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Last Updated: Friday, 27 August, 2004, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Doubts remain over Pinochet's fate
By Clinton Porteous
BBC, Santiago

The Chilean Supreme Court's decision to strip Chile's former military ruler, General Augusto Pinochet, of immunity to prosecution has delighted Dora Carreņo Araya.

Mother with photo of son
More than 3,000 dissidents were killed under Pinochet
Her sister Cristina was kidnapped on 26 July, 1978, in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires with the help of Chilean agents working secretly across the border.

Cristina is one of the 19 victims listed in the lawsuit accusing General Pinochet of responsibility for kidnap and torture in Operation Condor, a secret programme among South American dictators in the 1970s and 80s to eliminate their political opponents.

Pinochet is accused of being the mastermind behind the campaign.

"I was overjoyed," Ms Carreņo Araya said of the decision. "What we want is justice and truth, and now a light has appeared."

She now hopes that the former Chilean president will be put on trial for human rights violations.

"For me it was a step that we had all been hoping for, because we can begin to get justice," she said.

Obstacles

The burning question is whether General Pinochet has a realistic chance of facing trial, or whether it remains a pipe dream for the relatives of victims.

The focus will now shift to Judge Juan Guzman who will resume control of the Operation Condor lawsuit, after the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the general's lawyers.

LIFE OF PINOCHET
Born 1915; mother later pushes him into a military career
1950s: Leads clampdown on Chilean Communist party
1973: As army chief, leads coup against left-wing President Salvador Allende
1988: Loses public plebiscite on rule
1990: Steps down as president
1998: Steps down as commander-in-chief of the army. Arrested in UK.

However, in handing down their decision, several of the Supreme Court judges urged Judge Guzman to conduct fresh medical tests on the 88-year-old general.

This could be the next major hurdle that stops the former leader going to trial.

But the request could also suggest some of the judges doubt the validity of the original medical results. These tests found the general had mild but incurable dementia.

Certainly human rights lawyers have long argued that they are a fraud.

These lawyers have cited as evidence the general's lifestyle of travelling, dining out and even giving a 40-minute television interview in which he described himself as a "patriotic angel".

General Augusto Pinochet
Pinochet has escaped prosecution several times before

During the latest Supreme Court hearing, they argued that the general had blown his own cover with the scandal over his secret US bank accounts worth up to $8m.

They told court he had shown mental acuity by managing millions of dollars as well as submitting to a 40-minute interview with a judge investigating the fraud accusations.

'Mad or Demented'?

Lawyer Eduardo Contreras asked: "How can he be mad to kill, but sane to steal?"

They are strong words, but reflect the reality of the Chilean law.

Lawyers for the general constantly use the mental health defence and rely on Article 10 of Chile's antiquated penal code. It says that a person must be "mad or demented" to be exempted from criminal responsibility.

No-one could seriously argue that Pinochet is insane, but the courts have interpreted this article to mean "mentally unfit to stand trial".

The problem for the general is that like all interpretations, it is liable to change, and it is also a weak foundation from which to build a mainline of defence.

In addition, the Chilean legal system does not have a law of precedence, so in theory every case should be handled separately on its merits.

This is one reason why the Supreme Court's decision in mid-2002 that the general was mentally unfit to defend himself offers little protection.

The lack of precedence, and the out-dated legal code, could throw up a few surprises in the coming months.

Ms Carreņo Araya's dream that Augusto Pinochet is put on trial may never become a reality. But it remains a possibility.


SEE ALSO:
Chile's Pinochet victims testify
13 May 04  |  Americas
Analysis: Shock at Pinochet ruling
28 May 04  |  Americas
Pinochet to testify in Jara case
25 Aug 04  |  Americas
Pinochet quizzed on bank accounts
21 Aug 04  |  Americas
Court halts Pinochet assets probe
02 Aug 04  |  Americas
Timeline: Chile
26 Aug 04  |  Country profiles



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