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Sunday, November 8, 1998 Published at 06:28 GMT


General Pinochet's statement in full

Making his first statement since being arrested in London, the former Chilean ruler General Augusto Pinochet said he was hurt and bewildered by his treatment.

In the statement which was sent to various UK news organisations he says his experience has shaken his belief in Britain.

The full text reads:

"My wife was the one who explained to me why I had been arrested, as I lay in my hospital bed after an operation. She was in tears as she tried to speak. I was hurt and bewildered.

I had come to Britain as a Special Ambassador for my country, perhaps not specifically as the guest of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but with their full knowledge and co-operation. This was not my first visit, for I have travelled to Britain many times on official business. Last year I was the guest of Royal Ordnance, which only a short time ago moved from government to private ownership. This year, as on previous occasions, I was greeted formally by representatives of the British government at Heathrow airport.

I always love visiting Britain. The friendship between our two countries is, of course, an historic one which long predates my own term of office. In 1818 our country finally obtained its freedom from Spanish colonial domination, in part thanks to the enlightened policy of Britain's Foreign Secretary, Lord Canning. Since then, Chile has been a force for stability amidst the turmoil of South America. Indeed, for most of its history Chile has been South America's most prosperous nation and, at times, its only democracy.

We owe much of our stability and prosperity to the strong ties that have existed with the people of Great Britain. These ties have brought to our country thousands of British settlers, traders, engineers and intellectuals. Many of my closest Chilean friends bear names which are indistinguishable from those of people in London, Manchester or Edinburgh, and they continue to cement the relationship between our two countries.

I pay tribute to the sense of honour and valour

That friendship has stood the test of time. When Argentine forces occupied the Falklands in 1982, I instructed my government to provide, within the context of our neutrality, whatever assistance we could to our friend and ally. I considered this a matter of Chile's national honour.

Today, as I am in this country under arrest, I pay tribute to the sense of honour and valour of all those in this country who have shown their support, especially Margaret Thatcher, whose words have moved me beyond measure.

I am saddened that the experience of my arrest has shaken my belief in Britain. Previously, I never doubted that Britain was a country where people may move about freely. I did not believe that I would be the subject of spurious attempts by foreign prosecutors to convict me on unproven charges.

Virtually a whole generation has gone by since the painful events of 1973. And it is the changing generations which bring about reconciliation and the healing of wounds, as has been the case in Europe since the Second World War. There is perhaps no better time to remember this than during the week when we remember the losses suffered in past wars and the alliances built since.

Today, we understand that reconciliation is essential to peace. That is the lesson we have learned from two world wars and from the numerous other conflicts this century.

Chile deserves the same rights as any other country

We accept the reconciliation that has been brought about in Northern Ireland and South Africa. Only recently, Archbishop Tutu's Truth and Reconciliation Commission has established wrongs on both sides of the dispute, but it is clear that reconciliation was considered fundamental to the future harmony and peace of the country. There are few countries which have nothing in their past to regret.

In challenging Chile's reconciliation, Spain ignores its own past. It denies to us the path which it followed. Spain left behind the Franco years with no recriminations. That is because the Spanish people were determined to reconcile themselves with their past, despite the ravages of the civil war. Why do they now wish to force us to do differently?

In all these cases, after great agonising, wise decisions have been made not to revisit the past. The opening up of old wounds, bringing back into debate issues where the true facts have long since been forgotten, serves no purpose.

Chile deserves the same rights as any other country. But in the weeks since my arrest we have seen only a travesty of the truth.

Let us cast our minds back to the chaos that existed in South America in the early 1970s. The freedoms which had been so hard won from colonial domination were being crushed by Soviet-inspired and funded military and political forces. Their clear intention was to deprive the people of their democratic freedoms.

As history shows, this is what had happened in the Soviet Union and in Cuba, and continues to be the case in other parts of the world.

In Chile, on October 20th 1970, Parliament chose Salvador Allende as president. They did so when none of the three presidential candidates was able to achieve a majority, and in return Allende gave a promise that he would respect Chile's constitution.

Nearly three years later, Chile was crippled. There was hyperinflation and a shortage of food, medicine and basic necessities. Law and order had broken down as armed paramilitary bands were killing, raping and confiscating at will.

It was essential that Marxism was defeated

Under Allende's regime, about 14,000 foreign agitators had moved into Chile. They included Cuban DGI agents, who were in charge of reorganising the regime's security services, and Soviet, Czech and North Korean military instructors. It was clear to all of us that an insurrection was being planned, financed by the Soviet Union, and that revolutionary military brigades were being organised to take on the Chilean army.

Later, reflecting on those months, Regis Debray, a prominent French socialist and friend of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara and an admirer of Allende, wrote: 'We all knew that it was merely a tactical matter of winning time to organise, to arrange and co-ordinate the military formations of the parties that made up the Popular Unity government. It was a race against the clock.'

As the crisis devastated our country and the constitution was torn apart, the High Court ruled that Allende had usurped the powers of the state.

Both chambers of Parliament passed a vote of censure against Allende for attempting to "institute a totalitarian system, for sedition and for habitually violating the civil rights of the citizens of the Republic". Parliament appealed to Chile's armed forces "to put an immediate end" to the systematic violations of the law and to "secure the constitutional order of our country".

The people believed that for the survival of Chile and for the preservation of freedom in South America as a whole it was essential that Marxism was defeated and Allende's government removed.

I love the people of Chile

I have lived with my conscience and my own memories for over quarter of a century since the events of 1973. I wish things could have been different. I wish that Allende had left of his own accord with the guarantees of safety I offered to him. In the end, Allende chose not to take this course. Instead he chose suicide.

These are not easy reflections for me. But I am at peace with myself, and with the Chilean people, about what happened. I am clear in my mind that the return to Chile of true democracy, and from that the true freedom to which all individual people are entitled, could not have been achieved without the removal of the Marxist government.

I love my country. I love the people of Chile. I am proud that Chile is now a country where people are free to speak, free to travel, and free to pursue their political and religious views. We lost all these things for a . . . brief period in the early 1970s. Yes, it took time to bring them back. But I regard it as my greatest achievement that these freedoms did indeed return.

Under my government we organised in 1980 the referendum which restored a democratic constitution. Under that constitution the people chose in 1988 not to elect me for a further term of office. I accepted the will of the people and stood down, having received 43 per cent of the vote.

This same constitution has has ensured the peaceful transition to the administrations of my two successors, Patricio Aylwin and Eduardo Frei. This process is a reality and it is being damaged by the action against me. In Chile, as elsewhere, recrimination is the enemy of reconciliation.

A show trial in Spain, a foreign land, is not justice. It is certainly not British justice. My fellow citizens have come to terms with our nation's past. They are my true judges. That is why I shall fight this extradition request with all my spirit, supported by the president and government of my country.

And God willing, I shall then return home to Chile with my family where I hope to spend the last years of my life in peace."

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