Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Chile: Clan Pinochet - the book

By Daniela Estrada - IPS

Republished permission Inter Press Service (IPS )copyright Inter Press Service (IPS)
www.ipsnewsasia.net and www.ipsnews.net

SANTIAGO, Jul 13 (IPS) - "La Familia. Historia privada de los Pinochet" (The Family: Private History of the Pinochets), a book that delves into the personal life of the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and his immediate family, has had a mixed reception in this country and in Ecuador, where a man claiming to be his illegitimate son may soon identify himself.

The book by Chilean journalists Fernando Vega and Claudia Farfán begins and ends with the little-known love affair between Pinochet and an Ecuadorean beauty called Piedad Noé, which began in Quito in 1957, when Pinochet, then an army major, was stationed in Ecuador.

His alleged romance with Noé, who died in 1990, was one of the major unconfirmed rumours about the general who on Sept. 11, 1973 overthrew the government of socialist President Salvador Allende and ruled the country with an iron fist for 17 years. For the first time, the affair has been documented in detail by investigative journalists.

According to the 227-page book, their idyll did not end in 1959, as Pinochet's wife, Lucia Hiriart, believed. Instead it lasted for over three decades, kept alive by letters, phonecalls and occasional clandestine meetings.

According to interviews with witnesses, the affair almost destroyed Pinochet's marriage with Hiriart, which nonetheless lasted 63 years, until the former dictator's death in 2006. The couple had five children.

The sense of guilt over his extramarital affair that burdened the general for decades may explain his lifelong docile behaviour towards his temperamental wife, the book says. She used to rail at him in public and finish off conversations with the last words "now you're talking nonsense, Augusto!" according to Farfán and Vega.

In the chapter titled "The Myth of the Sixth Child", the book revives another old story, about the general having an illegitimate son in Ecuador. Today he would be about 50 years old, and Cuban intelligence agents are said to have searched for him diligently in order to destabilise the Chilean regime. However, the authors were unable to confirm the truth of any of this during their investigation.

But on Jun. 28 the Quito newspaper El Comercio published the account of an Ecuadorean doctor, Fabián Guarderas, who said he is a friend of the son of a Quito pianist allegedly fathered by Pinochet. According to Guarderas the man, identified only as Juan, is willing to undergo DNA testing to prove his identity.

It seems from what Guarderas says that Piedad, the alleged mistress of Pinochet who is a leading character in the Chilean journalists' book, is Juan's mother - although he says her surname is not Noé and that she died only four years ago.

The book's authors say that if the general did indeed have a sixth child, he or she did not belong to the Piedad they wrote about.

"This story needs to be investigated. We followed up several leads, but we did not find the son. It's quite a surprise" to hear Guarderas' account, Vega told IPS. "This development needs to be closely monitored," he said.

Guarderas added that Juan, who found out Pinochet was his father when he was a teenager, is considering taking legal action against Farfán and Vega for the way they portrayed Piedad in their book.

Vega said he was not worried about this because, even if Juan really is Pinochet's son, the woman in their book is not Juan's mother.

Some commentators think the history of Chile would have been very different if Pinochet had left his wife and gone to live with Piedad in Ecuador.

Before Guarderas spoke to the press, the general's widow wrote an open letter denying the book's claims. "Under the pretext of investigative journalism, the authors are making a mint of money from rumours that distort reality, and adding a measure of fantasy to their libel," Hiriart wrote.

"It is disgraceful to devote pages to 'the myth of the sixth child,' based on mere rumour, without any solid piece of evidence. The only purpose is to insult the honour of our family," she wrote.

The book describes Hiriart's uncontrolled spending sprees and rigid conservatism, as well as the frequent scandals involving the dictator's five children. It says Pinochet played favourites with some and was cold to others, and this differential treatment caused serious problems between them. Even his grandchildren suffered from it.

"The Family", published in June under the Debate imprint by Random House Mondadori, contains detailed profiles of Lucía, Augusto, María Verónica, Marco Antonio and Jacqueline, the Pinochets' five children, who were financially dependent on their father and have still not come to terms with each other.

Farfán and Vega describe a divided family, corroded by money and power.

Pinochet's progressive loss of influence, after the dictatorship came to an end in 1990 and he retired as commander-in-chief of the army in 1998, marked the beginning of the disintegration of the clan. They faced troubled times, like the general's arrest on charges of genocide in London in October 1998, on an international warrant issued by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón.

Pinochet, who had travelled to London for back surgery, ended up serving 503 days of house arrest until then United Kingdom Home Secretary, Jack Straw, decided not to extradite him to Spain for medical reasons.

The fourth chapter of the book scrutinises the secret family fortune, assessed at 26 million dollars and investigated by the justice system for tax evasion and misappropriation of public funds. Some of the money, deposited at the Washington, DC-based Riggs Bank, was accidentally discovered in 2004 by a U.S. Senate committee.

"The man who ruled Chile for the longest period in its history did not rule his own family," political analyst Patricio Navia commented in a Jun. 29 review of Farfán and Vega's book in the local daily La Tercera.

"The man who threatened to end the transition (to democracy) if a single one of his men were touched (by the courts for crimes committed during the dictatorship) was apparently incapable of exercising the same authority over his children as he did over the nation, or of inspiring the same fear he awoke among his adversaries or the same reverence he inspired among his followers," Navia said.

Two of Pinochet's descendants are regarded as his "political heirs" - his daughter Lucía, who was elected a municipal councillor in the wealthy borough of Vitacura, in Santiago, in 2008, and her son Rodrigo García, who is standing for the lower house of Congress in the December 2009 general elections.

The book hardly mentions the at least 3,000 people who were murdered or disappeared and the 35,000 who were tortured during the Pinochet regime. Some see this as an attempt to polish the dictator's image or show a more human face.

According to the authors, human rights violations simply "were not an issue of concern to the family."
Published by Mike Hitchen,
Putting principles before profits