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Tuesday, December 1, 1998 Published at 13:42 GMT


Pinochet: the US connection

The CIA plotted to bring Pinochet to power

Jonathan Fryer examines why the US might prefer General Pinochet not to stand trial in Spain

Until Monday the US government had kept out of the furore over General Pinochet's detention in Britain, at least publicly.

The pinochet File
Despite several days of rumours that the Clinton administration had been putting pressure on its close ally not to permit the former Chilean leader's extradition to Spain, a White House spokesman has insisted that the next steps depend on London and Madrid, not Washington.

However, the Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has now indicated that the situation might not be that straightforward when she made a statement calling for Chile's views to be taken into account.

As far as the Chilean government is concerned, those views are clear: namely, that General Pinochet should be allowed to return home.

[ image: Albright: Respect Chile's wishes]
Albright: Respect Chile's wishes
In fact, the Chilean Foreign Minister, Jose Miguel Insulza, has been spending the past few days in the UK and Spain arguing that dealing with the ex-dictator's alleged crimes is Chile's business, not theirs.

Raul Sohr, a defence analyst working for Chilean television, says Santiago feels that Chilean sovereignty has been overruled as the general is a Senator for Life and was travelling on an official passport.

"The government feels that that should be respected; if it's not, it's the Chilean state that loses face," he said.

US-backed coup

But Jim Hoagland, the Assistant Editor of the Washington Post, believes that concern for Chile's feelings is not the only reason for Mrs Albright's intervention.

"I think you have to look at the history of America's own involvement in Chile," he said.

[ image: Henry Kissinger told the CIA to make Chile's economy 'scream']
Henry Kissinger told the CIA to make Chile's economy 'scream'
"It was an American covert operation run by the CIA that paved the way in the early 1970s for the military coup against [the left-wing President] Salvador Allende. And I suppose that there's a desire in Washington not to open up this can of worms again."

Mrs Albright is keen to dispel suspicions in some quarters that the US wants to try to avoid seeing General Pinochet put on trial, in case this sets a precedent for similar action against other controversial former heads of state in Latin America and elsewhere:

She has stressed that the US is committed to the principles of accountability and justice and highlights its support for the International War Crimes Tribunal in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Washington's concerns

But Mr Hoagland does not see things that way.

"There is a concern in Washington about the growing effort to have an international court that would try people on very broad charges: genocide, crimes against humanity etc.

[ image: Pinochet (left) and Allende a month before the coup]
Pinochet (left) and Allende a month before the coup
"In July, the US was one of only five countries that really opposed the founding of this kind of court.

"That was partly out of concern that American soldiers might end up in foreign courts, or indeed that former secretaries of state who were invoved in the Chile affair might find themselves one day arrested somewhere."

US officials divided

But US legal expert Joseph Nye says that he detects conflicting views among US officials and legal advisors:

"There are some lawyers who are concerned by the precedent that's set by having Pinochet extradited to Spain," he said.

"There are others in the government, more on the human rights side, who would like to see him sent to Spain and tried there."

Meanwhile, many of the families of the victims of the Chilean military dictatorship are putting their faith in the UK government, whatever diplomatic pressure Washington may exert.

The final decision on whether the general will be sent to Spain rests with the UK Home Secretary, Jack Straw. But so far he has resisted giving any indication which way he will go.

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