Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pinochet, may your legacy die

SANTIAGO, Chile -- The poster makes its plea from one of the pock-marked walls once splattered with blood at Londres 38, a former detention and torture center where 96 people were killed or disappeared during Chile's long dictatorship. It reads: "Pinochet, may your legacy die."

Yet that legacy is far from dead. Gen. Augusto Pinochet's loyalists on Sunday were holding their biggest gathering since his death in 2006, and it has ignited a national debate about the limits of freedom of speech as groups on the other side seek to block the event.

Police used tear gas and water cannon to try to disperse anti-Pinochet demonstrators protesting the premiere of a documentary about the run-up to his dictatorship years. The film casts him as a national hero who saved Chile from communism and who died victimized by vengeful leftists who accused him of embezzlement and human rights crimes.

The screening was organized by Corporacion 11 de Septiembre, named for the day when Pinochet seized power in a bloody 1973 coup that brought down the democratically elected government of Marxist President Salvador Allende.

"We want to set the record straight on Pinochet," Juan Gonzalez, a retired army officer who leads the pro-Pinochet movement, told The Associated Press. "We have stoically put up with the lies and cheating and seen how the story has been manipulated."

Although Gonzalez's own sister Francisca has said publicly she was tortured by Pinochet's forces, Gonzalez disputes that there were human rights abuses during the dictatorship. He says those killed and tortured were casualties of a war against leftist subversion.

"Why can't we have a documentary if they have their monument to Allende," he said, referring to a statue outside the presidential palace with Allende's last words: "I have faith in Chile and its destiny. "

The homage for Pinochet comes against a backdrop of increasing political divisions, with widespread street protests demanding more diversity in political parties as well as free education, protection of the environment and a more even distribution of the country's wealth.

Chile remains highly polarized over Pinochet and his 1973-90 reign.

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