Showing more common sense and sensitivity than the Catholic hierarchy, Chilean President Sebastian Piñera has rejected a proposal by the Roman Catholic Church for sweeping pardons of elderly and sick prisoners that would have freed military officers convicted of human rights violations during the Pinochet dictatorship, announcing last Sunday that he will only consider case-by-case pardons on humanitarian grounds and that serious offenses related to crimes against humanity, terrorism or drug trafficking will not be considered. "I have come to the conclusion that it would be neither prudent nor wise, under current circumstances, to approve a new general pardon," Piñera said in a televised message.
In a document entitled Chile, una mesa para todos en el Bicentenario ["Chile, a table for all in the Bicentennial"], Catholic Church leaders in that country proposed pardoning prisoners who are sick, are older than 70 or have served half their sentence. But relatives of victims who were killed or disappeared during Augusto Pinochet's 1973-1990 rule said such a sweeping amnesty would be a setback for basic justice and fairness.
Amanda Jara, the daughter of Chile's famous singer/songwriter Victor Jara who was tortured by having his fingers cut off before finally being killed, was furious at the Church's proposal. "Human rights crimes cannot be pardoned, and it is dangerous for the Church to be so involved in the affairs of state," she said, and she also recalled that "Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez fought for human rights, and that the Church has forgotten him is disgraceful."
Lorena Pizarro, president of the human rights group Agrupación de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos, was also outraged by the proposal. Speaking at a protest last week in front of La Moneda, the presidential palace, she said the the Church presented its request for a blanket pardon without listening to the families of the victims. "The Church is ignoring all the priests who were killed during the dictatorship," Pizarro added.
Amnesty International also rejected the idea of a general pardon and issued a public statement reminding the Chilean government of its human rights obligations. "Amnesty International believes that Chile should celebrate its bicentennial demonstrating its commitment to provide truth, justice and reparation for all victims and recalling the debt owed to all victims of crimes against humanity that occurred during the military government. For this milestone to be achieved it is essential to ensure that all those responsible for these crimes be brought to justice, that the truth be established about what happened to their victims, and that the victims receive full reparation."
According to official statistics, 3,065 opponents of Pinochet's right-wing regime were killed and 1,200 more disappeared. Some 600 military personnel have been accused of crimes against humanity but no more than 150 are serving prison sentences.
Photos: Catholic bishops meet with President Sebastian Piñera; protestors oppose the pardon proposal