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Chilean Judge Juan Guzmán Who Charged Pinochet With Kidnapping: Truth is First Step Toward Justice

Web ExclusiveSeptember 11, 2013
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In 1999 Chilean Judge Juan Guzmán surprised many when he formally charged General Augusto Pinochet with kidnapping and placed him under house arrest. The charges stemmed from Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship that followed a U.S.-backed coup on Sept. 11, 1973. Guzmán was known as a conservative, but after investigating the crimes Pinochet was accused of, he said they were worse than he imagined. In this web exclusive video from an address Guzmán made on Sept, 9, 2013, he explains how “this case made me another person. It made me realize what the world for me had been before, and I will say it in the most simple way. Before these cases, before knowing how the people suffered, before having the people have so much hope in our work–in the work of the judges and of the lawyers–I had only lived a tangental life, a life on the side of real life. With these cases I realized what life for most of the people–especially those who suffered–and for that I am thankful. Even though I’m not the happiest man who could exist. Sometimes happiness has its price, and I think I paid for it when I stopped being innocent.”

Guzmán is introduced by Elizabeth Farnsworth, a senior correspondent for the PBS Newshour, and co-director of The Judge and the General, a documentary about how Guzman indicted Pinochet. This video begins with a clip from the film, and was recorded at an event in New York City that was hosted by the Charles Horman Truth Foundation.

See all of our coverage of the Chilean coup over the years on our In-Depth page marking its 40th anniversary.

JUDGE JUAN GUZMÁN: [translated] As the court has my decision, it can now go out to the world: I have declared General Pinochet mentally competent to stand trial in Chile in all of its stages, court declarations, etc. This resolution has a second part. He is indicted for nine permanent kidnappings and for one aggravated homicide.

REPORTER: [translated] Did you order his arrest?

JUDGE JUAN GUZMÁN: [translated] I have ordered him kept under house arrest.

[in English] I am happy to have been appointed judge to this case, to have suffered with the ones who suffered, and to become one more of the people here, not a man that saw the people sitting from a higher chair or from a higher place. In all, I indicted Pinochet three times. And after that, other judges did, too.

EDUARDO CONTRERAS: [translated] Today’s indictment in Operation Condor is important not only in itself, but also for what it means internationally and for other cases. We’re on the threshold of new cases and arrests ordered by other judges.

CARMEN HERTZ: [translated] This is an explosion of truth, an explosion of justice, an explosion of memory.

EDUARDO CONTRERAS: [translated] It was a true catharsis. People saw the chief of the repressive machinery detained by force, which meant the courts were working.

CARMEN HERTZ: [translated] The judges have done it. The families of the victims have done it. The human rights lawyers have done it. Journalists have done it. Behind them are thousands upon thousands of hands, anonymously and patiently weaving this together, producing this explosion of truth.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The voices you heard—you saw Eduardo Contreras, and that was Carmen Hertz’s voice you heard, as well. In an earlier scene in the film about Judge Guzmán, attorney Eduardo Contreras explains that on January 12, 1990, he and other human rights lawyers—I think a couple of them are here—filed the first public criminal action in Chile directly against Augusto Pinochet. The complaint involved crimes of genocide and torture in the Caravan of Death cases. In Chile, judges investigate as well as try cases. And in very high-profile cases, an appeals court judge is appointed. And randomly, at the top of the appeals court list in that week of judges who were available was Judge Guzmán.

In the film, Eduardo Contreras says about this appointment, “My colleagues said, 'Look, that's bad luck. Guzmán is a man of the right, a conservative. He won’t do anything.’” And many other human rights activists thought the same. But after several months of investigating those cases, Judge Guzmán returned to Eduardo Contreras for more information. And in the film, Eduardo says, “He was a different human being. He said to me, 'Eduardo, the crimes are even worse than you have described in your complaint.'”

And on he went with his investigating. And after investigating many, many, many cases, and after close—and including, by the way, the death of Charles Horman—and after close consideration of the legal issues, including whether Pinochet had age-related dementia, as you saw, Judge Guzmán indicted Pinochet for crimes including forced kidnapping and murder. The indictment was historic, a crucial moment in Chile. And though Pinochet died before facing trial, the cause of justice had been irreversibly and dramatically advanced.

Who is this man who dared indict Pinochet first in Chile? Who is this man who was surrounded by bodyguards from the time he was appointed? Who was this man who lost almost all his friends, who lost his belief in God, because of what he discovered in the investigations, and yet, in the end, considered himself fortunate?

He once said that with his appointment to the case, he was finally free, in an existential sense, because he knew the appointment would mean he would lose almost everything that he ever found important, including getting into the Supreme Court. Whatever he did would be unpopular. Whether he indicted or he didn’t indict, it would be unpopular. This meant he was free to follow his conscience and where the investigations led. And that is exactly what he did.

He’s the son of a diplomat, the son of a famous poet, Juan Guzmán Cruchaga, who knew and often entertained at home the great writers of the Spanish-speaking world. It was a family that admired the military, a deeply conservative family, in all the best sense of the word “conservative.” Judge Guzmán thought he might be a novelist. But in the end, he studied law and thought he’d be a diplomat, like his father. If Jorge Alessandri had been elected in 1970 instead of Allende, Juan Guzmán would have been a diplomat, because his family supported Jorge Alessandri. But Allende won, and the rest is history.

Since indicting Pinochet, Juan Guzmán has retired from the judiciary and worked as a criminal lawyer representing people charged, among other cases, in cases involving Chile’s draconian anti-terrorism laws. He is also advocating a new constitutional convention. He believes a post-Pinochet constitution is necessary to advance justice further in Chile.

It is my great, great honor to present Judge Juan Guzmán Tapia with this award.

JUDGE JUAN GUZMÁN: I’m a bad reader. I’m going to say a few words just by looking at certain concepts of what this night means to all of us who are here together, words first of gratitude—to Joyce, to all of you—and thought of what this pain of the victims and of the victims’ families mean. There is nothing worse than having a person victimized, especially for absolutely nothing. In many occasions, I have spoken with my wife Inez, who is here tonight and has accompanied me in the most difficult moments of our lives with great fortitude, great courage, and at the same time kindness and generosity.

This is a prize, an award, that has to do with truth, and naturally with truth and justice, truth that has been found and justice that is never going to be absolutely accomplished. Human justice is like—we say parche when we have a hole in our tire and we put something that we say parche. It must be “patch,” perhaps, in English. And that is what human justice is. It’s a piece of rubber put with glue in a tire to make the car continue running, but the hole is going to be there always.

Truth is necessary for justice. It’s absolutely necessary. And without truth, people continue to be what they were supposed to be for those who made harm to them. In Chile, as in many parts of the world, those who are put in jail, killed, made disappeared, tortured, are the enemies of the country, are the traitors, are the outlaws. So, if truth is not discovered, those people are always going to be the bad men or the bad women or bad human beings who made us change, who wanted to take our money from our pockets, our lands, our houses, to make our universities and schools be communists and liars and against God. Truth is necessary. It’s the first step towards justice.

But truth, at the same time, and justice, at the same time, are landmarks toward something better, towards transitional justice, towards democracy. And Chile lost its democracy, its sacred democracy, in 1973.

Let me brag a little. Today, we only hear the name of Chile in such sad circumstances as those who meant the killing of so many young people who only wanted a world that was better for us, for the people. My wife, Inez, whom—of whom I was speaking before, I met her the year of the 1978 événements, events, produced in Paris. And from things we’ve spoken in many occasions, she told me many things, as, “Those apartments in the sixth floor in front of the River Seine should be divided into six different apartments to have six happy families living there and looking at the Seine.” Well, for that, she would have been killed and tortured in Chile in 1973. And for many things—she never threw a stone in the events of 1968, but she was with the people who did so. She ran against the police. And for that, and for much less than that, she would have been killed in Chile in 1973. That was why many people were killed, because they thought and wanted a better world for the people, for their people.

Today, earlier, we spoke about the responsibility of many people—among them, the judges in Chile. If the judges would have done their job, if they would have stood for their promise to be just and to be equal to everybody, if they would have done that, if they would have accepted the more 10,000 habeas corpus writs that were rejected, our people in Chile, the Spanish people, the North American people, the Chilean people, the Italian people, the priests, everybody that was killed—these events, these horrible crimes would have been less. Perhaps there would have been some, but not as many as there were that added to 3,000 people killed and more than 1,200 people that continue disappeared.

Today—or, a few days ago, our Supreme Court declared—our Supreme Court in Chile declared that many events would have been avoided if our Supreme Court of the time would have acted according to what they swore when they accepted the judge—the job of being judges. There was negligence, and there was not accomplishing their role, their job. Due to that, all these people were killed or disappeared or tortured.

There are people, like Judge Garzón, lawyer Garcés, lawyer Eduardo Contreras, Judge Carlos Cerda, Elizabeth Farnsworth, Peter Kornbluh, judges and lawyers in England, judges in Chile, lawyers in the United States, that are the heroes, the men and women who built this new stage of international justice and of putting above everything the human rights, the human rights according to the Declaration of Independence of the U.S. Remember, they are liberty, freedom in the pursuit of happiness. They are the most important rights, and they are the first stone on which we built our democracies, in the happiness of our peoples.

These words of gratitude are also for every one of you, for all the lawyers, journalists, actors, actresses, people related with human rights, forensic doctors, policemen and women, who give their lives for human rights. Human rights advance, but not at the speed which we would like it to. There is a saying that for every two steps forward, there’s always one step backwards. But that is not bad, as long as we have the conviction that we have to found our countries and our democracies in human rights.

It is true what Elizabeth Farnsworth said, that this case or these cases made me another person and made me realize what the world, for me, had been before. And I will say it in the most simple way. Before, before these cases, before knowing how the people suffered, before having the people have so much hope in our work, in the work of the judges and in the lawyers, I had only lived a tangential life, a life on the side of real life. With these cases, I realized what life for most of the people, especially for those who suffered, meant. And that, I thank, even though I am not the happiest man that can exist. Sometimes happiness has its price, and I think I paid for it when I stopped being innocent.

Thank you very much.

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