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Grandson of victim spits on pinochet casket { December 12 2006 }

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Pinochet's death exposes deep divisions in Chile over dictator's legacy

The Associated Press
Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Bitter divisions over the memory of Gen. Augusto Pinochet surfaced at his military funeral, as mourners booed the defense minister who denied the ex-dictator a state funeral and cheered Pinochet's grandson for justifying the 1973 coup.

Across town, about 4,000 Pinochet opponents held a joyful celebration Tuesday in tribute to Salvador Allende, the elected Marxist president Pinochet toppled in his bloody coup, and carried images of relatives killed under the ensuing dictatorship.

Appealing for calm at the military funeral, army chief Gen. Oscar Izurieta asked Chileans "to let history make a balanced and fair judgment." But Army Capt. Augusto Pinochet, proclaimed that his grandfather "defeated Marxism, which attempted to impose its totalitarian model."

The funeral began after nearly 60,000 mourners, many in tears, filed past Pinochet's glass-covered casket on Monday and into the dawn Tuesday at the Santiago Military Academy.

In the only incident during the long night, a man spat on the glass covering Pinochet's face inside the casket, the army said. He was detained by military guards, but quickly released.

He was identified as Francisco Cuadrados Prats, a grandson of Gen. Carlos Prats, Pinochet's predecessor as army commander, assassinated in exile in Argentina in 1974. He had opposed Pinochet's coup and his assassination was attributed to Pinochet's secret service by Argentine courts, which unsuccessfully sought Pinochet's extradition.

Cuadrados told TV Channel 13 he considers Pinochet responsible for his grandfather's death.

Pinochet died Sunday of heart failure at the Santiago military hospital where he was rushed one week earlier after falling ill.

After the funeral, Pinochet's body was flown by helicopter to a cemetery in nearby Vina del Mar to be cremated, a decision he made to avoid the desecration of his tomb by enemies, according to the family.

Defense Minister Vivianne Blanlot was booed on arrival as the government's only representative at the military funeral for the general, who supporters say saved Chile from communism.

"Go away, go away!" many mourners chanted to Blanlot. The government of President Michele Bachelet a Socialist and former defense minister who herself suffered imprisonment and exile under Pinochet's regime denied him a state funeral because he took power by force and was never legitimately elected.

Boos also erupted with the mere mention of Patricio Aylwin, who was elected president after Pinochet lost a referendum that forced him step down in 1990.

Blanlot did not react to the crowd as she stood beside military commanders.

Later she said the reception was not surprise but that the comments in the speech by Pinochet's grandson were. She expected the army would "take measures" as military officers are not allowed to discuss politics publicly.

Pinochet's younger daughter, Jacqueline, eased tensions by shaking Blanlot's hand at the moment of exchanging peace wishes in the Roman Catholic Mass.

Izurieta told mourners that Pinochet staged the coup when Chile was living "an extremely serious institutional crisis" under Allende and "because he was convinced that there was no other possible way out of it."

"It is not for me to evaluate his government," Izurieta added, but he acknowledged that "the situation of humans rights is the most controversial aspect of it."

According to an official report, 3,197 people were killed for political reasons in the 17 years after Pinochet overthrew Allende in the Sept. 11, 1973 coup.

More than 30,000 were tortured, many more illegally imprisoned and tens of thousands were forced into exile. Allende committed suicide rather than surrender during the 1973 coup.

Bachelet, who relegated the former army commander to his military past by ordering flags flown at half-staff only at military barracks, maintained her regular work agenda during the day.

"Chile cannot forget," Bachelet said Monday in her first public comments about Pinochet's death. "Only then will we have a constructive vision of our future, guaranteeing respect for the fundamental rights of all Chileans."

Like tens of thousands of other Chileans, Bachelet was herself a victim of the Pinochet security state. Her father died after being tortured by Pinochet's forces. She and her mother were jailed, mistreated and forced into exile.

"Pinochet is not a figure who encourages national unity," Interior Minister Belisario Velasco said. History will view him as "a classic right-wing dictator who gravely violated human rights and who enriched himself that's the pattern of right-wing dictators in Latin America."

Although thousands paid tribute to Pinochet, fervent supporters are a dwindling minority in Chile.

Many who endorsed his firm hand against communism turned against him after learning that his family allegedly spirited US$28 million (21 million at current exchange rates) into foreign bank accounts.

His death puts an end to hundreds of criminal complaints over human rights violations.

However, his wife, Luicia Hiriart, and four of his five children still face charges of tax evasion and using false passports to manage the family's overseas fortune, and Pinochet's colleagues still may be held accountable for human rights abuses under the 1973-1990 dictatorship.

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