Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Six Charged in Murder of Former Chilean President Eduardo Frei

In one of the more intriguing human rights cases in the Southern Cone, six men have been charged in the murder of former Chilean president Eduardo Frei. Frei had been president of Chile from 1964 to 1970, and while Frei wasn't a "radical," he did launch some significant reform programs in Chile, including agricultural reforms. While Salvador Allende would push for even broader social and economic reforms, many of Allende's own efforts were extensions of processes Frei had already begun. Frei had originally been opposed to Allende's administration and reforms, but in the wake of the overthrow of Allende in 1973 and the establishment of the Pinochet regime, Frei became a major leader in the effort to organize opposition to the regime. As the report mentions, Frei died mysteriously in 1982, and rumors that he was murdered because he was too powerful a threat against the Pinochet regime have existed for years.

Indeed, Frei isn't even the only Latin American ex-president who many feel was murdered; many suspect that Brazil's Juscelino Kubitschek (who governed from 1955 to 1960, and who "built" Brasilia) was likewise murdered in Brazil. Although Kubitsheck died in a car crash in 1976, there is reasonable evidence not only that a military vehicle forced him off the road to almost certain death, but that the military used this technique against other high-profile opponents to the dictatorship, including Zuzu Angel, who died in the same year as Kubitschek and who suspected the military was trying to kill her after she fought to find out what happened to her son, whom the military had disappeared.

Which leads us back to the Frei case. While I don't have high hopes, it would be wonderful if this unprecedented case could have long-term results in places like Brazil. While it seems the Chilean prosecutors have a case against these six men, I honestly don't know how strong that case is. That said, if the charges result in conviction and jail time in Chile, maybe the case could set a precedent for similar investigations into the deaths of Kubitschek, Angel, and others in Brazil. I don't think it will result in trials - the 1979 amnesty law granted amnesty to both political prisoners and members of the military involved with torture and murder. But at this point, just learning the truth about these deaths, be they Frei's or Kubitschek's or anybody else's, is more than a worthwhile quest unto themselves.