Monday, December 18, 2006

Augusto Pinochet, Rest In ...

In my Spanish class a couple of years ago we listened to a beautiful song (in Spanish, of course). It was all about how the people who physically work the earth ought to be able to share in what they produce. It was simple, and moving, and so was the voice which sung it.

Once we'd filled in all the gaps in the lyrics and discussed the meaning (it was an excercise, after all), we were handed another sheet. It told the story of the singer: following a miltary coup in 1973, the singer and many other supporters of the (democratically elected) former government were rounded up and taken to the national football stadium to be tortured and killed. So the story goes, he tried to keep his fellow captives' spirits up by singing and playing the guitar, so the guards cut off his hands and taunted him to continue. He did, playing the guitar like a drum. His wife was called to identify his dead body several days later.

His name was Victor Jara.

Last week saw the death of Augusto Pinochet, the man who ordered the murder of Victor Jara and three thousand of his fellow countrymen. He died without ever being taken to court for their murders, and the last hope of some kind of earthly justice for the friends and families of his victims died with him.

It's at times like this that it's a little less uncomfortable to believe in Hell. One day, I know with certainty, Augusto Pinochet will face judgement for his crimes. He will be judged honestly, accurately, and fairly, and if he is found guilty, the sentence will be eternal damnation. If Pinochet died as he lived, unrepentent and adamant that he did the right thing, then eternal Hell will be his fate, and he well deserves it.

But when I heard that he was dying, my biggest hope was that in the last few days of his life he might finally come to regret what he had done - to apologise to the world, and in particular to the families of the victims, repent, and call out to God for forgiveness. While he was alive, there was still that hope for him, even after everything he had done. Much as I dispise what he did, I still have to believe that - if not for him, then for me. After all, how could I wish anyone to the fires of Hell, when there but for the grace of God go I?

Monday, December 04, 2006


I would like to offer my congratulations to Hugo Chavez on being re-elected as president of Venezuela. There was a time when Latin America was caricatured as a continent of banana republics run by tinpot dictators; all too often, these governments' highest ideals were simply to fill their own pockets, and they cared not a bit for the welfare of the poor. But those days are drawing to an end: country after country is now embracing democratic elections like those in Venezuela.

I look forwards to hearing more significant congratulations for Mr. Chavez from the leaders of other countries which have long strived to promote democracy throughout the world, and in particular from President Bush. There have been times when the US's commitment to government "by the people, for the people" could have been seriously questioned, particularly in Latin America: the US's support for the overthrow of Allende's democratically elected government in Chile in 1973 and it's replacement with Pinochet's murderous dictatorship is a moment of great shame in American history.

But hopefully those days are now gone. Hopefully, the US will throw it's support behind Venezuela's newly re-elected government, and show the world that it really does believe that democracy is more important than profit.