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Declarations & Statements


Los Angeles Times, 28.12.99

Let Pinochet Back Only on His Deathbed. 'He's a monster who should face a reckoning before the families of those who were his victims.' By Ariel Dorfman

I never thought the day would come when I would wish Gen. Augusto Pinochet a long and healthy life. However, that paradoxical desire for the tyrant's well-being has surfaced in me over the last weeks as I began hearing insistent rumors that British Home Secretary Jack Straw is seriously considering the release on grounds of ill health of the former Chilean dictator, arrested in London a year ago and now facing almost certain extradition to Spain on charges of torture and genocide.

I hope the doctors who examine Pinochet find him sound in body and sane in mind and discover that his heart will beat for many years. I hope that he can live up until that fateful moment when he boards a plane for Madrid to be arraigned in the Spanish capital for the suffering he inflicted--unless he can prove otherwise--on a multitude of his fellow citizens. So that he can gaze, in a court of law, even if it is foreign, at the faces, one by one, of the families, of the wives and mothers and daughters of the disappeared, los desaparecidos, thousands of resistants who were taken from their homes and never heard of again. So he can hear his sentence delivered in the name of the humanity against which he committed those crimes. So other leaders can recognize Pinochet's punishment as a mirror and a warning. Yes, I want him sound in body and sane in mind so he can fully understand what is happening to him and where and why. So that my country can be healed of him and the world cleansed.

Yet what if my hopes and expectations are not met, and the physicians find Gen. Pinochet to be ailing? What then? What if they suggest that he is too infirm to stand trial? What if they say he is dying?

Ailing and infirm, I believe, are not enough. He has to be really dying, about to say goodbye to this planet in the next few days, for Jack Straw to be justified in sending Pinochet to Chile.

I know that many human rights activists, as well as the families of those who have been most damaged by Pinochet's 17-year misrule, strongly disagree with this position. They believe that "humanitarian" reasons cannot and should not be invoked in the case of someone who, during his life, violated humanitas and who has shown no signs of repentance or remorse. Humanitarian interventions, they say, are meant for the victims and not for their executioners. I understand their opinions and deeply respect them.

And yet there are certain norms, human and humane standards, which we must observe, even if our enemies do not do so--or perhaps precisely because our enemies would never do so. I believe that every man, woman and child on this Earth has the right, acquired at their birth, to die, if that is their wish, in their own homeland.

The fact that Pinochet denied me and hundreds of thousands of Chileans that possibility and sent us out to die in strange lands, under a moon that was not ours, the fact that he ordered me arrested and deported for a second time with my 8-year-old son, all the exiles that he allowed and condoned and enjoyed, all the refugees who never returned and all those who were buried in a foreign grave, all this makes me more, rather than less, certain of this fundamental right for everybody and anybody, even a war criminal, even a torturer, to spend their last hours in the place they call home.

Let me repeat: their last hours. Not their last months or years. If Pinochet is allowed to escape justice, he must not be merely in vague danger of death, some remote expiration that awaits him who knows when. What I mean is an immediate, peremptory, undeniable doom. I mean that Pinochet's last rites have to be so near and imminent that it is touch and go whether he makes it back to Chile. I mean that medical guarantees are required that this man repudiated by the species will not miraculously and astutely resurrect upon setting foot on Chilean soil, that he will not instantaneously sit up in bed and start to interfere in our democratic process or mockingly stroll around the Senate to which he appointed himself as senator for life. I mean that if he is sent back home, it should be to attend his own funeral and not his victory parade or homecoming celebrations by fascist followers.

Jack Straw should therefore be very careful. To return Pinochet home while he is still able to stand trial would be to send the wrong message to the humanity in whose name Straw would supposedly be acting. People in Chile and elsewhere would confirm that if someone is powerful enough he or she can avoid paying the penalty for the worst misdeeds. People will rightly suspect that political pressure and convenience matter more than the law.

I think that the general's penultimate, last, final gasps should be on the land that unfortunately, and to our shame, gave birth to him, leaving those of us who are alive with the difficult task of purging his ghost, confronting his memory, ridding ourselves of his aftermath. Until that ending and conclusion come to him, every moment that he breathes, inhaling and exhaling the air of this Earth that he polluted with his presence, every throbbing huff and puff, every beat of his treacherous heart, should bring him closer to his day of reckoning--in this irrevocable world and not in the next one.

May Pinochet live many years.

Ariel Dorfman's Latest Novel Is "The Nanny and the Iceberg," (Farrar Strauss and Giroux, 1999)


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