Translated from Gegenstandpunkt: Politische Vierteljahreszeitschrift 4-1998, Gegenstandpunkt Verlag, Munich

General Pinochet Arrested
A Didactic Drama About the Relationship Bewteen Politics, Law, and Morals

Democratic public opinion is ambivalent about how to treat the Pinochet affair. Professional warners point to the explosive nature of the matter and the unwanted diplomatic complications it involves. They also raise the fundamental question of what would happen if a precedent was set. On the other hand, the less commentators are guided by diplomatic calculations, the further away they are from governments when discussing the politico-moral dimension of the case, the more pleased and satisfied they tend to be. Regardless of any ideological differences between "liberal," "left," or "right," they largely agree that Pinochet's arrest was the "right signal" and the "unmistakable message" for the world community to aim at all present or future "dictators" or "criminals" as a deterrent. For one thing is clear:

"Augusto Pinochet is the worst criminal the community of Western values has harbored in the postwar era" (Süddeutsche Zeitung, a major German paper, 27 Oct. 98).

This is a shamelessly stupid view of the past free from any care about whether or not it is believable. Let's look at it more closely.

The "worst criminal"

actually accomplished an honorable mission, doing what a statesman does to save the nation. The idea to save Chile didn't spring from a despotic dictator's lust for power, but from a politically appropriate assessment of the "state of the nation." Any by Pinochet's criteria the situation was simply "disastrous." State power was in the hands of the utterly wrong bunch; in free elections the people had empowered the socialist Allende to govern. And Allende was about to replace the old reason of state by a government useful to the people. This program castigated as communist by Pinochet et al. didn't intend to end the capitalist rule of money by introducing a planned economy, but it did want to stop the national "sellout" to foreign companies. For Allende's socialists were equally ardent nationalists — the small but important difference being that they didn't see why Chile should be forever pinned down to the role of a cheap supplier of raw materials to the successful capitalist nations. They didn't want the masses acting either as wage slaves for the multinationals or as figures in Third-World hunger, poverty and death statistics. Allende's "perversity" showed in his political conviction that the nation's economic success should pay off for the mass of its inmates too by at least giving them a halfway secure existence, decent health care and some proper schooling.

Pinochet, who has rather "modest intelligence" according to today's human-rights fans, didn't need to study political science to be sure that the Chilean state couldn't possibly have the purpose of satisfying the people's basic needs. And even without the economic expertise of the "Chicago Boys" he knew it couldn't be the point of a "land reform" to expropriate big landowners, and the disregard for private property shown by nationalizing foreign companies wouldn't "develop" Chile's economy but plunge it into "chaos." This had to be "communism," the natural enemy of any "economy." So he could hardly stand by and watch as his fatherland — which it was his first and foremost soldierly duty to serve — was sacrificed for a "socialist model." His task was clear: the government had to be overthrown by force and its supporters completely crushed to save the nation.

That's "criminal"? The number of victims and the purpose of their liquidation already show that this could never be the work of a "mass murderer," but only a state power. In 1973 Chile's state power did what it considered necessary, which was quite a bit. It went about removing not only the current rulers but the whole new reason of state as well. Any decent nationalist will understand that such fundamental and fateful questions regarding the nation cannot be left to an electorate to decide. The sovereign people had long since exceeded its competence; its vote deserved no respect but called for the use of abundant force.

First, the rulers in office were liquidated on the spot. Then, reaching much further, force was used against their supporters and basis in the people. The thousandfold arrest, imprisonment, torture, shooting, "disappearance" and massacre of opponents of the regime and anyone suspected of being an accomplice — these were not "abuses" or "perverse excesses" of a military regime, but the means the state expediently employed to combat its enemies. The well-calculated intention was to unleash general terror as a punishment and a deterrent for false allegiance in order to make people obedient again.

This program was cynical and violent, that's for sure. But neither the methods nor the murderous substance of this state program were original or unique in any way.

The "community of Western values,"

one might recall, had declared the job Pinochet was doing in Chile, the fight against communism, to be the prime item on its worldwide political agenda. Western world politics consisted solely in this fight against the "Evil Empire." In view of the current fashion of distancing oneself from Pinochet's dealings, here's a reminder of what the "Cold War" was:

  • a policy of containment that was "credible" only through the permanent threat of the terror of nuclear world war;
  • a policy which considered the calculation of at least three-fold overkill to be an appropriate "deterrent" to defend freedom and human rights;
  • a policy that not only planned this war but actually waged it, just beneath the atomic threshold. After all, the U.S.S.R. didn't go to wrack and ruin all by itself. For forty years and in every part of the world, the U.S. and its allies waged all the wars they thought necessary against the enemy camp and its real or alleged vassals, overthrew governments they didn't like, and inflicted terror on peoples as punishment for following the wrong leaders.

This project included Chile. And the same democratic public opinion that gets all worked up about Pinochet's atrocities today always made sure to propagate the appropriate war morality for the moment by cultivating the right image of the enemy — in the name of all the Western values, of course.

It was clear to the U.S. and the whole West from the first day on that Allende's program was one big offense against the principles of capitalist business, the purpose of money and property. A Third-World state like Chile, geographically located in America's own "backyard" to boot, had only one alternative: to comply with the economic exploitation needs and strategic calculations of the West and its leading power. The second alternative such a nation might consider, i.e. to join the friendship-between-nations internationalism of the U.S.S.R., was naturally out of the question, as was any "third way." For that would have encouraged a thorough misunderstanding about how "developing countries" were allowed to "develop." So the mere intention, much less the practical attempt, to

  • build up a national industry,
  • break the land and bank monopoly of the two or three dozen family clans, and
  • feed the people and give them some education and health care,

was regarded not as new terms of business but as a basic assault on the freedom of property. As if they had to confirm some kind of Marxist dogma, the world-market promoters said "nyet" to all the constructive items on the Chilean socialists' agenda. No notice was taken of their rejection of "revolutionary force" — after all, they had misused free elections to peacefully take power. Rejecting a Soviet-style command economy was no substitute for the "free play of market forces" in the form of American companies and the Chilean bourgeoisie. The socialists' "third way" was utterly incompatible with capitalist purposes, and based on the system error that a Third-World country like Chile could take part in the world market without having its population reduced to poverty. Therefore, the modest welfare program for the chronically undernourished people was a total misappropriation of money and credit, thwarting all the IMF's rescue and aid measures. All that proved beyond any doubt that the country was now in the wrong political camp. So there was some fighting and punishing to do — if only to stop the other have-not countries in Latin America from following suit. So the inventors of the domino theory had to apply it themselves to keep their fine "backyard" from getting into the wrong hands.

The U.S., which was taking care of another domino in Vietnam in the same year just a few thousand miles away from its "backyard," also did great service to science. The "monetarist" claim that a "socialist experiment" could only "ruin" Chile's economy was well-known all over the world; it only had to be "verified." On the motto "Their economy should scream with pain!" the world's leading nation did everything in its power to make the Chicago Boys' politico-economic theorem come true by bringing about Chile's political and economic destabilization. The Nixon administration could be sure of full support for its boycott measures and subversive activities coordinated by the CIA from the Chilean ruling classes, who couldn't see why Allende should finance his social program by taking money from those who had it, of all people. So, using the means of control they still had in spite of the socialist government, they joined the U.S. in creating the disorder and chaos which Pinochet got to end by his military coup as the national savior of law and order. The General had no doubt who was responsible for the chaos: not the upper ten thousand who had caused it in their interests, but the government which couldn't prevent it.

The methods the General used to "restore order" and pacify the country didn't surprise any Western politicians, if only because they used them all over the world themselves. They were used to generously supplying their vassals in the many operational areas around the globe not only with war materiel but also with all their accumulated experience in waging war and techniques of terror. In this respect the cooperation between the CIA and Pinochet's army was exemplary.

Pinochet's orgies of violence were not hushed up — either in Chile, where they were supposed to have a deterrent effect of course, or in the West. All democrats were in agreement about both the political aim and the only promising way to reach it. And when protest was voiced in those days against the aim and methods of imperialism, left-wing idealists of democracy were always told by the true experts on democratic power that "when the military intervene it's not the same as when monks dole out soup" (Franz Josef Strauss). And the fact that East Germany granted asylum to a whole number of victims of the Chilean dictatorship was just another welcome occasion to strengthen anti-Communist agitation. Today it is the done thing in journalistic circles for even former declared right-wingers to dissociate themselves from a statesman they have nothing to accuse of — except that he was a "criminal" for accomplishing his honorable mission by supposedly producing a few corpses too many and using some excessive methods to produce them. This cynicism is not easy to beat.

The accusation

Surviving victims of the junta and mourners of the dead regard Pinochet's arrest as a late opportunity to satisfy their craving for justice and/or revenge. But when they call their former political enemy a "criminal" they offer a pretty uncritical judgment of the coup and the junta rule that followed. They don't cite either their own political cause crushed by force in those days, or the political purpose their adversary executed on them with the support of the civilized world. By insisting on the moral category of "criminal" they depoliticize the whole affair, suddenly finding themselves in the same camp as people whose ideological zeal has nothing whatsoever in common with the cause for which Chilean socialists and communists were victimized.

For none of the people who now cite the numerous victims to pose as guardians of "human rights" has the least bit of sympathy for the political cause which was abolished by the annihilation of its supporters. Today's friends are true to their old convictions, i.e. they are still the same irreconcilable enemies of all communist "experiments" that their democratic leaders have so successfully and violently "disproved." And they make it clear beyond a doubt what their anticritical intention is when they diagnose Pinochet's deeds as "crimes." They are expressly referring, not to Pinochet's patriotic achievement of liberating the country from communist evil, but to his methods of cleaning up. From today's point of view, the end doesn't justify the means for a change, but rather end and means have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. That the community of Western values harbored a "criminal" is a mendacious way of looking at things meant as the very opposite of self-criticism. It is anything but the "admission" that the democratic market-economy system inevitably includes a whole lot of violence along with types like Pinochet who won't hesitate to commit the most "perverse" deeds to maintain it.

Where would we be, anyway, if the moral accusation of a figure who is an utter product of democratic imperialism put the world politics of our community of values in the dock at the same time? So Pinochet was "our man" as far as the political purpose of his life's work is concerned (which needn't be expressly said but can be safely assumed). But in his capacity as a "criminal" he's got nothing to do with the mission he accomplished so successfully. That's why nowadays a British trade minister says it turns his stomach when a brutal dictator claims diplomatic immunity. The verdict "criminal" is definitely good for conveying this message.

The "Pinochet case"

didn't come into being through the victims' desire for justice. And it wasn't requested by public opinion either, much less the leaders of Western democracies. It was the Spanish judge Garzón who, by virtue of his office, criminalized the politics of the former head of the Chilean state as being "genocide" and "crimes against humanity." He was the one who turned the Pinochet era, a historical episode of the Cold War, into an international legal affair.

On the one hand, it is no secret where the man found the much-admired "courage" to call to account one of the Big Numbers of the highly-decorated champions of the Free World. He didn't invent the procedure of denouncing nations' deeds as violations of valid law. The states whose values Garzón is so committed to (being an old ETA hunter and GAL prosecutor advocating a proper fight against terrorism) have long since demonstrated such a procedure against Serbia, Sudan, and Iraq. It appeals to Garzón to

  • justify one's declared hostility toward foreign troublemakers by claiming they have violated a fictitious "world law code,"
  • call one's encroachment of another sovereign state a "humane imperative" (especially after carrying out a military action against a defined enemy of the world order),
  • in short, to treat any politics that doesn't suit one as a criminal act and appoint oneself judge, as the highest-ranking world-order managers do.

But he was even more impressed by the idea the European powers are pursuing in competition with the U.S., namely of carrying the justifications of imperialist violence a step further and establishing an international criminal court. Garzón follows the supposed logic of such an institution — and turns it upside down.

His "Pinochet file" does not reflect the usual order of things, first a politically established calculation, then the corresponding morality that comes about. This case does not involve a political interest that leads to a conviction, but an arrest warrant that is to be carried out — against an office-holder from a country Spain has "excellent relations" with. And it is to be done by virtue of the just work of an independent national judiciary. Normally such a judiciary has no competence in relations between states, since every state power asserts itself as the highest law-making authority for its own affairs. The transfrontier arrest warrant consequently raises a real conflict for Spain and Britain with Chile, "whether we like it or not" (Matutes, Spain's foreign minister).

This applies above all to Chile's politicians who are confronted with Spain's request for extradition and Britain's arrest. On the one hand, there's the domestic aspect. Pinochet is the symbolic figure for a controversial stretch on the nation's road to success, which is why his arrest abroad must inevitably lead to a radical polarization and thus a revival of the old fronts. Suddenly, and without its own doing, the Chilean government is faced with a danger to internal security and order. Not only are masses of citizens demonstrating and fighting each other — one camp shouting "Freedom for Pinochet," the other "Punish the murderer" - and each patriotic side demanding that the government side with its "just cause" before it will return to peace and order. The army, too, is put on the alert by the domestic unrest, and its commander-in-chief was Pinochet himself until recently. So the governing politicians are chiefly attempting to limit the damage, i.e. find a solution to the case that would permit a national reconciliation. Accordingly, the government demands that Pinochet withdraw from politics and ask forgiveness for the violations of human rights under his rule. The General would thereby 'render a great service' to the country, according to the minister of the interior

Perhaps that would also open up a way for the Chilean government to get out the foreign-policy conflict, which is dominated by quite different motives than the domestic worry about the division of the country. As far as the international affair is concerned, it is simply intolerable for the Chilean nation that British authorities arrest one of their politicians at the request of Spain's judiciary. This disregard for the "immunity vested under international law" granted to Senator Pinochet by the Chilean constitution is an assault on the sovereignty of the country and is condemned in the name of the "nation's honor," i.e. the state's elementary claim to have its sovereignty recognized. Chile insists that it is up to its own judiciary to investigate and punish any legal offenses committed by its former head of state. And this would not be in the country's political interest, to be defined and executed solely by the Chilean government, the diplomatic message reads. Those in power are out to prevent new domestic turmoil from a penal "rehash of the past," for the sake of "domestic peace," i.e., the stability of their rule.

Furthermore, Chilean statesmen have a special argument for why they deserve international respect for their decision and why politicians in Britain, Spain and elsewhere should make their judiciaries respect it. Interestingly enough, they cite the undisputed fact that Chile and the West European countries have "good economic and political relations," and it should be out of the question to use the "human-rights weapon" against a friend. Didn't Chile actively support Britain against Argentina in the Falkland war? And Chile was still in the middle of a difficult "transición" from dictatorship to democracy like the one Spain went through so recently. King Juan Carlos, empowered by Franco himself, was not put to trial either, was he? For a good reason, too — the continuity of state authority!

How successful Chile's diplomatic arguments are in restoring a mutual understanding for the benefit of both national sides is a different matter. The European nations faced with the Pinochet case have to decide what they want to do with this legal affair which they did not call for, but which their self-assured judicial branches served up. Since the matter is the product of a wrong order of things, it is "highly complicated" (Aznar, head of the Spanish government). Normally legal claims follow from a foreign-policy interest. Representatives of foreign states are prosecuted legally only after hostility has been declared toward their states. But in Chile's case there is no political hostility. Instead, the high-handed application of imperialist legal constructions threatens to damage the good political relations with a Latin American country (and not just one, Argentina also feels it is in the line of fire!). Unlike Serbia or Iraq, Chile is not a "villain state" requiring surveillance, either for the U.S. or for Europe. But it might turn into one as a result of the domestic turmoil brought about by Pinochet's being put under European jurisdiction.

The reason why the affair is so "complicated" for Euro statesmen is not the conflict between universal human-rights morality and nationalistic material calculations, as public opinion will have us think. The criterion of human rights used by state powers is not just a moral principle to glorify their own deeds. It represents the very down-to-earth claim of the world-order controllers that every corner of the globe be governed according to their plans, a claim presented in the form of a right. When Aznar and Blair stress that Spanish or British lawcourts do basically have jurisdiction over the crimes in Chile, they make it clear that European states are perfectly entitled to judge the "internal affairs" of other sovereign states, i.e. how these states make use of their force, and If need be to have this judgment executed by their lawcourts.

The Europeans don't want to leave this right to the U.S. which, as the "only superpower left," has long since acted as supreme prosecutor, judge and executor. They pointedly ignore America's warning to leave the loyal partner in its backyard alone. So, although the case at hand is very unsuitable for setting an example, Euro politicians "cannot" deny their general and indeed very political will to self-assertion. At the same time they therefore "have to" vow that good relations with Chile should not and must not suffer because of an initiative by their judiciary, independent as it is. But because those relations do suffer considerably, the European governments see a need to make it clear that the human-rights weapon is there to serve a political purpose. Law and politics have to be in proper relation to each other. At the same time, this mustn't jeopardize the credibility of that weapon (which they call "ethical foreign policy"), either in foreign affairs or vis-à-vis their own citizens.

This is the material the political decision-makers have to consider. The area in which they weigh the pros and cons of prosecuting Pinochet to lead to the desired result is — appropriately enough — the law and its interpretation. This creates jobs at least. All sorts of chambers, institutions, and hundreds of experts are turning over questions such as how to define "immunity" and "genocide," whether, and when, torture, barracking in football stadiums and "making persons disappear" are allowed by international law, etc., as if they were at law school. One guaranteed result of this will be qualified expertises offering legal titles to meet any need when it comes to justifying the decision finally made on the basis of a national political calculation. No matter whether the House of Lords settles on pointedly asserting Britain's right to supremacy even in an unwanted case, or, conversely, stresses the unsuitability of the human-rights weapon in this case, thereby underlining its general validity — human rights are nothing but an instrument of imperialist politics.

P.S. For the time being, the Lord Judges have voted against Pinochet's immunity, thereby giving the "credibility" of democratic foreign policy a slim victory (3:2). Now it is up to the British Home Secretary to put this decision in proportion with "political good sense." After all the legal to-and-fro, the government will in any case have the final say.

© GegenStandpunkt 1999