Global Policy Forum

Chilean Army Admits Pinochet-Era Abuses


By Eduardo Gallardo

Associated Press
November 5, 2004

In a surprise reversal, the Chilean army on Friday for the first time assumed institutional responsibility for widespread human rights violations during the 1973-90 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The military and its officers, including Pinochet, had until now insisted that the abuses were the individual responsibility of officers acting beyond official institutional policies.

"The army has made the difficult but irreversible decision to acknowledge the responsibilities that it has as an institution in all the punishable and morally unacceptable acts of the past," army commander Gen. Juan Emilio Cheyre said in an official document issued by the army.

According to an official report by the government that succeeded Pinochet in 1990, some 3,190 people were killed for political reasons during the military regime. Thousands more were arrested and tortured or forced into exile. The Cheyre document was published as the government prepares to make public, probably next week, a new report about illegal imprisonment and torture of dissidents during the Pinochet government years. It will include testimonies by more than 30,000 people who were the victims of those of abuses, according to government officials. The document made a reference to the expected report, saying that the military will assume its disclosures "with the same serenity and tranquility as we have done now."

President Ricardo Lagos called the document "a historic step" and human rights activists praised it. "It fills me with satisfaction and pride that the Chilean army stated in an absolutely clear manner that the violations of human rights cannot have an ethic justification for anybody," Lagos said in a statement in Brazil, where he was attending a regional summit. "With this step, the army consolidates its integration to today's democratic Chile."

The Cheyre papers recalled that the 1973 military coup and its aftermath, including the massive human rights abuses, occurred in a Cold War context, but added that that was not justification for the abuses. "Was that political scenario an excuse for the human rights violations that occurred in Chile? My answer is one and clear: no," Cheyre wrote in his document.

Human rights activists praised the general's admission. Gonzalo Munoz, a member of an organization of relatives of dissidents who disappeared after being arrested under Pinochet, called it "a very important and meaningful decision" by the army. But, he added, the army should follow up by making public information about around 1,000 dissidents who remain missing.

The army has insisted that it has provided all the information it had, including the admission that more than 150 bodies were thrown into the sea from helicopters, firmly tied to heavy objects such as track rails to ensure they would sink. Human rights lawyers Pamela Pereira said the army document "has a very deep historical value," and urged the other military branches to follow suit.

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