The Miami Herald
March 3, 2000
Pinochet released to return to Chile
Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was deemed too ill to stand trial and was sent home from London a free man Thursday.
Pinochet released, departs for Chile
His detention a landmark legal case

 Herald World Staff

 SANTIAGO, Chile -- After more than 16 months of house arrest, former Chilean
 president Augusto Pinochet departed London Thursday on a Chilean air force
 plane. Awaiting him was a country deeply divided about how to deal with the
 former strongman and his return.

 Pinochet, 84, had been held in London since Oct. 16, 1998, on an extradition
 request from Spain, where a judge wanted to try him for torture and other human
 rights violations against Spaniards during his 17 years as Chile's chief executive.
 Later, Switzerland, Belgium and France sought to try him in their courts.

 Although Pinochet went home a free man, he left behind a landmark legal
 precedent establishing that former heads of state accused of human rights
 abuses are not immune from prosecution abroad.

 In the end, British Home Secretary Jack Straw decided Thursday that Pinochet is
 too sick to stand trial and let him go home.

 ``This has been an unprecedented case. Both I and the courts have had to
 navigate in uncharted territory,'' Straw told the House of Commons after ruling that
 Pinochet was mentally unfit to be extradited to Spain for trial on torture charges.

 Straw also dismissed extradition requests from the three other nations that
 contended their citizens were victims of Pinochet's regime -- Belgium, France and

 Pinochet, who doctors say suffered brain damage when he experienced two small
 strokes last fall, left Britain on Thursday afternoon and was expected to arrive in
 Santiago today after an undisclosed stopover en route.

 The former dictator issued no comment as his detention in Britain came to an
 end, but his eldest son, Augusto Marco Antonio, said in the Chilean capital that
 his father received the news of his freedom ``very calmly, the way he usually is,
 without showing his feelings and emotions.''

 Just as Pinochet is about to come home, a broad-based group of influential
 Chileans appears close to agreement on how to put the enduring problems from
 the Pinochet dictatorship into Chile's past. Generals participating in a round-table
 discussion with prominent representatives of Chile's political and cultural life this
 week took a draft to the top military brass.


 Under the proposal, the military would acknowledge its past errors, commit itself
 to fighting external foes but not internal dissidents, and agree to teach human
 rights issues in military schools. But it would not deal with thorny political issues,
 such as whether Pinochet, a retired general, can be stripped of his status as
 senator-for-life -- with its immunity from prosecution.

 Pinochet toppled elected Marxist President Salvador Allende in a bloody military
 coup in 1973 and ruled Chile until 1990. He remained the behind-the-scenes
 power in Chile until his arrest in London, where he was recovering from back

 ``The Pinochet case made us reflect on our recent past.,'' President Eduardo Frei
 told Chileans in a televised address Thursday, calling for a frank dialogue. ``I have
 confidence that what we have learned collectively during this time will serve us to
 look with honesty at the last decades and consolidate a future with peace and a
 future with tolerance.''


 Protests for and against Pinochet are expected here over the weekend. Families
 of the more than 3,197 victims of political murders that a Chilean commission
 determined had occurred during Pinochet's tenure wanted him tried abroad. They
 argued that he would never be punished for torture and other alleged abuses by
 the system that provided amnesty to the military when he returned the country to
 civilian rule in 1990.

 The immediate reaction from victims' groups was disappointment, but they also
 claimed victory, saying that the general had been branded an outlaw in the eyes
 of the world.

 Supporters who run the Pinochet Foundation to promote the general's
 conservative political and military ideas planned to rally outside a military hospital
 here, where the general was expected to arrive sometime today.

 Pinochet's return to Chile comes less than two weeks before Ricardo Lagos is to
 be inaugurated as Chile's next president, on March 11. Lagos, who had been
 named ambassador to the Soviet Union by Allende before the Pinochet-led coup,
 is the first elected Socialist president since Allende.

 Lagos, who made his political name opposing Pinochet in the late 1980s, is a
 winner with the timing of the general's return. He clearly did not want to inherit the
 Pinochet extradition issue. Already eyed warily by the politically powerful Chilean
 military, Lagos is now free to pursue his priorities like refocusing government
 spending on social problems and getting Chile back on an economic growth

 This report was supplement by Herald wire services.

                     Copyright 2000 Miami Herald