Mourners Defend Pinochet as Ardent Foe of Communism
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
SANTIAGO, Chile, Dec. 12 -- Family and friends eulogized Gen. Augusto Pinochet on Tuesday as a hero of the Cold War who has been mislabeled as a murderous despot, and they appealed to history to judge kindly the man whose 17-year rule left behind a long trail of murder and abuse.
Loyal supporters waved banners during the funeral thanking Pinochet for toppling the Socialist government of Salvador Allende, the elected president who died during the 1973 coup that marked the beginning of the Pinochet era. In a separate ceremony held simultaneously in Santiago's main plaza, thousands held pictures of his government's victims and chanted, "The Tyrant Died! Allende Lives!"
The divisions marked by the two gatherings intersected only sporadically Tuesday. Hecklers briefly tried to disrupt the funeral, and some attendees yanked the electrical cords of broadcast journalists -- an expression of anger at the unfavorable coverage given to Pinochet. The Chilean government, which granted Pinochet military honors but not a full state ceremony, sent Defense Minister Vivianne Blanlot as its lone representative. Some Pinochet supporters threw debris toward her near the end of the ceremony.
Government investigations citing tens of thousands of witnesses in recent years have said more than 3,000 people were killed and 29,000 tortured during Pinochet's rule, which initially had been supported by the United States.
But those speaking at his funeral made no direct references to those abuses. If he had a firm hand, they said, it was necessary to suppress a communist insurgency that threatened to ruin the country. His legacy, they said, has been distorted by the international media and by the political parties that have ruled Chile since the return of democracy in 1990.
"They don't understand how hundreds of thousands of objective, democratically informed citizens, without any kind of pressure, without expectation of reward, are capable of showing their thanks and affection for someone that the press has labeled with the worst terms and epithets that anyone could hurl at a person," daughter Lucía Hiriart Pinochet said during the service. "Without doubt, this homage from the most humble people would fill him with happiness, because everything that he did was for them -- the poorest, most destitute who are today able to live in peace, give education to their children and have a better future."
Some of the speakers at the funeral cited the fact that the former ruler was never convicted by a judge as proof of the illegitimacy of the allegations made against him. But when Pinochet died Sunday at age 91 from complications of a heart attack, more than 200 cases were pending against him in Chilean courts, and he had avoided trials in some of them only because of his deteriorated physical and mental state.
Hernán Guiloff, representing the President Augusto Pinochet Foundation at the funeral, said he had lunch with the general shortly before he died. Pinochet swore to Guiloff that he "never committed an act to embarrass us," Guiloff said, drawing loud cheers from the crowd.
Convicted or not, Pinochet leaves his survivors with serious legal problems. Some of the pending cases are likely to proceed against his subordinates. And his wife and four of his five children -- including Lucía Hiriart Pinochet -- face charges of tax evasion and using false identification to manage Pinochet's secret fortune, which he hid overseas.
Officials estimated that about 60,000 people viewed Pinochet's body on Monday as it lay inside a military chapel. The funeral there Tuesday was attended by about 5,000 people, according to local news media estimates.
Pinochet's remains were flown to Concon, near his birthplace of Valparaiso, to be cremated. Relatives had said they feared a family grave reserved for Pinochet in Santiago would be vandalized if he were buried. They said his ashes would be taken to a vacation home on Chile's central coast.
The saint-like image presented at the funeral could not have been more different from the one presented at the rally in Santiago's main square. A large banner depicted Pinochet backed by a horned devil waving a pitchfork. "He killed so many people, and exiled and persecuted more," said Rosa Vergara, 44. "Today some people are honoring him, but not most of the people. The people remember."
Special correspondent Jonathan Franklin contributed to this report.