But Chileans went to the polls during his 18-month absence and returned to power the same Socialist party Pinochet had overthrown in his 1973 coup, and despite the moderation of new president Ricardo Lagos, who was briefly jailed under the dictatorship, his government is quite happy to see Pinochet on the defensive. "For the most part this is simply going through the motions of stripping Pinochet of his immunity and of his glory in order to correct the historical record," says TIME Latin America bureau chief Tim McGirk. "Given his rapidly declining health he's unlikely ever to make it to trial."
The big question mark over any attempt to pursue Pinochet has always been the reaction of the Chilean military, whose leadership remains supportive of its former commander in chief. "While the Lagos government is quite happy to see the courts going after the former dictator, a few weeks ago the heads of the different branches of the armed forces met with Pinochet to publicly offer their support. While a substantial part of the military would like to forget Pinochet and move on, there are still elements who believe what the dictatorship did was necessary to root out communists." But even if they growl a little, Chile's generals are not expected to bite. "Short of overthrowing the government again, which they're very unlikely to attempt, the military is unlikely to have much leverage over Pinochet's fate," says McGirk. His best hopes, once again, are the doctors, since the Chilean judges' decision rests on the proviso that he be examined to establish his fitness to stand trial. But given the fact that Chile has a much higher threshold for ruling a suspect unfit to stand trial, General Pinochet may find that he'd have been better off remaining in Britain.