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Special Prison for Military Criminals in Chile

The Chilean government is faced with the prospect of some high ranking military and police officials going to prison for committing crimes against humanity during almost 20 years of U.S. backed fascist military rule. In response, it has announced plans to build a special prison to house military and police prisoners. Historically, when Latin American military men have been convicted of heinous crimes against their citizens they have spent a few years in house arrest or held in luxurious conditions on military bases, etc. before receiving pardons.

Chilean leftists believe that the special prison idea is part of a deal reached by the Chilean government with the military, which still rules the country behind the scenes, to allow some of its members to be tried by the courts in the first place. The sentences handed down are very light, i.e. the former head of the secret police and an army general were sentenced to 6 and 7 years for ordering the murder by car bomb of Orlando Letelier, a former Chilean defense minister, and his America assistant in Washington D.C. By contrast, communist prisoners are held in harsh repressive, control units modeled on Marion in the U.S. and Stamheim in Germany to serve lengthy sentences. [See PLN, Vol. 5, No. 5]

There is a great deal of public outrage over the special prison idea among Chileans. Public Works Minister Ricardo Lagos refused to sign a decree authorizing the prisons construction and resigned in protest. The government will now ask that countrys congress to vote on the prison whereby the responsibility for building new prisons will go from the Public Works Ministry to the prison service. Some legislators state the law is unlikely to be passed due to its unpopularity. It remains to be seen what will happen if military criminals refuse to go to prison unless it is one built especially for them.

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