On the Damning Evidence Against Augusto Pinochet
A review of Hugh O'Shaughnessy's Pinochet: The Politics of Torture
by Nicholas Lezard

The Torturer

Following Jack Straw's decision not to let anyone see Pinochet's medical reports (which supposedly make such a strong case for his being sent back to a comfy retirement in Chile — "Dear Mr Straw, Senator-for-Life Pinochet has a nasty sniffle, persistent earache and a wonky knee, so please excuse him from standing trial for torture and murder"), I am minded to make this book Paperback of the Week in the modest hope that it will provide ammunition for those who do not like the idea of the treacherous bastard getting away with it.

You may remember Margaret Thatcher saying that Pinochet's arrest in this country was nothing more than "gesture politics"; I remember Alan Bennett's rejoinder, which was to say that Thatcher herself was involved in gesture politics when she stood up for him, "the gesture in question being two fingers to humanity". This book, from one of the most authoritative commentators on South American politics, supplies us with the details of Pinochet's contempt for ethical standards in a sober and unanswerable manner.
The Torturer's
Friend *

The strange thing is that there are times during this book when one feels a mystifying lack of hatred for Pinochet. You do not come away with an impression of Pinochet's evil — although this might be because O'Shaughnessy does not care to bandy terms like that about. Rather, you learn about a grey, unimpressively ambitious man, one whom Allende trusted right up to the coup. (When he saw Pinochet's name at the head of the junta's ultimatum, demanding his resignation, his reaction was to say: "Poor Pinochet, he's been captured.")

Most heartbreaking — apart from the various details of torture O'Shaughnessy slips in — is the way that political malevolence both internal and external ("make the economy scream" was Kissinger's plan, noted by CIA director Richard Helms at a meeting 11 days after Allende's election) conspired to overturn an economic miracle in the making: an elected, truly socialist state, with workers' wages rising faster than inflation, across-the-board improvement in social conditions, and impressively rising popularity for the urbane, but honest and dedicated Allende. And Pinochet — almost literally — stabbed him in the back.

It is perhaps a desire to pretend that this was not an act of the basest treachery that has led to Pinochet's innocent demeanour ever since, the impression you get that he sincerely believes he never did anything wrong. But while he may fool himself, and useful idiots like Thatcher and (give us a break) Norman Lamont, he will not fool us.

crying woman O'Shaughnessy's book, produced at speed so as to maximise its timeliness, is pretty much essential background for those who want to be clued up about just how disgusting Pinochet's regime was, and how spectacularly, gleefully and self-righteously vicious were his secret police, the DINA. You will also find details which implicate them strongly in the murder of Jonathan Moyle, a British subject, who in all probability discovered that the Chileans were sending, along with their cluster bombs, tons (around 12, between 1986 and 1987 alone) of cocaine to Iran and Iraq; and the murder of Olaf Palme, the Swedish Prime Minister who did much behind-the-scenes work to establish Chile as a pariah state.

Still, as Thatcher might well believe, along with various Pinochet supporters in Chile, you cannot make an omelette without breaking a few eggs along the way, even if this is a coded phrase for "the state-sponsored murder of innocent people". Which is incontestably true; but who on earth with a trace of human feeling and decency would want such a putrid and inedible omelette in the first place?

This review (text only) first appeared in The Guardian, 2000-02-05.

* It is interesting to note that, according to U.K. government documents released 2001-01-01 CE, when Thatcher was Minister of Education in Edward Heath's government in 1970 she drew up secret plans to abolish free access to Britain's public libraries. Some Minister of Education! She could not persuade the British Cabinet to adopt this plan, but she did convince them to do away with free milk in schools for children over seven years of age.

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