Pinochet's British arrest sends signal
Twenty five years after his military coup and nine years after the return of free elections to his country, Chilean senator Augusto Pinochet probably thought he was safe traveling to Britain.
Unfortunately for him, the Britons have long memories.
Pinochet was arrested in London last week while he was recovering from back surgery. The British police have detained him is response to a request by a national court in Spain. It seems a pair of Spanish judges are investigating human rights violations during Pinochet's rule, and they would like to question the former military commander.
Too bad there is no statute of limitations on genocide.
Actually, Pinochet will be lucky if he only faces charges from a Spanish court. Before the dust settles, he may find himself standing before an international tribunal. The British arrest, while it may annoy a minority of Chileans, sends a strong message.
The arrest of a foreign leader -- who may or may not have the right to diplomatic immunity, depending on which nation you believe -- certainly has some serious implications, but Spain's allegations concern Pinochet's alleged involvement in the torture or disappearance of Spanish citizens. If Spain is willing to endure the ire of the Chilean government, they certainly have the right to question Pinochet about the accusations.
In fact, Pinochet's alleged crimes could easily qualify as severe violations of human rights. Such cases can be heard by international courts held anywhere. Questioning about the disappearance of Spanish citizens may be the tip of the iceberg.
The recent arrest certainly calls national sovereignty into question, but it is the only way the allegations will ever get a hearing.
Pinochet is protected from prosecution in Chile. He is now a senator in the Chilean government. However, Pinochet's current position is the result of the same strong-arm tactics that put his army in control of the capital in 1973.
When Chile returned to democracy, Pinochet's regime drafted the new constitution. It included a provision making the former despot senator for life upon his retirement from the military, an option he exercised in March. This title not only ensured Pinochet's continued influence in politics, but guaranteed legal immunity.
That immunity has already been heavily tested. Aside from the deaths incurred when his military forces installed him as national leader, over 4,000 Chileans were killed or missing during the military rule. The families of those Chileans have filed a stack of lawsuits, but no action is expected.
Britain considers Chile an allie, and this action will likely strain diplomatic relations between the nations. However, even many Chileans applaud the Anglo-Spanish action. In fact, demonstrators in the capital of Santiago were literally dancing in the streets this week, celebrating the detention of their senator.
However, not all Chileans hold Pinochet in contempt. He brought broad economic reforms to the country, including a privatized social security system. Yet, free market reforms do not erase years of bloodshed.
The message is clear. The world will not ignore policies of murder and torture of innocent people.
Certainly Chile may take diplomatic revenge. Any British dictators should avoid travel to South America, and if Clinton sexually harassed any Chileans he might want to reexamine his travel plans.
Dave Johnston is a senior mathematics major.