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Reaction to Pinochet Death Divided in Chile


The dictator who once ruled Chile is dead. On the streets of the capital you could find everything from champagne to teargas. Augusto Pinochet died at age 91, a week after suffering a heart attack. He was known for a military coup, which did not stop supporters from singing his name over the weekend.

(Soundbite of rally)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Pinochet, Pinochet. Ole, ole, ole, ole.

Nathan Crooks is editor of the English language daily, The Santiago Times, and he's on the line from Santiago. Mr. Crooks, what was it like walking through the streets of Santiago last night?

Mr. NATHAN CROOKS (Editor, The Santiago Times): Last night, it was a very bizarre situation. I was in the office all day, of course, in the newsroom, and I left work maybe at 10 o'clock at night. And there were bonfires everywhere, the streets were closed, and the water canons - the roads were still dripping with water. So it was a very surreal experience to walk home from work last night.

INSKEEP: How were the water canons used, and against whom?

Mr. CROOKS: There were crowds of people that congregated at the Plaza Italia, which is the downtown plaza, and the people had congregated there and then later marched to La Moneda, celebrating Pinochet's death. And the water cannons and tear gas - they were worried that violence might erupt between the pro and anti Pinochet factions - so I gather they just used the water cannons to disperse the crowds to prevent that from happening.

INSKEEP: Will you explain why there is a pro-Pinochet crowd in this country, given the man's record that's been criticized around the world?

Mr. CROOKS: Yes, there are a large number of people here that still support Pinochet, and it's probably gotten smaller in recent years, but many people credit Pinochet with saving Chile from communism and from becoming another Cuba. And they point to Chile's high standard of living, and the fact that it has the best economy in Latin American, and that if you walk around Santiago, you basically feel like a first world, developed country. So many people credit Pinochet with creating that, and that's why they like him.

INSKEEP: Mr. Crooks, I feel obliged to try to get the man's name right, here in death. We've been saying Pinochet here in the United States. You're there in Santiago, Chile, and saying Pinochet. How did he say it?

Mr. CROOKS: You know, I hear it both ways, and in Chile most people would say Pinochet, but in English I hear Pinochet.

INSKEEP: Okay. Now what are the funeral plans for the ex-president?

Mr. CROOKS: So far, the plans are for to hold a military funeral on Tuesday. Last week, when he first had his heart attack, a kind of a controversy erupted on what kind of funeral he would receive. Chile's president Michelle Bachelet had basically refused to comment, saying it's rude to talk about someone's funeral who's still alive. But when she ran for president a year ago, she had said that any state funeral would violate her, personally, as she had been a torture victim of his regime, and her father as well.

So Michelle Bachelet was extremely quiet about the situation yesterday, and has not publicly released a statement. But her government spokesperson said that Pinochet would receive a military funeral and not a state funeral. Bachelet will not be attending the funeral, but rather her defense minister, Vivianne Blanlot, will be attending as a representative of her government.

INSKEEP: Does it seem at all that the president got away with a military coup, with being a dictator, with the murders of which he's accused - because in the end he was not brought to trial, he was not put in prison?

Mr. CROOKS: You know, that's one of the things that I heard from the various people who were opposed to Pinochet, yesterday, after he died - that they were saying, Oh, gee, now we're never going be able to find justice. He is never going to be brought before definitive trial. I think that's partially true, but I also think that - whereas maybe 10 years ago, half of Chile still supported and defended Pinochet, now the majority of Chileans, even if they defend Pinochet, they would say yes but look at all the human rights violations that occurred. So I don't think it would be right to say that there was not some kind of a moral judgment, although he did escape a definitive trial and a definitive judgment.

INSKEEP: Nathan Crooks, of the Santiago Times. Thanks very much.

Mr. CROOKS: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.