Kin of Chile's terror victims rejoice
News that Pinochet may finally face trial is cheered
By TIM JOHNSON
Herald Staff Writer
SANTIAGO, Chile -- In the Soria household, news that Gen. Augusto Pinochet
had been arrested in London for genocide, terrorism and torture brought whoops
``It was like Carnival around here,'' said 17-year-old Amalia.
A special irony added to the joy. Pinochet's supporters complained that
diplomatic passport protected him from arrest at the London clinic where he is
recuperating from back surgery.
But the Sorias knew that a diplomatic passport didn't amount to a hill
during Pinochet's 17-year military regime. Amalia's grandfather, Carmelo Soria,
held a diplomatic passport when he was snatched off the street by secret police on
July 14, 1976, never to be seen alive again.
Soria was a Spaniard, and his is one of the 94 cases that a Spanish judge,
Garzon, has used in his inquiry of Pinochet, which may lead to his extradition from
Britain to Spain to stand trial.
Joyce Horman has waited an eternity for this.
Widow of Charles Horman, an American researcher and journalist who was
after Pinochet's 1973 coup, she feels relief.
``Twenty-five years is a long time, but I can't help but feel glad about
she said in a telephone interview from New York City, where she lives. ``It's a
huge step for global human rights, and I am delighted.''
Horman's disappearance received worldwide attention when it was portrayed
the 1982 movie Missing, starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek.
The pain still sears deeply in Horman's mother, Elizabeth, who is in her
also lives in New York: ``Nothing is going to bring my son back. He was
Immunity from prosecution
For many victims, hope was never bright that Pinochet might some day respond
charges that his regime killed 3,000 of its opponents, and sent at least 15,000
more into exile. Pinochet towered too grandly, the nation's wounds were too deep,
and the constitution that made Pinochet a senator-for-life gave him parliamentary
immunity from prosecution.
``Here in Chile, it's been said that Pinochet is God. He's not God. For
me, in total
candor, he's more of a nightmare. But for 25 years, the country has been in his
hands,'' said Gabriel Valdes, a Christian Democratic senator and former foreign
``Truthfully, I never thought I would see this day,'' said Estela Ortiz,
was killed by Pinochet's death squads in 1976 and whose husband was beheaded
by a police unit in 1985. ``You have to understand the Chilean process, all the
impunity that is built into the constitution. I thought that he would die of old age,
and that we'd never see him in prison.''
Reminded that Pinochet may yet go free if a Spanish request to Britain
extradition is denied, Ortiz said something has still been gained.
``At least we have the joy that he will never be able to travel out of
again without worrying about arrest,'' she said. ``This country will become his jail.''
It is the Soria case, though, that may help prove Pinochet's undoing.
An exile from Spain's civil war, Carmelo Soria fled to Argentina in 1936,
Chile in 1940, where he married a Chilean woman and settled down, eventually
working for a U.N. agency on demographics.
Soria was carefully monitored after the 1973 military coup that ousted
President Salvador Allende. Soria's wife was a member of the Communist Party
and he had helped several colleagues flee Chile.
``He knew they were following him,'' said Soria's daughter Carmen. ``The
that tailed him all day were always parked outside.''
Soria, 54 at the time, was intercepted five blocks from his home and taken
house of Michael Townley, an American working for the international branch of
the DINA, Pinochet's dreaded secret police. There, it is believed, he was tortured
Two days later, his car and body turned up in a canal near the Andes.
Death called a suicide
A disinformation campaign kicked in immediately. Newspapers influenced
Pinochet regime reported his death as a suicide.
``The first press account said my father had died because he was drunk
found out that my mother had a lover. The same day, another newspaper said it
was he who had the lover, and that he hadn't wanted to confront the family, so he
killed himself,'' she recalled. ``But the slander was so great and the coverup so
sloppy that it turned into a big mistake.''
Carmen Soria and her two siblings dug for evidence and succeeded in gathering
key details. But courts would not prosecute.
Judges threw the case out in 1978. In 1996, another court ruled that the
police were protected by the country's amnesty and could not be tried for Soria's
Weariness and rage bubble deeply within Carmen Soria, eased only by the
satisfaction she feels over Pinochet's current dilemma.
``These crimes don't have borders, and there is no immunity that has any
these matters,'' she said.
Her anger is also aimed at the centrist Christian Democratic Party and
its allies in
the Unity coalition that has governed since 1990. Chile's ruling politicians have
failed to rein in the military, she said.
``I feel that President Frei's Unity coalition feels terrified by the military,'' she said.
Changes in Chile cited
Her contempt for Chile's democratic process is not shared by Estela Ortiz,
awoke often at night during the dictatorship fearful that her own life might be taken,
like those of her father and her husband, Jose Manuel Parada.
Ortiz, a member of the Communist Party until the return of democracy in
said much has changed in Chile in the past eight years.
``These days, at least we feel safe in our houses. These days, you can
without being afraid of getting arrested for expressing a dissident opinion. This is
truly valuable,'' she said.
But the judiciary remains weak, and it is good that Pinochet may be tried
``Here in Chile, unfortunately, the conditions don't exist for such a trial.''