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Correspondent Friday, 26 January, 2001, 13:42 GMT
Caravan of Death
General Augusto Pinochet, former Chile dictator.
Chilean judge Juan Guzman this week interrogated Chile's former military ruler, General Augusto Pinochet. The questions centred on the actions of a military squad, known as the Caravan of Death.

Isabel Hilton meets the man who believes he can put Pinochet on trial.

In November 2000 I returned to Chile to retrace the route of the Caravan of Death, the subject of our film and the basis of the case against Pinochet, talking to the families of the victims, most still crippled by grief, 27 years later.

I first met Judge Juan Guzman in November 1998, in the town of Copiapo in northern Chile. He was there to pursue his investigations into the case against general Pinochet. I was there, with my producer Jane Gabriel, to make a film for Correspondent on the impact on Chile of Pinochet's arrest in London.

The UK's House of Lords had just ruled that General Pinochet did not enjoy immunity as a former head of state and that he should, therefore, stay in Britain to face extradition proceedings.

The news had been dramatic for the people we had been talking to - the relatives of the victims of the General Pinochet's dictatorship, as well as his still ardent supporters. But for Juan Guzman it created a more complicated situation.

The Chilean Government was making great efforts to persuade the world that General Pinochet should be returned to Chile, despite the fact that Chile was a signatory of all the international conventions that recognised international jurisdiction in crimes against humanity.

The government was nervous, still, of the political repercussions in Chile and feared that his supporters might somehow destabilise Chile's recently-restored democracy.

Judge Juan Guzman
Judge Juan Guzman seeks justice for Chile victims
The Government was arguing that Pinochet could perfectly well be tried at home, though many observers of the Chilean political scene doubted that this was politically possible. If he could be tried, the man who would have to take on this task was Judge Juan Guzman.

I asked this mild, soft spoken man if he thought it was possible that Pinochet could be brought to trial. He answered with a categorical yes.

I asked him if he was going to do it. Again he answered in the affirmative.

He seemed very sure, but when I met him again two years later, he confessed that, despite his apparent assurance, he had been much less sure of the outcome at that time.

He knew perfectly well that the obstacles to trying Pinochet were not confined to the problems of collecting reliable evidence nearly 27 years after the fact.

Pinochet's son: Marco Antonio Pinochet
Marco Antonio Pinochet
He was aware that, if he followed the case through, he would face stiff opposition not only from Pinochet's supporters, the armed forces and powerful financial sectors who had benefited from Pinochet's regime - but also from members of the government who would rather Chile forgot the past and moved on without a settling of accounts.

For Judge Guzman, the correct conduct of this case had become not only a matter of professional pride, but of the honour of the Chilean system of justice.

Today, he is determined to demonstrate that, if the case is legally strong, no political obstacles should be allowed to prevent him following it to its conclusion.

Pinochet's birthday party
By a curious coincidence, I share a birthday with General Pinochet, and several times have found myself in Chile on the date. Marco Antonio, Pinochet's son attended and expressed faith in the justice system.

Last November, I attended a vast and glittering dinner given in honour of his birthday by his supporters. One of the main speakers - a powerful businessman - talked of the "negative effects" on the economy of any attempt to put General Pinochet on trial.

It was a rare public glimpse of the kind of pressures that we had been told were being applied and I could only guess how vigorously these captains of industry were working behind the scenes.

Nevertheless, a few days later, Judge Guzman handed down his indictment, charging him with kidnap.

General Pinochet has since been released pending further investigations but still faces arrest.

Whatever the outcome of the case, he has demonstrated that the era in which the wearing of a uniform was the best defence against the law is over.

Caravan of Death: 1900 GMT Saturday 27January 2001 on BBC 2.


Click here for transcripts

Reporter: Isabel Hilton

Producer: Jane Gabriel

Series Producer: Farah Durrani

Editor: Fiona Murch

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Isabel Hilton
"Not even Chile's former dictator is above the law."
Judge Juan Guzman
"The events were even more horrific than we so often have been told."
Pinochet's son: Marco Antonio
"We have to trust our system."
Judge Juan Guzman
"I have received telephone calls from people in power...these people offend the law."
Judge Juan Guzman
"The Chilean people really haven't received the degree of justice that they so badly need."
See also:

25 Jan 01 | Americas
16 Jan 01 | Americas
08 Dec 00 | The Pinochet file
06 Dec 00 | Americas
25 Jul 00 | Americas
10 Jan 01 | Americas
01 Dec 00 | Americas
10 Jan 01 | Americas
08 Jan 01 | Americas
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