As Chileans commemorated the 41 st anniversary of the 1973 military coup, Justice Minister José Antonio Gomez announced that the government of Michelle Bachelet will seek to repeal the Amnesty Law, a legacy of the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
The law covers the period from September 1973 to April 1978. Although Pinochet remained in power until 1990, the period covered by the law was the most brutal in terms of human right violations.
The law allows human rights abusers to avoid prison even when crimes against humanity are not subject to statute of limitations.
Gómez said the government will press for Congress to debate the annulment of the law, on the basis of a bill that Senator Guido Girardi introduced in 2006.
The repeal is likely to pass easily, considering that the ruling coalition has a simple majority in both chambers. A relatively large number of members of the Chilean military have been tried and convicted for abuses, most of which happened after 1978.
However the complex structures that Pinochet created to protect human rights violators have been falling. About 700 military officials face trial for the forced disappearance of dissidents, and about 70 have been jailed for crimes against humanity.
Still, Chileans remain divided over Pinochet’s 1973-90 dictatorship, and the coup anniversary is often marked by violence, as happened on this latest event.
During the 11 September 1973 coup, fighter jets attacked La Moneda, and tanks and soldiers surrounded the building as it burst into flames. Salvador Allende, a self declared Marxist who had been elected in 1970, killed himself rather than surrender to coup plotters led by Pinochet.
The coup was initially supported by many Chileans fed up with hyperinflation, food shortages and factory takeovers. But it destroyed a political and economic system they had proudly described as Latin America’s most solid democracy.
Pinochet cut short Allende’s reforms. He privatized pension and water systems, slashed trade barriers and encouraged exports, building a free-market model. He also shut down Congress, outlawed political parties and sent thousands of dissidents into exile.