2 March 2000
On 2 March 2000, the aging dictator Augusto Pinochet was jubilant on discovering that he would be allowed to return to Chile, following the intervention of Britain’s Home Secretary Jack Straw, despite the House of Lords ruling that he should be extradited to Spain to answer charges of wholesale torture and murder. Straw reasoned that the former head of state, who had disappeared and slaughtered thousands, was not fit enough to stand trial and authorised his return to Chile on humanitarian grounds. It seems that Pinochet’s long dedication to the cause of crushing workers’ rights and favouring big business, along with his many years of close cooperation with the CIA and MI6 now protected him against those calling for justice.
The next day a Chilean Air Force transport plane was waiting for him at Waddington RAF base, where the public and protesters were denied access. Just before he boarded in a wheel chair via a ramp, he received a present, which had to be brought out to the aircraft, from former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It was a reproduction of a sixteenth century silver plate commemorating England’s victory over the Spanish Armada.1 Thatcher was later charmed to see how the frail general miraculously regained his strength within minutes of touching down at Santiago airport, standing up from his wheel chair to acclaim from a small crowd of supporters.2
- Andy Beckett, “Pinochet in Piccadilly: Britain and Chile’s Hidden History,” Faber and Faber, London p. 246.
- Alex Bellos and Jonathan Franklin, ‘Pinochet receives a hero’s welcome on his return’, The Guardian, 4 March 2000 accessed at url https://www.theguardian.com/world/2000/mar/04/pinochet.chile1
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