Saturday, November 25, 2006

November 25

es-pinochet_390One of humanity's greatest living monsters, the Chilean criminal Augusto Jose Ramon Pinochet Ugarte, celebrates his 91st birthday today. Pinochet, who ascended to power in the aftermath of a 1973 military coup, presided for 17 years over a nation in which democracy and basic human rights were ground to dust under an anti-communist crusade that dominated the Southern Cone of Latin America during the 1970s. Along with the Argentine dictator and mass murderer Jorge Videla, Paraguayan autocrat Alfredo Stroessner, and an array of other right-wing thugs, Pinochet participated in Plan Condor, an anti-communist and "counter-terrorist" campaign that relied on torture, forced disappearances, and political assassinations at home and abroad. Based on documents uncovered in the Paraguayan "terror archive" in 1992, human rights groups estimate that Operation Condor -- for which the United States provided covert support -- resulted in at least 50,000 murders and an additional 30,000 disappearances, with 400,000 Latin American civilians incarcerated for their political activities.

In Chile, at least 3000 died and tens of thousands were imprisoned and subjected to state-sanctioned toture. Of the 3500 women arrested for political causes during the Pinochet years, nearly all reported being sexually assaulted. During the initial months after the 1973 coup that deposed Salvador Allende, the Chilean junta imprisoned so many civilians that stadiums, naval vessels and military camps were enlisted to aid the overburdened penal institutions. New prison complexes were established in the most remote areas of the country. The Direccion Nacional de Inteligencia (DINA), Pinochet's secret police, orchestrated the repression and carried out several assassinations against former Allende officials. In one of their most notorious exploits, DINA agents working with anti-Castro exiles killed Orlando Letelier -- former Chilean ambassador to the US -- and a 25-year old American woman named Ronni Moffitt, who worked at the Institute for Policy Studies. The 1976 car bombing, which took place in Washington, DC, blew Letelier's legs off and nearly decapitated Moffitt. American intelligence officials evidently knew about the plans two months before they were executed.

In late 2004 a commission led by Sergio Valech, the former archbishop of Santiago, published its final report on Pinochet's reign of terror -- the third and most exhaustive of the three commission inquiries into the Pinochet legacy. The Valech Commission heard testimony from 35,000 victims of state repression from the period of 1973 to 1990; Archbishop Valech himelf described the 1200-page report as "an experience without precedent in the world," one that presented Chileans with "an inescapable reality: political detention and torture constituted an institutional practice of the state." More than anything, the report undermined Augusto Pinochet's traditional defense that renegade officers -- a small handful at best -- were responsible for acts of cruelty that had been unjustly exaggerated by opponents of the regime. As the report disclosed,
Practically everyone who testified before the Commission stated that they were detained with extreme violence, some in front of their children, in the middle of the night, with shouts, blows and threats of death made to the detainee and other family members, creating an atmosphere of terror and anguish.

Although prison conditions varied, detainees generally slept on the floor, without a mattress or blanket; they were deprived of food and water or were given scant and awful food. They lived in crowded and unhealthy conditions, without access to toilets or baths, and were subjected to constant humiliation and abuses of power. . . .

Most witnesses described behavioral, emotional and psychosocial effects. Many said they had felt -- and still feel -- insecure and fearful, humiliated, ashamed and guilty; depressed, anxiety-ridden and hopeless. Some persons mentioned alterations in their concentration and memory; others cited conflicts, crises and breakups within their families, as well as conjugal problems. They also mentioned the loss of reference groups and social networks. Most victims mentioned sleep disturbances and chronic insomnia, as well as behavioral inhibitions, phobias and fears.

Although his arrest in England in 1998 did not result in extradition to Spain, where he would have faced trial on more than 90 counts of torture carried out against Spanish citizens, Augusto Pinochet has been stripped of parliamentary immunity in his home country. He will quite likely die before facing charges for an array of crimes, including tax fraud and passport forgery.