Augusto Pinochet

Background

Chile is invaded and colonised by the Spanish in the first half of the 16th Century. The country achieves full independence in 1818. During the first quarter of the 20th Century, Chile becomes one of the most stable, reformist and representative democracies in the world. Chile's economy suffers a downturn following the Second World War. The country is further destabilised in September 1970 when Salvador Allende Gossens, a Marxist standing for the Popular Unity leftist coalition and promising to extend social reforms and introduce a socialist system, is elected president. Allende has a long-standing association with the KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvenoi Bezopasnosti), the Soviet Union's secret police force, and his election campaign has been heavily financed by the Soviets. More background.

Mini biography

Born on 25 November 1915 in the Pacific coastal port of Valparaiso. His father is a middle-class customs official whose family had immigrated from Brittany in northwest France in the early 18th Century. His mother is descended from immigrants from the Basque region of northern Spain. Pinochet is the oldest of six children.

1933 - He is accepted into the Chilean Escuela Militar (military school) for a four-year officer training course. He graduates with the rank of sub-lieutenant in 1937 and is commissioned into the infantry. By 1939 he has risen to second lieutenant. He becomes a full lieutenant in 1941.

1943 - Pinochet marries Lucía Hiriart Rodríguez, the daughter of a former member of Chile's parliament. The couple have two sons, Augusto and Marco Antonio, and three daughters, Lucía, Verónica and Jacqueline.

1948 - Pinochet is in command of a prison camp for communists when he meets Salvador Allende for the first time. Allende, a doctor and Socialist senator, had travelled to the camp to visit the prisoners.

1949 - Pinochet studies at the Academia de Guerra (War Academy). He is designated a general staff officer in 1951 and transferred to the Escuela Militar in a supervisory role. He also teaches classes at the War Academy. Between 1953 and 1972 he authors five books on geopolitics, geography and military history.

1953 - Pinochet is transferred for two years field duty with the Rancagua regiment in Arica on the northern coastal border with Peru. Here he is involved in a military clampdown on the Communist Party of Chile, commanding a detention camp and disbanding local communist unions.

1955 - He returns to the War Academy in Santiago as a professor and begins to study law at the University of Chile, though his studies are suspended the following year when he is sent to Ecuador to help organise a military mission. During 1956 he also serves as a military attaché in Washington.

1959 - Pinochet returns to Chile from Ecuador late in the year and in 1960 is made commander of the Esmeralda regiment. In 1963 he is named as a subdirector of the War Academy. In 1966 he is made a colonel.

1968 - He is promoted to brigadier-general and named as commander-in-chief of the 6th division, headquartered in Iquique in the north of the country.

1970 - Following Salvador Allende's victory in the Chilean presidential vote, United States President Richard M. Nixon orders the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to do all it can to prevent Allende from being inaugurated.

Under the supervision of National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger the CIA develops the so-called Track II plan to oust Allende, allocating US$10 million while formally insulating the US embassy in Chile from any involvement.

The CIA attempts to bribe key Chilean legislators and funds a group of military officers plotting a coup. A further payment of US$35,000 is made following the assassination on 22 October of General Rene Schneider, the commander-in-chief of the army, who had refused to approve the coup plan.

One CIA document from October states, "It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup. ... It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG (US Government) and American hand be well hidden."

Meanwhile, agents from the Soviet Union begin to move into Chile in force following Allende's victory. Soviet paramilitary instructors use Chile as a base for the training of insurgents from across Latin America.

1971 - Blaming the capitalist system for Chile's woes, Allende's Popular Unity (UP) coalition government moves quickly to socialise the economy. Foreign-controlled copper mines are fully nationalised. The government takes control of large businesses, industries, banks and rural estates. The management of many factories is turned over to the workers and the state. Salaries and wages are lifted while prices are held down. The subsequent growth in demand sees employment levels rise.

The socialisation program is initially popular and successful but by 1972, as the economy goes into dramatic decline, opposition to Allende and the UP government begins to escalate.

Already strained relations with the US are further stretched by the government's recognition of Cuba, China, North Korea and North Vietnam and by its continued cultivation of ties with the Soviet Union. The US responds by withdrawing financial assistance and blocking loans, although aid to the Chilean military is doubled.

The CIA continues to work covertly to destabilise the UP government, providing up to US$7 million in funding to opposition groups in order to "create pressures, exploit weaknesses, magnify obstacles" and hasten Allende's downfall.

In January Pinochet is appointed major-general and given command of the Santiago garrison. The following year he wins Allende's trust when he is able to bring some order to the capital during a general strike. "I will not tolerate agents of chaos no matter what their political ideology," Pinochet says at the time.

1972 - The government attempts to revive the economy by increasing spending. The result is hyperinflation, reaching an annual rate of more than 500%, and complete economic paralysis. Racked by internal division and external opposition, the government is unable to act.

Pinochet is named chief-major-general of the army general staff.

1973 - Parliamentary elections held in March are inconclusive and fail to resolve the political deadlock, although the UP does increase its vote. Street demonstrations against the government become an almost daily event, with protests coming from both the left and the right. Workplace shutdowns and lockouts are also commonplace.

The CIA finances strikes by transport workers and shopkeepers, is implicated in the sabotage of public infrastructure, and infiltrates all of the coalition partners in the UP. Almost one third of the staff at the US embassy in Santiago are now on the CIA payroll.

Allende promotes Pinochet to commander-in-chief of the army on 23 August, mistakenly believing that Pinochet can still be trusted to remain neutral.

Meanwhile, members of the armed forces are finalising their plans for a coup. While it now appears that Pinochet was not involved in the planning and was not informed of it until three days before the event, when the coup is launched he is firmly in charge.

The military strike on 11 September, taking Santiago in a violent offensive that sees Pinochet order air raids on the Palacio de La Moneda (the presidential palace and seat of government).

Allende kills himself before he can be captured. Many of his aides are arrested then transported to a military base, where they are executed and buried. The notorious Caravan of Death targets political opponents located in the provinces, summarily executing at least 72.

A four-man junta headed by Pinochet and composed of the commanders-in-chief of the army, navy, air force and police is assembled. The junta takes control of the state and begins a campaign to remove the influence of the UP from all social institutions.

A state of siege is declared, martial law is introduced and parliament is closed. The media is censored, universities are purged, books are burned, Marxist political parties are outlawed and union activities are banned. Thousands are murdered or "disappeared". Thousands more are jailed or forced to leave the country. Torture is commonplace. Up to one million flee into self-imposed exile. The bodies of many of the "disappeared" are dumped from helicopters into the Pacific Ocean as part of an organised program to hide evidence of human rights violations.

It is reported that up to 250,000 people are detained in the first months following the coup. Stadiums, military bases and naval vessels have to be used as short-term prisons. At least five new prison camps are established for political prisoners.

The newly formed secret police (National Intelligence Directorate - DINA) create a reign of terror at home and organise the assassinations of opponents in exile abroad. Civilian courts are supplanted with military tribunals.

General Manuel Contreras is placed in charge of DINA. According to Contreras, Pinochet receives daily briefings about the activities of the secret police. The US Defence Intelligence Agency also reports in 1975 that Pinochet "issues instructions on DINA, is aware of its activities and in fact heads it". The US embassy corroborates the report, stating that "DINA reports directly to Pinochet and is ultimately controlled by him alone".

The US quickly recognises the junta and reinstates financial aid.

1974 - General Carlos Prats, a former Chilean military commander-in-chief who refused to join the coup then sought asylum in Argentina, is assassinated on 30 September when a bomb blows up his car in the garage of his Buenos Aires apartment building. Prats fled Chile after the coup because of his ties with Allende. The bomb is thought to have been planted by DINA on the order of Pinochet. Prats' wife, Sofia Cuthbert, is also killed in the explosion.

Pinochet takes complete control of Chile on 11 December when he is named president. Over the next 15 years he rules the country as an iron-fisted autocrat in the mode of his admired role-model, the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.

1975 - On 25 November the intelligence services of Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay launch Operation Condor, an information gathering and sharing alliance designed to eliminate Marxist terrorist activities in South America.

According to a US Federal Bureau of Investigation officer working in Argentina at the time, "Chile is the centre for 'Operation Condor'." The officer also reports that, "A ... most secret phase of 'Operation Condor' involves the formation of special teams from member countries who are to travel anywhere in the world to non-member countries to carry out sanctions up to assassination against terrorists or supporters of terrorist organisations from 'Operation Condor' member countries."

In an attempt to repair Chile's economy, the junta introduces free-market policies, slashes welfare and reduces the size of the government. Trade barriers are removed, a central bank is established, wages are cut, income taxes are lowered and the social security system is privatised. Inflation is curbed. Property is returned to its original owners. All companies nationalised by the Allende government are returned to private ownership. Growth accelerates but unemployment stays high.

Though the country falls into recession in 1975, growth accelerates in 1976 and remains high into the 1980s. Unemployment, however, also stays high.

1976 - On 16 September the now Secretary of State Henry Kissinger tells US ambassadors in South America not to follow up on an earlier directive to warn the local governments against "plans for the assassination of subversives, politicians and prominent figures both within the national borders ... and abroad".

Five days later, on 21 September, Orlando Letelier, a former ambassador to the US and defence minister under Allende, is assassinated in Washington by Cuban exiles operating on the orders of Pinochet's secret police. Letelier had been targeted as part of the Operation Condor alliance.

1977 - The inauguration of Jimmy Carter as US president combined with the assassination of Letelier leads to a cooling of relations between Chile and the US. Relations between the two countries continue to decline through the administrations Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

Pinochet announces that there will be no early return to democracy. The junta alone will determine when civilian government will be reinstated. As head of state and commander-in-chief of the military he exerts absolute control over the country and ensures that his cronies control all key posts.

Military officers are appointed as mayors of towns and cities throughout Chile. Former military personnel also take control of universities, purging faculties of all suspected of left-wing sympathies.

The state of siege is lifted and replaced with a state of emergency. The National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) is abolished and replaced by the National Information Centre.

1978 - Pinochet allows a referendum on the legitimacy of his regime then claims that more than 75% of the voters have endorsed his rule.

When the commander of the Chilean air force, Gustavo Leigh Guzmán, calls for an early return to civilian government, Pinochet has him forcibly dismissed. Guzmán had been one of the members of the four-man junta. His dismissal makes Pinochet's position unassailable.

An amnesty law is passed to protect military officers accused of human rights abuses committed since the 1973 coup.

The military extends its program to hide the evidence of human rights violations committed during the coup. The remains of the "disappeared" are exhumed and disposed of elsewhere. Many of the remains are dumped into the Pacific Ocean. Many others are burnt. The order for the clean-up comes directly from Pinochet, who threatens to "retire" any commander if bodies continue to be found in his jurisdiction.

1980 - Pinochet introduces a new constitution allowing him to remain as president until 1989. The new constitution also entrenches the military's domination of the government and allows Pinochet to restrict freedom of association and speech and to arrest or exile any citizen, with no rights of appeal except to Pinochet himself.

The new constitution restricts the political activities of unions and community organisations. Politicians are barred from advocacy roles for such groups. Local governments are abolished. Pinochet is given the power to dissolve the House of Representatives. The constitution cannot be amended without approval from Pinochet. A plebiscite is scheduled for 1988-89 to determine if he will have an additional eight years in office. When the new constitution is ratified by a reportedly fraudulent plebiscite the Communist Party of Chile calls for armed insurrection.

1982 - The economy flounders then goes into recession, leaving more than a third of the workforce unemployed and sparking protests against the regime. Demonstrations become more widespread during the 1980s as political parties begin to resurface.

1984 - Pinochet declares a state of siege in November and cracks down on the demonstrators.

"I am a man fighting for a just cause; the fight between Christianity and spiritualism on the one hand and Marxism and materialism on the other," he says during the year. "I get my strength from God."

1985 - Chile's various political parties put aside their differences and unit against Pinochet's regime, signing the National Accord for Transition to Full Democracy. The accord calls for a transition to civilian rule, the legalisation of all political activity, an end to restrictions on civil liberties, and free, direct presidential elections. Pinochet rejects the document and uses a "divide and rule" strategy to undermine the accord.

1986 - On 7 September an armed wing of the Communist Party stages an unsuccessful attempt on Pinochet's life. Five bodyguards are killed but Pinochet is unharmed. The assassination attempt is the final nail in the coffin of the accord and unleashes a new round of military terror against the left.

1987 - Opposition leaders form a loose coalition to support and promote a "no" vote in the approaching plebiscite to determine if Pinochet will remain in office. Cooperation between the opposition parties increases to the point where they are viewed as a credible alternative to continued military rule.

Sensing he may loose the vote, Pinochet begins to plan for another coup. According to a report from the US Defence Intelligence Agency, high-ranking government officials draw up contingency plans to sabotage the plebiscite by encouraging and staging acts of violence.

"They hope that such violence will elicit further reprisals by the radical opposition and begin a cycle of rioting and disorder," the report says. "The plans call for government security forces to intervene forcefully and, citing damage to the electoral process and balloting facilities, to declare a state of emergency. At that point, the elections would be suspended, declared invalid, and postponed indefinitely."

The plan is rejected by the Reagan administration in the US, which no longer supports Pinochet's authoritarian rule, and intelligence channels are used to warn the Chilean military "that implementation of such a plan would seriously damage relations with the United States and utterly destroy Chile's reputation in the world".

1988 - The plebiscite is held on 5 October. The next day Pinochet announces his defeat. Nearly 55% of the electorate have voted to end his regime. Pinochet's dictatorship has effectively come to an end. Democracy has been restored democratically, although the political climate remains volatile as the opposition and military begin to negotiate the transition process.

It is later revealed that on the night of the plebiscite a "nearly apoplectic" Pinochet attempted to get the junta to grant him extraordinary powers to overturn the vote and have the armed forces seize the capital. The request was rejected and the vote allowed to stand.

1989 - Constitutional reforms overwhelming ratified by a plebiscite on 30 July remove some of the more draconian provisions in the 1980 constitution. Unions and community organisations are freed to actively participate in the political process, exile is prohibited and restrictions on the process for amending the constitution are loosened. The power of the president and the executive is reduced. However, the military retain significant control of the parliament.

Elections for president and parliament are held on 14 December. They are the first elections in 19 years. Patricio Aylwin, the leader of the Christian Democrats, wins the presidency with 55% of the vote. The Coalition of Parties for Democracy, comprising 14 opposition groups, wins a majority of seats in the parliamentary vote, although not enough to offset designated senators to be appointed by Pinochet, who is to remain as commander-in-chief of the army until 1998.

The new government establishes the National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation to inquire into human rights abuses committed during Pinochet's rule. Its report finds the security forces were responsible for 2,115 deaths, including those of 957 detainees who disappeared. The secret police, accused of responsibility for 392 of the disappearances, is disbanded.

Pinochet dismisses the report's findings, saying that those who disappeared "were nothing but bandits".

He also warns that attempts to bring military personnel to trial for the abuses of his regime will not be tolerated. "The day they touch one of my men, the rule of law ends," he declares in 1991.

1992 - The National Corporation for Reconciliation and Reparation is formed to continue the work of the National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation. In 1996 the corporation finds the Pinochet regime responsible for the death or disappearance of 3,197 people between September 1973 and March 1990. Of these 1,102 are classified as "disappearances" and 2,095 as deaths.

A later report by the National Commission on Political Prisoners and Torture estimates that 28,000 people were abused at 1,131 detention centres around the country during Pinochet's rule. The three-volume report concludes that "torture was a policy of the state, meant to repress and terrorise the population".

1993 - About 600 military officers are named as having committed human rights abuses during the Pinochet regime.

Meanwhile, Pinochet is fitted with a heart pacemaker. Along with an ongoing heart complaint he suffers from diabetes and arthritis.

The former chief of the Chilean secret police, Manuel Contreras, and his deputy are convicted for their role in the assassination of Orlando Letelier in Washington in 1976. Contreras receives a seven year sentence. In 1997 he claims that Pinochet had ordered the killing of Letelier.

According to secret US Department of State documents that were declassified in 2015, the CIA had reached the same conclusion by 1987. In a memorandum sent to US President Ronald Reagan, then US Secretary of State George Shultz reports that the CIA concludes that its review of the assassination provides "what we regard as convincing evidence that President Pinochet personally ordered his intelligence chief to carry out the murders".

Schultz also reports that the CIA review confirms that "Pinochet decided to stonewall on the US investigation to hide his involvement" and even considered "the elimination of his former intelligence chief".

Schultz concludes "this is a blatant example of a chief of state's direct involvement in an act of state terrorism, one that is particularly disturbing both because it occurred in our capital and since his government is generally considered to be friendly".

Manuel Contreras is later convicted and sentenced for other assassinations and abuses committed while he was head of the secret police. He receives two life sentences for plotting the assassination of General Carlos Prats and his wife in Buenos Aires in 1974. He receives 12 years for the kidnapping and disappearance Miguel Angel Sandoval Rodríguez. He is sentenced to three years for the 1976 killing of the teacher Julia Retamal. He receives a separate 15 year sentence for his role in the 1974 disappearance of Marcelo Salinas.

In November 2004 he tells 'The New York Times' that Pinochet had known about and approved of all his actions.

In 2005 Contreras provides the Supreme Court with a 32-page document detailing the fate of almost 600 people who disappeared during Pinochet's regime. In a letter accompanying the document Contreras alleges that Pinochet personally ordered human rights violations, including the assassinations of Carlos Prats and Orlando Letelier.

1996 - A Spanish judge rules that his court has jurisdiction in a case of international terrorism, genocide and crimes against humanity brought against Pinochet by the families of some of the victims of his regime. The charges allege that agents of the regime working under the Operation Condor alliance killed or attempted to kill individuals in the US, Argentina, Italy and other countries and cite the findings of the Chilean National Corporation for Reconciliation and Reparation.

1998 - Pinochet steps down as commander-in-chief of the army on 10 March but becomes a senator for life. He remains immune from prosecution for his role in the human rights abuses of his regime and is given the honorary title of commander-in-chief emeritus of the Chilean Army.

In September Pinochet travels to Britain to undergo surgery for a back complaint, believing his immunity from prosecution stretches worldwide. However, on 16 October the British police act on a warrant issued from Spain and arrest him in his hospital bed. The warrant requests Pinochet's extradition to Spain to face charges relating to the abduction of the leader of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left from Argentina in April 1976. The abduction had been coordinated between the military regimes of Argentina and Chile under the Operation Condor alliance.

A famous and lengthy court case follows during which Pinochet is held under house arrest at the Wentworth estate in Surrey. The British High Court initially rules in Pinochet's favour but on 25 November the House of Lords upholds the extradition request, a decision that is ratified the following month by British Home Secretary Jack Straw. Pinochet's legal team appeal.

1999 - In March the High Court rejects the appeal. The home secretary again ratifies the extradition request. Pinochet's team launches a further appeal but in October this is also rejected.

2000 - On 11 January the home secretary reverses the decision to extradite Pinochet after a panel of doctors finds Pinochet medically unfit to stand trial. Pinochet is released on 2 March and allowed to return to Chile. He has spent 503 days under house arrest. But he is not yet free of the law.

On 8 August the Chilean Supreme Court rules to lift Pinochet's immunity from prosecution so he can be charged with 18 of the kidnappings and 57 of the executions carried out during the Caravan of Death that followed the 1973 coup. The efforts to prove that he is medically unfit for trial are renewed.

2001 - Chilean Judge Juan Guzmán Tapia questions Pinochet on the circumstances surrounding the Caravan of Death. It is the first time the former dictator has been legally called to account for the human rights abuses of his regime.

Pinochet is charged and placed under house arrest in his Santiago mansion on 30 January. He is released on bail on 11 April. On 9 July Chile's Appeals Court rules that Pinochet is mentally unfit for trial due to dementia.

2002 - In June Judge Guzmán announces that extradition proceedings may be launched against Henry Kissinger in an attempt to force him to travel to Chile and appear before a judicial investigation into CIA involvement in the coup. The investigation is seeking to determine whether US officials passed the names of suspected left-wing Americans to Chilean military authorities - the existence of such a list having been verified by declassified documents.

Kissinger is wanted for questioning about circumstances surrounding the abduction and murder of US journalist Charles Horman shortly after the 1973 coup. Horman, whose story was later dramatised in the film 'Missing', had been investigating the death of General Rene Schneider, the former commander-in-chief of the Chilean Army who was assassinated in 1970 after refusing to endorse a military coup against the Allende government.

On 1 July Chile's Supreme Court reaffirms that Pinochet cannot be put of trial because of his ill-health. Judge Guzmán is ordered to halt his Caravan of Death case against the former dictator. Three days later Pinochet resigns as senator for life, formally ending his political career. According to his son, Pinochet made his decision "as a contribution to social peace in Chile". Pinochet had not attended the Senate since 1998.

Pinochet's letter of resignation states that his health prevents him from properly carrying out his duties as a senator. His withdrawal from public life has been made with a "clean conscience". Though "there still remain too many passions" to expect "a verdict that is objective, serene and, above all, fair", history would honour his "soldierly sacrifice".

2003 - In a rare interview broadcast by the Miami-based Spanish language television station WDLP-22 on 24 November, Pinochet says he has no regrets about his time in power and refuses to apologise for the abuses of his regime.

"I never aspired to be a dictator because ... I considered that to be a dictator would end badly," Pinochet says. "I always acted in a democratic way. ... Who shall I ask to be pardoned by? They say I should ask for forgiveness, what shall I ask to be forgiven for? ... I feel like an angel. I have no resentment."

Pinochet says he is writing an autobiography titled 'Caminos Recorridos' (The Roads I Have Travelled) and reveals that he has drafted a letter to be released after his death which will describe "the truth" of what happened.

"I am a man who does not carry any hate in his heart," Pinochet says. "I don't want future generations to think badly of me. I want them to know what really happened."

Following the broadcast, Chilean lawyers announce they will resume their efforts to have Pinochet prosecuted for human rights abuses, saying the interview indicated the former dictator is medically fit to stand trial.

2004 - On 14 July the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations releases a report into the Washington-based Riggs Bank that finds that from 1994 to 2002 the bank helped Pinochet hide US$4-8 million in multiple accounts and two offshore shell companies.

According to the report, Riggs "served as a long-standing personal banker for Mr Pinochet and deliberately assisted him in the concealment and movement of his funds while he was under investigation (in Britain) and the subject of a worldwide court order freezing his assets".

The report also cites a Riggs client profile estimating Pinochet's entire fortune at between US$50 million and US$100 million.

Further investigations by the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations reveal that over the span of a quarter of a century Pinochet hid at least US$15 million in more than 125 secret bank accounts around the world.

As well as the Riggs bank, accounts were opened at Citigroup, Coutts & Co., Bank of America, Banco de Chile and Espirito Santo Bank of Miami. Other banks were also involved. The accounts were used to move funds from holding companies to personal accounts and to transfer cash to Chile.

Chile's State Defence Council begins an investigation into the origins of Pinochet's fortune. The council comes to suspect that some of the money came from kick-backs from European weapons manufacturers. The suspicions are confirmed when 'The Guardian' newspaper reveals that Britain's biggest arms company, BAE Systems, had made secret payments to Pinochet totalling over US$2 million.

Another possible explanation of the source of some of Pinochet's wealth surfaces in July 2006 when the former chief of the Chilean secret police, Manuel Contreras, claims that Pinochet was involved in the manufacture, smuggling and sale of cocaine during the 1980s. According to 'The New York Times', Contreras also accused Pinochet of "embezzling money from secret government accounts".

Chilean lawyers file criminal charges against Pinochet for fraud, bribery, money laundering and other financial crimes. A judicial investigation is also opened to determine if Pinochet was involved in tax fraud and the misappropriation of funds. It is thought that Pinochet may have evaded as much as US$17 million in taxes over the years.

On 26 August the Supreme Court rules that Pinochet's immunity from prosecution should be lifted for a case concerning the disappearance of 19 leftists in the mid-1970s during Operation Condor. The decision opens the possibility that Pinochet may finally go to trial for the human rights abuses of his regime.

On 25 September Judge Guzmán questions Pinochet about his role in the Operation Condor disappearances. It is only the second time Pinochet has been legally called to account for the human rights abuses of his regime.

According to media reports following the questioning, Pinochet tells the judge that he has no knowledge of the disappearances and claims that mid-level military officers coordinated Operation Condor.

On 13 December Judge Guzmán declares that Pinochet is fit to stand trial and charges him with nine counts of kidnapping and one of murder arising out of the Operation Condor case.

According to Judge Guzmán, while Pinochet "is very physically deteriorated ... he has coherence in his psychological capacity and he understands questions (and) gives appropriate answers".

Pinochet's lawyers promptly appeal the ruling, first in the Santiago Appeals Court and then in the Supreme Court.

Pinochet is admitted to Santiago Army Hospital on 18 December for treatment of what is described as a "minor stroke". He remains in hospital for four days. Five months later, on 19 May 2005, he returns to the hospital after suffering a mild stroke. He is released after five hours. He returns to hospital on 21 June 2005 after losing consciousness for 30 minutes. He is released the following day.

2005 - On 4 January the Supreme Court upholds the Operation Condor charges against Pinochet, clearing the way for his possible trial. However, Pinochet's fitness to face court remains under dispute. In June an Appeals Court panel finds he is too senile to defend himself effectively. It again becomes unlikely that a trial will proceed.

On 20 January the Supreme Court gives Judge Sergio Munoz permission to search for secret international bank accounts held by Pinochet. According to Judge Munoz, the former dictator's fortune could amount to US$15 million. Judge Munoz later raises the estimate to US$27 million.

In September 2009 Judge Manuel Valderrama puts an exact value on the figure, saying that shortly before his death the accounts of Pinochet and his family totalled US$25,978,602.79. The University of Chile estimates that less than 10% of this amount could have been sourced from Pinochet's military salary.

Pinochet explains the foreign accounts by saying that "for reasons of prudence, because I knew I would be the target of persecution and political harassment, I delivered to professional international institutions the savings of my entire life. If some tax difference occurred, my advisers have paid every thing that was owed."

Judge Munoz accuses Pinochet of corruption, falsifying documents, tax fraud and money laundering and asks the Appeals Court to remove his immunity from prosecution so the charges can be brought to trial. Chile's tax agency also promises to pursue tax fraud charges against Pinochet, even if he pays his back taxes. Pinochet does pay about US$2 million in back taxes during the year.

On 7 June the Appeals Court removes Pinochet's immunity from prosecution for tax evasion charges relating to the former dictator's secret foreign bank accounts. Pinochet is accused of not paying US$9.2 million in taxes from 1984 to 2004. If convicted he could face up to five years in jail.

Further charges of corruption are laid against Pinochet during the year. In November he is charged with evading US$2.4 million in taxes, using four false passports to open overseas bank accounts, submitting a false government document to a foreign bank and filing a false report on his assets. In December the Santiago Appeals Court removes his immunity from prosecution for charges that he diverted US$2 million from the presidential office to personal accounts overseas.

On 6 July Pinochet loses his immunity from prosecution for charges relating to the misrepresentation and cover-up of the deaths of between 20 and 119 rebels from the Revolutionary Leftist Movement in 1975. The execution of the leftists and subsequent cover-up was known at the time as Operation Colombo.

On 24 November Pinochet is placed under house arrest on charges relating to the disappearance of six dissidents during Operation Colombo. On 5 December these charges are expanded to cover the disappearances of a further three dissidents. Pinochet remains under house arrest for seven weeks.

On 28 December Pinochet is formally booked by the Chilean police for the disappearance of all nine Operation Colombo dissidents. He is fingerprinted and has identification photographs taken from the front and side for a police file.

On 17 November 'The Guardian' newspaper publishes extracts from a record of interview between Pinochet and the prosecutor for the Operation Colombo case, Judge Victor Montiglio.

Asked about the killing of civilians during his regime Pinochet says, "I suffer for these losses, but God does the deeds; he will pardon me if I exceeded in some, which I don't think."

On his decision to stage the 1973 coup he says, "Everything that I did, all that I carried out, all the problems I had, I dedicate to God, all this I dedicate to Chile because this permitted that the country was not communist and arose as it is today."

Pinochet denies he was in command of the DINA secret police force. "I don't remember (the chain of command), but it is not true," he says.

Meanwhile, the final constitutional vestiges of the Pinochet regime are removed on 13 July when the Chilean Senate passes reforms that cut the presidential term from six years to four and remove parliamentary privileges granted to the military. The Senate becomes a wholly elected institution. The president's power to remove the commanders of the armed forces is restored and military influence over the legal system is eliminated.

2006 - The new year sees no let up in the legal pursuit of Pinochet. On 11 January the Santiago Appeals Court removes the former dictator's immunity from prosecution for charges related to the killing of two of Salvador Allende's bodyguards during the Caravan of Death that followed the 1973 coup.

On 31 August Pinochet is formally questioned by Judge Alejandro Solis about the assassination of General Carlos Prats and his wife in Buenos Aires in 1974.

On 18 August the Supreme Court lifts Pinochet's immunity from prosecution for a corruption case related to his secret overseas bank accounts.

On 8 September Pinochet loses his immunity for charges relating to human rights abuses carried out at the Villa Grimaldi prison in the south of Santiago between 1974 and 1977. Villa Grimaldi, which was run by the secret police, was a notorious torture centre.

In October Pinochet is questioned by Judge Solis about Villa Grimaldi but denies any knowledge of the activities there. At the end of the month he is detained under house arrest over the Villa Grimaldi charges.

Pinochet celebrates his 91st birthday on 25 November. To mark the event a statement is read on his behalf by his wife.

"Today, near the end of my days, I want to say that I harbour no rancour against anybody, that I love my fatherland above all and that I take political responsibility for everything that was done which had no other goal than making Chile greater and avoiding its disintegration," Pinochet's statement says.

"I assume full political responsibility for what happened. ... I will gladly withstand all the humiliation, persecution and injustices my family and I have suffered in the name of peace and harmony, which should reign among Chileans. ...

"I am absolutely certain that tomorrow, once the political passions and resentments are ended, history will judge our work objectively and will recognise that we put Chile on top of the nations in our continent."

On 27 November Pinochet is placed under house arrest on charges relating to the killing of two of Salvador Allende's bodyguards.

Six days later, on 3 December, he suffers an acute heart attack and is admitted to the Santiago Military Hospital. He dies from heart failure at 2:15 p.m. on Sunday, 10 December.

Pinochet is denied a state funeral. His body lies in state at the Santiago Military Academy before being cremated on 12 December. His ashes are placed inside the chapel of a private family estate outside Santiago. No heads of state attend the military ceremony to mark his passing.

The former dictator speaks from the grave on 24 December when a six-page letter he had written in 2004 is released to the public.

"How I wish the 11 September, 1973, military action had not been necessary!" the letter says. "How I wish the Marxist-Leninist ideology had not entered our fatherland!"

"It was necessary to act with maximum rigour to avoid a widening of the conflict. ...

"It was necessary to implement certain procedures of military control, such as temporary imprisonment, authorised exile, executions by firing squad after military trials. ...

"Serious conflicts are like that and always will be: They give rise to abuses and exaggerations. ...

"As long as ideological and armed fanaticism continued to endanger stability, we could not lower our arms. ...

"With all sincerity I can say that I am proud of the enormous action which I had to undertake to stop Marxist-Leninism assuming total power. ... Nevertheless, if the experience was to repeat itself, I wish I had a greater wisdom. ...

"I have left no room for hatred in my heart."

"My destiny is a kind of banishment and loneliness that I would have never imagined, much less wanted."

Comment

Under the economic paradigms of today the Allende government appears dubious at best and would be brought to its knees by market forces alone. Similar stresses were placed on the government at the time - the flight of capital and the blocking of aid and loans - and it is quite possible that Allende would have been removed democratically if a scheduled vote for the presidency had been allowed to proceed.

But, placing such "what ifs" aside, Allende and his government were the rightful albeit minority incumbents in a robust democratic system and it is shameful that they were removed in a way that not only broke the social contract but also jeopardised the system itself. It is a credit to Chile that democratic norms have since been restored.

The culprits in the tragedy were, as is so often the case in Latin America, the US Government and the local military, headed by a despotic strongman. While the US may have grudgingly recognised its responsibility, Pinochet went to his grave convinced of his blamelessness.

It is consoling to know that he lived to see his humiliation at home and abroad as well as the gradual dismantling of the safeguards he so carefully put in place to ensure that he and his cronies would never be brought to justice let alone charged. At the time of his death over 300 cases had been filed against Pinochet.

"At the end he was surrounded by lawyers who tried to defend the indefensible," observed Isabel Allende, the Chilean novelist and relative of Salvador Allende. "I would have preferred for the courts to have finished their work. I wish there had been a conviction and a sentence."

In her book 'My Invented Country' Isabel Allende asks, "Who was Pinochet, really? Why was he so feared? Why was he admired?"

She answers, "He was a crude, cold, slippery, authoritarian man who had no scruples or sense of loyalty other than to the army as an institution - though not to his comrades in arms, who he had killed according to his convenience, men such as General Carlos Prats and others. He believed that he was chosen by God and history to save his country. He was astute and suspicious, but he could be genial, and, at times, even likeable. Admired by some, despised by others, feared by all, he was possibly the man in our history who has held the greatest power in his hands for the longest period of time."