I was relieved a few weeks ago upon reading the news that an ancient law in England had saved Gen. Augusto Pinochet from the hypocrisy of others. Not to say I condone everything that occurred in his 15-year rule over Chile, but arresting Pinochet and putting him on trial is hypocritical at best, and setting a bad precedent at worst. Allow me to explain.
Augusto Pinochet led a coup in Chile in the mid 1970s against the Marxist Salvador Allende. Allende was elected with a mere 36 percent of the vote and upon taking power, engaged in a campaign of property confiscation, currency debasement and bankrupting the opposition press.
In addition to this, he allowed gangs of left-wing revolutionaries to invade homes and factories and ordered tanks to patrol the streets to secure his grip on power.
Most of the proponents of Pinochet’s arrest point to the 4,000 people who died under his rule. But Pinochet likely saved Chile from a humanitarian disaster of much greater proportions in overthrowing Allende.
If you don’t believe me, think of the records of other Marxist nations (the Soviet Union, Cambodia, Cuba, etc.). In fact, there neither is, nor was, a single Marxist nation without a glaring human rights problem.
There is one more reason not to arrest Pinochet. Unlike just about every other dictator in the world, Pinochet held a presidential referendum over his status as ruler of Chile. He lost and being a good sport about the whole thing, unlike such strongmen as Cambodia’s Hun Sen, Pinochet stepped down and let democracy rule.
Allow me to repeat for emphasis: Pinochet stepped down and let democracy rule. Do we want to tell future dictators that they will still be hunted down for their abuses, even if they step aside for democracy? No dictator will step down; he or she will stay safely in power instead of taking the risk of being arrested.
When Pinochet took power, the bread lines disappeared and free-market reforms brought prosperity to Chile. Even now, his enemies and opposition are against Pinochet’s prosecution. Let’s not give the dictators of the world another reason to cling to power. If they know they can let go of power without having to worry about being prosecuted, more lives will be saved in peaceful power transfers to democracy than will be avenged by this empty, hypocritical gesture.
-The writer is a junior majoring in international affairs.