And Justice, When?

September 25, 2007

When General Augusto Pinoehet ar- rived in Valparaiso last March to hand over power to Christian Democrat Patri- cio Aylwin and a coalition of opposition parties, crowds lining the streets screamed "Murderer!" and threw eggs and toma- toes. For relatives of victims of human rights abuses, that moment was "like a liberation," according to one member of the Organization of Relatives of the De- tained and Disappeared (AFDD). After almost a year of democratic government, however, that exaltation has faded, as the fundamental problems of human rights violations remain unresolved. A number of obstacles left in place by the Pinochet regime, including nine sena- tors "designated" by Pinochet and a Supreme Court fiercely loyal to the poli- cies of the former military government, have imposed severe limitations on the Aylwin administration in this arena. The government has chosen to pursue a cau- tious strategy of negotiation and concili- ation with the armed forces and the right wing in Congress, to the frustration of Thomas Klubock is a doctoral candi- date in history at Yale University. He is currently conducting research in Chile. as well as impressive international contacts. The majority of the returnees have not been so fortunate. Reinsertion into Chilean society and culture has been slow and uncertain. According to head of the Christian Social Aid Foundation (FASIC), Claudio Gonzilez, many former exiles "keep one foot in the door of the country they're coming from." While statistics are unavailable, it is clear based on several accounts that a fair number of former exiles who ventured home to Chile chose not to remain. "The Golden Exile" There is a certain lack of sympathy and even resentment for returnees, implied in such expressions as "el ex- ilio dorado" ("golden exile"), or "la marrequeta debajo del brazo" ("loaf of bread under one arm," an old saying which now refers to those who return with financial support from abroad). many human rights activists. While the systematic repression of the dictatorship has ended, human rights vio- lations continue to be a problem. In Sep- tember, two journalists-Juan Pablo Crdenas, editor of the leftist weekly Andli- sis, and Andr6s Lagos, editor of the Com- munist Party's El Siglo--were jailed for several weeks by a military court for print- ing "subversive" articles critical of the armed forces. And in October, human rights groups revealed 20 cases of torture since March, most committed by carabin- eros, a public security force over which the government exercises little control. Two hundred and seventy political prisoners still remain in Chile's jails. Government action in this area has been "extremely cautious and timid," accord- ing to one human rights group. After tak- ing office, President Aylwin pardoned a number of prisoners detained for "acts of conscience," but did not extend the par- dons to those accused of "acts of blood," whom the government plans to retry in civilian courts. Aylwin put forth a series of judicial reforms, known as "leyes Cumplido" (named for the justice minister), which would eliminate the death penalty, re- strict the reach of military justice, modify the system of classifying crimes, and reduce sentences. These reforms have been blocked by the right-wing-dominated No doubt many former exiles do bring personal savings, short-term grants, and other resources, particularly those who come from Western Europe and North America. Far greater, however, are the number of returnees from Eastern Europe and other countries of Latin America, who arrive with few posses- sions and must rely on family networks in Chile for assistance, placing an acute strain on many families. In addition to tensions generated from the perception that former exiles are economically better off is the more profound question of "Who suffered more: those in exile or those who re- mained in Chile through the years of dictatorship?" While the question is admittedly absurd, it underlies much of the tension inherent in society's reck- oning with the phenomenon of exile and return. On the one hand, former exiles tend to feel guilt for having "escaped" the day-to-day repression. On the other hand, political activists who remained often harbor anger, a Senate. A constitutional reform expand- ing President Aylwin's power of pardon and amending the dictatorship's "Anti- Terrorist" law, now being negotiated in Congress, could also lead to the eventual freedom of many prisoners. Recently, groups of political prisoners engaged in hunger strikes and their family members occupied a public jail to protest the gov- ernment's policy and demand the imme- diate release of all political prisoners. The government's principal human rights initiative has been the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, created last April in the wake of a series of discoveries of clandestine mass graves. The Commission's report will document the most serious human rights violations of the dictatorship, those that resulted in death, but it is not empowered to establish responsibility or to implement its recom- mendations. The word "justice" is nota- bly absent from its title. The Commission is expected to rec- ommend some form of formal public recognition of the victims of the dictator- ship and government reparations for their family members. According to its secre- tary, Jorge Correa, the Commission's report by itself "will not be sufficient to produce national reconciliation, but it will establish the truth to make possible future political solutions." The Commission received testimony for more than 4,000 NACLA REPORT ON THE AMERICAS 6sense of abandonment and betrayal toward those who left. "After ten years in Stockholm I returned to Chile and began working with a local human rights committee," one former exile recounted. "For over a year I worked practically every day with the group, doing everything from stuffing envelopes to rallying against the dictatorship. Not one person ever asked me about my life in Sweden. I was completely silent about my experi- ences. Then one day in an organizing meeting I began to explain how our solidarity group in Stockholm carried out a particular task, and a woman shouted at me: 'We've had it up to here with your talk of how everything is done in Sweden!" Many laws currently discriminate against the vast majority of former exiles and their families. These include high tariffs on household possessions accu- mulated over the years in exile and brought back to Chile, refusal to recog- nize educational degrees and profes- cases of executions and disappearances. For many, its most important function has been to provide victims and family members the opportunity to come for- ward and testify. One AFDD member noted that "the people who have gone [to testify] have felt that in one way or an- other they have begun to vindicate their family member; for the first organization of the state listened to us with respect." But for the relatives of the disappeared the "result of the work of the Commission is not going to be what we demand....Those responsible for human rights violations will not be named...and will not be brought to justice." What action the courts will take on Commission's final report-presented to Aylwin on February 9, but not expected to be made public until March-remains the critical, and still unanswered, question. Pinochet's 1978 amnesty decree, upheld in a widely assailed Supreme Court deci- sion in August, is a fundamental obstacle in trying cases of human rights abuse. Currently human rights activists and the parties of the governing coalition are considering taking legal steps in Congress (a "constitutional accusation") against the Supreme Court, but have thus far failed to gain the administration's sup- port. Another option, a plebiscite, falls outside the Aylwin administration's stated parameters of working by negotiation and sional experience gained abroad, and denial of conventional access to educa- tion, housing and health care. Last August 14, the Chilean Senate estab- lished an Office of Returnees as part of the Ministry of Justice to oversee revi- sion of these laws. Headed by human rights lawyer Jaime Esponda and as- sisted by a staff of 18, it will also attempt to mitigate legal headaches for foreign-born spouses and children. The Office of Returnees plans to coordinate job reinsertion programs, scholarships, and psychological counseling. Esponda has sought guidance from the 15-member national coordinating body of institutions already engaged in assisting returning exiles, including the Committee for the Return of Exiles (established in 1979), the Chilean mis- sion of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, the national committee of World Univer- sity Service, FASIC, PIDEE and oth- ers. They generally praise Esponda's efforts, but worry that while the will conciliation within the structure left by the dictatorship, and is unlikely. Human rights groups face another problem: diminishing popular concern. The protests that followed the first dis- coveries of clandestine graves have slowly dwindled, as reports of mass executions and disappearances have become almost routine. After 16 years of dictatorship, people feel a mixture of "apathy, fatigue and bitterness," according to a member of the AFDD. The relatives of the disap- peared fear that as time passes, popular may be there, the money to implement needed programs is not. Since the fall of the dictatorship, the country's human rights groups have lost much of their funding, particularly from the Euro- pean governments that formerly housed exiles. Though the Aylwin administration has sought repatriation support from these same sources, Esponda and oth- ers recognize that aid for returnees does not rank high on the administration's list of budgetary priorities. "Frankly," says Claudio Gonzalez of the Church- based FASIC, "given our limited re- sources, our work will focus on the problems of those who stayed in Chile, primarily the political prisoners." In- deed, with the fate of the remaining prisoners and other human rights injus- tices still unresolved, Chileans have a great deal yet to reconcile. Sixteen years of dictatorship left a bitter legacy. The experience of returned exiles thus far suggests that rooting it out will not be easy. pressure will fade and the impunity of the guilty will remain unchallenged. The critical moment, everyone agrees, will arrive when the president makes public the Commission's final report. Though it will contain no surprises, it will provide an opportunity for human rights activists to rekindle the movement, which, in turn, may allow Aylwin to push through his package of judicial reforms. For the moment, the question written all over Santiago's walls, "And justice, when?" remains unanswered.

Tags: Chile, Augusto Pinochet, justice, democratic transition, TRC

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