As for the potential convening of the National Security Council, a move that Chile's armed forces chiefs discussed Friday, it would have mostly symbolic value. For all its militarism, Chile has not fought a war since the 19th century; no one is considering a commando attack on the psychiatric hospital where the ex-tyrant, described as silent and morose, awaits a ruling that could finally put him behind bars.
To send a diplomatic signal of its displeasure, the government has temporarily summoned its ambassador in Spain back to Chile for consultations. But Foreign Minister Jose Miguel Insulza made it clear Friday that he does not intend to break ties with Spain.
"Nations gain nothing by breaking diplomatic relations," Insulza said. He described the Pinochet crisis as difficult but added, "I don't think it is the worst problem we have confronted in the century."
Insulza is one of the political heavyweights openly discussing the need to end the Pinochet era, regardless of what happens next. Insulza told journalists recently that Pinochet's retirement in March as commander in chief of the army came nine years too late, thereby impeding the nation's transition to democracy. If Pinochet returns to Chile, the foreign minister said, he should stay out of politics.
"This is a political theme that has divided people, that has exalted passions and should have been resolved with his retirement in 1989," Insulza said. "Since we already lost nine years, perhaps this is the moment to begin so that we don't lose the next nine."
Insulza is walking a political tightrope that is emblematic of the government's predicament. The foreign minister, a Socialist, endured a harsh exile during the dictatorship--like many of his fellow leaders of today's democracy--and he makes no pretense of admiring Pinochet.
But Insulza's diplomatic offensive on behalf of the ex-dictator has won the respect of rivals. Citing the government's attitude, even Joaquin Lavin, presidential candidate of the hard-right Independent Democratic Union party, suggested last week that Pinochet should make a comparable "gesture of greatness." In the cautious codes of Chilean political discourse, the word "gesture" speaks volumes. For many, it refers to the need for a long-overdue apology for the campaign of terror that claimed at least 3,000 lives.
Some Still Hope for Apology
In a carefully reasoned article last week, Sen. Edgardo Boeninger recalled the example of Gen. Martin Balza, the Argentine army commander who was praised throughout South America when he apologized several years ago for the horrors of Argentina's military regime.
Boeninger, an eminent Christian Democrat, urged the unrepentant Pinochet to follow suit. He wrote: "Let us hope his mind--guided by his conscience and his heart--is illuminated in the near future."
Such careful language would have sounded revolutionary not long ago. In September, Pinochet looked positively gleeful on the Senate floor, casting a key vote and negotiating with longtime rivals.
Now, there is renewed talk of trying him in Chile, though his parliamentary immunity is a major obstacle. A more likely scenario is the formation of a proposed South African-style truth commission intended to bring closure to the unresolved traumas of the past.
For the moment, a special magistrate investigating 11 criminal suits filed against Pinochet here for murders during his regime said last week that he hopes Pinochet will "act with humanitarian spirit" if called to testify about the fate of the victims who have never been found.