YESTERDAY a certain Chilean political prisoner, Senor Pedro Fernandez, arrived in Britain after six and a half years in prison for his opposition to the military regime of General Pinochet.
The Chilean regime is to release Sr Fernandez on the condition that he leaves the country. In 1983, Britain offered Sr Fernandez political asylum, should he be released. Sr Fernandez, who was detained in May 1980, underwent severe physical and psychological torture at the hands of Chile's secret police, the CNI.
The Pope is due to visit Chile early in April. He should undoubtedly cancel his visit immediately. We say this not only because of the case reported above, but because of countless thousands that are even worse since Pinochet To revert for a moment to the particular case of Sr Fernandez, it can now be revealed that his release is the successful end to a five year campaign organised by the London based Chilean Committee for Human Rights. Among key participants in the campaign on his behalf have been Bishop Victor Guazzeli, Bishop in East London and head of the Pax Christi Organisation.
A complete boycott by the Pope of Chile is the only possible means of bringing to world attention — if only as a one-day wonder, as most such sensations are short lived the tremendous evil represented by the Chilean regime. The free world will be very disappointed if the Pope is even seen to be on speaking terms with a man like Pinochet.
The latter's record speaks for itself. His violent coup in 1973 overthrew the democratically elected government of President Allende which, with all its faults, represented the
climax of 46 years of civilian rule. Chile has been in darkness ever since. Pinochet immediately clamped on a state of siege.
This continued until 1978 when it was temporarily removed. It was later reimposed, and and has now been once more lifted purely in order to improve Chile's abysmal record in civil rights in anticipation of the Pope's visit in April.
The Pope seems to have fallen completely into the trap. If he thinks he can confine himself to "diplomatic niceties" when meeting this dreaded and hated head of state, he is gravely, not to say niavely, mistaken. Pinochet intends to meet the Pope at the airport where the latter will no doubt observe his usual practice of kissing the ground, regardless of whether such ground is good or evil in the fruits which it bears.
Any such, even outward, show of friendliness between the Pope and Pinochet can only appall Chilean Catholics, and their bishops in particular. As our page two article makes clear, the bishops have, for over a decade, kept up a sustained campaign against the flagrant human rights violations of this particularly odious dictatorship. If the Pope goes through with his projected visit, it will be considered by many to be a grave miscalculation on his part and it will be grieved by many.
Pinochet is no longer even a member of the Catholic Church. He left it of his own volition some two years ago in a fit over ecclesiastical opposition to the obscenities of his regime. Are those same bishops now to be insulted by an apparent accommodation with the regime, however much it is dressed up as a mission of "reconciliation"?
It will be remembered furthermore that Britain has been very much involved, latterly in a highly reprehensible sense, with the fortunes of Chile. In 1971 Dr Sheila Cassidy visited Chile to practice as a doctor. In 1975, because of being asked to treat a patient in whom she had no political interest, she was arrested and brutally tortured by the notorious Chilean secret police.
Britain, quite rightly, severed diplomatic relations with Chile in the absence of any apology or offer to make retribution for this outrage. A subsequent government, however, anxious to resume its lucrative arms trade with Chile, allowed official diplomatic relations to be resumed. The Minister then in charge of the matter, cast doubts on the veracity of Dr Cassidy's own account of her sufferings. He later made an unconvincing apology, but this did not affect the decision to resume diplomatic relations.
A further and not particularly pleasing thought occurs at this juncture. In 1974 it was established that a United States agency, the now notorious CIA, had been a potent element in the "destabilising" of Allende's Chile. This outrage was overlooked by the rest of the so-called "free" western world.
Now we see the USA trying, by even more overt means, to destabilise another Latin American country, namely Nicaragua. The latter country is much more efficiently run than was Allende's Chile. But the principle is the same.
The only consolation is that Reagan's "Irangate" — though he will almost certainly wriggle free of personal blame by such astonishing confessions as that he signed memoranda which he had not properly read — will probably come finally unstuck over the question of Nicaragua.
For Nicaragua is a confident and courageous country, by no means perfect, but bolstered by Christian voices and values which, if carefully heeded, should go far to deter the Pope from making a potentially disastrous and tragically misjudged visit to Fascist Chile.