- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2000

Gen. Augusto Pinochet is finally back home in Chile, after almost 17 months of house arrest in London. Some Chileans are cheering his return, while others are cursing his freedom.
The Pinochet dilemma has finally been returned where it belongs. Chileans must now wrestle with the difficult question of what to do with the general, as the rest of the world watches. Still, they are best equipped to pass judgment on the former dictator.
On Monday, three days after Mr. Pinochet's return, Chilean Judge Juan Guzman asked the Santiago Court of Appeals to strip Mr. Pinochet of his immunity so that he may stand trial for what has been called the October 1973 " caravan of death," during which 72 insurgents were rounded up and either killed or "disappeared." The court's ruling would be the first on Mr. Pinochet's immunity and could take weeks or even months. The ruling could then be appealed to the Chilean Supreme Court.
On legal grounds, Mr. Guzman doesn't have a case. Mr. Pinochet, as a senator for life in Chile, has a legal right to immunity. That was one of Mr. Pinochet's key conditions for peaceably giving up power in 1989. It could prove unwise for Chile to tamper with that immunity, since it could provide a disincentive for future dictators to voluntarily step down.
Mr. Pinochet also shouldn't be made the sole scapegoat for the bloodshed. In 1973, Chile was reeling from President Salvador Allende's chaotic rule. The Marxist president had openly said he would change Chile's constitution and suggested he would parley his democratic election into a dictatorship. Although the country had had a long history of democratic government, the breakdown in Chile's national security and economic stability prompted the Chilean Congress and the Supreme Court to sanction an overthrow of Mr. Allende's presidency. Doubtless, these political and judicial elites didn't expect the military to achieve this overthrow without violence.
Still, more than 3,000 people died or disappeared in Chile during Mr. Pinochet's dictatorship. The officials responsible for those deaths all worked under Mr. Pinochet's direct authority. On ethical terms, therefore, the general especially shoulders responsibility.
Mr. Pinochet himself has acknowledged that there were "excesses" made during his rule but the general and the Chilean military have done little to help the country come to terms with the past. There are steps the general could take to help Chile heal. Many families haven't had even the satisfaction of burying their dead. Mr. Pinochet should urge military officials to help locate the disappeared. In the twilight of his life, the general should also apologize to the family members of those murdered during his rule.
In Chile, issues related to Mr. Pinochet have always been particularly divisive but the people and the country's judicial and political institutions have proved to be mature enough to reckon with the past on their own.

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