Former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet was placed under house arrest on human rights charges after a judge in Santiago ruled he was mentally fit to stand trial for the abuses committed during his brutal 17-year regime. We speak with Chilean-American professor Ariel Dorfman of Duke University. [includes rush transcript]
Former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet was placed under house arrest on human rights charges after a judge in Santiago ruled he was mentally fit to stand trial for the abuses committed during his brutal 17-year regime.
The former military ruler was indicted over the disappearance of nine opposition activists and the killing of one of them. Judge Juan Guzman declared Pinochet mentally fit to stand trial after studying a television interview he gave to a Miami channel in November 2003.
Pinochet’s lawyers appealed against the charges and against the house arrest order. One of his attorney’s said, "This is no more than a new episode of the most relentless persecution this country has ever seen against one person."
Pinochet faces hundreds of charges from families of people killed during his regime which came to power in a bloody CIA backed military coup in 1973. Pinochet oversaw the killing of at least 3,000 Chileans during a brutal 17-year military reign. More than 30,000 Chileans have testified that they were tortured or detained by the military government.
The ruling is the latest development in an ongoing investigation into Operation Condor–an intelligence-sharing network of South American dictators who helped each other hunt down and eliminate dissidents in the Seventies and Eighties.
It marked the second time the former dictator has faced trial for abuses carried out during his regime. In 2001, he was indicted for the so-called Caravan of Death–a mobile death squad responsible for the executions of 75 political prisoners. However, he narrowly escaped facing charges after a Supreme Court ruled later that he was physically and mentally unfit to stand trial.
But Judge Guzman declared him competent to face charges, sparking celebration by human rights groups across Chile. Pinochet is also being investigated for tax evasion or corruption after revelations this year that he had millions of dollars hidden in secret off-shore bank accounts.
- Ariel Dorfman, Chilean-American professor of Literature and Latin American Studies at Duke University. He is the author of numerous books, He is the author of "Exorcising Terror: The Incredible Unending Trial of Gen. Augusto Pinochet" and a new book of essays "Other Septembers, Many Americas: Selected Provocations, 1980-2004." He was on the staff of Chilean President Salvador Allende the day he was removed from office Sept. 11, 1973.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by Ariel Dorfman, Chilean American Professor of Literature and Latin American Studies at Duke University, author of a number of books, including Exorcising Terror: The Incredible Unending Trial of General Augusto Pinochet. Welcome to Democracy Now!
ARIEL DORFMAN: Hello, Amy. How are you?
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. Your response to general Pinochet being put under house arrest.
ARIEL DORFMAN: Well, you know, in my latest book, Other Septembers, Many Americas, I sent a letter to him in which I asked him that just like in the Iliad when — I’m sorry to speak about classical things, but let’s put this in the context of history. When Achilles killed Hector, Priam comes to him, the father, and says, "Please give me the body of my son so I may bury him." And I write to Pinochet and I say to him, "Please, just show some sense of decency and give us the bodies of our dead. That would really indicate that you understand what you have done, and it would — you know, it would move towards a redemption, some sort of reconciliation." The interesting thing is that Pinochet has never, ever done anything of the sort. All he has done is say "I’m an angel. In fact, they are persecuting me. I am hated because I saved this country, and I have never done anything wrong." You know? So, it’s very extraordinary to see this very moment in history when again, he is in house arrest, when a judge has discovered that he is mentally fit. He’s 89 years old. That’s really quite old. But he’s mentally fit and there’s many — there’s a great deal of evidence about that. He’s mentally fit to stand trial, to answer questions, and there are many other trials awaiting him. You know, this one is for nine people who were kidnapped and remained disappeared, and one homicide under the auspices of Operation Condor, which is an operation — which is a group of basically secret service — the secret services of six Latin American countries were convened in Santiago in 1970s to coordinate the murder of the dissidents of all of these countries and abroad. He killed people in the United States: Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffett . He killed people in Rome. He killed people in Mexico. His agents were all over the world trying to assassinate people such as myself, let’s say. You know? So, this is a very, very special moment because Pinochet has been found that he can in fact answer questions. He can remember. I mean, he remembers. He was there. He was there. It was in his office. He paid for it. It was the budget. It came out of his budget. He convened those people. So, it’s a very significant moment, I think, for human rights not only in Chile, not only for the victims, not only for the survivors, but also for the world in general.
AMY GOODMAN: There’s a lot of discussion, Ariel Dorfman, of Pinochet right now. What about those still alive in this country that supported that coup? President Nixon has died, but Henry Kissinger is still with us.
ARIEL DORFMAN: Well, you know, it’s very interesting to see that the United States government has never been able to really live up to and understand that it is responsible for many of these horrors. You know, we Chileans have our own sins to pay in the sense that there were things —
AMY GOODMAN: We only have five seconds.
ARIEL DORFMAN: Oh. I think Kissinger should be indicted.
AMY GOODMAN: Ariel Dorfman, I want to thank you for being with us. Ariel Dorfman was on the staff of Chilean President Salvador Allende when the Pinochet coup took place.