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Friday, 1 December, 2000, 18:05 GMT
Analysis: The Pinochet factor
General Pinochet: Now faces trial for kidnapping
General Pinochet: Now faces trial for kidnapping
BBC correspondent David Edmonds examines the impact of the return of General Augusto Pinochet to Chile - and the country's transition to democracy.

When General Pinochet returned to Chile last March his supporters were euphoric.

He had escaped the clutches of the Spanish judge who wanted him extradited and tried for murder and torture during his 17-year dictatorship.

Friends of Pinochet, like the lawyer Marco Cariola, blamed Britain for meddling in Chilean business.

"His detention in London triggered a real problem in Chile, because it created a climate which up to today has still prevailed of a sort of uncertainty," he says.

"There is a feeling among many Chileans that there is something very wrong going on in our country."

General Pinochet
General Pinochet returned to Chile from the UK in March
Mr Cariola is aggrieved because he never believed he would see what is happening now. General Pinochet is to go on trial in Chile and dozens of his subordinates have been convicted of crimes which they thought they had got away with. Not all Chileans feel as upset about this as Mr Cariola.

Adriana Burgues was a Communist Party activist in the southern Chilean town of Talca when she was rounded up not long after Pinochet's coup.

"I would like to sound noble you know. But I can't," she said.

"It was dawn, somebody was banging at my door and they took me away handcuffed and blindfolded. We were interrogated. Interrogation meant torture. I can tell you that we went through everything."

Adriana Burgues and thousands of others tortured during the dictatorship believe the day has come when their voices can be heard.

Her friend Pedro Mata - who discovered only a few years ago that he had been held at a notorious interrogation centre at the same time as Adriana - is now helping young people to organise noisy demonstrations outside the houses of proven torturers, exposing their secret past lives to the neighbours.

'Untouchable'

Pedro Mata says the humiliation of Pinochet has given them courage.


Nobody in Chile can say that he did not know that these cirmes - these gross violations - were happening

Human rights lawyers, Hernan Montealegre
"Mr Pinochet was untouchable, unreachable, was all powerful - like a God," he said.

"After the arrest, Pinochet was reduced to what he really is - an ailing dictator with a criminal record. And when you see an ailing dictator with a criminal record you are seeing a real person, and that brings people to lose their fear."

General Pinochet's defence that he was not aware of everything his subordinates were up to has already been dealt a blow by Manuel Contreras, the former head of his secret police who took breakfast with his boss every day.

General Contreras is serving time in prison for plotting an assassination in Washington in 1976.

However, he is in a specially built prison, enjoying the comforts of a library, a sitting room and a queen-size bed. The BBC discovered his luxury cell even has a phone.

Moral condemnation

General Contreras told the BBC that General Pinochet knew as much as he needed to know.

He said his old friend was the victim of a campaign of vengeance by Marxist exiles who had returned to Chile.

Human rights lawyers, like Hernan Montealegre, believe that the legal process that began in London has forever tarnished his image.

"We are not expecting that Pinochet will be put in jail but we are committed to have him condemned," he said.

"The judicial condemnation of Gen Pinochet would be a moral condemnation of the armed forces and the institutions of the military dictatorship.

"If the head of state was involved, so were his ministers, including the civilians. They all knew what was going on.

"Nobody in Chile can say that he did not know that these crimes - these gross violations - were happening."

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See also:

29 Oct 00 | Americas
Pinochet 'suffering from pneumonia'
25 Sep 00 | Americas
Mental health tests for Pinochet
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