International Papers

The Portage to Santiago of A.P. 

The British press expressed skepticism about Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s return to health upon his arrival in Chile Friday. “Pinocheat,” headlined the British tabloid the Mirror: “It’s the greatest comeback since Lazarus as evil dictator walks … and pulls a fast one on Britain.” Under the headline “Did the dictator dupe us?” Sunday’s Observer asked, “Was it the air of his homeland which revived the frail old man on his return after 503 days of detention in Britain? Or could it be that he had hoodwinked the doctors” whose report led to his release? The general’s daughter Jacqueline told the media that “He boarded the aeroplane [a] destroyed [man] and, with the passing of hours, he began to recover. Originally various plans were studied, even using a stretcher. … Bit by bit he recovered while he flew.” The Observer recounted the details of Pinochet’s medical tests, which were previously published in several Spanish newspapers, after a member of Britain’s parliament leaked them.

Pinochet’s display of good health may not have served his best interests, because ill health does not exempt one from prosecution under Chilean law. Only an official finding of senility or madness would save him from prosecution. Said the Observer, “The man who bounced on to the tarmac in jubilation on Friday looked neither.” An editorial in Britain’s Sunday Express concluded, “Say what you like about a brush with the British legal system. It works wonders for your health.”

Several British papers reported that Pinochet’s departure from Britain was delayed by the delivery of a farewell gift from former British Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher, who has been a fervent supporter of the former Chilean dictator during his 16 months in Britain. The present was an $800 silver “armada plate” inscribed with her signature. Such plates were first cast in 1588 to celebrate Sir Francis Drake’s victory over the Spanish armada. A note with the gift said, “Your return to Chile has ensured that Spain’s attempts to impose judicial colonialism have been firmly rebuffed.” Aides to Thatcher told the Sunday Times that she “wanted to send a clear message that she and Pinochet had together vanquished the Spanish.”

Spain’s conservative daily ABC described Pinochet’s warm airport reception from high-ranking Chilean army officials as “shameful.” An official army statement expressing loyalty to the general led observers to predict future conflict between the armed forces and the civilian government of Ricardo Lagos, a socialist, who will be inaugurated as president March 11. El Mercurio of Chile quoted president-elect Lagos saying that his government would make “a tremendous effort to show the world that we are a democratic country, where the elected authorities rule on behalf of the people, and where the armed forces are disciplined, obedient, and don’t just do what they like.” Lagos told the paper that all Chileans are equal before the law, and that no one would interfere with legal proceedings.

Thailand’s first senate election Saturday received widespread approval for its lack of corruption, especially in the cities. The contrasts with this year’s U.S. presidential election are immense: The “people’s constitution,” enacted in 1997, makes voting compulsory (in fact, turnout was closer to 70 percent due to polls closing before all queued voters had balloted; requirements that citizens vote in their home province rather than where they actually reside, etc.); to avoid the corrupting influence of party establishments, the prospective senators were not supposed to be backed by political parties; campaigning was restricted so that candidates could do little more than introduce themselves to voters; and, according to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, there was even an election eve ban on alcohol sales to “ensure clear heads and stop Thais sleeping in.” The Bangkok Post reported suggestions that future campaigns be shortened “to prevent the rich from having the advantage over contestants who did not have strong financial power. The election should be seven to 15 days after candidacy registration.” The senate election is seen as a test run for the general election that Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai must call before November.

In what might be the first ever call for more respect for Belgium, an editorial in Sunday’s Jerusalem Post took Israel to task for its “skewed views of Europe.” After last week’s “misbegotten brouhaha” over French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin’s visit to the region (see the Feb. 28 ” International Papers” for more on this), the Post asked why the state visit of Belgian Foreign Minister Luis Michel was “barely reported.” The paper said that Michel’s call to Brussels taxi drivers “not to take anyone to the Austrian Embassy in protest against [Jörg] Haider’s extremist Freedom Party” was “an act which in itself should have made headlines.” It pointed out that Israel’s foreign minister, Morocco-born David Levy, is often disparaged for his poor English “which precludes him from being interviewed on American television. The pro-Anglophone prejudice seems especially haughty, as no mention is made of Levy’s fluent French, an attribute that has endeared him to continental Europe on his state visits there. But that does not matter to a government fixated by US interests and influence. It should.” The editorial said that since Europe accounts for more than 70 percent of Israel’s trade volume, “Israel should reorient itself to attend seriously to the potential of healthier ties with the [European Union], first by appreciating Euro-sympathetic players such as Levy and Shimon Peres. The gains in terms of trade, prestige, and potentially peace are too great to pass up.”

The Japanese sport of sumo has been weighed down by problems in the last month. First there was the accusation that up to 80 percent of bouts are fixed. Now comes an attack on the sport’s traditional sexism. According to Britain’s Independent on Sunday, “One of Sumo’s less likeable traditions is that, because women are deemed to be ‘unclean,’ they may not enter the dohyo, the sacred ring where wrestlers grapple.” This year, Japan’s first elected female governor challenged the custom when she announced that she would fulfill her official role and present the governor’s trophy at the March tournament in Osaka—a move that would require her to step into the dohyo. Sumo authorities refused to permit such sacrilege, and this week the conservative governor, Fusae Ota, gave in and agreed to allow a male representative to make the presentation. Many sumo fans attacked the Sumo Association’s intransigence; one told the IoS: “The dohyo used to be surrounded by pillars and that was a tradition. But they got rid of them because people said they blocked the view. If that can be changed so can the rule about women.” The IoS suggested that since the sport’s popularity is declining, it should take a lesson from history. In the mid-19th century, Japan abandoned sumo, so “the elders of the sport convened and made a decision that helped to revive their fortunes—they dropped the principle that women couldn’t come to watch.”