Accessibility links

Breaking News

Chile's Pinochet Mourned by Family, Friends

Family and friends of former Chilean military leader Augusto Pinochet have paid tribute to the late general at a funeral in Santiago. Pinochet died Sunday afternoon after suffering a heart attack. From Santiago, Jane Chambers reports for VOA.

Flags were flown at half staff at the military school as thousands of supporters chanted the General Pinochet's name in the hot sunshine. He died at 91 on Sunday of yet another heart attack on his wife Lucia's birthday.

President Michelle Bachelet who was imprisoned during the general's time in power did not attend the funeral. Instead, she sent her defense minister, who was greeted by the crowd with jeers. The government would not allow a state funeral so the service took place at Santiago's military academy.

Chile remains divided over the legacy of General Pinochet. When he died thousands of Chileans made their way to the hospital. Women stood waving flags and clutching huge pictures of the man they see as their saviour, while other Chilean's celebrated his death.

In her funeral speech, his daughter urged the country to keep alive what she called the flame of freedom of his rule.

One supporter, Horacio, said General Pinochet saved Chile from the Marxists and stopped the country from becoming another Cuba or Russia.

"Well he was in the right place because, somebody had to do it and get the Marxists out and not to become another Cuba or Russia where both countries in the last century calculated 30 million died because of those ideas," he said.

Following the funeral, the general's body was taken by helicopter to the coast to be cremated. The remains will then be given to his family.

But, while his supporters mourned his death, in other parts of Santiago critics gathered to remember the late Salvador Allende, the Marxist president who was ousted by General Pinochet. When Pinochet died on Sunday many people gathered at Plaza Italia to drink champagne and rejoice.

One woman, who gave her name as Maria, told me she has mixed feeling about his death. She feels happy he is dead but is also sad he was never judged or condemned.

"I think it is mixed feelings," she said. "Somehow we are very happy that he passed away finally but we are sad that he was never judged or condemned."

More that 3,000 people were killed or disappeared during the General's rule and although he was under house arrest when he died he was never actually brought to trial, because of his failing health.

Even in death, the general still manages to divide the country.