Las Am��_��_ricas

The English Patient

Even Presidents get their day in court. This year, however, some trials have turned out to be more trying than others. While U.S. President William Jefferson Clinton breezed through his tedious impeachment proceedings, former President, long-time Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Chile, and free-trading pioneer of the Americas, Augusto Pinochet, continues to languish in London.

He is fighting extradition proceedings brought by the Government of Spain, which accuses him of murder, torture, and genocide. The senile old monster became available for prosecution after he stepped down as Chief of the Armed Forces and decided to travel to England with only his current position as Chilean “Senator for Life” to protect him.

Pinochet is an old man, but he is neither forgotten nor gone. He ruled Chile for seventeen years, with all the repression and terror required to shape the country into the model competitive and globalized economy that it is today. Since 1986, after thirteen years of Pinochet, the country has, for the most part, sustained economic growth rates over 6 percent annually. Its export sector is large and growing, heavily concentrated in mining, timber, and agriculture, just like in the old days when Chile was a Spanish colony. The whole economy is one enormous free trade zone.

This was not easily accomplished. Many had to be coerced into accepting the open-market economic policies that Pinochet adopted from Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys. Officially, 3,197 people disappeared between 1973 and 1990, most of them union people, political opponents, socialists, and intellectuals. And recently, in an odd twist of fate no one ever expected, things began to go rather badly for the Generalissimo, himself. On the night of Friday, October 16, 1998, while recovering from back surgery in London, he heard the boots on the stairs. He was arrested in his bed by Scotland Yard, at the request of the Spanish government.

To tell the truth, he didn’t actually hear the boots, because he was enjoying a morphine drip when the incident took place, and his wife Lucia had to tell him afterwards what had happened. For nearly two weeks, he remained in the hospital, increasingly depressed — his bills presumably mounting. From the clinic, he went to the Grovelands Priory Psychiatric Hospital to be treated for anxiety and stress. After a month there, the Hospital threatened to sue him if he did not leave. A spokeswoman claimed he was disturbing the other patients, who have enough mental problems without having the General to contend with in the Day Room. She echoed the sentiments of many labor unions and human rights advocates over the years when she told the London Telegraph, “We are quite keen to remove him.”

Definitely not needing another injunction, indictment, citation, or extradition, the English Patient and his party repaired to the Wentworth Estate, in the Virginia Water District of London, which his friends had rented for them at $14,700 a month. The rent was slightly higher than usual because the landlord, on learning the identity of his tenant, insisted on special insurance to cover potential damage from bombs, rockets, or firearms. (He probably asked for a hefty security deposit, too.) So there the General stayed under house arrest, while the most expensive lawyers in the world presented their arguments in favor of releasing him.

Some of their positions were very peculiar. They argued, for example, that murder, torture, and genocide were official functions of a Head of State, and that Pinochet therefore enjoyed legal immunity for them. Not wanting to even touch that one, the Spanish prosecutors responded that some of the thousands documented as missing in Chile during the period were apparently tortured and murdered before Pinochet became the Head of State and assumed his official torturing duties. He could still be held accountable for those.

Through a series of legal maneuverings over the past six months, Pinochet and his lawyers have successfully reduced the charges against him to torture, and conspiracy to torture, between the years 1988 and 1990. And throughout the entire ordeal, Pinochet’s loyal defenders have stuck by him. In what is probably the most chilling line-up since Nixon’s funeral, the General has assembled an impressive roster of celebrity supporters, including Henry Kissinger, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and His Excellency, the Pope. The intervention of the Holy See was intended to be private, but a minister at the British Foreign Office revealed that the Vatican had asked that the General be freed on humanitarian grounds. Imagine that.

Not surprisingly, the Baroness Margaret Thatcher has actively supported Pinochet. The Thatcher Foundation recently issued an interesting pamphlet, in which the author argues that the 1973 upheaval in Chile had far-reaching consequences for the West. At the time, he continues, Europe was on the brink of a socialist transition, and the U.S. was not far behind. Therefore, “Order was necessary if the right to private property was to be upheld.” Pinochet was the first to establish the necessary “order” and let everyone know that private property is here to stay, too. Thatcher, who came to Tory power as a critic of the former government’s inability to deal with Britain’s labor movement, praised Pinochet’s success in rolling back the Welfare State, and declared her intention to establish “the Chile Model” in Britain — which she subsequently did.

Pinochet has also benefited from the ravings of Patrick Buchanan recently: “General Pinochet is the target of this judicial kidnapping and proposed show trial not because his sins are worse than other leaders’ but because this man of the right inflicted a historic, crushing defeat on Marxism. Watching his country slide into the grip of a murderous pack of Leninists, Pinochet in 1973 ordered the military to save it. They did, ruthlessly, and Pinochet’s rule left Chile free, prosperous and pro-American.”

How in the world can you argue with that?

Here’s how. While it may be “pro-American” and “free” for importing and exporting, Chile is not so prosperous as its government likes to claim. In terms of percentage of the population in poverty, the General left Chile at Number Seven in the Top Ten poorest countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, just behind Peru and the Dominican Republic. In 1989, as he prepared to leave office, 31.3 percent of the population, according to the Inter-American Development Bank, was either moderately or extremely poor. That’s bad. Of course, the other side of the coin is that 1 percent of the population was extremely rich, and that’s good. For them. In 1996, the World Bank found that the richest one percent of the population in Chile held 22 percent of the national wealth. The richest 10 held more than 40.

But, because Pinochet did save the world for private property and free trade, rescuing it from the murderous Leninists who would socialize services, confiscate property, and tax rich people, the most important elements backing the General at this point are the ones raising money for him. After all, in the privatized, Thatcherized British economy, the General has substantial legal, medical, and household expenses. Let’s add them up, shall we?

According to the Telegraph, our patient’s psychiatric hospital cost about $4,400 a week. His legal bills from the firm of Kingsley and Napley were running at around $17,600 a day for a nine-lawyer team. Some of Chile’s trickiest solicitors are also working for him and running up big bills at the exclusive Connaught Hotel in London. Two of them are ex-ministers of the military government. Then there are his enormous security expenses, estimated at $103,000 a week. Plus the nine-bedroom house and the insurance payments. Interestingly, Pinochet’s security costs are running slightly higher than his legal bills. When you find yourself in this situation, you know you’re unpopular.

And not only that, but this could go on for a long time. The General told his public that he expects to be detained in London for years, adding, “I am resigned to my fate, even if that means dying here. This is part of my sacrifice to the fatherland.” So there.

But the General need not worry too much about money because he has friends. He ought to. He made a number of people very prosperous, free, and pro-American by selling them the Chilean economy for not very much. One of his biggest fundraisers is Juan Antonio Guzmán, C.E.O. of the powerful utility Gener SA and Pinochet’s education minister in the eighties. Another is Carlos Caceres, an interior minister under Pinochet and former chairman of Chilectra, SA, also a major utility. Both are involved in raising money through the recently-established Augusto Pinochet Foundation, which currently reports contributions of around $3 million.

The Foundation has accomplished this through direct marketing. A computer in a clandestine location rings up about 15,000 Santiago-ites per day and plays a recorded appeal for donations to the Pinochet Defense Fund. For a short time only, you are offered an opportunity to purchase a very small piece of a used dictator right over the phone. The phone company, part of the enormous holdings of ex-Treasury Minister Sergio de Castro, will conveniently tack the solicited twenty-one dollars onto your phone bill.

The Foundation is excited about direct marketing potential in Chile, where the technique had previously been used only to sell beachfront timeshares and cemetery plots. Just imagine the possibilities. If you can sell Senator-for-Life Generalissimo Pinochet, you can sell anything. You could make your economy grow in unprecedented percentages.

Our own shady President wants to take advantage of this growing market, and has lined Chile up to be our very next NAFTA partner. The U.S. and Canada are already Chile’s two largest foreign investment sources. Currently, Chile has more trade with the three NAFTA states than with any other single economic entity; they supply 31 percent of its imports and absorb 16 percent of its exports.

Think of it. NAFTA can be expanded to incorporate a country with labor laws established by a Head of State now under arrest after claiming conspiracy to torture among his official functions. Under such a regime, we can expect Chilean exports to be very competitive. This political climate also explains how you can have both an expanding economy and a third of the laboring population in poverty at the same time.

Doubtless, as the pursuit of an amplified NAFTA and the Free Trade Area of the Americas heats up again, we will continue to hear more claptrap from William Jefferson Clinton about good jobs in a globalized marketplace. If he had to say this under oath, it would be perjury.

But this is not perjury — it’s politics — or maybe it’s marketing. It’s hard to be sure anymore. This is just one more campaign by the experts at buying and selling and exporting. Attention shoppers: watch for another high-pressure sales job for free trade by people who are real promoters. Their only mistake so far was exporting Pinochet himself. They should have kept him at home — because if the English Patient is ever actually extradited to Spain, that is really going to cost them.

Gabriela Bocagrande is watching General Pinochet from her office in Washington, D.C.

You May Also Like:

Published at 12:00 am CST
Top