Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech on Pinochet at the Conservative Party Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Blackpool
Source: Thatcher Foundation: press release
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1876
Themes: Defence (Falklands), Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Labour Party & socialism



My friends, it's nine years since I spoke at a Conservative Party Conference. A lot has happened since then - and not much of it for the better......

Today I break my self-denying ordinance. And for a very good reason - to express my outrage at the callous and unjust treatment of Senator Pinochet.

But first I want to extend a personal welcome to our Chilean guests, who have come half way round the world to be with us. They should understand the deep sense of shame and anger we feel at the way in which Chile - its honour, its dignity, its sovereignty and its former ruler - have been treated.

I do not know when or how this tragedy will end. But we will fight on for as long as it takes to see Senator Pinochet returned safely to his own country. Chileans can rest assured that, however contemptibly this Labour Government behaves, the British people still believe in loyalty to their friends.

Chile's Friendship Betrayed

Chile is our oldest friend in South America. Our ties are very close, and have been ever since Admiral Cochrane helped free Chile from oppressive Spanish rule. He must be turning in his grave, to see Britain now encouraging Spain's arrogant interference in Chilean affairs!

President Pinochet was this country's staunch, true friend in our time of need when Argentina seized the Falkland Islands. I know - I was Prime Minister at the time. On President Pinochet's express instructions, and at great risk, Chile provided enormously valuable assistance. I cannot reveal all the details. But let me mention just one incident.

During the Falklands War, the Chilean airforce was commanded by the father of Senator Evelyn Matthei, here with us tonight. He gave us early warning of Argentinian air attacks, which allowed the task-force to take defensive action. The value of this intelligence was proved by what happened when it stopped. One day, near the end of the conflict, the Chilean long-range radar had to be switched off for overdue maintenance. That same day - Tuesday 8th June, a date etched on my heart - Argentinian planes attacked and destroyed the Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram landing ships, with heavy casualties.

Altogether, some 250 members of our armed forces lost their lives during the Falklands War. Without President Pinochet, there would certainly have been many more. We all owe him - and Chile - a great debt.

But how did the authorities, under this Labour Government, choose to repay it? I will tell you. By collaborating in Senator Pinochet's judicial kidnap.

Judicial Kidnap

The precise extent of Ministers' and officials' involvement with the Spanish authorities is still obscure. But we know a good deal about the catalogue of abuses which occurred.

We know that Senator Pinochet was treated on his arrival, as on previous occasions, as an honoured guest. We know that the Chileans were led to believe that he was safe, when the British authorities already knew that to be false. We know that he was then arrested by night on his bed of pain, after a spinal operation, in circumstances which would do credit to a police state.

We know that he was held first in a tiny room at a clinic under sedation, and then in a house where he wasn't even allowed to set foot in the garden. We know this was done under what the courts later ruled was an unlawful arrest warrant. We know that the authorities knew it was unlawful, because they hurriedly sent lawyers to Spain to draw up a new one.

We know that Senator Pinochet's guilt was publicly prejudged by a Labour Cabinet Minister. We know that for the first time in its history the House of Lords had to set aside its ruling, because a Law Lord failed to declare an interest - and that the judge in question was then publicly exonerated by Labour's Lord Chancellor.

I never thought in my lifetime to see the honour of Britain and the reputation of British justice so demeaned as in this affair. All those responsible must be shamed, and held publicly to account.

Justice Denied

As has been confirmed at the recent hearing, Senator Pinochet is still legally prevented from answering in a British court any of the charges against him. And his accusers do not, it seems, have to present here any evidence of guilt. Under the Extradition Treaty, the case can only be heard in Spain. That Treaty envisaged, of course, that all the courts of countries which signed the Extradition Convention would behave in an honest and equitable fashion, and that those extradited would receive a fair trial. But the Spanish judicial procedure in this matter has been little short of scandalous.

The Spanish, Socialist prosecuting magistrate has simply assembled any charge whatsoever that he thinks might fit the bill - even though there is no evidence of Senator Pinochet's involvement in, or even knowledge of, the cases concerned, and even though not one concerns a Spaniard. It is well-known that counselling this prosecuting magistrate at every stage is Allende's former political adviser, working with a network of other Marxists in Spain and Chile. The chance of Senator Pinochet's receiving anything resembling what we in Britain would recognise as "justice" in a Spanish court is minimal - not least because key witnesses for his defence run the risk of immediate arrest if they set foot on Spanish soil. What is planned there is a show-trial, with a pre-ordained outcome - lingering death in a foreign land.

All this has many implications.

There are implications for Chile, where the small minority of communists who once nearly wrecked the country under Allende will now be encouraged to overturn the prosperous, democratic order that Pinochet and his successors built.

There are implications for Britain, whose interests will be jeopardised, not just in the Falklands and South America, but in isolated enclaves round the world, where friends will see how we reward past deeds of friendship.

And there are implications for heads of government everywhere, as they see that at some future date they may be hauled out of hospital in a foreign country at dead of night to face some trumped up charge.

New Labour's Priorities

My friends, these are vital matters for our Party to ponder. We must pay heed to the implications of an international lynch-law which, under the guise of defending human rights, now threatens to subvert British justice and the rights of sovereign nations.

The people of Britain, too, should reflect on what has been revealed about the priorities of this Labour Government.

For this is a government that grovels to collaborate with Spain, whose bullying of Gibraltar is a daily outrage - yet treats our Chilean allies with contempt.

This is a government which reckons that ageing spies, who betrayed our country to Soviet communism, should escape prosecution - yet obsessively pursues the frail 83 year-old Pinochet, who stopped the communists taking Chile.

This is a government which grants amnesties to unrepentant terrorist murderers - yet overturns an amnesty in Chile, and imperils that country's young democracy.

My friends, this is a government which discredits and dishonours Britain.

Revenge of the International Left

Make no mistake: revenge by the Left, not justice for the victim, is what the Pinochet case is all about. Senator Pinochet is in truth on trial, not for anything contained in Judge Garzon's indictment, but for defeating communism. What the Left can't forgive is that Pinochet undoubtedly saved Chile and helped save South America.

But don't take my word for it. Listen instead to President Aylwin, Pinochet's democratically elected successor and frequent opponent, who said: "the Allende government was planning, with the assistance of an armed militia of enormous military power, to establish a communist dictatorship".

That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is what Pinochet stopped.

As he himself admits, there were abuses in the wake of the military coup. And some of these continued. The precise responsibility for what happened can only be judged in Chile. But it is an affront to commonsense, as well as a caricature of justice, to maintain that a head of government must automatically accept criminal responsibility for everything that is done while he is in power - whether he authorised it or not, whether he overlooked it or not, whether he knew about it or not. On that basis, Messrs. Blair and Straw should accept criminal responsibility for everything done in every prison or police station throughout the United Kingdom - and then be extradited to Spain to answer for it.

Pinochet's Achievements

Why is it, I wonder, that those queuing up to accuse Senator Pinochet of every grotesque abuse imaginable don't mention the positive legacy of his rule in Chile?

What about the fact that Chile was turned from chaotic collectivism into the model economy of Latin America?

What about the fact that more people were housed, that medical care was improved, that infant mortality plummeted, that life expectancy rose, that highly effective programmes against poverty were launched?

Above all, why don't they tell the world that it was Senator Pinochet who established a constitution for the return to democracy? That he held a referendum to decide whether or not he should remain in power? That he lost the vote (though gaining 44 per cent support)? And that he respected the result, and handed over to an elected successor?

But, of course, we know why none of these achievements is talked about. It's because the Left don't want them to be talked about - or even (if they can help it) known about.

The Left and the Cold War

The Left lost the Cold War in Chile, as they lost it everywhere else.

For our Home Secretary, who visited Chile as a young left-wing activist, that must have been very distressing. It can hardly have been much pleasanter for our Prime Minister, who recently described Allende as his "hero".

The Left in Chile, and in Britain, had to abandon all the rhetoric, and most of the policies, of socialism in order to get power. But what they couldn't and wouldn't abandon was the poisonous prejudices they harboured in their youth. And this, of course, was the situation when a trusting, elderly, former Chilean ruler chose to pay one too many visits to his beloved Britain last autumn.

When the communists so nearly assassinated him in 1986, President Pinochet knew that he was being fired on by his enemies. Little could he imagine that a new, legal and political assassination was to be planned for him in the Britain he trusted as a friend.

Pinochet - Political Prisoner

Perhaps his enemies will succeed.

Perhaps he will die here, as this country's only political prisoner.

Or perhaps he will breathe his last in a Spanish hospital, awaiting some interminable, contemptible semblance of justice.

But at least he will know, and the world will know, that his friends did not abandon his cause, and that those whom the Left would like to silence - but dare not - have proclaimed the truth about his treatment.