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PINOCHET INTERRORGATED IN OPERATION COLOMBO CASE

(May 19, 2006) Former Dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet was questioned in his Santiago mansion Tuesday for the third time about his role in the murders of a group of left-wing political activists. The former dictator is being investigated for the murders of 47 people who were killed in Operation Colombo, a joint operation between the military regimes of Chile, Argentina, and Brazil to eliminate left-wing dissidents in 1975.

Judge Víctor Montiglio conducted the interview with the 90-year old general after Chile’s Supreme Court approved the addition of 32 victims to list of crimes Gen. Pinochet could be tried for. The general has already been indicted on nine of the 47 counts of “disappearing” dissidents.

The investigation deals with the “disappearing” of 119 members of Chile’s Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR), the armed wing of Chile’s Communist party, which fought an internal war with Chile’s military regime during the dictatorship. Operation Colombo was part of the “Dirty Wars” fought between Latin American military regimes and left-wing militants throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Today, the Operation Colombo case is emblematic of Chile’s efforts to investigate human rights abuses that occurred during the Pinochet dictatorship because of the many difficulties investigators have faced just to bring the case to trial.

To begin with, because of a 1978 military decree, anyone accused of human rights violations between 1973 and 1978 – the period when most of abuses occurred - was granted amnesty under Chilean law. Although many question the legality of the decree, it is still upheld in Chilean courts today. Human rights prosecutors have worked around this law by arguing that because the bodies of many of the “disappeared” were never found, their cases extend beyond 1978 making those found responsible for the crimes ineligible for amnesty.

It is even more difficult to prosecute Gen. Pinochet because he enjoys legal immunity under the constitution that was written and approved while he was in power. Even though former President Ricardo Lagos (2000 - 2005) ratified a new constitution in August of 2005, prosecutors must still request that the Supreme Court Strip Gen. Pinochet’s legal immunity every time a new charge is brought against him.

After prosecutors overcame these legal hurdles, Pinochet’s lawyers argued that their defendant’s advanced age (90-years-old) and various age related health conditions made him mentally and physically unfit for trial. This last hurdle was removed in October of 2005 when government physicians declared him fit for trial, finally allowing investigators to ask the former dictator directly about the crimes committed while he governed Chile.

Judge Montiglio interview lasted approximately two hours and is not expected to add much to the investigation because Gen. Pinochet has repeatedly claimed that he does not remember the events in question.

SOURCES: LA NACIÓN, RADIO COOPERATIVO

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