Pinochet May Become Socialists' Burden

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General Pinochet may have been an unlikely blessing for Chile's Socialists, but he could soon revert to being their curse. News of the former dictator's possible return home later this week helped Socialist party leader Ricardo Lagos on Sunday to a 2.5 percent victory over former Pinochet aide Joaquin Lavin, by spurring party activists left apathetic by Lagos's centrist economics to get out the vote. But even as the first champagne corks popped, Lagos was facing calls from his own rank and file to put Pinochet on trial. Citing the 84-year-old general's failing health and mental faculties, Britain announced last week that it plans to send him home rather than to Spain to be tried for kidnapping, torture and other crimes related to some of the 3,000 political opponents killed by his regime.

Although the Socialists have asserted throughout the Pinochet controversy that he should be tried in Chile rather than abroad, they may find it difficult to actually put the general in the dock. And the objections of Chile's military, which ruled the country for 16 years under Pinochet's command, isn't the only restraining factor — 48 percent of Chileans voted for a former Pinochet official in Sunday's race (albeit one who cast himself as a populist savior of the poor, and preferred not to discuss the past), and Lagos insists he wants to be the president of all Chileans. Lagos may be reluctant to try Pinochet for fear of creating division and social instability, and his response on election night was noncommittal: Chile's courts have the power to try any of its citizens, but the new administration's priority is fighting the economic recession. It may be a good thing for Lagos that the general, like the economy, is looking a little sickly.