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Analysis by Fernando Paulsen

(Ed. Note: A number of very bewildering and convoluted events have occurred in recent weeks related to Chile’s ongoing effort to deal with the Pinochet-era human rights legacy: Lagos’ aborted support for human rights pardons; the nomination of Judge Sergio Muñoz to the Supreme Court, and the back-and-forth jurisdictional issues related to prosecutions at the Colonia Dignidad German compound in southern Chile.

In the essay below, one of Chile’s foremost journalists, Fernando Paulsen, tries to put it all together in an understandable format. Not an easy task.)

Just 12 days ago, two opposition rightist senators and two senators from the governing Concertación coalition announced a legislative initiative to benefit human-rights violators who had served 10 years in jail: it would allow them conditional leave from prison.

The President insinuated that he looked favorably upon the measure. But things got complicated when presidential candidate Michelle Bachelet said she didn’t think it was the appropriate time to talk about pardons, to which the President replied, “I agree with you.”

Also, in the past week, there was a vacancy on the Supreme Court to be filled. The Court submitted a list of five nominees, which included Judge Sergio Muñoz from the Appeals Court, the judge in charge of the Spiniak child sex ring case and the investigation into Pinochet’s secret bank accounts at the Riggs Bank.

The nomination of Muñoz for the post was made with a speed that is historically unheard of – within 48 hours, President Lagos determined that Muñoz was to be the Supreme Court
candidate sent before the Senate for ratification.

But human rights attorneys alleged the nomination was a back-door maneuver to get Muñoz off the Riggs Bank case, and would have national and international repercussions. They were thus able to get the Senate to delay the vote on Muñoz until October 4.

In the so-called Operation Colombo case, which is also part of the Operation Condor case, the Supreme Court ruled that Pinochet must face the courts and so stripped him of his legislative immunity. But 24 hours later, the same Supreme Court denied a petition from plaintiffs in the Operation Condor case that would have assured that Pinochet face a day in court. The Supreme Court made its ruling based on health problems the general has, but these health problems apparently weren’t considered in their decision to strip him of his legislative immunity in the Colombo case.

A specially appointed judge in the Colonia Dignidad case, Jorge Zepeda, was able to secure in three months many of the things that the police and the government had been unable to get after 15 years of effort: the confidence of the Colonia’s residents. As a result, they finally helped locate hidden armaments, intelligence files and even buried autos. But his effort was challenged by the egocentric State Defense Council and a judge in Parral, who raided the Colony with a helicopter and special armed forces. They announced that the leadership of the Colony had been charged with “illicit association” (which carries stiff jail sentences if those accused are convicted, and was thus a disincentive for collaboration with Zepeda), and put all the economic activities of the Colony into receivership. To carry out this order, the CDE used photocopies of various files, a procedure that necessarily invalidated the proceedings – something that cannot be ignored by the Supreme Court.

Judge Zepeda, instead of taking it all quietly and thereby scoring points within the government establishment, instead did what he is supposed to do – even though it was politically incorrect – and dropped the charges that had been brought by the CDE against Colony leaders Schäfer, Hopp and the others. The judge also terminated the work of the Colony’s newly appointed executor, a man much favored by the CDE. All of this generated a ferocious response from the Interior Minister, who proclaimed that the government’s work was being thwarted.

Then the executive branch, which just weeks ago said it “would not comment on judicial rulings,” instead began challenging the judge’s rulings.

And if a case like this can be challenged by the executive branch, then why not a case like MOP-Gate, where those most affected are much closer to La Moneda than the German community?

I am certain that if the criminals at Colonia Dignidad are ever to spend time behind bars, it will be because of the work done by Judge Zepeda, even though his investigation upsets the egos of some State authorities. Zepeda, thus far, has been a guarantor that our institutions function as they must and that “due process” exists in our legal system. These are two concepts that should not be scorned, but rather, respected.

Translated by Steve Anderson (

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