from Weekly News Update on the Americas
On Sept. 11, some 4,000 people marched past the La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, to protest the anniversary of the 1973 military coup in which Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte overthrew democratically elected Socialist president Salvador Allende Gossens. The government of Socialist president Ricardo Lagos prepared for the annual protests by deploying 10,000 police agents, and by promulgating a law on Sept. 10 which punishes anyone throwing a Molotov bomb with up to 10 years in prison. The march was peaceful, but when the marchers entered the general cemetery to pay homage to Allende at his tomb, a group of about 100 hooded youths from the Anarchist Revolutionary Center, the Lautaro Movement and the Rebel Youth Front stayed outside and threw rocks and Molotov bombs. Police dispersed the group quickly and arrested about 12 people. (La Jornada, Mexico, Sept. 12)
Violence and looting broke out over the night and into the early morning of Sept. 12 in the neighborhoods surrounding the capital, Santiago. By the time it was over, 16-year old Cristian Castillo Diaz had been killed by a stray bullet at a protest barricade in the Penalolen sector and 120 protesters had been arrested. Castillo’s family blamed police for his death, saying agents fired their weapons in an effort to unblock the street. Another young man was wounded by a bullet in the old southern mining town of Lota.
The police claimed 410 of their agents were wounded, though Interior Minister Francisco Vidal said the number was 38. Those injured included a captain who was shot in the legs and two agents hit by homemade rifle fire. The others were hit by rocks.
Chains thrown at high-tension electrical wires left 70,000 people in the capital area without electricity. Incidents also took place in Valparaiso, where a wine shop was attacked, and in Valdivia, where some 10 people were arrested.
At numerous events marking the anniversary, protesters expressed anger about a bill introduced by the right-wing opposition in Congress to pardon former military officers convicted of human rights abuses. The bill would benefit about 300 convicted officers. Lagos initially spoke favorably about the proposal, but on Sept. 12 stepped back from that position, telling local television he had only meant that it seemed like an important subject to discuss, not that he agreed with it. The presidential campaign period over the next three months is not the best time for Congress to take up such a subject, Lagos said. (LJ, Sept. 13)
The Chilean army marked the 32nd anniversary of the coup with a mass at the Military School, to which Pinochet and his family were not invited. (LJ, Sept. 12)
On Sept. 14, several activists were arrested near La Moneda as they protested the congressional pardon bill. Those arrested included leftist presidential candidate Tomas Hirsch, Group of Relatives of the Detained Disappeared (AFDD) president Lorena Pizarro and several human rights lawyers. The same day, hooded protesters clashed with police inside the University of Santiago. (LJ, Sept. 15)
On Sept. 17, Lagos promulgated Chile’s new Constitution, replacing the one promulgated by Pinochet in 1980. The new document includes 58 changes approved last Aug. 16 by a vote of 150-3, with one abstention, in a joint session of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies. Among the reforms are the elimination of nine senatorial seats which were designated instead of elected–including four seats reserved for representatives of the armed forces–and the elimination of lifetime Senate seats for ex- presidents. The new Constitution also restores to the president the power to remove the armed forces chiefs and the general director of the Carabineros militarized police, and strips power from the State Defense Council, changing it to a consultive body which can only be convened by the president. The new Constitution codifies the length of the presidential term as four years instead of six, and bars reelection to consecutive terms. (LJ, Sept. 18 from AFP, DPA; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Sept. 18)
PINOCHET WINS ONE, LOSES ONE
On Sept. 14, in a 10-6 decision, Chile’s Supreme Court ratified that ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet can face trial for Operation Colombo, specifically for his role in the forced disappearance of 15 or 16 jailed leftist activists between 1974 and 1977, carried out with the help of the Argentine military. The ruling upheld a July 6 decision by the Santiago Appeals Court. Under Operation Colombo, a total of 119 members and sympathizers of the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) were murdered in what was then presented as an “internal purge” among leftist groups.
On Sept. 15, the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court put an end to proceedings against Pinochet for his responsibility in the abduction of 10 leftists in Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, and their subsequent disappearance in Chile under Operation Condor, a collaboration between South American military regimes. The decision upholds a ruling by Judge Victor Montiglio, who took over the Operation Condor case when Judge Juan Guzman Tapia retired this past April. Guzman had sought to prosecute Pinochet for Operation Condor, but Montiglio closed the case, arguing that the 89-year old ex-dictator suffers from dementia and therefore the case is without merit. Montiglio’s ruling was upheld in July by the Santiago Appeals Court. Montiglio is also in charge of trying Pinochet in connection with Operation Colombo. (AP, Sept. 15; LJ, Sept. 15, 17)
A former Carabineros officer and National Intelligence Department (DINA) agent, Lt. Col. Ricardo Lawrence, is meanwhile accusing Pinochet of having appropriated money which DINA agents found at the home of MIR general secretary Miguel Enriquez after killing him in an October 1974 gun battle. Lawrence also said Pinochet not only knew about police and military repression, but personally visited barracks and clandestine jails and gave orders.
Pinochet still faces trial in a tax fraud and illicit enrichment case, and recently information came out indicating that the Dutch weapons company RDM paid $1.5 million to Pinochet’s accountant, lawyer Oscar Aitken, in 1998 to seal a sale of 202 used German tanks to the Chilean military that year. (LJ, Sept. 14)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 18
Weekly News Update on the Americas
See also WW4 REPORT #105
See our coverage of the 30th anniversary coup commemoration in 2003:
See our last report on the Pinochet case
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Oct. 1, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution