SLIPPERY BRASS: FORMER JUNTAS ELUDE PRISON IN LATIN AMERICA

Vengeance or reconciliation? This second of a two-part series looks at more examples of nations dealing with former despotic leaders since the collapse of communism and the spread of democracy. Part 1 ran in last week's Global Report.

While Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina have given their armed forces blanket amnesties regarding human rights violations, Chile has taken a more limited approach.

In 1979, Brazil's President Gen. Joao Baptista Figueiredo decreed a ``mutual amnesty'' for both accused political prisoners and state security agents. Between 1964-79, 262 Brazilians died at the hands of the military and 143 disappeared, according to Americas Watch.

In 1985, Uruguay's Congress, under pressure from the military, approved a amnesty law for all armed forces and police officials accused of human rights abuses during the military dictatorship of 1973-1985.

During that time, 80 Uruguayans died of torture, approximately 170 others disappeared, and an estimated 50,000 people passed through prisons and detention centers, according to human rights groups. When a repeal movement forced a 1989 referendum, 52 percent voted to uphold the amnesty.

In 1990, Argentina's President Carlos Saul Menem granted amnesty to virtually every military officer accused or convicted of a crime. A government commission determined that at least 8,960 Argentines ``disappeared.''

But in Chile, the generous 1978 amnesty law has been questioned ever since General Pinochet returned to the barracks as commander in chief. In 1991, then-President Patricio Aylwin Azocar named a government commission to document human rights offenses committed under the Pinochet dictatorship.

The commission's report detailing 3,000 cases shocked many Chileans. The panel, which included former Pinochet supporters, found that the former military intelligence agency known as DINA had carried out hundreds of ``disappearances'' and had maintained secret jails where torture was practiced systematically. At least 957 detaineees disappeared, 2,205 Chileans were killed.

The commission also blamed Gen. Manuel Contreras, the ex-director of DINA, for the 1976 car-bomb murder in Washington of former Allende foreign minister Orlando Letelier and an aide. Because of US pressure, the case had been excluded from the amnesty law. Last December, Contreras was sentenced to seven years in prison. He remains free on bail.

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