Chilean community demands prosecution of Pinochet

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Chilean community demands prosecution of Pinochet

By Lara Pullin

CANBERRA — The arrest in Britain of former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet has produced an eruption of anger and grief among survivors of his regime. The Latin American and Spanish communities, as well as solidarity activists, are determined to see this brutal murderer answer for his crimes.

This was the message presented by a demonstration by about 60 people outside the British high commission here on October 22. Protesters presented British officials with a petition from the families and friends of Chileans who had been tortured, executed and "disappeared".

The families presented another petition to the Chilean ambassador, calling for the Chilean government to drop its defence of Pinochet. Around 70 spirited protesters gathered on October 29 and erected crosses in memory of fallen comrades, the tortured and the innocents who were murdered.

Following some chanting and passionate speeches, the protesters moved on to the Spanish embassy across town. They were joined by local Labor MP Wayne Berry and Trades and Labour Council secretary Jeremy Pyner. About 200 letters were presented to the ambassador.

Berry presented a formal letter from the ACT Legislative Assembly to the Spanish government supporting Pinochet's arrest.

The Legislative Assembly passed a resolution, moved by Berry, supporting Pinochet's arrest and calling for the full weight of international law to be brought to bear. The motion, which also called for the Australian government to take action against Pinochet, was passed unanimously. Chileans and their supporters in the public gallery unfurled a banner reading "Justice for the victims of Pinochet".

At the October 22 action, spokesperson Elba Cruz, whose two brothers were "disappeared" under Pinochet, called for respect for the dead and tortured.

One brother was brutally tortured and scarred for life — but he did eventually come home. The Cruz family heard nothing about her other brother for 12 years until they were suddenly given his remains.

"At least we could lay him to rest — many families still have not had the opportunity to do even that simple gesture in respect of their loved ones", Cruz said.

The demonstration was special for Elisa Albornoz and her family. It marked 25 years since the execution of her husband. Albornoz was there with a photo of her husband Javier Alvear, a trade union activist who was last seen by the family at the birthday party of his eldest daughter on October 14, 1973.

His daughter Haydee, also at the demonstration, remembered: "It was my first ever birthday party — I was so happy. My father risked his life to come home for me."

"Javier told me he believed the military were after him — all trade unionists were 'known Marxists' according to the junta", Albornoz said. Six days later, neighbours came to the house to tell Elisa that the radio and TV were broadcasting reports of the capture and execution of Javier.

The military refused Elisa Albornoz's request to see her husband's body, and she was unable to bury him. She did not even know where they took his body. She was interrogated and threatened by military police at the headquarters of the unit responsible for his execution.

Elisa survived another 15 years in Chile working for a human rights group which assisted women whose close relatives had been killed or tortured. She fled to Australia in 1988. She continues her struggle for justice for Pinochet's victims.