Pinochet Indictment Reinstated by Chile

30 January 2001
Article

A Chilean magistrate reinstated the indictment and house arrest of Gen. Augusto Pinochet on charges stemming from the killing of 57 political prisoners and the disappearance of 18 others.

TNI and thhe Pinochet precedent

A Chilean magistrate reinstated the indictment and house arrest of Gen. Augusto Pinochet today on charges stemming from the killing of 57 political prisoners and the disappearance of 18 others in the weeks after the military coup d'etat that brought Pinochet to power in 1973.

Judge Juan Guzman, the magistrate who is investigating 215 criminal suits against the 85-year-old retired general, turned down requests from Pinochet's lawyers to close the case on grounds that his health is failing. Defense lawyers asserted that Pinochet's health would not allow for due process, but Guzman rejected their objections on the basis of medical exams.

Defense lawyers vowed to appeal Guzman's ruling, beginning a cycle of appeals and counter-appeals that could last for weeks, if not months, and that will probably land at the Supreme Court for a final word on Pinochet's fate. Nevertheless, prosecuting attorneys hailed today's decision, which they called historic.

"We are finally putting an end to the military dictatorship; it has been an embarrassment for Chilean democracy to have lived alongside a criminal for all these years," said one of the prosecuting attorneys, Hugo Gutierrez.

Pinochet, under whose rule from 1973 to 1990 more than 3,000 leftists were killed or disappeared, has been accused of being responsible for the kidnapping and execution in October 1973 of 18 prisoners whose remains have never been found and for the killing of 57 others during a military mission he ordered in northern Chile known as the "caravan of death."

Pinochet's son, Marco Antonio, said Guzman's ruling came as no surprise. "I think it is the continuation of the revenge upon my father, an elderly and sick man who can't defend himself," he said.

Guzman first indicted Pinochet on the same charges and ordered his house arrest on Dec. 1. But the Supreme Court overturned the ruling on grounds that the aging general had not been properly interrogated or examined to determine if he is fit to stand trial.

Guzman and Pinochet sat face to face last Tuesday for the first time at the latter's rural estate, where the former leader declared that the crimes he is accused of were the responsibility of his subordinates.

The Supreme Court instructed Guzman to interrogate Pinochet and ensure that he undergoes mandatory mental exams for anyone over 70 who faces trial. Chilean law allows exemption from trial if the accused is found to be demented. Medical exams carried out earlier this month found that Pinochet has "slight to moderate dementia" but that his long-term memory is normal.

Pinochet received the news today at his farm in Bucalemu, 80 miles southwest of the Santiago, the capital, where he is recovering from a severe headache and a transitory loss of consciousness that put him in the Military Hospital in Santiago over the weekend. The army will be responsible for enforcing the house arrest, but an order for soldiers to do so was still winding its way through the bureaucracy today.

Copyright 2001 The Washington Post