PINOCHET'S APOLOGISTS IN BRITAIN
Many prominent people in Britain have spoken out in support of General Pinochet. Significantly, they emanate mainly from the Conservative Party and its associates and from the business community. A highly unusual situation has brought out their truest colours.
However, let us first take as our motto for this catalogue of shame the Conservative Party's statement of conscience from Aidan Rankin, secretary of a Conservatives for Human Rights group. Following Pinochet's arrest on 16th October 1998, many Conservatives became worried about the possible effects both on diplomatic relations and on trade between the two countries. While so doing, they often overlooked, minimized or even excused the systematic, institutional abuse of human rights carried out to political ends by General Pinochet. Yet a spark of conscience resisted, and Rankin saw that these people were being,
... apologists for a bloodthirsty dictator... I am horrified that prominent Conservatives are speaking out in support of General Pinochet. If the Conservative Party is to appeal to a wider electorate, it needs to change tack fundamentally and rediscover its support for human rights, and economic and social justice.
LORD TIM BELL. As well as being "happy" to provide General Pinochet with public relations services, he has also sold his image makeover skills to South Africa's National Party, implementors of the apartheid regime; to the Coal Board during the 1984 miners' strike; and to the Serb led state of Yugoslavia to throw off its international pariah 'image'. His PR firm, Bell Pottinger Communications, has been supplied with a budget of £200,000 to spruce up Pinochet's public perception. The firm was recruited by Fernando Barros, a Chilean law professor who co-ordinates the operations of the Chilean Reconciliation Group, the main thrust behind Pinochet's public relations campaign. Bell was knighted for his services to the Conservative Party, as Margaret Thatcher's PR 'guru':
I have nothing to do with General Pinochet personally. I haven't seen him or spoken to him. We said we would be happy to help the reconciliation process in Chile.
Our strategy has been to communicate with opinion makers in order to counter 23 years of Marxist propaganda.
ROBIN BIRLEY, chairman of the Democracy Movement, stepson of the late Sir James Goldsmith who founded the Referendum Party, and with a major role in the Euro Information Campaign. He helped to finance Robin Harris' pamphlet presenting a pro-Pinochet distortion of Chile's recent history. He has recruited to Pinochet's cause his step-father's spin doctor, Patrick Robertson, and he has backed a fund for Pinochet's luxurious bail residence in Wentworth, Surrey. In a perverse distortion of historical fact, he calls Pinochet "the underdog":
It's a case of rank hypocrisy. It's also an abuse of hospitality to ambush an old man when he has come to this country year after year. He has done an immense amount for Chile. No one is supporting him and I have sympathy for the underdog.
PETER BOTTOMLEY, Conservative MP for Worthing West. On being asked whether he was glad that Pinochet had been granted sovereign immunity by the High Court, he maintained an arrogant aloofness from the victims of torture:
I've never disagreed with Lord Bingham yet.
JULIAN BRAZIER, Conservative MP for Canterbury, lacks the moral fibre to confront the past, present and - with his kind of political will - all too likely future nighmares of bodies being thrown into mass graves:
Lady Thatcher was absolutely right. She is the most important retired statesman in this country. As so very often, she is able to focus people on the real issue... Pinochet is an unattractive man, but the Chileans are trying to bury their past. We should not tear up our relationships when it suits us.[Emphasis added]
THE BRITISH-CHILEAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE was worried about how the attempt to recognise basic human rights might affect business interests. Its vice-chairman, Michael Harkem, responded:
There's no point in throwing away a market unless you've got some very substantial benefit at the other end to replace it with. ... Britain is losing its goodwill in a country which is very pro-British and we can't see what the benefit is to British business and industry in general as a result.
ALAN CLARK, Conservative MP and former Defense Minister. Aside from the fact that the High Court endorsed the government's actions as fundamentally legally correct, Clark reduces the human rights importance of Pinochet's arrest to a mere political stunt:
I think it's absolutely monstrous. I mean it shows that if something's politically correct, or they deem it to be, the Government will simply fall over themselves to appease any particular lobby, regardless of the legal correctness.
As a minister in the 1980's, he wrote in his diary,
I am blighted by the Foreign Office at present. Earlier today, a creepy official, who is 'in charge' (heaven help us) of South America, came over to brief me ahead of my trip to Chile. All crap about Human Rights. Not one word about the UK interest; how we saw the balance, prospects, pitfalls, opportunities in the Hemisphere.
KENNETH CLARKE, Conservative MP and former Home Secretary, was disturbed by Peter Mandelson's expressed disgust towards General Pinochet and thus about the possible consequences for our relations with Chile. From a man who was once Home Secretary - a position of reponsibility, one assumes - one shivers at the childish flippancy of Clarke's position:
It is not helpful ... for another member of the Cabinet to be going around and making some of the speeches, I suspect, that Mandelson used to make in his more left-wing days.
DAVID CURRY, formerly Agriculture Minister, who resigned from William Hague's front bench over policy towards Europe. If a politician can believe that rallying round an unrepentent and utterly barbaric dictator is an acceptable way of reuniting the Conservative Party, one begins to worry for the foundations of democracy and civil liberties in our own country. He said of margaret Thatcher's plea for the release of Pinochet.
She is right on this. She has reunited the party. She has hit the nail on the head.
ANTHONY DANIELS, columnist for The Daily Telegraph, seemed to feel that Pinochet's systematic torture of political opponents could be justified and that no one could feel otherwise:
No one doubts that Pinochet was a murderer... But no one doubts either that he is the savior of his country. It is the uncomfortable juxtaposition of these two facts which makes him so difficult a figure to judge.[Emphasis added]
ERIC FORTH, Conservative MP for Bromley, tabled a particularly perverse question in the Commons:
Has the Home Secretary had any representations about early retirement on grounds of stress from the policemen who arrested Senator Pinochet, since it appears that one Department of State put him in the VIP suite?
SIR NORMAN FOWLER, shadow home secretary, followed in the footsteps of those morally short-sighted with regards to the abuse of human rights:
No one defends what happened in Chile in the Seventies, but Chile is now a democracy. There is intense feeling that this legal action has challenged their sovereignty and also risks damaging the democratic process itself.[Emphasis added]
TERESA GORMAN, Conservative MP for Billericay joins those fundamentalists who place economic considerations above all else:
The Home Secretary should show some guts and not kow-tow to his Left-wingers. Pinochet should be allowed to go back to Chile. There are huge financial implications involved in this. Chile is a good friend of Britain and jobs and contracts could be put in jeopardy.
WILLIAM HAGUE, leader of the opposition and a practitioner of Transcendental Meditation, proved to be far from enlightened as to the absolute unacceptability of crimes against humanity:
The Government's handling of this affair has been a huge diplomatic embarrassment for this country. It's damaging relations with Chile, a long-standing ally of our country, and causing instability in a country that is now democratic. The right and sensible decision would be for the Home Secretary to use his discretion and allow Senator Pinochet to return to his home country.
ROBIN HARRIS, a contender for the Guinness Book of Records for mystification; he authored the ludicrously revisionist A Tale of Two Chileans: Pinochet and Allende, published by Chilean Supporters Abroad and praised by Margaret Thatcher as "excellent." The former director of the Conservative Research Department decided that the brutal military overthrow of democratically elected Salvador Allende was morally quite justified:
Allende must not be allowed this posthumous revenge against the man who stopped Chile becoming another Cuba and who then turned Chile into Latin America's most successful capitalist economy.
MICHAEL HOWARD, shadow foreign secretary, seemed more worried about diplomatic appearances than about justice:
The more one learns about [the arrest of Pinochet] the murkier it gets. It's an appalling mess, covered with confusion and created by the Government. They should clear the mess up without any further delay.
GERALD HOWARTH, Conservative MP who was a loyal parliamentary aide to Margaret Thatcher. He used to run a PR company with Patrick Robertson and has worked hard on the pro-Pinochet campaign.
PAUL JOHNSON, columnist for the Daily Mail, chaired a pro-Pinochet news conference with Chilean Supporters Abroad, at which he betrayed eloquently his unhappy state of mind:
I regard the demonisation of General Pinochet as the most successful, mendacious propaganda exercise ever carried out in the 20th century.
LORD NORMAN LAMONT, former Conservative Chancellor, was present at the launch of Robin Harris' pamphlet supporting Pinochet. He wrote to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, complaining about the possibility that Lord Hoffman's links with Amnesty International had biased his judgement, in the House of Lords, that Pinochet did not have sovereign immunity from extradition procedures. After this verdict - subsequently quashed on the grounds that Hoffman did indeed have a conflict of interest here - Lord Lamont pressed Home Secretary Robin Cook for Pinochet's release. One would have thought that the human rights ramifications of the judgement against Pinochet would be a positive development; but Lamont was not interested:
The fate of Gen Pinochet ought to be for Chileans to determine. The court's decision will set a precedent with enormously important ramifications. I still hope that the Home Secretary, taking all the circumstances into account, will refuse permission for extradition proceedings to go ahead.
Remarking on a visit to Pinochet, he demonstrated either his appallingly bad judgement of character or his base mendacity:
He was in excellent spirits, as you would expect of the good and brave and honourable soldier that he is. It was a private visit just to shake his hand and tell him there are many people in this country who deplore what's happening and wish to see him return to his own country.
What Lamont presumably failed to tell his friend was the number of people who deplore the abuse of human rights, wherever and by whomever it is committed, irrespective of political persuasion.
The LATIN AMERICAN TRADE ADVISORY GROUP has been more concerned with business than with justice. One of its members, Michael Valdes-Scot, thought that the arrest of Pinochet could damage British chances of securing Chilean privatisation contracts:
There is a lot of ill feeling. Eighty-five per cent of the private sector will be pro-Pinochet. They are the pushers and shovers.
Chairman, Alexander Kennedy, again, had money rather than humanity at the forefront of his mind:
All the government's hard work in the region could be destroyed if the extradition goes ahead.
LORD LONDONDERRY, leading light of the Euro Information Campaign, has funded Robin Harris' pamphlet written in support of Pinochet.
JOHN MAPLES, shadow defence secretary, is similarly prepared to throw principles out of the window when profits are at risk. So long as we have plenty of money in our pockets, why should we care about justice for the 'disappeared' and their relatives and for the victims of torture?
I think the Government has got to find some way of resolving this by allowing him to go home. Chile is a friendly country, a big trading partner; this is obviously massively offensive to the Chilean government.
CHARLES MOORE, editor of The Daily Telegraph, has been described as one of the "high-profile supporters" of General Pinochet, one of those to receive a Christmas card from the General.
PATTI PALMER-TOMPKINSON, a friend of the Prince of Wales and one of those who helped to finance Robin Harris' pamphlet, forgets the all too common fate of many others who stand up for what they believe:
I'm prepared to stand up and be counted. General Pinochet saved Chile.
SIR CHARLES POWELL, formerly Margaret Thatcher's foreign policy adviser. He seemed to suggest that Pinochet's assistance to Britain during the war over sovereignty of the Falkland Islands against Argentina (Chile's long-standing military foe in any case) justifies forgetting human rights atrocities:
We would not have got to where we did - winning it - without his help... Chile was enormously helpful, both overtly and covertly.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND, Foreign Secretary for the previous government, believes that a respect for human rights is not in the public interest:
The Home Secretary should have indicated that the public interest was not best served by carrying out this arrest. Because Pinochet is such as hate figure for the Left, ministers have not thought out the implications of allowing this to continue. A mixture of inexperience, bad judgement and prejudice has left them in a situation that I suspect Tony Blair deeply regrets.
PATRICK ROBERTSON, director of communications for the late Referendum Party. Paid by Robin Birley for his PR efforts, he has been working with Chilean Supporters Abroad since October 1998. Typical for a PR professional, he attempts a conjuring trick to present a distortion of the facts as "the other side of the story":
I organised the photo shoot for the Sunday papers, and Lord Bell and I have both been involved with the publication of the pamphlet. We have direct access to Gen Pinochet, but I wouldn't say he defers to our advice. We are working with him and his supporters to tell the other side of the story. So far, only one side seems to have been heard.
ROYAL AND SUN ALLIANCE, the insurance company, invested £75 million on a 40% stake in a Chilean insurance company, La Construcción, last year. The narrow selfishness of their interests is blatant, their spokesman saying that they would like to see the Pinochet matter cleared up as soon as possible, implying release:
We hope that the situation involving General Pinochet is resolved as quickly as possible.
MAJOR-GENERAL ALAN SHARMAN, director general of the Defence Manufacturers' Association, expresses his dismay at the effect of Pinochet's arrest - while here as a guest of the Ministry of Defence - on arms deals to Chile. Merely 'following orders', no doubt, a consideration of human rights does not appear to be among his duties:
Pinochet was accompanied by a full military mission who were accompanied by a DESO [Defence Export Services Organisation] officer. The Chileans came at the invitation of the Ministry of Defence. Staff within DESO are deeply concerned at what they see as the British Government's breach of faith... [The arrest of General Pinochet] was extraordinary and inconceivable... Business with Chile is on hold. There was potential for significant orders and that effort has been damaged... One company had completed delivery of 100 units of a weapon and was due to act on an option for a further 400. Within hours of the arrest, Chile's agent had contacted the company and said they could forget it.
BARONESS MARGARET THATCHER who, with her husband Denis, hosted Pinochet to tea at her Belgravia home in Chester Square just before his arrest. They have been personal friends since she visited Chile on a tour to promote her memoirs, where she collapsed while giving a speech in Santiago.
In her letter to The Times, written in the week after Pinochet's arrest, she calls for his release on the grounds of our wartime debt and of the supposed dangers of interfering with the current process by which Chileans are dealing with their past.
From Baroness Thatcher, OM
Sir, I have better cause than most to remember that Chile, led at that time by General Pinochet, was a good friend to this country during the Falklands War. By his actions the war was shortened and many British lives were saved. There were indeed abuses of human rights in Chile and acts of violence on both sides of the political divide. However, the people of Chile, through successively elected democratic Governments, have determined how they should come to terms with their past. An essential part of that process has been the settlement of the status of General Pinochet and it is not for Spain, Britain or any other country to interfere in what is an internal matter for Chile. Delicate balances have had to be struck in Chile's transition to democracy, balances with which we interfere at our peril. General Pinochet must be allowed to return to his own country forthwith. Next week, Britain will welcome the democratically elected leader of a country which illegally invaded British territory, causing the loss of more than 250 British lives. It would be disgraceful to preach reconciliation with one, while maintaining under arrest someone who, during that same conflict, did so much to save so many British lives.
Yours faithfully, MARGARET THATCHER House of Lords, London SW1A 0PW. October 21.
I remain convinced that the national interests of both Chile and Britain would be best served by releasing him, which the Home Secretary has it in his power to do.
A so-called 'strong leader' ought to do better than this, a case of the blind leading the blind. If systematic torture can be traded for assistance in a suspect, jingoistic war over a speck of colonial booty, then cynicism is here plumbing new depths. And if Thatcher is so sure of what the Chilean people want and that Pinochet's status in Chile is a settled matter, either she has not checked her facts or she does not care about facts in the first place, being more concerned with winning an argument than with its validity.
A MORI (Market Opinion Research International) poll taken in Chile after Pinochet's arrest in London found that while 45% felt that his arrest was a "bad" thing, 44% felt that it was "good". 64% were of the opinion that Pinochet was "guilty of crimes", 57% saying that "the best thing for the country" would be to try Pinochet after his return to Chile. With regards to the wider social consequnces of the arrest, 66% thought that Chilean democracy was not in danger and 71% said that the arrest had no effect on themselves and their family. Thus, the views of the Chileans are not as clear cut as Thatcher implies.
As for Pinochet's status in Chile, this was dictatorially imposed by himself as one of the conditions for the transition to democracy - it was not itself democratically assented to by the people. He retained as much as possible of his ill-gained power, and took every measure to secure a life-time's impunity for his crimes.
Finally, the international Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment - intended to provide national courts with global jurisdiction over crimes of torture - was ratified by Pinochet and Thatcher themselves! It's a bit rich to be complaining now. Or, maybe I should follow their example and decide which of the contracts I've signed I feel like actually fulfilling.
TAKI THEODORACOPULOS, columnist for The Spectator, who has financially backed Robin Harris' pro-Pinochet pamphlet and Pinochet's secure residence in Wentworth. One wonders whether his efforts to help the aged General are typical of his concern for the common plight in this country of those on remand or of the elderly:
We are simply concerned that if he is detained in Britain he should be kept in dignified circumstances. After all, he is an old man.
JAMES WHELAN, an American historian and author of Out of the Ashes: Life, Death and Transfiguration of Democracy in Chile, 1833-1988 in which he praises Pinochet, was due to join the launch of Robin Harris' pamphlet supporting Pinochet.
SIR RAY WHITNEY, former Foreign Office minister, attended the launch of Robin Harris' pro-Pinochet pamphlet.
DAVID WILSHIRE, Conservative MP for Spelthorne and member of the Commons foreign affairs select committee. While Chile suffers acutely from an unresolved horror - many have no idea where even the bodies of their loved ones are, and the terror, understandably, persists to this day - Wilshire claimed that the Chilean people had,
decided... to put the past behind them - to look for compromise and to work for the future. [Margaret Thatcher's support for Pinochet was] absolutely right... I'm quite delighted that somebody has spoken out and opened up a debate so that we can examine the Blair government's incompetence and double standards in all of this.
It may well be that the Labour government is incompetent and has double standards, but this kind of political point-scoring when talking about such a sensitive and serious issue displays a disturbing moral hollowness and lack of integrity. When we hear this kind of thing from people in positions of responsibility, it is all the more worrying.
We may end with lucid crtitcism of the extreme right's admiration for General Pinochet, from a leader article in The Independent:
... But the right's error, not to say its sheer nastiness, is even clearer [than the leftist error of "wanting to be anti-fascist without being anti-totalitarian"]. Tory politicians or polemicists have defended a man who was responsible for murdering and torturing numerous political opponents. The fact that Chile is a friendly country, and may have given us help during the Falklands war, is neither here nor there. What does it say about Baroness Thatcher that she is on friendly, tea-taking terms with a brutal tyrant? How can the right actually admire this man?
Ludicrously enough, the arguments Lady Thatcher, Lord Lamont and sundry right-wing columnists use to extentuate Pinochet are similar to those the left so often stands accused of using... [that,] as Stalin's defenders used to say, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.