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Britain Refuses to Publish Pinochet Report

StoryJanuary 14, 2000
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Britain insisted yesterday that it will not publish a medical report saying that former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is unfit to face trial, a move that could make it very difficult for Pinochet’s opponents to block his release from detention. [includes rush transcript]

Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge who issued the arrest warrant against Pinochet in October of 1998, consulted human rights lawyers to try to salvage his bid to have Pinochet extradited on torture charges, but Britain’s Interior Minister, Jack Straw, offered little encouragement. Straw said on Monday that he was "minded" to release the eighty-four-year-old general, who remains under house arrest in a luxurious London mansion, on grounds of ill health.

Meanwhile, Chile is heading this weekend for a second round in the presidential elections, with both candidates, socialist Ricardo Lagos and populist conservative Joaquin Lavin, running neck-a-neck. Many believe that the Pinochet decision may have a significant impact on the outcome of the elections.

Guest:


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

AMY GOODMAN:

We move on to another Latin American and world human rights issue. It’s the issue of Chile and Pinochet.

Britain insisted yesterday that it will not publish a medical report saying that former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is unfit to face trial, a move that could make it very difficult for Pinochet’s opponents to block his release from detention. Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge who issued the arrest warrant against Pinochet in October of 1998, consulted human rights lawyers to try to salvage his bid to have Pinochet extradited on torture charges, but Britain’s Interior Minister Jack Straw offered little encouragement. Straw said Monday he was “minded” to release the eighty-four-year-old general, who remains under house arrest in a luxurious London mansion, on grounds of ill health.

Meanwhile, Chile is heading this weekend for a second round in the presidential elections, with both candidates, the socialist Ricardo Lagos and populist conservative Joaquin Lavin, running neck and neck. Many believe that the Pinochet decision may have a significant impact on the outcome of the elections.

We’re joined right now by Carlos Salinas, who is advocacy director for Latin America and the Caribbean for Amnesty International, and he is Chilean himself. Welcome to Democracy Now!

CARLOS SALINAS:

Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, first of all, your response on Jack Straw’s preliminary, if not final, decision on not to send Pinochet to Spain because of his health?

CARLOS SALINAS:

Well, I think essentially what Mr. Straw has said is that, having seen some of the evidence, he believes that perhaps the extradition shouldn’t go forward. However, he did give a space of seven days for the Crown Prosecution Service, some other European governments that have extraditions pending, and organizations, including Amnesty International, to present a different viewpoint. And indeed, Amnesty International, along with a few other groups, including Chilean victims’ advocate groups, will be presenting a position paper.

Essentially, what we are, first of all, noting is that Mr. Straw has not made a decision and that the medical evidence that he has seen doesn’t necessarily need to be made public. I mean, Mr. Pinochet does have a right to privacy. However, in the context of legal proceedings, the moment that his health becomes a part of the legal proceedings, obviously all parties to those proceedings need to be able to assess the validity of the information, and that’s something that Amnesty International and many others are going to continue to insist. If in fact Mr. Pinochet is unfit to stand trial, well, that is his human right. How ironic about the countless victims in Chile that didn’t see a doctor or even a courtroom, didn’t even know what in fact, if there were, any charges pending against them. However, that is Mr. Pinochet’s fundamental human right, that if he is indeed unfit to stand trial, he should not stand trial. But what we need to ensure is that he is, in fact, unfit to stand trial, and the only way that can be done is if the medical evidence is evaluated by medical experts of the parties involved in the case.

AMY GOODMAN:

So what do you make of the British government saying they’re not going to release the medical reports on Pinochet?

CARLOS SALINAS:

There could be a lot of word games going on, and perhaps I’m an eternal optimist. I mean, it has not escaped my own personal analysis the fact that there is a second round of elections on Sunday. The Chilean government, the ruling coalition, has said from day one of this crisis that each day that Pinochet is away from Chile is — you know, it’s less votes that they will be able to have. Now that, of course, is nothing but the realm of speculation, but it is an interesting point when you notice that Mr. Straw has only emitted a very strong opinion. He said he is “minded” to believe that; however, he wants to hear other views. You know, he in fact said he could be swayed when he hears other views.

And when he states and the British government states they will not publish, well, I don’t think anyone is asking them to publish Mr. Pinochet’s health records. I have no interest in seeing Mr. Pinochet’s intimacies. And what I am interested in, what Amnesty International is interested in, is that the Crown Prosecution Service and the parties involved directly in the case have the ability to assess the evidence, and Mr. Straw has not said that he will not do that. He has just said he won’t publish the information.

AMY GOODMAN:

How do you think people can weigh in on this issue, if it’s not an absolute final decision, Carlos?

CARLOS SALINAS:

Well, I think one of the key things is to be in touch with the British government and let them know that, one, we —- that, you know, people recognize the fundamental human right of Mr. Pinochet, and of all, to not have to stand trial and not to have to stand a proceeding that -—

AMY GOODMAN:

We only have thirty seconds.

CARLOS SALINAS:

— that is harmful to their health. And so, we have to continue to insist to the British authorities and to any who will listen that this should have to remain a judicial, and not a political, process.

AMY GOODMAN:

Where can people call?

CARLOS SALINAS:

Well, the — I would call — I would look up the British consulate, the nearest British consulate. I’m sure the United Kingdom has consulates throughout the United States, and in Washington I would call (202) 588-6500, (202) 588-6500, which is the British Embassy, and let them know unequivocally that this has to be a judicial and not a political process, and the medical evidence has to be evaluated by the Crown Prosecution Service.

AMY GOODMAN:

On that note, I want to thank you for being with us, Carlos Salinas, advocacy director for Latin America and the Caribbean for Amnesty International.

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