SANTIAGO -- Former dictator Augusto Pinochet was indicted and put under house arrest Monday in connection with nine kidnappings and one homicide committed during his 1973-1990 de facto regime.
The fate of the 89-year-old retired general once more depends on the Supreme Court, which must determine whether or not the former dictator is mentally fit to stand trial in the current case, which involves Operation Condor, a covert military intelligence-sharing strategy followed by South American dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s.
In 2001, a lower court ruled that Pinochet was unfit to stand trial, in a case involving the ”Caravan of Death”, a special army mission that the then army chief created to ”expedite” the ”trials” and executions of political prisoners around the country shortly after the coup. In July 2002, the Supreme Court eventually upheld that ruling.
”We hope the Supreme Court will rectify the denial of justice to the victims of the dictatorship (in the previous case) and that it will uphold Judge Guzmán's ruling,” Viviana Díaz, the head of the Group of Families of the Detained-Disappeared (AFDD), told IPS.
The indictment by Judge Juan Guzmán, who is also handling the ”Caravan of Death” case, was celebrated by activists with the AFDD and other human rights groups, as well as leaders of the Communist, Socialist and For Democracy parties, and former members of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR).
The elderly former dictator's defence lawyer Pablo Rodríguez immediately filed legal action with the Santiago appeals court on the argument that Pinochet is suffering from dementia, asking that the indictment, which he said was ”illegal”, be overturned.
”This is an abuse of the most basic human rights of an individual: being prosecuted without having any possibility to defend oneself,” said Rodríguez.
As the leader of the now defunct extreme-right Patria y Libertad (Fatherland and Freedom) movement, Rodríguez played an active role in the destabilisation of the government of socialist president Salvador Allende (1970-1973) before it was overthrown by Pinochet.
”This is nothing more than a new episode, a new chapter, of the most relentless political persecution that has existed in this country,” said the lawyer. ”The whole country knows that in the last few years, Guzmán has persecuted Gen. Pinochet.”
In the 52-page indictment, the judge included the reports and statements of three psychiatrists, who were designated by Pinochet's defence counsel, the plaintiffs, and the judge himself.
According to their diagnosis, Pinochet suffers ”moderate” dementia. Earlier medical exams by different health professionals in 2001 also found that he had mild senile dementia.
Based on that diagnosis, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that the former de facto ruler was not fit to stand trial in the Caravan of Death case heard by Guzmán, involving 57 homicides and 18 ”kidnappings” (disappearances) of political prisoners in October 1973.
Guzmán's argument that Pinochet is healthy enough to be tried is also based on a careful review of several public appearances by Pinochet, including a lengthy interview with a Miami television station last year.
Pinochet was indicted Monday for the murder of Communist Party activist Ruiter Correa Arce and the kidnappings of one woman activist and eight men, including two leaders of the former MIR, Edgardo Enríquez and Jorge Fuentes.
The 10 cases taken into consideration by Guzmán involved Chileans who were detained in other countries of the Southern Cone of the Americas as part of Operation Condor, a coordinated plan among the military governments that ruled Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay in the 1970s and 1980s that was used to track down, capture, and eliminate left-wing opponents.
Operation Condor was created by the heads of the secret police from those countries, who met in Santiago from Nov. 25 to Dec. 1, 1975, invited by then-colonel Manuel Contreras, the head of Chile's national intelligence agency (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional or DINA).
Contreras, now a retired general, reported directly to Pinochet, with whom he met on a daily basis while he ran DINA.
In 1978, DINA was replaced by the national information office (Central Nacional de Informaciones - CNI), which operated up to February 1990, a month before Chile's return to democracy.
Human rights attorney Eduardo Contreras, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said that - as Manuel Contreras has stated, Pinochet was present from the start (of Operation Condor), even giving the green light for the meeting” that brought the secret police chiefs together ”to create the pact.”
The AFDD's Díaz said she was ”very pleased” with the indictment and house arrest of the former dictator. ”This is a historic, far-reaching resolution for the families of the victims and all democrats in this country, who want to put an end to impunity in Chile (for human rights violators).”
”When the will to investigate exists...it is possible to prosecute all of those who are implicated in crimes against humanity,” added the activist.
The report released by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1991 found that some 3,000 people were killed under the dictatorship, including 1,119 who were ”disappeared”.
In addition, a recent report on torture by a special commission set up by the government documented 28,000 cases of torture, based on interviews with the survivors.
The president of the State Defence Council (Chile's public prosecutor's office), Clara Szczaranski, described Guzmán's decision as ”very good”, because ”the prosecution is not in and of itself a conviction nor an incrimination, but is the path towards determining responsibilities in a state of law.”
Parliamentary Deputy Eugenio Tuma, the head of the lawmakers of the For Democracy Party (which forms part of the centre-left governing coalition), said the indictment of Pinochet ”sets a precedent with respect to the coordination that existed in Santiago regarding human rights violations.”
”The countries that experienced the horror of a military regime are beginning to get honest with themselves, and Chile is setting an example in that regard,” said the lawmaker.
”We are all equal before the law, and under these terms, Pinochet must be held accountable,” said Tuma.
Another lawyer for the plaintiffs, Julia Urquieta, said the former dictator ”must be found guilty of all of his crimes - not only for these, but also for all of the robberies that were committed, which have been verified by the accounts in the (Washington-based) Riggs Bank.”
Judge Sergio Muñoz is investigating Pinochet for supposed illicit enrichment, based on a report by the U.S. Senate which found that the former dictator had secret accounts containing up to 12 million dollars in the Riggs Bank.
In addition, Judge Alejando Solís is hearing a case against Pinochet involving the 1974 assassination of former Chilean army chief Gen. Carlos Prats and his wife Sofía Cuthbert, committed by DINA in Buenos Aires.
Two weeks ago, the Santiago Appeals court stripped Pinochet of his immunity from prosecution in order to allow him to be investigated by Solís. But the ex-dictator's defence counsel has appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, which has not yet handed down its ruling.
Copyright © 2004 IPS-Inter Press Service. All rights reserved.