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26 October 1998

Defenestrate Pinochet

As General Pinochet's lawyers go to court in an attempt to prevent his extradition to Spain to stand trial for torture, kidnap and conspiracy to murder, Nick Frayn suggests an alternative way of resolving the problem

General Augusto Pinochet has been under arrest in his exclusive London hospital bed for a week and may have to remain in the Britain for some time to come. A Spanish extradition order for crimes committed against Spanish citizens has been challenged by his lawyers, questioned by the US administration and attacked by former UK premier Margaret Thatcher.

But why did the arrest take place now? Pinochet has been in the country since 21 September with the full knowledge of the British authorities and has been a regular visitor here for many years. The arrest is certainly New Labour's 'ethical' foreign policy in action; setting itself up as a moral enforcer on behalf of good against evil. It clearly marks the British government's desire to judge the rest of the world from an artificial position of objectivity, applauded by the western media and those who campaigned against Pinochet's vicious regime. Some cynics have gone so far as to argue the whole episode is a plot to convince New Labour's detractors that they are really radical, despite all the illiberal gloss.

Whatever happens to Pinochet, the real culprits of his brutal reign in Chile are completely ignored. US involvement in Latin American internal affairs has been immense ever since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 which aimed to reduce European intervention in the Americas. During the Cold War, as fears of Soviet influence and nationalist movements rose, US interference scaled new heights. US intervention in Chile took off during the 1964 presidential election when the CIA spent several million dollars on its own campaign. Concerned that the growth of left wing ideologies would bring opposition parties to the fore US agents funded right wing groups and developed a massive anti-Communist propaganda campaign. Evaluations of its success claimed that it enabled the right wing candidate to gain an absolute majority as well as developing a useful network of conservative grass roots activists.

These activities continued throughout the sixties. However, as opposition to US involvement grew stronger the CIA found that backing individual candidates often had the effect of discrediting them. As Chile went into the 1970 presidential election the US discovered that it would have to develop a more drastic strategy to control Chilean politics as the right wing coalition it had backed lost out to Allende's Popular Unity coalition.

Allende was elected in September 1970 but, as he had not won an absolute majority, his presidency had to be confirmed by the Chilean Congress on 24 October. In any case his fate was already being decided in Washington as, on 15 September, Richard Nixon confirmed that Allende's government was unacceptable and gave the CIA orders to play a direct role in organising a military coup.

It is a tribute to the popular support of the Chilean people for Allende's programmes of nationalisation and agrarian reform that his government lasted as long as it did. In September 1973, 100,000 Chileans marched through the streets of Santiago to celebrate the third anniversary of his election victory just one week before the coup that overthrew him. Less than one year later Pinochet, who had been busy securing his power through the murderous destruction of any opposition, stated that there 'will be no elections in Chile during my lifetime nor in the lifetime of my successor'. Pinochet was firmly installed as Henry Kissinger's South American puppet.

There is no surprise that Britain should be willing to sacrifice an ailing general to further its own narrow interests, even if they are dressed up as part of its 'ethical' foreign policy. Western governments are only too willing to dump allies whenever they have passed their sell-by dates. Lieutenant William Calley, one of the perpetrators of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, was the sacrificial lamb for that particular episode in American history. Whether the courts allow Pinochet to return to Chile or not we will have to wait and see. It is, however, a bit rich for his creators to become his moral judges. Allow those who have the right to act as his judge and jury to do so. Leave him to the wrath of the Chilean protesters - either in London or Santiago - and see if they, like he and his cronies certainly were, are capable of a decent defenestration.

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