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Chileans Mourn, Celebrate Former Dictator Augusto Pinochet’s Death

December 12, 2006 at 6:10 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: The going of Augusto Pinochet, as witnessed by special correspondent Elizabeth Farnsworth in Santiago. Elizabeth has covered Pinochet since he came to power in 1973, and she’s now doing a documentary on the international efforts to bring him to justice.

Margaret Warner spoke with Elizabeth earlier this evening.

MARGARET WARNER: Hello, Elizabeth. Welcome.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH, NewsHour Special Correspondent: Hi, Margaret.

MARGARET WARNER: You were at the Pinochet funeral today. What was it like? Set the scene for us.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, it was held in the military academy that’s right across the street here. You can still see some Pinochet supporters and mourners who have brought flowers.

It’s a very large structure with a huge internal courtyard. I would say, in that courtyard where the funeral was held, maybe were 3,000 or 4,000 people. These were families, a lot of military people. Up high on some of the balconies were students from the military academy. This is where all of Chile’s officers are trained.

It was very hot, and the mood was hot. There’s been a lot of conflict and debate here about whether this should be a state funeral or not. And the afternoon newspaper called this an “encendido homenaje,” a very hot, very emotional homage to Pinochet.

And that’s because of the political divisions, and it’s because of the fact that, at one moment in the very beginning of the funeral, the minister of defense of this government — this is a government led by a socialist president, Michelle Bachelet; she had forbidden or they had, together with the army, negotiated that there be no state funeral — and yet the minister of defense came. The president didn’t come.

And when she came in, the crowds jeered her. Some found her, told her to, “Fuera, fuera,” go away, go away. So that’s the kind of event it was, and it went on through the day.

The tone of the funeral

Elizabeth Farnsworth
NewsHour Special Correspondent
The mood was to defend the coup against Allende, to say that there was chaos, and then to say that Pinochet didn't want to take power.

MARGARET WARNER: And what was the rhetoric or tone of the remarks from, I assume, all Pinochet supporters at this event that you described as so hot?

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: It was a mass, first of all. The archbishop cardinal who gave the mass said -- his name is Archbishop Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz -- said, "This is a time to pray for the soul of Pinochet, but also the soul of Chile."

After the mass, which went on for about an hour, Pinochet's family spoke first. His daughter spoke. She spoke very personally, cried. Two grandsons spoke. One grandson, who is in the military, raised some eyebrows in the government, because he said -- I want to find this exact quote -- he called Pinochet "a man, who in the middle of the Cold War, defeated Marxism using armed force." The biggest cheers came at that point when he said that.

Then there were many other speeches. There were probably four or five other speeches. There were a couple of retired generals. The mood was to defend the coup against Allende, to say that there was chaos, and then to say that Pinochet didn't want to take power.

At the end of all the speeches, the minister -- I have a lot of people behind me talking -- the commander in chief of the army said that -- and this is a person who's appointed by the socialist president of Chile -- said that Pinochet never wanted to take power, but there was chaos in Chile. And he said that...

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This is pretty much what was happening all the time. And he said that he wanted to mention that the theme of human rights, because nobody had talked about human rights in this entire funeral, until the head of the army came.

And he said that Pinochet had taken some political responsibility on his birthday for the human rights events. And he said you've got to remember that the army in 2004 said that the army was institutionally responsible for the human rights crimes of that period and that there was no excuse for them, not chaos, not anything, and that they should never happen again.

And at first, there was jeering when he spoke, but then there was quiet after that.

No state funeral

Elizabeth Farnsworth
NewsHour Special Correspondent
It's not a state funeral. And it was decided because basically he'd lost power, and he was discredited by the human rights cases.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, you'd mentioned that this was -- I mean, Pinochet had been head of state for nearly two decades, yet it was not a state funeral. How and why was that decision made by the current government?

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Very interesting decision. There were negotiations about this from the time that Pinochet left power in 1990.

And the way that the articles in the newspapers in the past couple of days have written about it, as he was taken to court, for example, when he was arrested in London, pending extradition on a warrant by a Spanish judge, that was the beginning of the decision to not have a state funeral.

And then, as he was indicted here and as there were more and more cases against him, not only was there not to be a state funeral, the president wouldn't go, and there would be no state mourning.

So if you could see the big -- there's a huge flag over here. Maybe you can see some flags. The flags at military installations are at half-mast, but the flags in all the other places, including the ministry of defense, for example, are not at half-mast. It's not a state funeral. And it was decided because basically he'd lost power, and he was discredited by the human rights cases.

Death exposes 'deep divisions'

Elizabeth Farnsworth
NewsHour Special Correspondent
It's as if there's a battle to define what he is and what he represents in this country. And it's heavy; it's hot. As the newspaper said, it was an "encendido homenaje," a very hot homage.

MARGARET WARNER: Is it fair to say, just from the scene behind you, other protests and demonstrations that have been held in the last couple of days, that his death has exposed, it seems, that deep divisions still exist in Chilean society?

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yes. It's as if it shined this great light on these divisions, which in some ways had been maybe obscured by the, you know, very fine electoral campaign in which Michelle Bachelet was elected, and there were candidates from all the political parts of Chile.

But this is a really divided society. I mean, people yelled at us. And even Pinochet's wife criticized the international press, because they feel that nobody understands them.

At the same time as they've been out talking about how Pinochet saved the nation, the minister of interior came out the other day and said Augusto Pinochet was a typical Latin American dictator who killed people and stole money.

It's as if there's a battle to define what he is and what he represents in this country. And it's heavy; it's hot. As the newspaper said, it was an "encendido homenaje," a very hot homage.

MARGARET WARNER: Our Elizabeth Farnsworth in Santiago. Thanks, Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thanks, Margaret. Bye.