A bit of justice, and much too late

It was one of many legal cases  against General Augusto Pinochet, and one of the most embarrassing for Chile’s new civilian government, demonstrating how the country’s army was still a law unto itself.  A private plane carrying 36 crates of “humanitarian aid” had been intercepted in Budapest in 1991 and found to contain guns and ammunition bound for Croatia, in violation of a UN ban on weapons sales.  The government had in fact authorized an arms sale—to Sri Lanka—but the army’s munitions division, Fabrica y Maestranzas del Ejercito (www.famae.cl) had arranged for the shipment to be delivered to Croatia. At the time, Pinochet had grudgingly left the Chilean presidency but would continue to command the army until 1998 and investigators would later uncover payments from arms manufacturers in Pinochet’s bank accounts.

A judicial inquiry into the Croatia deal began, but  witnesses began to vanish.  Colonel Gerardo Huber, the Chilean army’s logistics director, disappeared in early 1992, shortly before he was scheduled to testify and his body was found three weeks later on the banks of a river outside Santiago. A forensic examination showed that Huber had been shot in the head before he was thrown from a bridge. The colonel’s chauffeur was found dead in his car in what the army claimed was a suicide.

On Friday Chile’s Supreme Court convicted two retired generals of illegal weapons sales, sentencing them to three years in prison.  Another eight people were also convicted but given lesser sentences and allowed to serve them under house arrest.  Colonel Huber’s murder has never been solved, but his former superior who also testified in the case said the Croatia arms deal had been personally approved by Pinochet.

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