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Britain Releases Pinochet

British Home Secretary Jack Straw announced his decision not to extradite Pinochet to Spain or to uphold similar bids from Switzerland, France and Belgium.

Belgium’s foreign minister responded to the decision by announcing his country will pursue legal action against Pinochet in Chilean courts. He said his Chilean counterpart asked him not to drop the case.

France expressed regret at Straw’s decision, but French officials have not indicated whether they will take further action.

Spain immediately announced it would not appeal the ruling. Switzerland said it will review whether Britain acted correctly, but also believes an appeal would prove fruitless.

Although Straw allowed Pinochet’s release, he said the general’s ordeal should serve as a warning to other world leaders.

“It has established, beyond question, the principle that those who commit human rights abuses in one country cannot assume that they are safe elsewhere,” Straw told Britain’s parliament. “That will be the lasting legacy of this case.”

But Chile Democratico, a group of Chilean exiles in Britain, said Straw “failed the cause of human rights” by allowing Pinochet to return home.

“It is simply too convenient for the governments involved that Pinochet, who short months ago was giving long and lucid newspaper interviews, should suddenly be found incapable of understanding the charges against him,” the group said.

Straw’s decision comes after disputes regarding Pinochet’s health and legal rights, as well as protests from those on both sides of the extradition issue.

Authorities arrested Pinochet in 1998 on a Spanish warrant while the 84-year-old senator-for-life sought medical treatment in London. He was accused of a series of human rights abuses against Chilean and Spanish citizens during his 1973-1990 rule in Chile.

Pinochet left England shortly after 8:00am EST Thursday aboard a Chilean air force plane. Supporters in Chile are preparing a celebration for his return.

Pinochet was chief of Chile’s army before ousting Socialist president Salvador Allende in 1973 in a military uprising.

He headed a military government in Chile for 17 years, stepping down only after he won less than 50 percent in a 1988 plebiscite on his rule.

Pinochet retained control of the army for several years after he stepped down, and was named a senator for life by the new Chilean government.

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