Sunday, December 10, 2006

Pinochet is dead

So, like Pol Pot, Idi Amin and several other criminals before him, General Augusto Pinochet cheats real justice and escapes to the land of the dead. He will not be missed by the majority, yet his death still comes as a blow to the thousands of Chileans, Spaniards, and people of all nationalities who wanted to see this man stand in the dock and face responsibility for his crimes.

Pinochet assumed power in Chile in a military coup d'etat in 1973. The incumbent president, Salvador Allende, had led a socialist government which had followed policies unpopular with the Chilean right, such as the nationalisation of industry and health service, and the seizure and redistribution of land and wealth. The coup was short, bloody and violent, with troops and tanks surrounding the Chilean palace in Santiago while it was bombed from the air. Allende died in the attack, and Pinochet emerged from the shadows to head the new military dictarship. The following months were a humanitarian disaster, with thousands of 'subversives' picked up by the secret police. At least 3000 people were killed, and several tens of thousands tortured - 40,000 alone were detained in Chile's national stadium, which had been converted to a concentration camp.

Despite these horrors and others, Pinochet remained a hero for many in Chile for some time after his removal from power, as some on the right still saw him as the saviour who prevented the country's slide into communism. However, this support had gradually eroded since it was discovered that he stole millions from the country's exchequer, skimming off funds and transferring them to a private swiss bank account. This was no upstanding citizen doing his best for his country; Augusto Pinochet was a common thief.

Baroness Margaret Thatcher is said to be 'deeply saddened' by his death. While I appreciate her point of view that his assistance during Falklands War may have saved British lives, it reflects rather badly on her judgment that she should continue to support a man who's name will forever be mentioned alongside some of the most infamous in history, and who be remembered by most as a repugnant man who had not a single redeeming quality.

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