Pinochet Ducks the Doctors to Delay the Judges

  • Share
  • Read Later
General Pinochet had an arrest order on serious human rights violations lifted by the Supreme Court three weeks ago, when the court found that he should first undergo medical checks and be interviewed by the presiding judge. On Thursday, the general announced that he would refuse to undergo medical checks. Is he legally able to say no?

"No, he's not legally able to avoid the checks. But this is part of his legal team's strategy of delaying the process and also of getting Judge Juan Guzman removed from the case on technical grounds, such as procedural matters that he may have carried out incorrectly. Their immediate aim is to stop the doctors from examining Pinochet and to stop Guzman from interrogating the general."

What are the chances Pinochet will succeed in avoiding an appointment with the doctors and the judge?

"Well, Pinochet is very powerful, so I would have to say they're 50-50. Of course, Judge Guzman says that he'll simply apply the law, and that if Pinochet refuses to show up for the medical examination, he'll have to arrest him and have him brought for tests. That's what the law says, but whether it will happen remains to be seen. Pinochet's lawyers are doing their best to find ways of preventing an interrogation from happening."

Presumably, it's also a challenge to the courts — if Pinochet is arrested, that might provoke a strong reaction from his supporters and would anger the military.

"Yes, you're right. But at this point, there's a consensus that nobody wants a crisis over the Pinochet issue. That consensus has been built around letting the law take its course, which is why Pinochet's lawyers are doing their best to use the law to keep Pinochet out of court."

With so many cases pending against him, can we assume that the 85-year-old general may be hounded by prosecutors for the rest of his life?

"It certainly looks set to be the pattern at least until he's been medically examined. The chances are that when that happens, doctors will find that he's medically and psychologically unfit to stand trial. And that'll be it for this case. But then there'll be appeals, and more cases brought against him. It's going to go on and on. But it's not going to seem as crucial as it does now. Pinochet's legal team will hope to convince the doctors only once that he's unfit for trial, and use that finding to fight off any further prosecutions. That may be why they're trying to delay the process as long as possible, to make sure he's never touched by the law."

You say it won't seem as crucial as it does now — how important is this case right now in the national life of Chile?

"It is certainly important and politically significant, but it's been going on for so long that it's become ever-present. Just as Japan is always aware of the possibility of an earthquake, so is Chile always aware of the conflict over putting Pinochet on trial. For the average Chilean, the issues are important, but they're nothing new. It's been like this for the last two years. In fact, there was a lot more tension when Pinochet was being held in Britain, because then you really didn't know what would happen. Here everyone knows that Pinochet is unlikely to ever serve time. It's summertime here, and Chileans are on vacation. The Pinochet issue is just our ever-present earthquake."