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Chile’s Pinochet Faces Impeachment

April 10, 1998

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ Chile’s lower House of Congress gathered Thursday to vote on a motion to remove Gen. Augusto Pinochet from his seat as senator for life.

Lawmakers assembled in the Congress building in the port city of Valparaiso on Thursday to prepare for a secret vote later the day. Pro-Pinochet congressmen requested the secret vote, which will allow lawmakers to cast a ballot without having to account for it publicly.

The results will be announced after the vote.

No matter what the result is, the impeachment effort already appears doomed. The final decision is up to the Senate, which is dominated by Pinochet supporters. The Senate must render its decision within 30 days.

The session opened with a four-hour reading of a report by a House commission that recommended impeachment on Wednesday and the text of Pinochet’s defense.

An often impassioned debate followed, clearly reflecting the deep political divisions over Pinochet among Chileans.

Pinochet foes repeatedly recalled the massive human rights violations committed during his 1973-90 military regime, including more than 3,000 political killings, according to official figures.

They also said a man who shut down Congress after taking power in a coup has no place in the legislature.

``Rejecting this impeachment would mean publicly washing Pinochet’s image,″ said socialist Congressman Guillermo Ceroni, adding that the impeachment procedure ``allowed us all to finally see that Pinochet is not untouchable.″

But rightist lawmaker Gonzalo Ibanez said the charges ``are tantamount to accusing him of betraying the fatherland, something especially serious for a soldier.″

The impeachment effort was started last month by 11 congressmen from the ruling coalition who accused Pinochet of seriously damaging Chile’s honor and security as army commander in chief, a post he left on March 10.

Pinochet was named army commander on Aug. 23, 1973, by leftist President Salvador Allende, whom he toppled 19 days later in a bloody coup in which Allende died.

Pinochet remained army commander after stepping down from power in 1990, as permitted by the constitution written by his regime. He retired from the army last month and immediately became a senator for life _ another guarantee he reserved for himself in the constitution.

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