Pinochet and Ocalan, Redux

Two upwardly mobile nations, Chile and Turkey, have suddenly lost their zeal to severely punish two warriors who terrorized people in their land.

No longer does Chile seek harsh judgment for former dictator Augusto Pinochet. And no longer does Turkey seek to execute the leader of the Kurdish rebellion, Abdullah Ocalan.

These two men, nabbed outside their native land by the long arm of the law, are responsible for thousands of deaths. It's difficult for many to see why mercy should replace vengeance for their atrocities, committed in the name of anticommunism (Pinochet) and ethnic nationalism (Ocalan).

And yet the standard of justice has shifted in Chile and Turkey. Both are maturing into fuller democracies - examples of a global trend in the post-cold-war era. And as in any democracy, justice is more than "an eye for an eye." Punishment is weighed against a desire to create a society built on higher principles.

"I will not forget the past, but my eyes are on the future," said Chile's new president, Ricardo Lagos, after being elected on Sunday. The Socialist and former anti-Pinochet dissident spoke to a crowd near the presidential palace where the late Salvador Allende was overthrown in a 1973 coup led by Mr. Pinochet.

The arrest of Pinochet in Britain for possible trial in Spain for torture has forced Chileans to finally confront the history of their past oppressor. And his 15-month disappearance helped in the democratic transition. A return to Chile by Pinochet, after being condemned by humanity in a foreign land, would likely be met with a spirit of reconciliation expressed by the new leader. He may yet face trial, but perhaps only to finish the national healing that's well under way.

In Turkey, the execution of Ocalan has been put on hold and likely won't take place. His case has been handed over to the European Court of Human Rights, the latest step in Turkey's quest to join the European Union - and adopt its set of values, such as a ban on capital punishment.

In fact, Turkey is reaching out to its large Kurdish minority after 15 years of fighting. A hearts-and-mind campaign to win them over comes as the EU begins talks to let Turkey into its Western "club." "Turks and Kurds ... we deserve more freedom," said former Turkish premier Mesut Yilmaz.

A mood of hope has dampened a drive for retribution in both Turkey and Chile. Justice can come in unexpected ways as each nation reaches for the progress it seeks and deserves.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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