Pinochet May Face Charges in Chile
Pinochet May Face Charges in Chile
MARA D. BELLABY
Jan. 12, 2000
LONDON (AP) _ If former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet escapes extradition to Spain and is allowed to go home, as now seems likely, he could face prosecution in his homeland, Chile's ambassador in London said today.
Many changes have been made in Chilean law since the closing days of the Pinochet regime, when the dictator passed a wide-ranging law giving himself immunity from prosecution, said Ambassador Pablo Cabrera.
``The law in Chile (now) allows the people and the tribunal to strip off immunity, as has been done already with another senator for other reasons,'' Cabrera told BBC Radio. ``We have many examples that these things are happening now in Chile.''
After nearly 15 months of legal wrangling, Pinochet learned Tuesday that his poor health would likely prevent him being extradited to Spain on charges of human rights abuses.
Home Secretary Jack Straw said an independent medical exam was ``unequivocal and unanimous'' in finding the 84-year-old general unfit to stand trial. He said he was therefore inclined ``to take the view that no purpose would be served in continuing the present extradition proceedings.''
That opened the door for Pinochet to return home to Chile within weeks.
Cabrera said the decision on whether to prosecute the general at home rested with the courts, now ``an independent power in Chile.''
There was no immediate comment from Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge who launched the extradition case, but lawyers working with him said they would continue their fight.
Before Straw makes a final ruling, he has given everyone involved in the case _ including Garzon and Chile _ seven days to submit arguments for his consideration.
Straw also invited France, Switzerland and Belgium, which have extradition requests pending against Pinochet, to respond. He did not say how long he would take to rule. But even Pinochet opponents and human rights groups said there was little chance now that Pinochet would be extradited.
The Spanish government said today it will not make any arguments in the case and will not pass on any appeal Garzon may make.
``I feel it is inappropriate to present such arguments because the Spanish government has no reason to share with anyone responsibility that is the sole jurisdiction of Minister Straw,'' Foreign Minister Abel Matutes told reporters in the town of Guadalajara.
Until now Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's government has reluctantly transmitted Pinochet-case documents, including the formal extradition request, from Garzon to Britain via diplomatic channels, as called for in international protocol.
But Aznar has expressed fear of damaging ties with Chile and of ruffling political sensitivities in a country deeply divided by the legacy of the dictatorship.
Pinochet has been detained in Britain since his Oct. 16, 1998, arrest in a London hospital on the Spanish warrant. He is accused of using torture to intimidate and silence political opponents throughout his 1973-90 dictatorship.
An official Chilean government report says 3,197 people died or disappeared after Pinochet led a coup to topple the elected Marxist president, Salvador Allende.
Last October, Pinochet lost his case before a London magistrate, who ordered him extradited to Spain. But his lawyers appealed and a hearing was scheduled for March 20.
His supporters contend that Pinochet's health has steadily deteriorated since his arrest. He suffers from diabetes, wears a pacemaker and has difficulty walking. His doctors have said that he suffered two minor strokes in September.
The Chilean government had urged Straw in October to allow an independent medical team to examine Pinochet's health. Two geriatricians, a neurologist and a fourth doctor spent seven hours examining the former dictator on Jan. 5.
``Following recent deterioration in the state of Senator Pinochet's health ... he is at present unfit to stand trial and no change to that position can be expected,'' the doctors concluded. Their exact medical findings remained confidential.
Pinochet was said by friends to be ``delighted'' by the latest twist in his case. But his family told Britain's Sky News that they would put off celebrations until he boards a plane to go home.
``We are a little skeptical about what is going to happen,'' said Marco Antonio Pinochet, the general's son. ``We are not sure he is coming home, but we know it is a step forward. We don't feel happy. It's a mix of feelings.''
His opponents, meanwhile, called the ruling a blow to justice.
``We are reacting with horror,'' said Carlos Reyes, spokesman for Chile Democratico, which represents Chileans living in exile. ``I feel choked that this criminal is going to escape justice, especially because we have in Chile people still suffering from his reign of terror who are older than him and in even worse health than he is.''
Human rights groups insisted human rights law has been strengthened by Pinochet's detention, even if he does eventually return home.
``While we're sorry that Pinochet and his victims will never have that day in court, this has been a victory from start to finish for the principle of human rights and the rule of law,'' said Reed Brody of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.