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The consideration of military pardons reveals that Chile still has a lot of healing to do.
The pardon suggestion has had several unlikely supporters, including some in Bachelet's government.
One is her undersecretary of aviation, retired air force captain Raul Vergara. “The military shouldn’t be excluded from the pardon just because they are military,” he said in an interview with the conservative paper El Mercurio.
His comments wouldn’t have caused such uproar if he hadn’t been part of the group of air force officers jailed and tortured along with Bachelet’s father.
In a public statement, the Organization of Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers in the Case “Bachelet and Others 1973” called on the government not to pardon any of their fellow officers.
“The members of the military serving sentences haven’t been convicted because they are military, but because they have committed horrendous crimes … Pardoning them would be a terrible example for future military generations, who could behave in a similar fashion, knowing that in the end, they would also be pardoned,” reads the statement. The Catholic Church proposal would free prisoners over 70, those suffering from terminal illnesses, mothers with small children, petty criminals and first offenders, and could apply to some 3,000 convicts and another 50,000 already on conditional freedom. Once the president receives the proposal, the executive will draft a bill and submit the pardon to congressional approval.
The Bishops Conference insists that it won’t include the worst human rights violators, such as Manuel Contreras, director of the secret intelligence service DINA responsible for most violations, and who has accumulated sentences for almost 300 years for multiple crimes.
But organizations such as the September 10 Movement, which defends the military coup, are calling for the liberation of whom they consider to be “political prisoners.”
“What Chile needs is an end to all these investigations, not a pardon. There is nothing to forgive, because it isn’t a crime to have sworn loyalty to our country,” said Bernardita Huerta, a member of the movement and the daughter of deceased navy admiral Ismael Huerta, Pinochet’s first foreign minister and later Chilean ambassador to the United Nations, where he denied that his country’s military was abducting and disappearing opponents.
“All of our political prisoners should be freed and the legal cases against the rest dropped," she added. "And if they want to put anyone on trial, then let them be judged by someone who isn’t a Marxist.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the length of Manuel Contreras' sentences.