCHET, the ruthless tyrant who ruled Chile for over 17 years, died December 10. Thousands came out on the streets across Chile to celebrate the death of the former dictator, and people around the world rejoiced at the news.

In Washington, White House spokesperson Tony Fratto had the nerve to call the Pinochet dictatorship a "difficult period" in Chile, and said, "Our thoughts today are with the victims of his reign and their families."

In 1973, the thoughts of the U.S. government were with Pinochet. With Richard Nixon's Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as chief advocate, the U.S. sponsored Pinochet's bloody coup d'état that ousted the democratically elected president, socialist Salvador Allende.

The new regime unleashed the deadly persecution of tens of thousands of leftist activists, unionists, shantytown dwellers, peasant and workers leaders, who for the last three years had been taking part in what was known as the "peaceful road to socialism." Officially, the Chilean state recognizes more than 3,500 deaths. Thousands more remain unaccounted for.

During his 17 years in power, Pinochet led a regime of state terrorism against political dissidents. The repression allowed the Chilean ruling class and its patrons in the U.S. to impose savage neoliberal economic policies that dismantled social security, public health services, labor laws and public firms--all pet projects of right-wing U.S. economic advisors brought in after the coup.

In 1981, a fraudulent plebiscite sanctioned a new constitution that characterized the Pinochet regime as a "protected democracy" and allowed him eight more years in power. In 1989, a broad coalition of political parties defeated Pinochet at the polls, and a democratic government took power, though many issues related to the democratic process and justice were left unresolved.

In October 1998, Pinochet was arrested during a visit to London on the basis of an extradition request from a Spanish judge demanding that Pinochet stand trial for the death of Spanish citizens during the coup. He was held under house arrest for more than a year, but the Chilean government negotiated his release, claiming he should face trial in Chile.

He didn't. A combination of cowardice on the part of the the Chilean government, constitutional obstacles and the maneuvering of well-paid lawyers kept Pinochet from standing before a judge.

Last year, the government decided to go after Pinochet for economic crimes--he was charged with evading taxes on $26 million that an investigating judge said he hid in foreign bank accounts. Pinochet avoided trial by arguing he was too frail to appear in court.

Finally last month, Pinochet was indicted and put under house arrest in Santiago for the execution of two bodyguards of Allende.

Among those who celebrated the Pinochet's death, there are mixed feelings. "He should have died a prisoner," said Angélica Muñoz, who was pregnant in 1974 when her socialist husband was detained and never seen again.

Human rights lawyer Hugo Gutierrez told the Chilean newspaper La Tercera "What saddens me is that this criminal has died without having been sentenced, and I believe the responsibility the state bears in this has to be considered."

This anger broke out in confrontations with police when about 1,000 of those celebrating his death marched toward the presidential palace to protest the impunity for Pinochet.

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