They are dancing in the street
And I wish I were in Santiago to dance with them. And that’s because Augusto Pinochet, Chile’s former brutal dictator, has died – a week after a heart attack. He was 91. Despite his dictatorship finally crumbling over a decade ago, the old man can still make the headlines – but mainly for cheating justice.
He still has his supporters, the most noteworthy amongst his international ones being Margaret Thatcher, who was saddened by the news of his death (to me, one of the most unfortunate things about Thatcher’s reign was her support for Pinochet and other anti-communist heavies and her wishy-washiness over opposing South Africa’s arpatheid regime).
Not so saddened was human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, who told ABC radio this morning:
“If there is a Hell, he’s certainly burning in it as we speak.”Robertson is annoyed that Pinochet escaped justice –first by being declared too ill to stand trial and thus not be extradited to Spain to face charges, and now going and dieing. Not wanting death to let other dictators, war criminals and torturers wriggling off the hook, Robertson reckons we should "Get them now”.
As an undergrad, I befriended a number of the Chileans who fled Pinochet, his military junta and secret police and had made Australia their home. Many of them were actively involved in left-wing solidarity campaigns against the dictatorship and then to bring justice to the thousands of victims and survivors of the torture, prison camps, and murder and ‘disappearance’ that had characterised Pinochet’s brutal reign. Axis of Evel Knievel has an excellent post on Pinochet, marking Pinochet’s 25 November birthday.
Even after Pinochet lost a plebiscite on his rule and loosened his grip over power, I remember joining in a campus protest against a visiting post-Pinochet Chilean government leader who visited our university to receive an honorary degree (whose name I forget). He had been identified as a collaborator with Pinochet’s army at the time of the coup against the Socialist Allende government in 1973.
I was also horrified to learn from them that the ship – ostensibly a leisure ship – the Chilean delegation used to visit our shores and host a state function on – had been a Chilean navy prison ship where left-wing activists had been imprisoned and tortured. It had just tarted up. What got my Chilean friends so upset was the efforts underway in post-Pinochet Chile to forget, renovate, and erase the memories of the dictartorship – as if it were just a bad dream that had to be shaken off, before Chile could then go on with being a ‘civilised’ modern nation with a great neo-liberal economy.
I understand their horror that the terrible things that Pinochet and the military did were being swept under the carpet, and their burning desire for justice. It was inspiring to hear them talk of their struggle for true democracy and freedom.
I am sure they are celebrating in Australia now too. If there is a party, I’d like to join in. Hey guys, this one's for you!
Update: There is a party! of sorts: it is a protest too. Chilean and other Latin American activists in Melbourne have organised a celebration of Pinochet's death, and a protest against the Chilean government's plans to honour the dictator with 'a "funeral service with “honours” and “tributes”…'. It will be Tuesday 12 December in Federation Square at 12 noon. We are all invited. [Updated at 5.25 pm]