Global Policy Forum

Chilean Court


By Eduardo Gallardo

Associated Press
July 17, 2006

Chile's Supreme Court has upheld a ruling that stripped Gen. Augusto Pinochet of his immunity against trial for the killing of two bodyguards of Salvador Allende, the Marxist president he toppled in a 1973 coup. The ruling announced Monday affirms a lower court decision to remove the immunity the ailing Pinochet enjoys as a former president and allows the judge handling the case, Victor Montiglio, to try him on homicide charges. Montiglio did not immediately state his plans.

The two bodyguards - Wagner Salinas and Francisco Lara - were arrested the day of the coup, Sept. 11, 1973, and executed by a firing squad four weeks later, the military regime announced at the time. Salinas was a former South American heavyweight boxing champion. Their deaths were part of the so-called Caravan of Death, a military operation that killed 75 jailed dissidents across Chile in the weeks after the coup - one of the most notorious cases of rights abuses during Pinochet's 1973-90 dictatorship.

All previous attempts to try Pinochet, 90, have failed as courts have ruled he is mentally and physically unfit, and prospects of him standing trial are considered slim. He has been diagnosed with mild dementia resulting from several minor strokes, and he suffers from diabetes and arthritis. Pinochet was indicted for the killings by the Caravan of Death in 2001 but the Supreme Court dropped the charges a year later for health reasons. The cases of Salinas and Lara were not included in the original indictment because their relatives did not join that legal action.

Details of the ruling announced Monday would only be released after the decision is written, the court said. Pinochet is already under indictment in another human rights case and on tax evasion charges stemming from secret overseas accounts totaling $28 million Scores of other legal actions have been filed against Pinochet by relatives of his regime's victims. During his rule, 3,197 people were killed for political reasons, according to an independent commission report.

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