The border between southern Chile and Argentina is probably the most irregular and bizarre in the world-just take a look in your Atlas! Chile is also the only country of any size consisting of just a coast and no interior. It is squeezed along the massive length of the Andes and the Pacific, with the majority of its population of 15 million crammed around Santiago, the capital. The top third is desert, the bottom third
uninhabited fjords and glaciers unreachable except by boat, with only a scattered population along the Patagonian border with Argentina.
Argentina on the other hand, is a vast expanse-an immense country, rich in every sense of the word, spread out on vast, rolling plains on the other side of the Andes. Its population is five times that of Chile. The province of Buenos Aires alone is enormous-as big as all of western Europe. The people of both countries are similar in that they are Spanish speaking descendants of European immigrants. The Chileans have more of an admixture of Indian features, but nothing like Peru or Mexico. Like all of South America, almost everyone is Roman Catholic-at least nominally. Both peoples are polite, friendly, child and family oriented, and both like and admire North Americans, especially now, since the end of the Cold War. They are practical peoples and admire winners and success.
Like all of the nations that speak modern versions of Latin derived from Ancient Rome (Europe included), they seem to oscillate between anarchy and authoritarianism with Argentina oscillating the more wildly of the two. Both have armies deeply influenced by the German army, and both have navies deeply influenced by the English Navy.
Like almost all of South America, the military of both countries took over their governments in the anti- communist hysteria, encouraged, by a succession US governments. Communists, socialists and innocent bystanders, were jailed, tortured, or killed, as has happened since the military coupes of Marius Sulla and Julius Caesar in First Century BC Rome.
Despite their similarities, Chileans and Argentineans, are very different generally speaking, Argentineans are optimistic, outspoken and open, while Chileans more reserved, quiet and pessimistic-they worry a lot-perhaps because, having fewer resources in a less hospitable land, they have to work harder.
While both countries always seem to have a major political scandal of one kind or another going on, Argentina always seems to have the biggest. Right now the papers are full of a case involving the national bank and IBM in multi-million dollar payoffs to high officials in which the missing brother of an undersecretary to President was found hanged outside Buenos Aires. He had a folded up newspaper article about the case in his mouth. Was it a Mafia murder or suicide? At the same time, high military officers are accused of clandestinely selling arms and munitions to Croatia and Ecuador and-maybe-blowing up a military depot in Argentina to cover up the sales. To make matters worse Argentina was a guarantor of the peace treaty between Peru and Ecuador and had troops in the Balkans under UN command.
In Patagonia, the two peoples share a desolate, difficult environment, which requires brutal hard work to survive. They have a serious border dispute over the huge Andean ice fields and what may, or may not, be under the ice. Although they face similar problems, they hardly communicate, and seem to only cooperate in allowing tourists and natural gas to pass relatively easily, from one side to the other.
In 1978, the Argentine military government tried to intimidate Chile into giving up control over the Beagle Channel. A part of their weird border which connects the Atlantic to the Pacific, parallel to and to the south of the Strait of Magellan. The Pinochet military government resisted, the Vatican intervened, and the Argentine generals backed off. They then went on a few years later to their disastrous confrontation with England over the Malvinas Islands in the South Atlantic where a two thousand English speaking shepherds live-over large oil and gas fields.
During this war, the Pinochet government was the only South American country that was "neutral" towards England. This "neutrality" went as far as allowing British helicopters to refuel in Chile, and-who knows what else! The US gave clandestine help to the English with satellite intelligence and who knows what else! Although Pinochet was never knighted by the English as was Caspar Weinberger, he was feted every time he visited the country, which was often to purchase and jointly develop and sell weapons. Everyone knows this but doesn't talk about it.
There aren't too many examples of military dictators who voluntarily give up power, but that's what the Pinochet government did. Naturally, not wishing to sign their own death warrants, they exacted a price, which was that the armed forces would remain intact and there would be immunity from prosecution for abuses committed during their rule.
The civilian parties that have ruled the country since 1990, tacitly agreed to pay the price for "reconciliation." However, "justice" required that the worst abusers be punished, and a few sacrificial offerings were made. But for those always in opposition, and those who suffered torture, or the loss of friends and family, "justice" meant something else, something more-punishing the guilty-really punish them! But punishing the guilty (i.e. the military) threatened to provoke a new take over out of self defense, in an unending cycle.
After the transition to civilian rule, the relationship between the military (General Pinochet) and the civilian government was always tense, but as the years went by, it worked, or at least it worked until October 17, 1998, when British police took over the London hospital where the 82 year old retired Pinochet was recuperating from spinal surgery.
It's all seems strange now, a week later, with the world in an uproar and an OJ Simpson media circus erupting outside the London hospital. Pinochet still, apparently, doesn't understand fully he is under arrest, on an order from a Spanish judge on behalf of 306 Spanish citizens who were murdered or disappeared in Argentina and Chile during the anti communist repressions. One can imagine the British physician, in the best Monty Python tradition, telling the now mended Pinochet, "Well, I have some good news and some bad news!"
OJ hasn't killed again and with "Bill and Monica" winding down and Princess Di dead, the trial of Pinochet shows great promise of filling our empty lives as the second millennium winds down to its dismal, pathetic end.
The president of Chile, Eduardo Frei, was quick to point out that the present government of Spain was in direct decent from the military (he politely didn't say "fascist" ) government of Francisco Franco, that ruled Spain for 40 years, and that hundreds of thousands of people were killed, but no cases were ever tried. Frei asserted Pinochet had diplomatic immunity and the Spanish court system had no jurisdiction over what happened in other countries. All to no avail.
The news of Pinochet's arrest has provoked great, persistent turmoil in Chile, in an instant threatening to plunge the county into the chaos that preceded the take over in 1973. I was in Argentina when I read that the "Socialist" British Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (who recently replaced a Conservative) insisted that his government had nothing to do with the arrest, and it was simply a matter for the police. I almost slipped off my chair laughing in amazement at such a brazen lie-the kind Ronald Reagan used to pull off time and time again! The "Right Wing" Spanish Prime Minister (who recently replaced a Socialist ) took a similar position. So, now we know, Special Prosecutors and police investigators will be responsible for foreign policy in the new Europe.
The current President of Argentina, Carlos Menem, was imprisoned for (I think) eight years by the military, but he pardoned several imprisoned generals in a successful attempt (so far) to stop violent army mutinies and coup attempts, and get on with national life. He said of Pinochet's arrest, "This has nothing to do with us". (Another Reagan-like whopper!)
Menem is now on his way to England on a visit of "reconciliation" with the former enemy, which will, no doubt, include the Anglo-Argentinian development of the South Atlantic off-shore oil fields. He may have forgotten that the same Spanish judge has warrants for 57 Argentineans, who will now, naturally, think twice before traveling anywhere. A week later he said his support of President Frei (not Pinochet) is, "...total, unequivocal, absolute, drastic." South Americans have memories of Spanish interference in their lives.
After keeping silent for a few days, Margaret Thatcher wrote a letter to The Times saying it was a shame to have Pinochet imprisoned, a man who aided Britain in the Faulklands War and saved many British lives while, at the same time welcoming Menem in a spirit of reconciliation. (Everyone seems to be having problems with reconciliation these days).
Thatcher's comments were welcomed by Pinochet's supporters, and those who resent the heavy handed intrusion into Chile's internal affairs, but her statements got others worried and concerned that they would worsen relations with Argentina over the Patagonian Ice Fields.
What President Frei and others don't seem to grasp is how profoundly "racist" Europeans are! They are the "Herrenvolk" as German fascists used to put it -the ruling people. Europeans presided over the death and despoiling of untold millions of native peoples and the destruction of complex advanced, as well as simple cultures. Euro-American half-breed emigrants were just barely above the natives, without and authentic of their culture. Nice as individual Europeans are, as a group they are a menace to the planet.
There is one set of rules for Europeans, and another for everyone else. No group of peoples in the history of the word has been so successful at killing and destroying others and, during the present century now ending, killing each other. This killing is so routine, so ingrained in our history, it isn't recognized and hardly discussed. The slaughter of six million Jews, overshadows and distorts the violent deaths of 34 million Europeans. Who counts the number of Chinese who died?
It would be nice (but foolish) to believe Europeans learned anything from our their last blood bath. But no, they are at it again. Just recently they dismantled Yugoslavia, took what they want, the Catholic Croats and Slovenes, isolated the Eastern Orthodox Serbs, while shedding profuse alligator tears, first over the Bosnians, now over Kosovo. Next it will be Macedonia.
With the same contempt and utter disregard for lesser peoples, they are exposing Chilean society-Argentina perhaps next-to chaos. I would like to say they are following the ancient Roman policy of "Divide and Rule," but I don't really think they know what they are doing.
I can't ever recall Fidel Castro saying anything sensible, but with regard to Pinochet he is quoted saying his arrest was just, but there was no legal basis for it since it was an international matter, not Spanish. That it would divide the "left" in Chile, strengthen the "right" and weaken democracy all over the continent. Of course, he may be thinking he himself may have no where to go some day soon.
As this is being written, a British arms manufacturer made a move of support, and it may be that Pinochet, a modern King Lear, will go home. I hope he does, for the sake of Chile and Argentina, but I can't help being curious about what he might say about Nixon and Kissenger's involvement in the repression that caused the 306 Spaniards to disappear along with so many others, but whatever happens, Chile will never be the same.