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From papadop@peak.org Fri Mar 10 11:03:01 2000
Date: Thu, 9 Mar 2000 22:03:26 -0600 (CST)
From: MichaelP <papadop@peak.org>
Subject: Pinochet -latest from Chile
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Article: 90835
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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 rule.

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 Chile's military.

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.


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 Andes mountains.

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 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 damage.

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 military regime.

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 from pressure.

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