Thousands Celebrate In Streets of Santiago On Learning of Death
Monday, December 11, 2006
SANTIAGO, Chile, Dec. 10 -- Thousands of jubilant Chileans streamed into the streets of Santiago after hearing that their former president, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, had died Sunday. Many danced and popped open champagne, while caravans of cars with horns blaring toured the capital for hours.
"These people are not celebrating the death of anyone. It is to celebrate the end of a cycle of so much pain, so much dictatorship, so much torture," said Jorge Salinas, 50, as he threw confetti into traffic. "Pinochet signified many deaths, so much suffering for us. That's why you see such happiness in most of the people. That's why they are celebrating."
While Chileans celebrated downtown, a rowdy and bitter crowd of about 700 Pinochet supporters gathered outside the military hospital where he died Sunday afternoon.
"He leaves us today, but I remain proud to support him," said Ivan Moreira, a member of the lower house of Chile's Congress who was with the Pinochet family during a private Mass at the hospital Sunday. Moreira, of the Independent Democratic Union party, said, "I express what so many silent Chileans want to express: loyalty to his government."
Emotions at the hospital turned violent as the pro-Pinochet crowd brawled with police and attacked reporters with a hail of bottles and rocks.
In upper-middle-class neighborhoods where Pinochet was once revered, many residents left their homes to celebrate the former dictator's death. Pinochet's reputation had disintegrated in the past several years with ongoing investigations into financial crimes.
In poorer neighborhoods, barricades were set up and tires burned as crowds gathered to sing and celebrate. Police patrolled the streets of Santiago in an effort to control clashes between Pinochet supporters and foes.
In the city center, police shut down the main avenues to accommodate a crowd that had swelled to 7,000 people by late afternoon.
"Today is an anniversary for human rights," said Hugo Guttierrez, a leading Chilean human rights lawyer who noted that Pinochet's death came on International Human Rights Day. "And without a doubt, this is a very sweet treat."
Victims of human rights abuses also gathered downtown at a statue of Salvador Allende, the Chilean president who died in the 1973 coup led by Pinochet. Human rights activists called on the government to avoid giving any special honors to Pinochet at his funeral.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who was detained and tortured in 1975 by Pinochet's security forces, has not said whether she would attend his funeral Mass.