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2006-12-11

Death of a Dictator: Victims of Augusto Pinochet’s Reign Remember Brutal Regime From the Caravan of Death to Operation Condor

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Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet died on Sunday at the age of 91. He took power in a U.S.-supported coup on Sept. 11 1973 and ruled Chile for 17 years. During that time his government murdered or disappeared more than 3,200 people. Tens of thousands were also tortured including Michele Bachelet, Chile’s current president. We speak with Emilio Banda, a student union leader who was tortured under Pinochet’s reign; Francisco Letelier, the son of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier, who was killed in car bomb in Washington DC and with Peter Kornbluh, author of "The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability." [includes rush transcript]

Former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet died on Sunday at the age of 91. Pinochet came to power in a bloody CIA-backed military coup on September 11th, 1973 that overthrew the democratically-elected president Salvador Allende. He ruled Chile for 17 years marking one of South America’s longest- lasting and most repressive regimes. Pinochet oversaw the killing of over 3,000 Chileans during his brutal military reign. More than 30,000 Chileans have testified that they were tortured or detained by the military government.

Salvador Allende’s daughter, Isabel Allende, spoke after hearing the news of Pinochet’s death.

  • Isabel Allende, daughter of former Chilean President Salvador Allende: "I demand justice and I am willing to re-encounter myself with the country and its memory under these values. Never again a coup, never again more violations of Human Rights, never again more assassinations."

Pinochet has repeatedly evaded punishment for his crimes. In October 1998, he was arrested during a visit to London following an extradition request from Spain, where judge Baltasar Garzon was investigating Pinochet’s involvement in murders tied to his regime. Pinochet was held under house arrest for 16 months. But the British government allowed him to go back to Chile in March of 2000, saying he was too frail to face trial. Then in 2001, he was indicted for the so-called Caravan of Death–a mobile death squad responsible for the executions of 75 political prisoners. But Pinochet narrowly escaped facing charges after a Supreme Court ruled that he was physically and mentally unfit to stand trial.

In 2004, Pinochet was indicted for tax evasion and corruption after it was revealed that he had millions of dollars hidden in secret off-shore bank accounts. And in October, a federal judge in Chile ordered his arrest for carrying out 36 cases of kidnappings and 23 cases of torture at a secret prison.

Earlier this month, Pinochet was hospitalized after suffering a heart attack. Almost immediately after his death was announced on Sunday, thousands took to the streets in Santiago to celebrate. Clashes broke out when a group of about 1,000 people tried to head towards the city’s presidential palace. Police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse the crowds.

Last month, we * interviewed* Chilean novelist Isabel Allende here on Democracy Now! She is the niece of Chile’s former president, Salvador Allende. Juan Gonzalez asked Isabel her reaction to a statement Pinochet issued on his 91st birthday saying he will not apologize to the Chilean people for what happened under his rule.

  • Isabel Allende, author and niece of former Chilean President Salvador Allende: "There has not been justice in Chile. Justice is very slow and not fair, blind, deaf. And the people who suffered during that time suffered in silence. Their suffering was never acknowledged. It was denied. Then we had democracy for many years, and the idea was that in order to protect this fragile condition, democracy, that suffering had to be put aside. Those people had to sacrifice their truth and their past and their losses. And so, now it’s too late, and Pinochet will never be arrested. He lives in perfect comfort and wealth. And I don’t think that by apologizing to the people that he so awfully tortured and whose lives he destroyed, he will do any good."

Today we host a roundtable discussion on the death and legacy of Augusto Pinochet:

  • Emilio Banda, a student union leader in Chile. In 1987, he was arrested by Pinochet forces and imprisoned for six months where he was tortured. He left Chile in 1993.
  • Francisco Letelier, his father, Orlando was a high-ranking government official in Chile under President Allende. Following the coup, Letelier was imprisoned and tortured. He moved to the United States after his release. In September of 1976, Orlando was killed, along with his American colleague Ronni Moffitt, when a bomb planted under his car exploded as they rode to work. The assassination was eventually traced back to Pinochet’s regime.
  • Peter Kornbluh, author of "The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability." He is a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, a public-interest documentation center in Washington.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Salvador Allende’s daughter Isabel Allende spoke after hearing the news of Pinochet’s death.

ISABEL ALLENDE: [translated] I demand justice, and I’m willing to reencounter myself with the country and its memory under these values: never again a coup, never again more violations of human rights, never again more assassinations.

AMY GOODMAN: Pinochet has repeatedly evaded punishment for his crimes. In October 1998, he was arrested during a visit to London following an extradition request from Spain, where judge Baltasar Garzon was investigating Pinochet’s involvement in murders tied to his regime. Pinochet was held under house arrest for 16 months. But the British government allowed him to go back to Chile in March of 2000, saying he was too frail to face trial. Then in 2001, Pinochet was indicted for the so-called Caravan of Death, a mobile death squad responsible for the executions of 75 political prisoners. But Pinochet narrowly escaped facing charges after a supreme court ruled he was physically and mentally unfit to stand trial.

In 2004, Pinochet was indicted for tax evasion and corruption after it was revealed he had millions of dollars hidden in secret offshore bank accounts. And in October, a federal judge in Chile ordered his arrest for carrying out 36 cases of kidnappings and 23 cases of torture at a secret prison.

Earlier this month, Pinochet was hospitalized after suffering a heart attack. He died Sunday. Almost immediately after his death was announced, thousands took to the streets in Santiago to celebrate. Clashes broke out when a group of about a thousand people tried to head towards the city’s presidential palace. Police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse the crowds.

Last month, we talked to Chilean novelist Isabel Allende here on Democracy Now! Her uncle was Chile’s president, Salvador Allende, who died September 11, 1973, when Pinochet seized power. Juan Gonzalez asked Isabel her reaction to a statement Pinochet issued on his 91st birthday, saying he would not apologize to the Chilean people for what happened under his rule

ISABEL ALLENDE: There has not been justice in Chile. Justice is very slow and not fair — blind, deaf. And the people who suffered during that time suffered in silence. Their suffering was never acknowledged. It was denied. Then we had democracy for many years, and the idea was that in order to protect this fragile condition, democracy, that suffering had to be put aside. Those people had to sacrifice their truth and their past and their losses. And so, now it’s too late, and Pinochet will never be arrested. He lives in perfect comfort and wealth. And I don’t think that by apologizing to the people that he so awfully tortured and whose lives he destroyed, he will do any good.

AMY GOODMAN: Isabel Allende, the niece of Salvador Allende, who died when the Pinochet forces rose to power. Of course, Allende was the President of Chile.

Peter Kornbluh joins us now from Washington, D.C., author of The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability. Peter is a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, a public-interest documentation center in Washington.

Francisco Letelier is on the phone from Los Angeles. Francisco’s father Orlando was a high-ranking government official in Chile under President Allende. Following the coup, Letelier was imprisoned and tortured. After his release, he moved to the United States, where he worked for the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. In September of 1976, Orlando Letelier was killed, along with his American colleague Ronni Moffitt, when a bomb planted under his car exploded as they rode to work. The assassination was eventually traced back to the Pinochet regime.

And we are also joined by Emilio Banda, a former student union leader in Chile. He was tortured in 1986-1987, arrested by Pinochet forces, imprisoned for six months. He left Chile in ’93. Emilio, joining us in the studio of Democracy Now!

We will begin with you, Emilio Banda. Your response to the death of Augusto Pinochet.

EMILIO BANDA: Well, thank you for having me. What can I tell you? I’m so happy. Finally, that happened, happened on the Human Rights Day yesterday. The effervescence of my country today, I understand plainly, because so many people are still angry of Pinochet, you know, not just because he had been having a life of immunity, practically, but because he will not confront the crime that he definitely did, because the Chilean legislation cannot judge him after death. But we are happy that definitely that happened.

We were happy in 1986, when the patriotic friend attempt against his life, and he started dying that day, because his immunity, his [inaudible] potentially was put on [inaudible], you know. And in London, Baltasar Garzon catch him, and, you know, prove again he is not free of, you know, passing through the history without confronting his crimes.

And finally, he died after, you know, heart attack or some illness. But I’m so happy. People were calling me, emailing me around the world. I received email from friends around the world. And, you know, we are happy because Chile is in the streets today, you know. They are celebrating. And this week will be really one of a lot of action in the street. It will be something as big as was in Argentina, when they tried to move Peron from one side to another. We will be in the street, 10,000 against one of Pinochet’s support. And we will be throwing rocks and making, you know, that process impossible. We are not honoring him in any way. We are not respecting his funeral. We are not respecting anything.

AMY GOODMAN: Emilio Banda, tortured union leader under Pinochet, joining us today in New York. When we come back, we’ll also be joined by our other guests. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Canto Libre" by Victor Jara, the famous Chilean folksinger who died somewhere near the stadium in the days after September 11, 1973, as the Pinochet forces rose to power. We’re talking about the death of a dictator today, the death of Augusto Pinochet.

[…]

Student union leader in Chile, who was tortured under the Pinochet regime, Emilio Banda is with us in the studio in New York. We now go to Peter Kornbluh in Washington, D.C., author of The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability. Peter, what should we understand about Augusto Pinochet?

PETER KORNBLUH: Well, that he will go down in history along with a pantheon of other deceased dictators — Francisco Franco, Milosevic, Mussolini — a man whose name became synonymous with human rights violations. He and the US support for him galvanized the human rights movement in the United States of America, as we know it today. The American public rose up and said, "We don’t want our tax dollars to be spent supporting a dictator like Augusto Pinochet," and they forced Congress to pass laws that restricted Henry Kissinger from giving military and economic aid to Pinochet.

We should remember that Pinochet set the precedent, when he was arrested in London in October of 1998 — the Pinochet precedent, it’s known as now — that dictators of his ilk can no longer freely travel abroad and think that they have immunity outside of the safety of their homeland. In the future, future dictators are going to think twice before they leave their cities, because Pinochet established that there is a possibility of universal jurisdiction, that many years later, the long arm of international justice and the kind of the tenacity of their victims can track them down and lead to their arrest.

AMY GOODMAN: How did Pinochet rise to power in Chile in 1973?

PETER KORNBLUH: Well, I think, as so many of your listeners know, Amy, that the United States, under the Nixon administration, a policy orchestrated by then-National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, worked to undermine and destabilize the democratically elected Socialist government of Salvador Allende. The United States helped create the conditions to justify a coup in Chile, create the chaos and instability to promote a Pinochet. There were secret meetings with Pinochet as early as a year before the coup, in which US military officials said to him, "When you’re ready for a coup, we’re ready to help you." And then, immediately following the coup, the message was passed to him secretly from Kissinger’s office that the United States was going to help in any way for him to consolidate his rule, so his death does remind us of the US role in undermining democracy and supporting dictatorship in Latin America.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined on the telephone from California by Francisco Letelier. His father Orlando Letelier was assassinated with US activist Ronni Moffitt in a car bombing on September 21, 1976, not in Chile, but on Washington, D.C.'s Embassy Row. Letelier was Chile's foreign minister in Salvador Allende’s government. We welcome you, as well, to Democracy Now!, Francisco. Your response to this day? And what is the link between your father’s death and Pinochet?

FRANCISCO LETELIER: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us.

FRANCISCO LETELIER: Yes. Well, Peter outlined some of the links to my father’s death. It’s known that Pinochet order the death. And there’s a lot more investigation to be done. My heart right now goes out to all those who feel that something has been taken away from them with Pinochet’s death. And at the same time, it’s a good time to be reminded that the work in uncovering what Pinochet did and uncovering those who collaborated with him remains. We still have that opportunity. It’s work that has been going on for three decades and that should continue now. We shouldn’t feel that we no longer have mechanisms through which we can continue dismantling the legacy of Pinochet and continuing putting him in his rightful place in history.

It’s known that, as Peter outlined, that the United States helped plan and support the coup in Chile. Right now, there’s many documents that the United States government is holding that will further clarify the US role in Chile. There’s also many others who collaborated in the crimes that occurred during the Pinochet regime. There’s cases in the courts. And there’s many people who have been working for many years to further the work of justice.

During the break, you played "Canto Libre," Victor Jara’s song, and the translation of the last refrain of the song is that we are creating — you know, to the effect that we are creating a world in which we can hear the song of other people. And Pinochet’s death for me makes me proud to be a Chilean, because we’ve set a historical example, as how a people, a nation can deal with the possibilities, as well as the limitations, of history. We are continuing a fight to clarify and search for truth and justice.

In my father’s case, that is what we have to continue to do, and we have to continue this work, even with Pinochet’s death, in the name of all those who have suffered, but also to set an example of how we can, as a nation, the Chileans can deal with this kind of tragedy, this kind of tyrant.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the significance, Peter Kornbluh, of Michele Bachelet, the current president — her mother and her father, imprisoned under the Pinochet regime; she, herself, imprisoned; she and her mother, tortured; her father ultimately died, the general — and what her role in all of this — I guess, when she was running for president, she said that he should not get a military funeral — a state, rather, a state funeral. And it’s unclear whether she’ll attend. The Washington Post reported today, Bachelet has not said whether she’d attend his funeral mass. However, other press accounts say Defense Minister Vivianne Blanlot will attend the church memorial service in place of Bachelet. She recently said, "It would be a violation of my conscience to attend a state funeral for him." Peter?

PETER KORNBLUH: I don’t believe she’ll attend his funeral, and this has been a discussion that’s been going on in Chile for a couple of years now, of what kind of goodbye Chile as a country would give to Augusto Pinochet. You know, Pinochet lived long enough to see himself stripped of his immunity, not once, not twice, not three times, but almost a half a dozen times. He lived long enough to be put under house arrest, not once, not twice, not three times, but more than four times.

He lived long enough to see his entire family, his wife and his children, detained for their involvement in the corruption scandal that Pinochet himself spearheaded, the absconding of $27 million and hiding it in a hundred secret bank accounts in the United States and elsewhere outside of Chile.

And he lived long enough to see in the newspaper the public discussion of his funeral and the fact that the government of Chile, a Socialist government, which was the ultimate repudiation of the Pinochet era, would not give him the state honors of a former president. They’re going to give him the honors of a former military commander, but not of a former president, because he was not democratically elected.

AMY GOODMAN: So you think it’s wrong to say he never went to trial?

PETER KORNBLUH: No, actually, Pinochet is in the middle of several trials. It’s not that he was never prosecuted or never went to trial. He was never convicted in the end, although under Chilean law, when an investigative judge actually indicts somebody like Augusto Pinochet, he’s essentially saying the evidence says that this person is guilty. And then a whole appeals process begins. Then, ultimately, Pinochet fell back on the idea that he was not mentally fit to be convicted. But a number of court rulings recently have said that, yes, he was mentally fit, and in a couple cases, particularly the corruption case, the theft of this state funds, the $27 million, the use of false passports, tax evasion, it looks clear that he was going to be found guilty and actually sentenced.

AMY GOODMAN: Where did he hide his funds, Peter?

PETER KORNBLUH: Well, he hid them in Riggs Bank in Washington, D.C., and in a Citibank in Florida and in a hundred other bank accounts, including offshore corporations that he created using false passports or that his sons and daughters opened in his behalf. That was one of the most extraordinary things, I think, for him, is to see his wife taken away from their house, detained, his children detained. One of his daughters actually fled to the United States, where she was told that she would be kept in prison in Washington if she didn’t go back to Chile. So, in some ways, I think he did live long enough to feel the pressure, the justice, that victims, families, like the Letelier family, families left, so many of his victims, brought to bear on him. His name stayed in the papers. He died a discredited, repudiated and condemned tyrannical figure in Chile.

AMY GOODMAN: Emilio Banda, what happened to you? What role did you play in the 1980s in Chile, and then what happened?

EMILIO BANDA: Well, it was a big, big movement for democracy in my country. All these universities and colleges were on a strike those days. We created a national organization of the students. We took over the streets. We fight the police everywhere in the country. That was going for days and days. And the military was acting, taking some campus in some cities, the police trying to take some campus and others, but the students, we were really good organized. We have some, you know, group of students who were really military well prepared. We barricade. We fight with, you know, Molotov cocktails to the police. It was out of control, you know. Pinochet was hysterical with his first minister. Those days, I remember, was [inaudible], as you know, or maybe — yeah, I think he was crazy about the students. And he put out a last-minute decree of incarcerating all the union leaders around the country. Chile is a long country.

And the police was acting, getting everybody, you know, early in the morning one day on 1986, in June, I remember. They went to my house. They didn’t find me. I was in another house. But they took all the other union leaders in my university. Then the Assembly of Civility was negotiating with the first minister about this strike, and the negotiation with the government about, you know, a passive movement to democracy. And I was out, and some lawyers from the assembly met me in the underground and said, "Emilio, you are the only one who is still out. You have to go and give up yourself." My alternative was to go to Belgium, you know, in exile or to go to jail with my other comrades and stay there. I took that decision. And we went to the tribunals, the ordinary tribunals, and they say, "We have nothing against you," because it’s everything on the secret police. When I step out of the tribunal, the secret police got me in front of those guys.

AMY GOODMAN: Outside the tribunal.

EMILIO BANDA: Outside the tribunal, in the street.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did they do?

EMILIO BANDA: They say to the lawyer they take me to the military tribunals, which is like three blocks, you know, in the same city, in the same area. It took two days for them to get me back to the tribunals. And because everybody know they had me, because everybody knows I was with them, they just, you know, give me some of his, you know, treatment for two days.

AMY GOODMAN: Which was?

EMILIO BANDA: It was, you know, fighting me.

AMY GOODMAN: Beating you up.

EMILIO BANDA: Beating me up with wet fabric, and they don’t let my mark on my body. Then I sleep, like for two days in the jail, when they put me back. I lost those two days, because I was so exhausted. And then I spent some time in the jail. But the movement outside of the jail is continuous. The students continue in the street, continuous. And then, you know, they still having us for like six months in jail, and then liberate without any process, without any reason, explanation or something.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Kornbluh, could Pinochet have risen to power without the support of the United States? And can you talk about the latest documents out that talk about the culpability of US leaders at that time?

PETER KORNBLUH: Well, we’re never going to know what would have happened in Chile without the US involvement, because the US was involved. And the declassified documents, including memos from Kissinger to Nixon in 1970, make it very specific, very specifically clear that the intent was to undermine Allende’s ability to govern to the point where a coup might be possible. The CIA’s own declassified documents say that their propaganda effort, their funneling of more than $2 million into the newspaper, El Mercurio, money that was personally approved by President Nixon, by the way, that those funds, quote, "set the stage" for the coup of September 11, 1973.

And, of course, even more importantly, but largely forgotten, is the support that the United States gave to Pinochet immediately following the coup. There’s an extraordinary set of declassified transcripts of Kissinger’s first staff meeting as Secretary of State, where his aide comes in and says, you know, "Congress is asking me about all the murders of the Pinochet regime in the days following the coup. What should I tell them?" And Kissinger is very specific: "I want you to understand our policy. No matter how badly this government, the Pinochet government, behaves, it is better for us than the last one, than Allende’s government." And that was the operative policy from 1973, September 11, 1973, all the way ’til January of 1977, when the Ford administration and Henry Kissinger left office.

AMY GOODMAN: And the most incriminating document when it comes to Henry Kissinger and his involvement, that shows what exactly he did, what it means to, quote, "support" Pinochet?

PETER KORNBLUH: Well, there are many documents, and I would urge people to read them. Kissinger was not only the chief policymaker overseeing the effort to undermine democracy in Chile between 1970-1973, but he was also the chief policymaker pushing a policy of supporting Augusto Pinochet, despite the torture, despite the disappearances, despite the murders, the international assassinations.

And we know that from the transcripts. His aides come to him and say, "You know, Congress is going to cut off our ability to support Pinochet." And Kissinger is railing about how bad this is for his executive privilege, how this is going to undermine and lead to the overthrow of Pinochet. And, according to Kissinger, how is it that Pinochet is any worse than any other government? And his aides are forced to say to him, "Well, it is."

And it was. Pinochet is a name that became synonymous with human rights violations. He was not the dictator that murdered the most people in Latin America, but he was the dictator that received the most attention, that made the issue of disappearances the horror that it is today. He left 1,100 victims, who are still unaccounted for, whose bodies have never been found, whose loved ones have never been able to bury them. So his is a legacy of terror and a reminder of the worst of US policy in Latin America.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Kornbluh, author of The Pinochet File; Emilio Banda, former student leader who was tortured and held under Pinochet; and Francisco Letelier, whose father Orlando Letelier was assassinated in a car bombing September 21, '76, in Washington, D.C.'s Embassy Row, former Chilean foreign minister; I want to thank you all for being with us.

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