A Chilean judge handed down prison sentences Monday to 11 Army officers and one civilian for a gruesome murder committed in 1982, during the dictaroship of Augusto Pinochet. Among those sentenced were four generals. The case is the first in which Chilean courts have convicted top army officials of Pinochet-era crimes.
The 11 Chilean army officers were sentenced for their role in planning the murder of Tucapel Jimenez, a union organizer who was shot repeatedly in the head, by army personnel, then had his neck slit. Retired army Major Carlos Herrera, who admitted having killed the union leader, saying he was "following orders," received a life prison term. A retired general who was Chile's army intelligence chief at the time, received 10 years for ordering the killing.
The murder of Mr. Jimenez was part of the army high command's successful campaign to destroy a growing civilian coalition opposed to the economic and political decrees issued by General Pinochet and his staff. Mr. Jimenez was a charismatic and beloved government employees union leader and had a huge following among government workers.
Because he also had friends and allies in the Navy high command, Mr. Jimenez was seen as a dangerous force by the army leadership. Just three days before his 1982 murder, Mr. Jimenez had called for massive non-violent protests against military rule and greater citizen participation in the government.
While recent Supreme Court rulings have determined that General Pinochet is medically unfit to stand trial, several hundred of his underlings still face judicial investigations, civil lawsuits and now jail sentences.
Jose Antonio Gomez, the Chilean justice minister says "it is very important that the judge has resolved this case and applied the appropriate sentences." Mr. Gomez adds: "This helps cleanse the pain that exists in this country. In crimes of this magnitude is is not possible to avoid prosecution."
An estimated 3,000 Chileans were killed during the 1973-1990 rule of General Pinochet and many thousands more were tortured and exiled. Until the general's arrest in London in 1998, the army had succesfully avoided prosecution of its former leaders.
The army is accepting the sentences, without public protest. But civilian leaders are calling for a public apology from the current army leadership.
Union leader Raul de La Puente says, "it has now been proven that this was an organized crime by the army, the army ought to make a statement to the citizens, to the public employees and the Jimenez family." Mr. de La Puente, who is the current president of the ANEF government employees union, the same position Mr. Jimenez held at the time of his murder, adds: "These are generals and top officals. There ought to be a public explanation."