Commentary (The Times)

Chile: “General Pinochet, 91, dies awaiting trial for murder” (MT “greatly saddened” by his death)

Document type: Press
Source: The Times , 11 December 2006
Journalist: Thomas Catan in Madrid and Nathan Crooks in Santiago, The Times
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 370 words
Themes: Defence (Falklands), Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA)

General Pinochet, 91, dies awaiting trial for murder

Thomas Catan in Madrid and Nathan Crooks in Santiago

Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean dictator who ruled his country with an iron fist from 1973 to 1990, died last night aged 91.

General Pinochet had been taken to hospital a week ago after suffering a heart attack. He underwent an angioplasty to open up a clogged artery and had been recovering.

Doctors said that his condition took a sharp turn for the worse yesterday and he died in the early afternoon.

Outside the hospital supporters chanted “Long live Pinochet!”, while others shouted insults at them. Last night, opponents of his rule clashed with police outside the presidential palace. The violence erupted when officers tried to disperse a crowd of about 1,000 people celebrating Pinochet’s death, who were marching down the capital’s main avenue.

A Chilean government spokesman said that General Pinochet would not have a state funeral but would be buried with military honours tomorrow.

The former dictator’s death ended a tumultuous chapter in the history of the South American country that began with his overthrow of Salvador Allende’s democratically elected Government in 1973.

General Pinochet’s fierce anti-communism, free-market economics and support for Britain during the Falklands war made him one of Margaret Thatcher’s favourite leaders and he was received with honours on his visits to London.

That changed in 1998, when the new Labour Government acted on an unusual international arrest warrant issued by a Spanish judge. Although he avoided being sent to Spain to face trial on charges of genocide, his arrest marked a watershed in Chile, showing Chileans for the first time that he was not invulnerable. The general spent the final years of his life arguing that he was too ill to face trial. He was under house arrest at the time of his heart attack on December 3, accused of the murder of two of Mr Allende’s bodyguards.

General Pinochet issued a statement on his 91st birthday last month in which he attempted to heal the wounds caused by his brutal rule. He said that he accepted “political responsibility” for acts committed during his rule.

Last night Baroness Thatcher was said to be “greatly saddened” by his death.