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The General Blacks Out

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

The General turned out to be a coward. When Chilean police knocked on Augusto Pinochet’s door and threatened to slap the cuffs on him, Pinochet fainted. You could have predicted as much.

Pinochet was placed under house arrest on January 28 for his role in ordering the massacre known as the Caravan of Death, one of his innumerable crimes in his 17 years as dictator of Chile. Still, the general must’ve been surprised. Only days earlier, his lawyer, Pablo Rodriquez, had told him to defy the orders of the lower court, that he was above them and no harm would ever come to him in Chile. To the press, Rodrizquez said that the judge’s orders amounted to “open harassment of an ill 85-year old man.”

Pinochet had already deployed the “doddering don” routine, feigning the Alzheimer’s disease that had addled his pal Ronald Reagan. It got him out of England last fall. And it may yet save him from culpability for the killing of more than 3,000 people during his regime. His supporters, a dwindling horde, call him Tata, grandpa. They watch him every morning as he ambles down the beach at his oceanfront compound in Becalemu, where he waves to them with his cane, before he enters his private chapel to say his prayers.

Pinochet’s increasing desperation probably stemmed from the fact that his minions, loyal these many years, are beginning to turn on him, to save their own hides, right there in Chile.

On January 7, Chilean president Ricardo Lagos made a nationally televised speech detailing new evidence of the atrocities committed during Pinochet’s reign of terror. Lagos described how Chilean military intelligence agents dumped more than 120 bodies of murdered Chileans (many of them members of the Chilean Communist Party) into “the ocean, lakes and rivers of Chile.” Lagos said that the government had also located a mass grave inside Santiago, containing more than 20 bodies. Other evidence emerging from the files of the Chilean military describes summary executions, torture, and how bodies were blown up with dynamite. It has been suggested that the military, under the leadership of Gen. Ricardo Izurieta, has cooperated in order to secure the purchase of a fleet of F-16 fighters.

Then on January 27, Pinochet’s old friend, Gen. Joaquin Lagos Osorio, implicated him in the assassinations committed by the Caravan of Death unit. It was payback, of a sort, since only the week before Pinochet had told his interogators that Lagos was person behind the killings and that he had acted without his authority. “I am not a criminal,” Pinochet exclaimed.

But Lagos had evidence to undermine the general: a list of political prisoners on which Pinochet had marked which ones were to be killed. Lagos told his story to an interviewer with Chile’s Television Nacional on January 27, when he also disclosed a copy of the list. “In the last conversation I had with Pinochet, he did something I never expected. He ordered me to ‘Never mention the list,’ and for me to sign it. In that case, I would be the only one responsible, as the crimes were committed in my jurisdiction. I told him that, and he said he would fix it. I said, ‘What are you going to fix? They are all dead!'”

Then Lagos described in gruesome detail how the murders took place. “They were torn apart,” he said. They were no longer human bodies. I wanted to at least put the bodies back together again, to leave them more decent. But you couldn’t. They cut eyes out with daggers. They broke their jaws and legs. Even at the firing squad, the killed them slowly. They shot them to pieces, first the legs, then the sexual organs, then the heart, all with machine guns.”

His friends in the US government have also proved less than stalwart. After Pinochet was placed under house arrest in London following his indictment by a Spanish court, Bill Clinton, in one of his few honorable acts, instructed the CIA and the State Department to open their files on Chile from the Allende government through the Pinochet regime. Documents released in November revealed a direct Pinochet link to the assassination on September 11, 1976 of Orlando Letelier, the former Chilean diplomat in the Allende governemt who, along with his American associate, Ronni Moffitt, was killed by a car bomb in on Sheridan Circle in Washington DC.

The State Department cables reveal that in the summer of 1976 Pinochet called Paraguyan dictator Alfredo Stroessner asking him to issue “cover” passports with phoney names for Letelier’s assassins, Michael Townley and Armando Fernandez Larios, so that they could travel to the United States to complete their mission. Ultimately, the killers entered the US on doctored Chilean passports. The CIA and FBI knew the men were in Washington and probably knew their mission, yet did nothing to impede them.

Letelier and Moffitt’s attorney, Sam Buffone, says that the State Department documents provide convincing proof of Pinochet’s direct involvement in the assassination and should form the basis of an indictment for the murders.

The documents also show yet more blood on the hands of the CIA. Some months prior to the Letelier and Moffitt killings, the State Department had instructed its ambassador to Chile, David Popper, and the CIA to express concern about Pinochet’s Operation Condor, the assassination program against dissidents run by Chilean intelligence. Popper refused, writing in a cable that Pinochet “might well take as an insult any inference that he was connected with such assassination plots.”

The CIA, operating out of Popper’s office, also ignored orders to raise complaints with Manuel Contreras, head of Chilean military intelligence. Contreras was ultimately convicted by a Chilean court for his involvement in the assassination of Letelier. But many believe that Contreras was on the CIA’s payroll. We may never know for sure. Because the newly released files show that in 1991, the CIA destroyed a security file on Contreras, a file that almost certainly detailed Contreras’ work for the agency.

At the same time, the CIA was amassing the names and addresses of Chilean dissidents who would later be hunted down and murdered by Pinochet’s band of killers. There is the case of Frank Teruggi, a Leftist American journalist, who, only days after the coup in 1973, was dragged out of his home in Santiago, tortured and killed by the military. Terguggi’s name and address showed up in CIA files from a year prior to the coup, leading Peter Kornbluh, director of the National Security Archives, to suggest that the CIA may have fingered Teruggi to Pinochet’s men.

For all this, Pinochet has picked up some unlikely allies. Cronies of the general have set up the Pinochet Foundation, a trust fund set up to finance his ultimately successful legal and pr fight against extradition to Spain from England. One of the foundation’s fundraising schemes involved the release of a CD featuring Chilean military tunes, which apparently sold well throughout South America and in London.

The Reebok Human Rights Award may be the most hypocritical of those kinds of honors. If so, then the Chilean Human Rights Award can’t be far behind. Well, the rock star Sting has now gotten both. In January, Sting, known for hob-nobbing with Kayapo chieftains in an attempt to cash in on the cachet of the Amazon, jetted to Santiago to receive a human rights award from the Chilean government. A few days later, Sting announced his belief that if Pinochet would merely make some public statement of contrition perhaps the charges against him should be dropped.

Most Chileans see the writing on the wall. In a recent poll by the Santiago-based Fundacion Futuro, only 8 percent said that they thought Pinochet was innocent of the charges from the Caravan of Death massacres-an astounding turn around from previous polls. But even so 60 percent of polled said they didn’t think the General would even spend a night in jail even if convicted. CP

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

CounterPunch Magazine

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