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World > Politics and Prejudices

Mariela and the dictator

 

Published 10/13/1999

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"Today, justice was done," Gonzalo Martinez, Mexico’s former ambassador to Chile, proclaimed last week, when a British court ruled the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet could be sent to Spain for trial on human rights charges.

"Pinochet lived a long time, but history caught up with him," Martinez intoned.

Well, not quite yet. The sawdust general, nabbed by an international warrant and forced into London house arrest a year ago, still can appeal to Britain’s High Court. Even if he loses there, he cannot be extradited until the home secretary approves.

Spanish courts have charged Pinochet with 34 counts of torture and conspiracy. Even conviction wouldn’t come close to making up for what this thug and his goons – encouraged, aided and supported by the United States of America – have done.

Pinochet, with the help of our CIA, overthrew the legitimate, elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973. Brutal terror followed. Even according to Chilean government figures, 3,197 people were killed or "disappeared" right after that.

The murder of U.S. journalist Charles Horman led to an Academy Award-winning 1982 movie, Missing. Last week, a newly declassified State Department document said, in part, "There is some circumstantial evidence to suggest U.S. intelligence may have played a role in Horman’s death." Less certain is that the sky is blue.

The CIA, of course, denies it. Mariela Griffor, who now lives in Grosse Pointe, knows better. She has a merry laugh and doesn’t look remotely close to her age, which is 38, unless you look into her eyes. She began studying journalism again this year, after a 14-year time-out, thanks to Pinochet.

Few of her classmates know she is now happily married to a math professor, speaks four languages and has two children. Fewer know she had another life, once, and another husband, a poet who danced ballet and was also an engineer. They met in 1980, when they were students. He was giving a political speech at the university café, in jeans, naturally, and a black T-shirt. "I heard his voice first, then I saw his face, and it was done. I was in love with him from that very moment," she confessed.

"His name was Julio Carlos Santibanez Romero. He was a man who was a romantic and an idealist. He could be shy, and he could be talkative, and he was in a constant good mood, full of new ideas."

Pinochet then had been in power for nearly a decade; the left, as a coherent force, was long since destroyed. Santibanez’s cause was not Leninism, but the native peoples – what we used to call Indians. Nevertheless, he was jailed several times.

Mariela went to Rio de Janeiro to start studying journalism. But she missed Julio so much she came home seven months later. "We decided on a marriage in August, and he found a nice little house close to the Andes Mountains."

He lived barely long enough to learn that he was going to be a father. On Sept. 17, 1985, a dozen years after the coup, at a time when Western papers were saying that Chile wasn’t such a bad place anymore, he disappeared. Three days later, his mutilated body was found. Less than a month later, Mariela was in her lawyer’s office, and the phone rang.

DINA, Pinochet’s secret police, was coming to arrest her. They moved fast. "In less than 24 hours I was on the other side of the globe, in a small town in Sweden. Cold, dark and snowy. Me, with a baby in my stomach and not a word of Swedish."

Her Swedish is fluent now, as is her English. She married an American, though until this year she could not bear to think of living in her second husband’s country, especially since she is certain our CIA was involved in Julio’s murder. That’s not mere intuition; over the years, informers and others have dropped hints. Her goal is to prove it.

Julio Santibanez never will be quite extinct. Mariela has his poems, and his daughter. "We decided if it was a girl, he would choose the name, and he chose Javiera, the first woman who participated in the independence of Chile."

Incidentally, even if Pinochet is sent to Spain, he won’t be charged in Santibanez’s death. You might think that’s because it happened so long after the coup. The opposite is true. Pinochet, British authorities ruled, can only be charged with crimes after 1988, though there is a chance that can be gotten around via a conspiracy charge.

Now some say, why bother charging such an old man? Pinochet is 83 now. They say these things happened long ago, and Allende wasn’t much good anyway, and the country was in economic chaos, and the dictator restored sound fiscal policies.

Let Mariela have the last word. "Back in Santiago, in a crematorium of the general cemetery in grave No. 194, Sector E-5, the rest of the man that loves life and believes in a better world cannot rest in peace." The world owes it to him to see justice done.

We in this country owe it to ourselves to demand the truth about what the CIA did, and for how long, and at whose order. And to look at this, and Vietnam, and Iran, and Cuba, and consider how much good spymaster social engineering has done us.

And then to agree, simply: Never again.

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