Hundreds in Chile Mourn Former Dictator
Monday, December 11, 2006; 9:57 PM
SANTIAGO, Chile -- Thousands of mourners honored Gen. Augusto Pinochet on Monday, many weeping openly as they kissed his glass-topped casket in a military ceremony that exposed deep divisions over the legacy of his 17-year dictatorship.
The ceremony followed a violent night of clashes that left 43 police officers injured and 99 demonstrators arrested. The scattered fights between Pinochet's supporters and opponents capped a jubilant evening for thousands of Chileans who took to the streets to celebrate his death Sunday at age 91.
This is a time "to pray for the soul of Gen. Pinochet, but also for the soul of Chile," Santiago Archbishop Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz said.
Waiting for hours to view his coffin inside the Santiago Military Academy, the crowd sang the national anthem and criticized President Michelle Bachelet for denying Pinochet a national mourning period and full state funeral befitting a former president.
Bachelet relegated the former army commander to his military past by ordering flags flown at half-staff only at military barracks, and sending her defense minister to the ceremony in her stead.
"Chile cannot forget," Bachelet said in her first public comments about Pinochet's death. "Only then will we have a constructive vision of our future, guaranteeing respect for the fundamental rights of all Chileans."
Like tens of thousands of other Chileans, Bachelet was herself a victim of the Pinochet security state. Her father died after being tortured by Pinochet's forces. She and her mother were jailed, mistreated and forced into exile.
"Pinochet is not a figure who encourages national unity," said Interior Minister Belisario Velasco. History will view him as "a classic right-wing dictator who gravely violated human rights and who enriched himself _ that's the pattern of right-wing dictators in Latin America."
Government officials said Pinochet did not deserve the state funeral because he took power by force and was never elected.
The general's followers called the government's stance mean-spirited.
"Pinochet was a real president, not what we have now," said retiree Jose Erazo, after viewing the open coffin.
Carlos Larrain, president of the far-right Independent Democratic Union party, said "it's absurd to deny Pinochet was president. That's like trying to cover the sun with one finger."