Sign in to comment!

Menu
Home

Supporters Pay Respects to Former Chilean Leader Pinochet

Hundreds of supporters of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, many in tears, filed Monday past the brown wooden coffin for the ex-dictator, who was denied a state funeral normally granted to former presidents.

While Pinochet's relatives mourned his death Sunday from heart failure at age 91, his many opponents celebrated with champagne and lamented that he escaped justice for the torture and killings that marked his 17 years in power after a bloody 1973 coup.

Police surrounded key buildings and intersections Monday to prevent more of the violent protests that spread past midnight to several working class districts.

Deputy Interior Minister Felipe said 43 police officers were injured and 99 demonstrators were arrested in the clashes, which were blamed on a small contingent of the thousands of demonstrators who jammed streets to denounce Pinochet's legacy.

In lieu of a state funeral, Pinochet was granted only military honors at the Santiago Military Academy, and he will be cremated Tuesday to avoid desecration of his tomb by "people who always hated him," said his son, Marco Antonio.

Flags were lowered to half-staff at military facilities only, and President Michelle Bachelet, who was jailed as a young woman and lost her father during Pinochet's takeover, said it would be "a violation of my conscience" to attend a state funeral.

It was unclear whether any diplomats would attend the military ceremony. "We do not consider it appropriate to send a representative," Britain's Foreign Office said Monday, despite Pinochet's support for Britain in past years.

Click here to view a photo essay of Augusto Pinochet.

Roman Catholic Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz led the first of several religious ceremonies at the academy. The Chilean flag was placed on top of the coffin, along with Pinochet's blue military hat and gala uniform jacket. Visitors kissed the glass of the coffin, crying openly.

"Our beloved captain general has gone. It's a great pain for all of Chile," said one mourner, Sergio Erazo. "There is much pain, we are all crying."

Pinochet took power on Sept. 11, 1973, demanding an unconditional surrender from President Salvador Allende as warplanes bombed the presidential palace. Instead, Allende committed suicide with a submachine gun he had received as a gift from Fidel Castro.

The U.S. had been working to destabilize Allende's Marxist government and keep Chile from exporting communism, but the world reacted in horror as Santiago's main soccer stadium filled with political prisoners to be tortured, killed or forced into exile after Pinochet came into power.

Click here to visit FOXNews.com's Americas center.

Although his dictatorship laid the groundwork for South America's most stable economy, Pinochet will be remembered as the archetype of the era's repressive rulers who proliferated throughout Latin America and, in many cases, were secretly supported by the United States.

Chile's government says at least 3,197 people were killed for political reasons during Pinochet's rule, but courts allowed the aging general to escape hundreds of criminal complaints as his health declined.

The announcement of his death on Sunday triggered celebrations at points across the Chilean capital. At the central Plaza Italia, thousands of cheering, flag-waving people gathered to pop champagne corks and toss confetti.

Allende's daughter Isabel Allende — a cousin of the famous novelist of the same name — said she never expected Pinochet to face justice, but she hopes Chile's judicial system will nonetheless continue investigating the crimes committed during his dictatorship.

"What I would have liked was a sentence of condemnation," the lawmaker for Chile's Socialist Party said in Madrid. "I think it would have been important for Chile, for the rule of law, a recognition that we are all equal before justice."

The Bush administration has good ties with Bachelet, a socialist who has continued Chile's free-market economic policies, and White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Sunday that "our thoughts today are with the victims of his reign and their families."

The office of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Pinochet's staunchest ally in Britain, said she was "greatly saddened" by his death.

Pinochet disbanded Congress, banned political activity and crushed dissent during his rule, and the radical economic reforms he launched triggered financial collapse and dire unemployment at first. But it opened the way for South America's healthiest economy, which has grown by 5 percent to 7 percent a year since 1984.

Pinochet avoided prosecution for years after losing an October 1988 referendum to extend his rule. But his invincibility cracked in 1998 in London, where he had traveled for back surgery. Placed under house arrest there when a Spanish judge sought his extradition on human rights violations, Pinochet was eventually deemed too ill to stand trial and sent home to Chile.

More than 200 criminal complaints were filed against him since then, and none of them ever reached trial because of his poor health.

On his 91st birthday — less than a month before his death — Pinochet's wife read a statement by him saying he took "political responsibility for everything that was done, which had no other goal than making Chile greater and avoiding its disintegration."

Click here to visit FOXNews.com's Americas center.