Chile: Pinochet gets rich from bloody dictatorship

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Over the past few weeks the Chilean press has developed a renewed interest in the so-called ‘Pinochet Trials’ after the Washington Post revealed on 15 July this year that the US Senate was investigating the Riggs Bank, suspected of money laundering, and harbouring the loot of dictators and ex-rulers.

Augusto Pinochet, the ex-Chilean dictator, seized power in 1973 after a bloody coup (backed by the CIA) which ousted the legitimately elected President, Salvador Allende. He subjected the Chilean people to 16 years of brutal oppression, where opposition faced assassination, disappearance, torture and exile. In 1998, in response to an extradition appeal from a Spanish judge, Pinochet was arrested on one of his regular shopping visits to Britain and detained for over a year. He was finally released by Labour Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on the ‘humanitarian’ grounds that he was old and sick.

The Washington Post revealed that the ex-dictator had US$8 million in six accounts with the Riggs Bank. This discovery sparked investigations in Chile and the US into the origins of the Pinochet family fortunes, which have now been estimated to exceed $16 million. The ex-general’s wife was also found to have been involved in the money-laundering schemes of the dictator while he was in power, setting up phony charities and non-governmental organisations.

Investigations continue, but it is widely accepted that much of the money came from property scams he ran during his dictatorship. These involved buying and selling of land with huge price differences occurring within hours of consecutive transactions. It was a case of buy cheap, sell dear, pocket the difference. Pinochet’s defence alleges that his businesses earned the money from successful legitimate investments. Many of Pinochet’s supporters feel betrayed because they organised fundraising campaigns while he was detained in London, when all the time he had plenty of cash stashed away.

After a lengthy legal struggle, Pinochet has been stripped of his immunity, and is presently also on trial for his participation in the ‘Condor Operation’, which among other things, coordinated the secret police of many South American dictatorships and which involved the detention, execution or exchange of wanted left-wing activists abroad. His defence lawyers have used every legal trick to prevent the ex-dictator’s appearances and interrogation in court, even arguing on humanitarian reasons – if it was good enough for Jack Straw, why not for a Chilean judge?

None of the Pinochet trials are likely to end in the near future, and most Chileans, now weary of 14 years of post-Pinochet government with few advances in human rights, are convinced that justice will never be achieved.

The slogan ‘Pinochet: hurry up and die’ just about sums it up.

Marcelo Diaz

FRFI 181 October / November 2004

 

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