Even if Pinochet escaped final judgment, his 16-month detention in London, followed by indictment in Chilean courts, released political dialogue from the straitjacket it had worn since 1973. One measure of this new openness was the election to the presidency, in early 2000, of Pinochet critic Ricardo Lagos—the first Socialist to occupy the office since Salvador Allende. Current military leaders, for their part, appear embarrassed by the revelations of the past few years and seem more than willing to resume an apolitical role. General Juan Emilio Cheyre, the army commander-in-chief, even apologized to Chileans for his institution’s role in the coup and its aftermath.
Another positive indicator was a public apology by conservative legislator María Pía Guzmán for having been aware of and ignoring human rights abuses committed during the dictatorship—though she drew fire from her unreconstructed colleagues on the right. Leftist commentator Tomás Moulián, in response, called Guzmán’s apology an example to Chilean society; at the same time, Moulián denounced those who continue to deny such abuses as a “Taliban” unwilling to give up their holy war against the left.
Nevertheless, most Chileans have moved on. According to editor Patricio Fernández of the iconoclastic weekly The Clinic:
[T]he day they indicted the former unconstitutional president [Pinochet], after the surprise of it all, no one really gave a hoot. With the exception of those who lost family members during the military government, or those who are political fanatics, or their accomplices, or three or four strange devils who went out to shout in the streets — the rest of us took the news in stride.
Still, in Fernández’s words:
We are left uncomfortable knowing that the Chilean state would much more forcefully prosecute a chicken thief than it would someone responsible for thousands of atrocities.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition