Issue 224 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published November 1998 Copyright Socialist Review


General rejoicing

'Right wingers are horrified that other dictators can no longer shop at Fortnum and Mason with impunity'

The arrest of the Chilean former dictator Augusto Pinochet at a London hospital, to face extradition to Spain for complicity in torture and murder, was as welcome as it was surprising.

Pinochet organised the military coup in Chile in 1973 against the elected left government of Salvador Allende, who died defending his presidential palace. The coup smashed all resistance, destroyed the left and trade union movement, and resulted in up to 10,000 deaths. Many more were tortured and thousands were forced into exile to escape these fates.

The coup was welcomed by many of the world's rulers, especially since Pinochet's brutal brand of monetarism led to a boom for Chile's capitalists at the expense of large sections of the population. It was particularly welcomed by the US: indeed, the CIA was centrally involved. Both before and after the coup, Pinochet had the benefit of around 400 US 'advisers' who were up to their necks in the repression. No wonder the US wants to prevent Pinochet ever being put on trial, for fear of its role being made public.

The British government has always played a particularly bad role. Its embassy refused to give shelter to those fleeing repression in Santiago in 1973. Since then it has done its utmost to trade with Chile, including arms trading. Pinochet's recent trips have involved brokering a number of deals.

The dictator was a firm favourite of Margaret Thatcher, to whom he sent flowers and chocolates whenever he was in London. Her political descendants such as the likes of Malcolm Rifkind now defend Pinochet as good for business.

The support from Labour politicians for the arrest is therefore very welcome. This at last is a small step towards an ethical foreign policy. But will Jack Straw and Tony Blair withstand the pressure they will now be under to reverse the arrest?

Don't count on it. Right wingers everywhere, including much of the British press, are horrified that this will mean other dictators can no longer stay in Park Lane and shop at Fortnum and Mason with impunity. In any case, putting a former head of state on trial might have much wider implications. Then there is the role of big business, including the arms trade, which is desperate that its secretive and often illegal arrangements may he upset.

Most importantly, though, governments internationally will not want any light shone on their dealings a quarter of a century ago. Pressure from the US in particular will be substantial. The military is still very powerful in Chilean politics and the very timid civilian government also wants to appease Pinochet. We will see how much New Labour is prepared to uphold the rule of law to see Pinochet brought to justice.

The coup happened in Chile because the vested interests there and internationally--the military, the big capitalists and landowners--were not prepared to allow a democratically elected left wing government to challenge their power, in however limited a way. Labour governments have always found themselves up against these vested interests when they try to change anything. The case of Pinochet will be no exception.
Lindsey German

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