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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 December, 2004, 09:29 GMT
'We have waited so long for justice'
By Clinton Porteous
BBC News, Santiago

The historic ruling that Gen Augusto Pinochet is fit to stand trial on murder and kidnapping charges brought victims' relatives onto the streets of Santiago to celebrate.

Anti-Pinochet demonstrators march in Santiago
Families of the disappeared call for truth and justice
Among them was Miriam Tamayo Martinez, and she was more emotional than most - her brother was named as one of the victims in the Operation Condor charge sheet.

"I am much more content knowing that General Pinochet has been charged over the death of my brother," she told the BBC.

"We have been waiting for so long for the justice system in Chile to do something."

Her brother, Manuel Tamayo, was detained on 3 April 1976, with two Chilean colleagues in the Argentine city of Mendoza.

They were arrested by Argentine and Chilean officials and taken by truck to Santiago for questioning and torture.

Like eight others named in the Operation Condor lawsuit, Manuel's body has never been recovered.

Gen Augusto Pinochet
Augusto Pinochet's supporters say he is being persecuted
For Miriam Tamayo, there is new hope that Gen Pinochet will have his day in court after years of dodging legal proceedings.

"We all hope he goes to trial, he needs to go to trial," she said.

Aside from charging Gen Pinochet over human rights abuses, Judge Juan Guzman also ruled he was mentally fit to stand trial. This was seen as crucial as previously the general escaped trial on mental health grounds.

The magnitude of the decision appears to have shocked many Chileans. It raises the possibility that Gen Pinochet could go on trial for the first time over human rights abuses.

But the fight is far from over.

The general's chief defence lawyer, Pablo Rodriguez, was at his fearsome best in reacting to the ruling.

He accused the Judge Guzman of persecution and branded the decision illegal.

The appeal process has already started and the defence team appears to have won a minor victory with the courts suspending Judge Guzman's home detention order.

There will be many more legal battles before Gen Pinochet is ever put on trial.

But one of the factors against him appears to be a new mood in Chilean society.


Last month there was widespread revulsion with the release of a torture report. It documented gruesome abuses against women and children and concluded that at least 27,000 people were tortured under his 17-year military government.

In the lead-up to the release of the torture report, the current head of the army admitted institutional responsibility for past practices.

October 1998: Police in UK arrest Pinochet on Spanish warrant; long legal battle over fitness for trial
March 2000: Deemed unfit for trial, returns home; days later effort begins to try him in Chile
August 2000: Supreme Court strips his immunity; later declared fit to stand trial
July 2001: Charges suspended and later dropped on grounds of health
May 2004: Court strips Pinochet of immunity from prosecution over fresh charges

It is all bad news for Gen Pinochet who was president and commander-in-chief of the army.

But there is another factor playing against Gen Pinochet. Continuing allegations about the existence of secret multi-million dollar offshore bank accounts are playing havoc with his reputation.

The general's supporters have traditionally argued he was a strongman - perhaps a brutal man - but never corrupt.

And the courts are faced with the reality that at the same time he was previously declared mentally unfit to defend himself he was allegedly moving millions of dollars around the world.

Some Chileans believe they have been hoodwinked by Gen Pinochet and it is time to exact revenge.


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