International Papers

The Arrest of Pinochet

Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who was quoted last week in The New Yorker as saying he finds England “the ideal place to live,” has probably changed his mind as he lies in his London clinic surrounded by British police, with protesters chanting hostile slogans outside. His arrest by Scotland Yard in response to a Spanish extradition request was unanimously supported by the Spanish press. The center-left daily El País praised Britain Sunday for stripping the former Chilean dictator of “an immunity he has used freely to insult his victims,” but warned that there will many hurdles before he can be brought to trial.

El Mundo said the arrest has “strong symbolic weight” and that “treating the decrepit tyrant as a common criminal and forcing him to explain his actions in the face of international justice is a lesson not just for him but for all others of his ilk around the world.” Even the right-wing newspaper ABC defended the right of the two Spanish judges who are seeking his extradition from Britain to Spain to investigate the fate of Spanish citizens who disappeared in Chile during his presidency. “If the former general decided to run the risk of traveling to a European Union country, knowing that he was under investigation in Spain, and now has found himself under arrest, the error of judgment is his and his alone,” it said. “Let justice be done.”

In Britain, however, the papers were much more circumspect. While the liberal Sunday paper the Observer welcomed the arrest of “an evil tyrant,” saying it shows that the vaunted new “ethical dimension” to British foreign policy has “real muscle,” the conservative Times suggested Monday in an editorial that there had been a failure of British diplomacy. Britain had a duty to advise Pinochet against visiting London at this time. If it fulfilled that duty, he has only himself to blame for his present predicament. If not, “the Foreign Office acted in a less than competent fashion.” “The fragile post-Pinochet political settlement in Chile explicitly depended on the ex-President remaining at liberty,” it said. “Britain was obliged to alert Chile of any development that could threaten her civil peace. … An ‘ethical foreign policy’ should not consist of cheap stunts that could cause enormous difficulties to a friendly democracy.”

Condemning the arrest, the conservative Daily Telegraph recalled that “throughout his time in office, Pinochet was an unstinting ally of this country” and that “Chile was the only Latin American state to support Britain during the Falklands conflict (when Spain, incidentally, was more or less overtly pro-Argentina).” Yet despite that, “our country, having allowed Pinochet to enter its borders for medical treatment, has now detained him in order to comply with a case brought by the Spanish Communist Party.” In an op-ed piece Monday in the conservative tabloid Daily Mail, Oxford University historian Mark Almond said the arrest reeks of hypocrisy and will “not send shivers down the spines of other dictators. … It will just be an excuse to ignore the cries for justice from the millions of unfashionable dead in too many unquiet graves.”

The Financial Times, however, welcomed the arrest Monday, saying in an editorial that it “underlines a belief that no-one should be above the law, even if he has been able to negotiate immunity in his own country.” A trial of Pinochet would, moreover, “show that western democracies do not now believe that torture and murder can ever be excused for political or economic reasons,” it added. The liberal Guardian highlighted the warmth of his relationship with Margaret Thatcher, to whom he would always send flowers and chocolates on his visits to Britain. It also reported that, four years ago, when he took a party to dinner at the fashionable River Cafe restaurant in London, his payment of the $800 check was donated by the management to Amnesty International to defend his victims in Chile.

Israel’s Jerusalem Post also welcomed Pinochet’s arrest, saying it is “time we had a little more globalization of justice. … When the long reach of justice becomes truly global, we may make some progress in reminding would-be Pinochets that when it comes to torture, murder and ‘disappearances,’ no-one is above or safe from international law, anywhere.” In another editorial Sunday, the same newspaper reflected on the exclusion of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams from the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to John Hume and David Trimble for their part in the Northern Ireland peace settlement. It said that the Nobel Prize committee, stung by criticism of its award of the prize to Yasser Arafat, “clearly wished to avoid further controversy by making another award to a man closely connected to a terrorist organisation. … If it had little choice with Arafat because he was both a primary peace partner and the undisputed leader of his people, the committee had no such problem with slighting Adams, who is neither.” The Post, however, reserved its main praise for Protestant leader Trimble, who, it said, “in wrenching concessions from the intransigent unionists of Northern Ireland, and carrying them through the peace process despite mounting unionist militancy and suspicions of a sell-out to Irish republicanism, pulled off a miracle of biblical proportions.”

Commenting on the appointment of Ariel Sharon as Israel’s foreign minister, the liberal Ha’aretz said in an editorial Sunday that he faces a weighty test at the Wye Plantation peace talks. “History is offering Sharon a one-time-only chance to record to his credit the political step so needed by his country,” it said. Several European newspapers stressed the importance to President Clinton of a successful outcome to the talks. “Failure of the Israeli-Palestinian Summit at Wye Plantation Would Be Disastrous for Bill Clinton,” said a Saturday headline in Le Monde of Paris.

The opening of the U.S. government’s antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft made the front pages of many European newspapers, with an op-ed piece in London’s Financial Times saying that an eventual ruling by the Supreme Court “is certain to redefine anti-trust law and shape the software industry for years to come.” Meanwhile, a survey of the most powerful and influential people in Britain carried out for London’s Sunday Times by an eminent psychologist put Microsoft’s Bill Gates second after Tony Blair. A poll conducted among 800 British theater people for London’s Royal National Theatre and reported in the Sunday Telegraph named Arthur Miller as the best playwright of the 20th century.

To mark Newspaper Week in Japan last week, the daily Mainichi Shimbun ran an editorial welcoming new Japanese freedom of information laws as a major challenge to the newspaper industry. Information from government ministries and agencies will no longer be channeled exclusively through “press clubs” but will be accessible equally to everyone via the Internet, it said. “In order to continue serving as stewards of our right to know, newspapers must reform themselves so that they will be able to offer news on their pages that is distinguishable from that which can be read off computer screens.”