LATIN AMERICA

Chile’s President Bachelet to revoke dictatorship amnesty law

Human rights groups celebrate decision but conservatives say it will only reopen old wounds

A monument to victims of political repression during the Pinochet regime.
A monument to victims of political repression during the Pinochet regime.SEBASTIAN SILVA / EFE

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet chose the 41st anniversary of the country’s 1973 coup on Thursday to announce her decision to revoke the amnesty law passed by the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in 1978 to protect the perpetrators of state crimes.

The Socialist executive will now try to fast-track a bill through Congress that has been kicking around since 2006. One of the lawmakers who helped draft it, Senator Guido Girardi, told CNN Chile that the measure was retroactive and would enable the courts to reopen shelved cases and try beneficiaries of the amnesty.

Bachelet, whose party holds a majority in both houses, is hoping the measure will get the green light. The president is devoting her second term in office to sweeping reforms aimed at transforming the country, with taxation and education two priority areas.

Ernesto Silva, UDI leader

The courts began investigating some of the abuses of the dictatorship several years after Chile’s return to democracy on the basis that crimes against humanity never prescribe. But judges always came up against the amnesty law, which made it impossible to rule against the perpetrators of abuses during the first five years of the Pinochet regime.

Bachelet’s decision was well received by human rights groups, which have been campaigning for such a move since 1990, when Chile returned to democracy.

But the criticism was not long coming from other sectors of Chilean society. “The government should worry about terrorism and unemployment,” said Ernesto Silva, head of the right-leaning Independent Democratic Union (UDI). “Chileans want to think about the future, not about the past, and it’s hard to understand why Bachelet would make this a priority. It’s going to reopen old wounds.”