Right wing forces look to the military—and Pinochet personally—as the saviors of Chile and the guardians of the extreme free-market socio-economic order they cherish. Conservatives viewed attacks on the armed forces as assaults on all the (antidemocratic) institutions that protected their privileges. The military themselves used their considerable influence and institutional powers to defend themselves from prosecution. In 1998, Pinochet's and the military's position seemed unassailable. But by mid-2000, Pinochet's political fortunes had declined dramatically due to efforts to prosecute him for his role in human rights violations. Efforts by lower courts to open investigations in other instances had also flourished. In the process, Chile learned it could function perfectly well without Pinochet's protection;
it would not descend into chaos and violence. Moreover, forward-looking conservative political figures distanced themselves from him and the Alliance for Chile offered its own constitutional reform bill.
How did this startling turn of fortune come about? In October of 1998, Senator Pinochet travelled to Great Britain for medical reasons. Due to his affinity with the neoconservatives that had dominated British politics since 1979, he had long considered the nation a safe haven. But things had changed with the election of the Labour Party's Tony Blair to the Prime Ministership. While Pinochet was in London, British authorities arrested him pending extradition to Spain for human rights violations. Spanish courts had requested the extradition based on a case put together by Chilean and Spanish survivors of leftist political activists killed by the military, allegedly with Pinochet's full knowledge. Pinochet languished under house arrest for 16 months in Britain. The Frei administration scrambled to establish negotiations between all parties involved, while the justice system apprehended officers who had taken part in the 1973 "Death Caravan" to northern Chile. Meanwhile, the Frei administration strenuously labored to have Pinochet released from custody and returned to Chile, arguing that his homeland was the only rightful venue for a trial, and that the Chilean justice system would indeed look into whether grounds existed to proceed against Pinochet for human rights abuses. Those efforts bore fruit in March 2000 when Pinochet was pronounced medically unfit for extradition and trial in Spain and flown back to Chile. Although his supporters gave him a hero's welcome, the new Lagos administration upheld the government's commitment to let the courts decide whether Pinochet should stand trial. The legal machinery began to operate. In August 2000, the Supreme Court of Chile upheld a lower court decision that stripped Pinochet of the diplomatic immunity he enjoyed under the constitutional provision that allowed former presidents of the republic to be senators for life. The first few months of 2001 saw General Pinochet declared mentally and physically fit to stand trial, and a lower court reduced the charges from conspiracy to commit kidnapping and murder to conspiracy to cover up kidnappings and murder.
The appeals process will delay results, but the fact that these events are taking place at all demonstrates the degree to which Chilean political elites of both the center-Left and, especially, the center-Right, are gaining confi-