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History, Civilian Rule Restored

Ricardo Lagos Escobar, Patricio Aylwin, Pinochet regime, coconspirator, military jurisdiction

The state of emergency was finally lifted in 1988, and that October Chileans were permitted to hold a plebiscite on whether Pinochetís term, due to expire in March 1989, should be extended to 1997. When nearly 55 percent of the electorate voted no, Pinochetís term was automatically extended to March 1990, pending free presidential and legislative elections. In December 1989, in Chileís first presidential election in 19 years, voters chose the Christian Democratic candidate, Patricio Aylwin. Pinochet resigned the presidency as planned in 1990, but he remained the commander in chief of the armed forces. Aylwin initiated modest economic reforms and appointed a commission to investigate human rights violations by the Pinochet regime.

In the 1993 elections Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, son of Eduardo Frei Montalva, was elected president. In order to continue the countryís movement toward civilian-controlled politics, President Frei proposed eliminating the nine appointed senatorial positions, four of which are reserved for former military commanders. However, rightists elected to the Senate united with the military appointees to block Freiís proposal repeatedly from 1994 to 1997.

In November 1993 the former head of Chileís secret police during the Pinochet government and his deputy were sentenced to seven- and six-year sentences for masterminding the 1976 Letelier assassination. The case, which was widely seen as a test of Chileís fragile democracy, was appealed and upheld by the Chilean Supreme Court in May 1995. While Chilean military leaders agreed to abide by the courtís decision, the former police commander vowed to resist arrest and called on Pinochet to intervene. Pinochet denounced the decision and challenged the authority of the Supreme Court to sentence the men. After a tense standoff between the military and the civilian government, the two convicted men were arrested in June 1995.

In August 1995 Frei introduced legislation that would reopen and accelerate investigations into all 542 pending cases of people who ďdisappearedĒ during military rule. In November of that year compromise agreements were reached, which stated that cases would be reopened only if plaintiffs could submit new evidence; that cases already under military jurisdiction would remain so; and that judges would be allowed to close cases even if the victimsí fate remained undetermined.

In March 1998 Pinochet retired from the army and assumed a seat in the Chilean Senate under a clause in the constitution that allows past presidents to become senators for life. A judge from the Santiago Court of Appeals began to review murder charges brought against Pinochet by the Chilean Communist Party for crimes carried out during his dictatorship. However, as a senator, Pinochet had immunity from criminal prosecution.

Although the Chilean constitution shielded Pinochet from prosecution in Chile, it did not protect him from charges brought against him overseas. While seeking medical treatment in Britain in October 1998, Pinochet was detained after a Spanish judge charged him with human rights violations and requested his extradition to Spain. In early 1999 Britainís highest court ruled that Pinochet could be extradited under the terms of an international human rights agreement that Britain had signed in 1988. Legal appeals by Pinochet delayed his extradition. In March 2000 Britain released him to Chile after a British medical team found him unfit to stand trial due to brain damage from a series of strokes he had suffered in 1999.

After Pinochet returned to Chile, the Santiago Court of Appeals judge resumed his criminal investigation of Pinochet and his attempts to remove Pinochetís senatorial immunity. In March 2000 the National Congress amended the constitution to grant all former presidents lifetime immunity from prosecution after their retirement from political office. In June, pending presidential authorization of the constitutional reform, the appeals court stripped Pinochet of his immunity from prosecution. The Supreme Court upheld the appeals court decision in August 2000, and in January 2001 Pinochet was indicted on charges of kidnapping and murder and placed under house arrest. In March the Santiago Court of Appeals reduced the charges against Pinochet from acting as a coconspirator in the crimes to acting as an accessory by covering them up. In July 2001 the appeals court ruled that Pinochet was mentally unfit to stand trial and dismissed the legal proceedings against him. The Chilean Supreme Court upheld the appeals court decision in July 2002.

In January 2000 Ricardo Lagos Escobar became the first Socialist to be elected president since Salvador Allende. A member of the Party for Democracy, one of the parties in the ruling center-left Concertacion coalition, Lagos narrowly defeated Joaquin Lavin Infante of the conservative Independent Democratic Union.

Article key phrases:

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