From firstname.lastname@example.org Fri Mar 10 11:03:01 2000
Date: Thu, 9 Mar 2000 22:03:26 -0600 (CST)
From: MichaelP <email@example.com>
Subject: Pinochet -latest from Chile
Pinochet -- latest from Chile
9 March 2000
SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Lawyers fighting to put Chile's Augusto Pinochet on
trial at home have presented another six civil lawsuits against the former
dictator that allege human rights abuses during his 17-year iron-fisted
Including the new suits, Judge Juan Guzman is now probing 71 cases against
Pinochet that claim his involvement in the murder, kidnapping and torture
of leftists who were hunted down after he took power in a bloody 1973 coup
that overthrew the elected Socialist President Salvador Allende
Pinochet, 84, is resting in a mansion on the outskirts of the Chilean
capital after spending 503 days under arrest in Britain, avoiding
extradition to Spain to face torture charges. Britain ruled he was too ill
for extradition, and he returned home on Friday to a hero's reception from
At present Pinochet cannot face trial because in 1980, at the height of
his power, he changed the Constitution to give all past presidents, having
served at least six years, the right to become a senator for life, with
immunity from prosecution.
But on Monday, a Santiago appeals court began considering whether to strip
Pinochet of this immunity and have him tried for being behind a "Death
Caravan" that killed at least 72 leftists after he ousted Allende.
If Pinochet were to be stripped of immunity, Judge Guzman will immediately
order new medical tests in Chile to ascertain if the retired general is
considered mad or demented to allow the trial process to continue.
Chilean courts will only allow him to avoid trial if he is found
certifiably mad or demented. Compassionate circumstances, such as sickness
or age, are insufficient grounds to escape trial.
Guzman formally asked the court to consider whether more than 1,000 pages
of allegations against Pinochet were enough proof to lift immunity.
"These new cases are part of the attempt to strip Pinochet's immunity from
prosecution," lawyer Nelson Caucoto, who lodged five of the six lawsuits
against Pinochet, told reporters.
MURDER OF SON OF ALLENDE'S PRIVATE SECRETARY
One of the new cases presented on Tuesday was for the murder of Enrique
(Henri) Ropert Contreras, the son of Miriam Contreras who was the private
secretary of Allende, who also died in still-mysterious circumstances on
the day of the coup.
Ropert, who had dual French-Chilean citizenship from his Chilean mother
and French father, was arrested on Sept 11, 1973 -- the day of Pinochet's
coup -- and was found executed days later, Caucato said.
Chile's infamous "Death Caravan" was formed by a handful of generals who
roamed Chile in a helicopter in the weeks after the coup, hunting down
leftists and Communists who had been singled out for execution.
Many "Death Caravan" victims were thrown into the open sea with concrete
blocks tied to their feet. Others were pushed out of helicopters over the
Stripping Pinochet of his immunity from prosecution is the first and most
important hurdle in Guzman's investigation.
Guzman's probe has yet to evolve into any concrete charges and the appeals
court is not expected to make any decision on immunity for at least two
months. If Pinochet hangs onto his immunity, little headway is seen in the
cases against him.
More than 3,000 people were killed or disappeared during Pinochet's regime
from 1973- 1990. Tens of thousands more fled into exile rather than live
under military rule.
Pinochet has always said he had no direct knowledge of any crimes
committed, claiming instead that his military government prevented Chile
from sliding toward a Cuban-style revolution.
PINOCHET STILL CONSIDERED UNTOUCHABLE
Pinochet is still considered untouchable by most Chileans who disbelieve
that Chile's notoriously slow and inefficient legal system will ever put
the retired general on trial.
But some lawyers are optimistic the courts are now ready to stand up to
the still-powerful military, which put on a show of force when Pinochet
arrived from Britain.
The centre-left coalition government asked that Britain release Pinochet
on compassionate grounds because he was crippled by diabetes and has brain
But the government was dismayed and embarrassed to see the street
celebrations that welcomed Pinochet home. He looked sprightly and enjoyed
a hero's welcome from the armed forces.
Human rights lawyers were outraged by the show of military force around
Pinochet, which included a military helicopter flight over the capital.
This week, they are to sign a historic accord with Chile's military on
ways to find out the truth about the deaths and disappearances under the
But now they are having second thoughts, believing that if the military is
going to protect Pinochet, they will never uncover the truth.
President-elect Ricardo Lagos, who takes over from President Eduardo Frei
on Saturday as the third consecutive coalition leader, has vowed to ensure
that the courts probe the charges against Pinochet independently and free