Chile: ook Ahead at Letelier Case Developments
Thla study outlines the prcbaLle course through the Chilean legal system of the us request to extradite General Contreres and suggests that lt couldseful neans of interpreting political develop-
j stents In Chile over the next severalt does notudgment on the possibilities of President Pinochet's survival, but insteadramework
1 wit din which to evaluate forthcoming substantive reports and information.
The Decision on Pinochet
Overshadowing the Letelier assassination case is the question of whether it will ultimately bring down the Pinochet regime. With the grand jury indictment publicly accusing three ChileanContreras,lose associate of Presidentlegal and political possibilities set in motion create fresh uncertainties as to the eventual fate of the President.
Whether the Pinochet regime stands or falls,ultimately depends upon the judgment of the Chilean armed services. Currently, they give the regimesupport to maintain it in power. But the unfolding of the Letelier case will force an institutionalof the consequences for the Chilean military. The officer corps' evaluation will certainly include an assessment of the costs and benefits of Presidentremaining in power, and at some later point in the Letelierat the very end, the Chilean armed forces will say "yes" or "no" to his presidency.
The military leaders will weigh three major factors:
nternationalunanimity, strength, and persistence inthe removal of Pinochet.
'The degree of domestic civilian support for Pinochet.
aken by foreign governments and International organizations to press for the ouster of Pinochet.
Pinochet's opponents, in and out of Chile, arehave been freelytheimpact of these factors will inevitably force tbe military to dismiss Pinochet. Whatever the final decision, the process leading up to it will take time and will go through several stages.
The Legal Stages
In the first stage of the Letelierby the US grandPinochet regime seems to have emerged without significant damage, opinion is difficult to gauge in authoritarian systems, but we have no evidenceevere negative reaction to the indictment in either civilian or military circles in Chile. Pro-regime media have rallied to Pinochet and have produced xenophobic interpretations of the case. Even the semi-independent newspapers appear to beait-and-see attitude.
In responding to the indictment, the Pinochet regime revealed its short-tern strategy to minimize theconsequences of the Letelier case. That strategy is to confine the problem to the legal arena for as long as possible and to focus attention on the legal aspects of the case. Pinochet and his advisers probably hope that legal issues may stall the progress of the case, blur the meaning of the indictment, and provide groundsolitical defense of the Pinochet regime.
Following thef the indictment, neither Pinochet nor the Interior Ministry charged that it was the resultolitical conspiracy or asserted the innocence of the defendants. While both noted thatelements would seek to use tho indictment to injure the regime, they made an explicit attempt to de-politicize the Indictment, claiming that the Letelier caseatter for the courts tothe US and the Chilean courts.
Thus the preventive detention of the three accused is Chilean military officers was presentedegal. request, made by the us pursuant2 treaty with Chile governing extradition rights and duties. General Manuel Contreras, Colonel Pedro Eapinoza, and Captain Armando Fernandez, all fellow officers of General Pinochet, were placed under house arrest, said Pinochet, because as the President of Chile he was bound by the legal requirements of the treaty between hisand the United States. At thetime, however, Pinochet carefully pointed outndictment does not establiah guilt and that the defendants should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The same strategy will be repeated for the second stage of the Letelierthe US presents its formal request for extradition of the three officers. An official of the Chilean Interior Ministry has already noted that "the charges would be duly verified before the Chilean courts." Thus, the decision to grant or reject the extradition request would supposedly notolitical decision but one made by an "independent" judiciary.
The Chilean Supremedominated by the Pinochet regime, nor totally independent ofbeen subject to regime pressures in the past and will certainly receive more during the Letelier proceedings. Somewill be more responsive to those oressures than others, but it is doubtful if this will be decisive for the court will also be moved by nationalist sentiments, by its own pride in itii legal reputation, and by its desire toecision that will stand international scrutiny. reliminary reading of relevant Chilean law indicates, however, that the court should be able to find sufficient leeway toound legal decision whose political consequences are nevertheless not unfavorable to the Pinochet regime.
When the extradition request reaches Chile, the Supreme Court will have these options:
Ic can find insufficient evidence to warrant an indictment for the crime charged and reject the request.
can determine that the crime waa
litlcal, which would also be grounds to deny the extradition request*
can find the evidence strong enough
for an indictment and then eitherthe three defendants or try them in Chile.
If the prosecution's evidence is strong, the court will probably be forced to find it sufficient, but it will probably deny the extradition request and call for the three defendants to be tried in Chile. If, on the other hand, the evidence presented to the Chilean court is weak and could reasonably be deemed insufficient for an indictment, the Pinochet regime is likely to seek to make maximum political capital of the refusal of the highest Chilean leial authority to grant extradition. In fact, it could justifiably claim that the ijsue of extradition had been brought to an ending that was both legally end patriotically defensible.
whichever way the Chilean court rules, international clamor for extradition would probably assist the regime to maintain and even increase its support at home because this would giveationalistic issue to use against his opponents. The President could argue that the international community was asking his government touling of Chile's highesteffect, calling on him to break the law of the land.
Theicess can be stretchedonsiderable period of time, but the Letelier case will eventually move on to its third stage: trial in the United States and, possibly, another trial in Chile. If the three Chilean officers are tried in Chile, it will be under Chilean law, which doer not seem to regardrime the kind of conspiracy for which they wereby the us. The future may thus bring not only two trials, but two verdicts: one in the US and another in Chile. If General Contreras is brought to trial, either in the US or Chile, the crucial issue will be whether or not he alleges that President Pinochet gave tbe order for the assassination of Letelier.
wherever the defendants are placed on trial, the Pinochet regime will probably follow its present strategy, insisting that their guilt be proved conclusively. At the same time, it is likely to launch an extrajudicial campaign to create public doubt about the guilt of the officers. Some of the propaganda for this has already surfaced in Chilean newspapers.
No matter how many courtroom trials there are, th'ire willumber of concurrent "trials" in the various forums of public opinion around the world, and especially in Chile. Fierce partisans for and against Pinochet have alreadyerdict about the guilt or innocence of the three officers, and no evidence mergingrial will change their judgment. But there are probably significantly large groups who will be moved by the nature of the evidence and by theadvanced in the media debate.
The fourth and final stage of the Letelier case will be the summing up that leadsolitical attitude within Chile and abroad. The verdict, the evidence and foreignof it filtered through theirbe used by Chileans to arrive at their conclusions, in various degrees, they will come tothat Pinochet must be kept in office, that he must be eased out gently, or that he ought to be dismissed in disgrace. Waiting for all others to do their summing up will be the Chilean Armed Forces. Depending on how the case develops and how others react to thethe military establishment will be the finalof Pinochet's fate. That decision seems someaway, bbbbbbbbjpbbbbbbbj