Pinochet's Chile News of Augusto Pinochet's death met with celebrations in Chile. The brutal dictator ruled the country for almost two decades, and was charged with human rights abuses and corruption. A look at Pinochet's life and legacy.
NPR logo

Pinochet's Chile

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Pinochet's Chile

Pinochet's Chile

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. Neal Conan is away.

The day after the death of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, Chileans are trying to come to terms with his legacy. While opponents celebrate his death, supporters are in mourning, lining up to pay tribute to him. Pinochet's son says the current government is petty for refusing his father a state funeral, but Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who survived detention when her own family was targeted by Pinochet, will not be attending his funeral.

Pinochet ruled Chile for 17 years after seizing power from the democratically elected Marxist President Salvador Allende. More than 3,000 Chileans were killed, thousands more were tortured, and hundreds of thousands fled into exile as the Pinochet government ruthlessly set about to stamp out the opposition.

At the time of his death, Pinochet was under indictment for human-rights crimes and corruption, but many of his victims feel he escaped justice. His supporters argue that Pinochet saved the country from financial ruin under a Marxist government, but even his most faithful supporters were shocked to learn in recent years, that Pinochet had stashed away millions of dollars in government funds, in bank accounts around the world.

Later this hour on The Opinion Page, an economist argues that if you're searching for the perfect holiday gift idea, you might want to do more than just show them the money.

But first, Pinochet's legacy - and we'd especially like to hear from Chileans in our audience today. If you've lived in Chile, or if you have family there, what are your memories of life under Pinochet? Our number here in Washington: 800-989-8255, or send us an e-mail to

And joining me now is NPR's Tom Gjelten. Tom, so good to have you with us.


NEARY: And I know that you spent a lot of time in Chile and covered all the events that were going on there back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. But let's go back first to the overthrow of the Allende government, because we were in the middle of the Cold War and that reality had a lot to do with what happened. Maybe you can set the scene for us.

GJELTEN: Right, Lynn. We can go all the way back to 1970, which is when Salvador Allende was elected president of Chile. Now Chile, had at that time, a number of political parties. So it was possible there, as it is in many countries, for a president to be elected, even though he receives, or she receives, only a plurality of the vote - much less - I think he got 30-some percent of the vote in the election that brought him to power.

So he was a minority president from the time that he was elected, and there was a lot of opposition to him because he was, as you say, an avowed Marxist, and this was the height of the Cold War. He was an ally of Fidel Castro in Cuba, and the United States, President Richard Nixon at the time and other people in the U.S. government, were very alarmed at the prospect of a Marxist president taking power, albeit democratically, in a country in the Western hemisphere.

And President Nixon ordered Henry Kissinger and others in his government to do what they could to undermine the Allende government. You know, there were some famous documents that were later declassified wherein Nixon instructed Kissinger to do what he could or to see that the U.S. government could do what it could to, quote, “make the economy scream.” And there were also efforts to support the anti-Allende opposition, to support newspapers in Chile that were opposed to Allende.

So the United States was very concerned about this idea of a Communist being president in Chile. And then, as you say, in - actually in the summer of 1973, Allende appointed Augusto Pinochet head of the armed forces because he considered him to be a loyal ally. And at that time, he was already very worried about opposition within the military, but he saw Pinochet as a loyal ally. And you know, to his dismay, he found out a couple of months later that he wasn't so loyal.

NEARY: Now you know, we're hearing today about Pinochet's supporters and opponents taking to the streets, perhaps in some cases even clashing. Were those divisions playing out in Chilean society at that time, in the same way that we're seeing them play out - to a lesser degree probably - right now?

GJELTEN: Sure they were. I mean, there was opposition to Allende from the very beginning. And he instituted economic policies that, with or without U.S. covert assistance, certainly had some pretty deleterious effects on the Chilean economy. He nationalized a lot of state industries, he spent a lot of money, developed a big budget deficit with the result that there was - inflation was running up to 400 percent.

So there was a lot of discontent, and there was lot of discontent even within the working class and the middle class, where you might have expected to see support for Allende.

So yes, you know, it wasn't a - Chile is a very constitutionally maintained country with a deep respect for law and constitution, so you didn't see sort of guerrilla movements getting started or anything like that, but certainly there was a lot of opposition to him up to the moment of Pinochet's coup.

NEARY: But Pinochet - the crackdown on the opposition by the Pinochet government was pretty brutal by any measure, wasn't it?

GJELTEN: Oh, it was - Allende was in the presidential palace when Pinochet ordered the attack, and Allende attempted to negotiate, and Pinochet made it clear he would not accept anything but unconditional surrender. In fact, his forces went into the palace and basically took everyone out at gunpoint and rounded them up. He put thousands of Allende supporters in a stadium there in Santiago. Of course, many of them, in the next three months, were executed, disappeared, and of course he ruthlessly went after anyone he considered to be an Allende supporter during that initial period.

NEARY: Well, the Pinochet regime violently changed the life of our next guest. Joyce Horman is the widow of Charles Horman, an American journalist who was assassinated in Chile in 1973. She was good enough to speak with us today by phone from her home in New York City. Thanks for being with us, Joyce.

Ms. JOYCE HORMAN (Widow of Charles Horman, Assassinated American Journalist): Yes. Nice to talk to you, Lynn.

NEARY: Joyce, if you could, take us back to that difficult time and what happened to your husband. First of all, why was your husband considered a threat?

Ms. HORMAN: Well, we still don't exactly the depth to which he was considered a threat. When the coup hit, he was taking a friend of ours, who had come down from New York, to Vina del Mar. And there, during the first week of the coup, where there were 24-hour curfews and a lot of violence and tanks in the street, he was finding himself and our friend, Terry(ph), in the midst of U.S. military people who were celebrating the coup.

I was in Santiago huddled in our home, listening to the tanks and the strafing of the airplanes go over. As I said, it was a 24-hour curfew, so I did not get out, and it was not until the weekend that they were able to get back to Santiago, and we talked about what they had encountered there.

NEARY: What did he tell you about that?

Ms. HORMAN: Well, he said that the U.S. military were essentially taking credit for the coup and celebrating its success, which they said was going very smoothly. And also that there were ships, U.S. ships, right off the shore in Vina.

And so he, very specifically, felt that this was very dangerous information, because he felt that was all covert and was very frightened by the fact that he'd uncovered and been in the midst of this information.

So that - on Monday, Charles and Terry went downtown to see how we could get out of Chile at that point - to get back to New York. And I went to get some food because there was nothing in the house. I got caught up in the chaos and did not get back to the house, spent the night in a stairwell.

And then the next morning, I went home and found a totally ransacked house and no Charlie. So I went across town to a friend's house and, later that day, other friends had received calls from Chilean intelligence, asking them about a bearded Gringo extremist - and my husband was anything but an extremist - but that's how I learned that he had been taken by the Chilean military. And I went to the consulate to report this and they were sort of more interested in what he had been researching and studying than in what had been taken from our house.

NEARY: What did you learn about what - about his death - about what the events that led to his eventual death?

Ms. HORMAN: Well, we learned from the neighbors that he had been taken from our home by a group of military people that put him in the back of a truck and took him into the national stadium. We - the case which was filed in the year 2000 after Pinochet was returned from house arrest - 18 months of it in London - we learned that - well, the investigation has been ongoing - but they have found out more information about who was involved in taking Charles to the national stadium. We learned, finally - Charlie's father came down to look for Charlie with me - bravely came into the midst of this coup - violent coup - and we learned after a few weeks of really trying everything, we learned from the Ford Foundation, not from our American officials, that Charles had been executed in the stadium.

NEARY: And you have - I know since then you have done more investigating. Six years ago President Clinton released some classified documents that suggest U.S. intelligence officers may have had links to the death of your husband. Have you uncovered any definitive evidence of that?

Ms. HORMAN: The case that's being investigated is being investigated in Chile right now. When we came back, we actually did do a wrongful death suit against Kissinger, and we didn't get too far because most of those documents were classified and information was blacked out. And it wasn't until Clinton's declassification that we saw that the State Department did think that the intelligence agencies probably did have some role in Charles's death. And we haven't - we have just been in the case because the case against Kissinger was dismissed without prejudice in the late 70s. We have just had this case in Chile, where the judge is investigating on the ground there in Chile. And that, we hope, is going to come into court in March or April. Even though Pinochet has passed on, his crimes are still being investigated.

NEARY: So do you have a feel that justice will be served eventually, then? We're hearing some people saying justice - he escaped justice with his death.

Ms. HORMAN: Well, Pinochet may have escaped going to jail, but he didn't escape the knowledge, the global knowledge, of his crimes. His 18 months in London under house arrest, and the investigations that were going on there and the treatment of sovereign immunity, was a very important step forward for all of victims of this kind of dictatorship.

NEARY: Joyce, thanks so much for joining us today. Joyce Horman is the widow of Charles Horman, an American journalist whose story is depicted in the film “Missing.” Ms. Horman joined us by home from her home in Manhattan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of Music)

NEARY: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington.

Police in Chile today deployed around the capitol after protests denouncing Augusto Pinochet turned violent lat night. Today we are talking about the legacy of the former Chilean dictator and speaking with some of the people who were affected by his regime. You can hear more stories of life in Chile under Pinochet at

Still with us is Tom Gjelten. He's an NPR correspondent who covered Latin America during the Pinochet regime. And of course you're invited to join the discussion. If you live in Chile or have family there, tell us your memories. Give us a call at 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is We're going to take a call now from Roberto(ph) in Haverford, Pennsylvania. Hi, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

ROBERTO (Caller): Hello.

NEARY: Go ahead.

ROBERTO: Can you hear me?

NEARY: Yes, I can. Go ahead.

ROBERTO: Thank you for taking my call. I would like to, you know, thank all the Americans like Mrs. Horman and (unintelligible) who have throughout the years tried to (unintelligible) the history of Chile, what happened in Chile. I feel a sense of kinship and brotherhood and sisterhood with the Americans who have shared these stories of struggle and pain that originated with Pinochet. I have a great sense, today, of mixed feelings. I sense that a great opportunity has been lost to bring this man to justice. So as much as I would like to celebrate and to join the many people in Chile who are celebrating, I feel that he did escape justice. His image didn't, though, and that's small consolation.

NEARY: Yeah, that was the point that I think we just heard Joyce Horman make, if you were listening, that there's a lot of information now about what happened under the Pinochet regime and people around the world know about it. And I'm assuming, Roberto - you didn't mention it - but I'm assuming that you are from Chile. And did you live in Chile at that time?

ROBERTO: I was living in Chile at the time of the coup. I lived there until 1979.

NEARY: So what was your own personal experience?

ROBERTO: Well, you know, my own - I was very young at the time of the Allende years. I had some time to experience the kind of exhilaration and the promise of the time. Chile was a very polarized society at that time, but the Allende revolution promised to change things in a very positive way, I thought at the time. So I was just beginning to find my own political ideas when the time of the coup came and sort of cut that short. And so all that great hope of change in Chile was cut short and replaced by some very dark years indeed. You know, years of a lot of suffering for many, many people.

NEARY: All right, Roberto. Thanks so much for calling in.

ROBERTO: You're very welcome. Bye-bye.

NEARY: We've talked a lot about the abuses Chileans suffered under the Pinochet government, but the former dictator is credited with making some positive changes in his country as well, and for details on that we turn now to Roger Fontaine. He was the Director of Latin American Affairs for the National Security Council from 1981 to 1983. He also interviewed Pinochet in 1987 for the Washington Times, and he is with us now in Studio 3A. Thanks for being with us.

Mr. ROGER FONTAINE: Glad to be here.

NEARY: You have been hearing a great deal about the abuses of the Pinochet regime, yet you might argue that were also - some good also came out of it.

Mr. FONTAINE: Well, there was some good that came out of it. One was, eventually, the reconstruction of the Chilean economy. Not so much Pinochet's legacy but his willingness to allow people who knew what they were doing to take over and rebuild the Chilean economy. The general didn't know anything about economics, knew he didn't know anything about economics, and let the younger crowd - civilians - reconstruct the economy. The second thing he did was, although that probably wasn't his initial intention, was to set up a national referendum on his rule. The election was in 1989. If he lost it he promised to step down from power. He lost it and he did.

NEARY: Now, we were talking earlier with Tom Gjelten about the world at that time, embroiled in the Cold War, and obviously, that's the mindset that Augusto Pinochet came from.

Mr. FONTAINE: It certainly was. When you talk about Salvador Allende Ayunday, for example, he's an interesting man. He was a socialist but he was very radical. He was also close friends, it's been pointed out, to Fidel Castro. He was actually to the left of the Chilean Communist Party. The Chilean Communist Party's friends were in the Soviet Union and they were much more cautious about this, although not any more democratic than Allende turned out to be. The years were polarized. They were very difficult. The United States saw Allende as potential real trouble and did things, I think in retrospect, were a big mistake - let the Chileans work it out. We didn't do that anymore than we've done in other places in the world. And the result is we've paid for it and should to some degree pay for it. Exactly. Being involved in something we shouldn't have been involved in.

NEARY: Now, you interviewed Augusto Pinochet in 1987, I understand. Did he, at that time, acknowledge at all, the abuses of his government? Did you ask him about that?

Mr. FONTAINE: I certainly did ask him about it, and he - well, the short answer is no. The second thing I asked him was - and this is where I thought the interview would end. I said: Look, you're talking about having a national referendum, you're talking about it being open and honest, and if you lose, you'll actually step down from power. And I said, you know, a lot of people in Chile, including some of your supporters - who don't believe that. They just don't believe that. You're somehow going to worm your way out of the whole thing.

And he got, I thought, very angry and he stood up and he - I thought the interview was over. But he went over to a bureau drawer, pulled out a big roll of something or other, got up showed it to me, and it was all the legislation decrees they were passing to set up this referendum. I said well, that looks great, but in fact, are you going to step down if you lose the referendum? He said absolutely I will - which is what I wrote. And of course it was in the Chilean newspapers for two weeks, and I think maybe - I'm not sure - I think maybe he boxed himself in with that and he did step down. But after all, he made a promise. He's a general. He's got to do what he says he'll do.

NEARY: Let me ask you, Tom Gjelten. NPR's Tom Gjelten is still with us here in Studio 3A as well. Tom, just not long ago on his 91st birthday, apparently Augusto Pinochet said that he took political responsibility - I think that was how he phrased it - for what happened.

GJELTEN: Yeah, but who knows that that means. I mean, that's a very vague phrase. Pinochet did step down from power in 1990, after the elections of 1989 in which he, of course, he and his people lost and there was a new Christian democratic government that came into power. He did however continue to be commander in chief of the Chilean armed forces. And he used that position as the military chief in Chile, which of course at that point in the immediate aftermath of 17 years of military rule he was still in a very powerful position. He basically used that position to shield himself and his allies from any prosecution and from being held accountable. I mean he never acknowledged having been responsible for human rights abuses in any sort of significant way. And the fact that he did it, you know, at the age of 91 - or took political responsibility for what had happened during his regime - at the age of 91 is, you know, is not a really impressive point, I would have to say.

NEARY: If you'd like to join our discussion, the number here is 800-989-8255. And we're going to take a call now from Eric(ph). He's calling from Syracuse, New York. Hello, Eric.

ERIC (Caller): Hi. I just want to make a quick comment about this supposed economical miracle that Pinochet brought to the country. I just wanted to say that mainly the people who benefited from his economic changes were the people in upper middle classes, and it was in fact after the democratic governments came back to the country - they are the ones who implemented the changes so everybody in the society will be benefiting from all of these economic changes - and they're still doing that. And very briefly, also, someone made the comment in which Pinochet accepted the referendum. He only did it after the head of the Air Force said that the opposition had won and Pinochet very reluctantly accepted the will of the people. Thank you.

NEARY: Thanks for your call. Roger Fontaine, perhaps you want to respond.

Mr. FONTAINE: Well, that is true. He was very reluctant to step down, but he did A: lose the election, and B: his colleagues suggested that he also keep - stick to his word and he did. Pinochet was hardly perfect. He was not a democrat in any sense of the word. I think Tom raises an interesting question. At 91 he accepts political responsibility. Two years later he was supposedly so sick and so unable to respond to anything that he had - when he was in Britain - that he wasn't fit for trial or anything like this. If you knew Pinochet at all, you knew that he was a sly fox and he was very much interested in preserving himself. His whole career was that. He was with Allende, then he was against Allende. He came into the coup at the last minute because he knew if he didn't he would no longer be Army Chief of Staff. He didn't lead the thing - he never led anything.

NEARY: What were you surprised to learn of the millions of dollars that he had stashed away around the world? And he did lose many of those who had been supporting him for a long time as a result of that.

Mr. FONTAINE: That's right. In Chile - this is not done - Chile is a country, comparatively in the world, in Latin America, where corruption is taken very seriously. And the rule of law is taken seriously. So for a guy who is at the top, who had the opportunity to do so, to do so was something that nobody would support.

Was I surprised? Yeah, I was, I think. I shouldn't have been.

GJELTEN: You know, Lynn, 45 percent of the Chilean people voted to continue Pinochet in office, in 1988, in that plebiscite. So as of 1988 he had the support of 45 percent of Chileans. But by now, by the time he died, that support was far, far less. The great majority of Chileans have turned against him in the subsequent years. And I think that this, as Roger pointed out, the revelations about his personal corruption really solidified the sort of the negative judgment on him in Chile.

Mr. FONTAINE: That's one reason. The other reason is, people back in '89 were still thinking about the years of Allende, the really bad years. And that they would say, Pinochet isn't very good and he's committed a lot of bad things, but at least we have some kind of stability.

Since - and they didn't know about the future - since Allende, we've had democratically elected governments, we've had stability and we've had a both economic and social progress. So it's no wonder that Pinochet's reputation approval rating is down near zero.

NEARY: We're going to go now to Santiago, Chile. Isabel Letelier is the widow of Orlando Letelier, a former Chilean ambassador to the United States, who was assassinated in Washington, D.C. by the Chilean secret police in 1976. Ms. Letelier joins us now by phone from her home in Santiago. Thanks so much for being with us today.

Ms. ISABEL LETELIER (Widow of Orlando Letelier): Thank you.

NEARY: What was your reaction to the news of the death of Augusto Pinochet? Ms. Letelier…

Ms. LETELIER: I can tell you I was not happy. I was appalled that he had died without being sentenced. I really wished that he had lived until he was 100. But anyway, I cannot change that, and I hope that this criminal, coward and thief will be remember as a coward, criminal and thief. And I say coward because he never presented himself - his accountability was nil. And he let all his followers in the military take the responsibility for the orders he had given, not to speak about the thousands of Chileans that were killed and tortured.

And all the disappeared people that will never be - the families who have never be able to have a mass or to sit with their beloved ones when they are dying. They died of torture, alone, terrible. And the families have never been able to have a place to go and pray or remember them. And all those things are on my mind today.

NEARY: We're talking with Isabel Letelier. She's the widow of Orlando Letelier, the former Chilean ambassador to the United States. And you are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Ms. Letelier, can you give us a sense of what the reaction is there in Chile -what the mood is there? We are hearing, of some people in the streets celebrating and some people mourning?

Ms. LETELIER: Yes, I think it's normal that the people that were his followers, people that like fascism and they didn't like the social changes that Allende was trying to have in the country. It's normal that they are mourning, and the family's sad and all of them are sad. Because they lost their immortal, as they call him, their hero as they call him.

On the other hand, the people that are celebrating, I really don't understand what are they celebrating, because he died without being sentenced. So I think that is not something to celebrate.

NEARY: You know, it's interesting as I hear you talking - we're talking about events that took place some time ago, a long time ago in the minds of many people I would think, and yet obviously still very present for you in your life.

Ms. LETELIER: Yes. Well, you mean Pinochet?

NEARY: Yes, and the events that occurred in the 70s and 80s in Chile. Very strong feelings about them, still, you have.

Ms. LETELIER: Well, yes, yes, because I could see from my window the fire coming out from La Manila, and I heard the bombings. And those things are in my hard disk. And then the rasping voice of Pinochet, that horrible voice he had, telling us that he was in charge of everything.

And the horrible comments he did about Allende. Because he tried to put him in a plane. And he said, and the plane falls, you know, a very cynical way. So those things are very present in my mind. I don't - I'm telling you, I'm not celebrating. But I consider very necessary that the future generations have a clear picture of who Pinochet was. Because all these people that adore him and the right wing people that owns papers, have been putting in the mind of people that he was this fantastic ruler and that the economic benefits that we were able to get from him is what had (unintelligible) this moment in a better position, economically speaking.

But those people forget completely that it was Allende, the one that nationalized the copper mining. And that is the money that is, in this moment, helping to exercise social justice in our present president, Ms. Michelle Bachelet, is able to give to the people many of the social benefits they have been waiting for.

NEARY: Ms. Letelier, thanks so much for being with us on TALK OF THE NATION.

Ms. LETELIER: You're welcome.

NEARY: Isabel Letelier is the widow of Orlando Letelier, and she joined us by phone from her home in Santiago, Chile. When we return, we will wrap up this discussion. I want to thank Roger Fontaine for joining us. He's the former director of Latin American affairs of the National Security Council. And Tom Gjelten will be with us when we return.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

NEARY: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington.

Today we are wrapping up our conversation with NPR's Tom Gjelten about the legacy of Augusto Pinochet, the former dictator of Chile. And we'd like to take a call from now Isabel. And Isabel is calling from Waco, Texas. Hi, Isabel.

ISABEL (Caller): Yeah, hi. Thanks for taking my call. I just wanted to make a quick comment on the fact that - although I am not by any stretch of the imagination a Pinochet supporter, and I am, by the way, a Chilean citizen. Allende was not a hero, and I think that's important for people to know.

Chile was far from stable when the coup occurred. And I mean I remember as a kid long lines of people, you know, my mom trying to buy flour or oil for their families. I mean people were pretty desperate. I don't know if that was part of the CIA's involvement, but I doubt it. On the other hand there was already talk - and I remember my parents and, you know, family mentioning this - that there were already talks - Allende acknowledging this and thinking about stepping down or calling for democratic elections before his term was over.

So although the country was in a huge crisis - and make no mistake, it was. I mean something needed to be done - I don't believe that, you know, the military coup, of course, was the right answer.

And the last thing I wanted to comment on was, I'm amazed by how little Americans know of their own involvement in this coup and so many others. That's all I wanted to say. Thanks.

NEARY: Isabel, thanks so much for calling us. And Tom Gjelten, I was trying to remember back - and it seems to me I remember that as things were coming to a head in Chile, there were women who were out in the street with pots and pans holding demonstrations. Was that going on in Chile? I know there was a lot of unrest leading up to the eventual overthrow of Allende.

GJELTEN: Yes. As Isabel says, there was a lot of discontent on the part of ordinary Chileans, just because life had become very hard. I mentioned before high inflation, shortages of basic goods. You know, banging pots and pans is kind of a traditional Latin American way of registering discontent and there was a lot of that.

NEARY: Yeah. We have e-mail here too that I'd like you to respond to. This, from Keith. And he says I had the great fortune of living in Chile over a nine-year period starting just before the first elections to after Pinochet returned from arrest in Great Britain. My wife is Chilean and continues to dream of the coup, albeit infrequently. In spite of the remaining memories, my wife's family is very pro-Pinochet. I was surprised at how divided the country remains. I hope they can continue to find justice for the disparados. And I also hope they can put Pinochet behind them, heal the wounds, and enjoy their beautiful country.

But interesting to hear that those divisions remain. And is there a possibility that this death will in some way bring them back up to the surface? Or let's talk about that a little bit - what you know about the divisions within the Chilean society that he's referred to.

GJELTEN: Well, Lynn, I think that, you know, obviously it's been so much attention on the prosecution of Pinochet that that whole effort now will come to an end, although there are certainly many other allies of Pinochet that still are having to face justice in Chile.

But I think one of the most remarkable stories about Chile in the last 10 or 15 years, has been the extent to which there really has been no - kind of an absence of recrimination. This socialist party, Michelle Bachelet, the current president of Chile, was herself tortured by the Pinochet regime. Her father was killed by the Pinochet regime. Yet she and other leaders of the socialist party have been very careful over the years, not to foment any kind of recrimination against the Pinochet people.

I mean there has been a tremendous effort on the part of the political leadership in Chile to really promote reconciliation. And the transfer of power, from the Pinochet period to the governments that came afterward, was very smooth. And, as I say, almost free of the kind of recrimination and revenge and retaliation that you have seen in the aftermath of dictatorships ending in many other countries.

I think that's a real important point. Michele Bachelet, although she is a socialist, is considered to be a real moderate within the context of Latin American politics, as was Ricardo Largos, the first socialist who is elected president of Chile in 2000 after Pinochet's period.

NEARY: Well, you know -

GJELTEN: - so that's an important point.

NEARY: I think one of the most fascinating, sort of, personal dramas that's playing out right now is, you know, Pinochet's son has asked for a state funeral and she said no, I'm not going to do that, but in a very measured way. I'm not going to do that and no, I don't think I'm going to attend the funeral, and that - what an incredible drama that is.

GJELTEN: Exactly. And I - you know, how can you question that. I mean, as I say, he's the one who himself has been tortured by that regime. He was under house arrest. He had been indicted. You know, I think she was on pretty solid ground in resisting that idea.

NEARY: And just one last thing, just bring us up to date on the status of the cases against Pinochet at the time of his death.

GJELTEN: He had been, I mean, he would have stood trial years ago. The process, the legal proceedings against him actually began in 1998 when a Spanish magistrate, on behalf of the Spanish citizens who had disappeared in Chile under Pinochet, initiated proceedings against him.

He eventually - he had at that time immunity in Chile from prosecution but he eventually lost that immunity. He was indicted and it was only his ill health that got in the way. His trial was postponed over and over again because his lawyers said he was too ill to participate in a trial. That's the only reason he did not go to trial.

NEARY: NPR's Tom Gjelten. Tom, thanks so much for being with us today.

GJELTEN: It's been great to see you again.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.