LONDON -- (AFP) -- As former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet
from his 16 months under house arrest near London, the British press insisted his
controversial release had more to do with political expediency than failing health.
According to reports in The Daily Telegraph, Guardian and Independent,
release was the climax of intricate diplomatic maneuvering by the governments of
Britain, Spain and Chile.
Each had its own motives for wanting the 84-year-old retired general
rather than extradited to Spain to stand trial for alleged human rights abuses
during his military rule from 1973 to 1990.
According to the reports:
Chile, still deeply divided over the legacy of the Pinochet years,
feared his death
in Britain would turn him into a right-wing martyr.
Spain, keen to protect political and economic ties with Chile,
and mindful of its
own past under strongman Francisco Franco, did not want him on trial in Madrid.
Nor did Britain want the embarrassment of a man seen as a key
ally during the
1982 Falklands War dying under its jurisdiction, according to the reports.
The dilemma for the governments was that the legal process had
to run its
Pinochet was arrested in London in October 1998 at the request
magistrate Baltasar Garzon.
In June last year, as the legal row dragged on, British Foreign
Cook met his Spanish counterpart, Abel Matutes, in Rio de Janeiro.
``I will not let him die in Britain,'' Cook told Matutes, according
to The Guardian.
Matutes replied: ``I will not let him come to Spain,'' the paper said.
The Daily Telegraph, citing diplomats, said they agreed that the
would be if Pinochet died in Britain or Spain.
In September, Cook met his Chilean counterpart, Juan Gabriel Valdes,
York. Valdes surprised Cook by foregoing the usual complaints about bilateral
relations to focus on the general's health.
According to The Independent, Valdes said Santiago would be able
to supply a
medical report showing that Pinochet's health was deteriorating rapidly.
It arrived via the Chilean Embassy in London a short while later,
Pinochet was unfit to stand trial.
Meanwhile British Home Secretary Jack Straw's legal experts were
that he could use his discretionary powers to order a release on medical grounds.
In late September, Chile's ambassador to London, who had never
general, was replaced by Pablo Cabrera. According to The Guardian, one of his
first tasks was to brief Pinochet on the health tactic.
In November, amid increasing signs that Pinochet's health was
worsening -- he
was reported to have suffered two strokes a month before -- Straw offered
``confidential'' medical tests.
Separately, Matutes said that the Spanish government would not
pass on any
appeal by Garzon against Straw's final decision.
The medical tests were conducted on Jan. 5 and concluded ``unequivocally
unanimously'' that Pinochet was mentally unfit to stand trial
Copyright 2000 Miami Herald