Thursday, August 21, 2008

Judgment in Chile

Outside Santiago's Palacio de la Moneda, a larger than life monument to the late President Salvador Allende stands at the southeast corner of the Plaza de la Constitución. Only a decade ago, before the arrest and detention of former dictator General Augusto Pinochet in London changed Chilean politics so dramatically, this would have been unthinkable.

About a month ago, I reviewed a book by Chile's United Nations ambassador Heraldo Muñoz on his experiences during the Pinochet dictatorship of 1973-1990. I generally don't like to dwell on topics like Pinochet, if only because he is such an infamous stereotype of the region, which deserves to escape the stigma of brutal military strongmen. The other night, though, I watched a PBS documentary called The Judge and the General, by Elizabeth Farnsworth and Patricio Lanfranco, that adds something new to the debates.

Farnsworth and Lanfranco's film focuses on a single individual, the relatively conservative but open-minded judge Juan Guzmán, and his painstakingly incorruptible investigation into Pinochet's culpability for deaths and disappearances after the 1973 coup that overthrew Allende. By the time Pinochet died, two years ago, Guzmán's indictments had so discredited the dictator that, after Pinochet's funeral, the dictator's family had to cremate him and hide his remains instead of building a monumental crypt - making Pinochet, in a sense, the last disappeared person. Allende, by contrast, has a conspicuous public monument.

The film will also screen this weekend at the Santiago International Film Festival, followed by the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival from September 12-19, and the Festival of Liberties in Brussels, October 16-26.

In the interests of full disclosure, I know Patricio Lanfranco slightly, as he owns a lodge called Refugio Tinquilco at Parque Nacional Huerquehue, in the vicinity of Pucón. I have an even more tenuous link to Elizabeth Farnsworth, as I once batted against her son Sam in a pickup baseball game. Against Sam, who is 30 years younger than I and throws upwards of 80 mph, I was lucky to make any sort of contact.

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