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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Pinochet

Pinochet - fascist dictator and mass-murdererGeneral Augusto Pinochet Ugarte eventually managed to goose-step all the way to hell a few minutes ago. Previous attempts at the journey had been rebuffed by inhabitants of hades, who considered him beyond their limits of tolerance.

A week ago Pinochet was given the last rites by a priest, leaving one to wonder how much of what he did or ordered to be done as dictator of Chile he ever confessed, or sought absolution for. And how many of the socialists, trade unionists and others who were his victims had the consolation of the last rites as they were bombed in Allende's Presidential Palace, tortured to death in the National Stadium or in military barracks or thrown to their deaths into the Pacific ocean from military aircraft?

Pinochet bombs the Presidential PalaceThere are quite a few thoroughly evil personalities in world politics, but Pinochet was one of the very worst.

During his 17-year rule, which started when he bombed the Presidential Palace and overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, he established a network of concentration camps in Chile.

He is believed to have ordered at least 3,000 political opponents killed, about 30,000 tortured and another 70,000 detained.

Thatcher visits Pinochet for tea
Margaret Thatcher was a close friend who visited Pinochet several times while he was in exile in this country, living 'under house detention' in a luxurious country mansion on the edge of the golf course at Wentworth. Thatcher publicly thanked the military dictator for "bringing democracy to Chile" and referred to him as "a firm ally of Britain".

Thatcher was only one of many Tories who supported the torturer. Another Tory politician with a strong liking for this fascist monster was the sitting MP for Aldershot, who defeated me in the 2001 General Election.

In March 2000, arrangements were made to swap airports secretly so that Pinochet could fly home from the UK without being confronted by demonstrators. Pinochet eventually flew out from RAF Waddington, leaving the protesters at his expected departure point, RAF Brize Norton. Gerald Howarth, meantime, called for General Pinochet’s plane to depart from Farnborough Airport in his constituency, so that he could personally wave the Gauleiter off. "It has been a despicable act", said Howarth, "for a friendly country to have incarcerated their [Chile's] former head of state over this period of time."

Prisoners in the National Stadium in Santiago, where hundreds were tortured

With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been a lot better had we not seen British politicians having the pleasure of tea with Mussolini, offering airport facilities and granting fascist dictators the hospitality of Surrey's 'millionaires row'. But, of course, these little luxuries were not afforded to Pinochet by the Tories.

It was under a Labour government that the bastard came to Britain and it was under a Labour government that he was allowed to leave again, despite extradition requests from four different EU member states alleging murder and torture of individuals holding dual citizenship.

Fascists welcome Pinochet home to SantiagoThe plane that carried the former Chilean dictator back to a hero's welcome in Santiago took off only after Jack Straw ruled against extraditing him for trial in Spain.

"I have today decided that I will not order the extradition of Senator Pinochet to Spain," Straw said.

"I have also decided not to issue authorities to proceed in respect of the extradition requests from Switzerland, Belgium and France."


There's an untold story of heroism back in 1973 after the coup d'etat. Although thousands were murdered, many others survived due to the brave efforts of people around the globe to smuggle them across borders and get them to safe havens. One of these refugee escape routes stretched from Chile up eventually into France, across to England, up to Scotland, across to Norway and into Sweden. Escapees were handed from one link in the chain to another without question and given food, shelter, antibiotics and money, before being passed on to the next link.

Many of those involved in England were students - themselves relatively poor and lacking in facilities, but willing to share the little they had with Chilean trades unionists, socialists, gays and other "undesirables". Had they been caught they could have faced very large fines or even imprisonment for aiding illegal immigrants. And they were certainly putting their university places and therefore their professional careers, on the line. But these students never for one moment hesitated to do what they could to help.

Jack Straw - the first socialist campaigning NUS PresidentThere's an ironic and uncomfortable relevance to this tale.

The President of the National Union of Students at the time of the military coup was Digby Jacks of the Left Caucus, recently retired regional officer of my union Amicus and Labour councillor for Hounslow. A respectable social democrat unlikely to make too much noise about fascist dictators.

Digby had taken over from the first overtly political NUS President - a man elected to the post in the wake of the student unrest of May '68 on a platform described as "The Radical Student Alliance". This campaigning NUS President - well-known for his socialist and anti-fascist credentials - was one John Whitaker Straw. You would probably know him better as "Jack".

Had he still been in office in 1973, Jack Straw would undoubtedly have led the NUS campaign against Pinochet with the same determination that a militant young Kenyan of South African parentage by the name of Peter Hain had shown in campaigning to stop the apartheid cricket team touring Britain three years earlier.

So tonight, as Pinochet stokes the fires of damnation, I'm delighted. But I'm also just a little bit ashamed.

1 comment:

jonathan wilkinson said...

You are quite right, I was one of those students. We went out snogging fellow students who were ill and then went to our GPs to get antibiotics that we could hand over to the refugees. It all comes flooding back.