The decision will have delighted Pinochet's old friends, such as Margaret Thatcher, and dismayed the relatives of his victims along with anti-fascists and progressives everywhere.
But the matter is far from over and the need to Protest remains. Firstly there is the question of the "disappeared" -- victims of the Pinochet regime who have not been seen since. The relatives and friends of these people have a need and a right to know what happened to them, and, if they are dead, to know where their bodies are. At least they should know for certain if they are dead so that they can be properly commemorated.
Secondly there is the matter of the other guilty parties -- not least the United States administration of the day which took economic actions to undermine the elected government of Salvador Allende; which encouraged and assisted the take-over of power by the Pinochet-led military junta in 1973; and which backed Pinochet's regime to the hilt as it persecuted thousands of Chileans and others.
Other countries in the region had similar experiences to Chile
in those years -- when right wing regimes attempted to crush popular opposition
and progressive elements by authoritarian and terroristic
Repression, murder, torture of prisoners, disappearances and the use of death squads against communists, socialists, trade unionists, and many other progressives became a terrible reality in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. This was in addition to the hideous crimes committed by reactionary forces in Bolivia and in some countries in Central America.
The direct perpetrators of these crimes stand rightly condemned. But it should be stressed that the whole of South and Central America is regarded by the United States as being its own "backyard" and the shadow of US power hangs over the whole region.
Over the years we have seen that popular local leaders and organisations which Washington regarded as not in the interests of US imperialism were ruthlessly fought against by US-backed forces -- as was the case with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. On the other hand, reactionary regimes that danced to US imperialism's tune were endorsed and supported regardless of the long catalogue of crimes these regimes committed. Indeed the US did nothing to prevent the crimes carried out by its tame puppet rulers and, many believe, actively connived at the horror.
For decades the CIA has crawled its way through the region and is still to be found under any stone you lift. US dollars have funded right wing armies like the Contras. The US armed forces have also acted as advisors, trainers and sometimes directly as commandos in the struggle to keep America's backyard safe for American big business.
Above all, the United States and other imperialist countries have not, like Pinochet, grown too old and weak to repeat the crimes of the past. These capitalist forces will not hesitate to do in the future whatever they think necessary to preserve their rotten system and keep the super profits rolling in. If that means hiring brutalised thugs to torture and murder the finest of people, then that is what capitalism will set out to do.
That is why it is important to not only demonstrate our revulsion against Pinochet and his ilk, but to show up and fight against the mailed fist lurking behind such people -- the hand of capitalism.
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HOME Secretary Jack Straw last Tuesday night announced his intention to release General Augusto Pinochet, the ageing bloodthirsty Chilean dictator, on the grounds that he is too ill to be extradited to Spain to stand trial on torture charges.
On Wednesday the House of Commons saw a mass demonstration by Chilean exiles, their friends and supporters in protest at this decision to allow the man who, at the behest of the American CIA, overthrew the elected socialist government of Salvador Allende.
Pinochet had been held under house arrest in a very comfortable and well appomted Surrey mansion since September 1998 when Spanish lawyers made their application for his extradition.
His treatment marks a strong contrast to the treatment of others detained awaiting extradition proceedings, for example Roisin McAliskey who was detained for months in Belmarsh and Holloway pnsons under maximum security in horrific conditions even though pregnant after false allegations were made against her.
Lawyers acting for Pinochet recently made applications to Jack Straw that his health was failing, after a series of minor strokes last autumn.
So Mr Straw appointed a panel of top doctors in gerontology and neurology to examine Pinochet. They all recommended he be released on health grounds.
Jack Straw, in a statement to the House of Commons on Wednesday, refused to disclose details of the doctors' findings, saying these were confidential.
He has allowed seven days before releasing Pinochet for human rights groups to make representations.
But Carlos Reyes, speaking for Chile Democratico which represents Chileans in exile, say they need more detailed information on the medical reports to make their case.
It is widely suspected that the doctors' findings are very convenient for both the British and Spanish governments who seemed reluctant to go ahead with the trial of the military dictator who had served the interests of international imperialism so well.
And the decision to release Pinochet, comes by coincidence, just a week before a general election in Chile itself.
The Chilean government has said that if he returns to Chile, Pinochet may now lose immunity from prosecution and face trial in the country where he committed his heinous crimes.
But we have to remember that most judges now serving in Chile were appointed by him before his retirement in 1990. Meanwhile those who have been fighting for justice for the thousands of victims of torture and murder under the Pinochet regime have been reacting with horror and disgust at Jack Straw's decision.
Mireya Garcia, vice president of the Organisation of Relatives of Missing Detainees said it was "very bad news for Chile and for justice".
She added: "We believe that although Pinochet is indeed very old and has problems, he is in shape to stand trial. We no longer can expect that justice can be served in any country, when it comes to this kind of crime."
The Spanish lawyer who has been fighting to bring Pinochet to justice, Juan Garces, said: "If these reports are true I am shattered. It contradicts what we were given to understand by the Home Office that no decision would be taken for some time yet."
Carlos Reyes said: "We are reacting with horror. I feel choked that this criminal is going to escape justice, especially because we have in Chile people still suffering from his reign of terror who are older than him and in worse health than he is.
"For 25 years, thousands of families have been suffering. The whole country is suffering from the consequences of his regime."
Amnesty International said the documents relating to his examination need to be examined.
Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish investigating judge who issued the extradition warrant, said he would not give up until all possible avenues had been exhausted.
And the relatives of his victims are not giving up either. Mercedes Rojas, now living in London, last saw her husband Oscar when he was arrested in Chile in 1982 aged 35.
She said: "We have lost the battle but we have not lost the war. For him and others like him we must go on.
"Everybody is really sad that this long struggle has come to this. It is not good for human rights in Chile or anywhere in the world. They fought so much to get him back. I feel so angry."
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by Caroline Colebrook
THE METROPOLITAN Police Force last week came in for another round of condemnation, after the publication of a report by former members of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary that was ordered by Sir William McPherson at the end of last year's inquiry into the police handling of Lhe racist murder of SLephen Lawrence.
Last week's report, Policing London, Winning Consrnt, was led by David Blakey, a former West Mercia Chief Constable and Don Dovaston, Assistant Chief Constable of Derbyshire. Also involved was David Crompton who investigated the Met's attitude to race issues.
They made 41 recommendations. Mr Blakey concentrated on the Met's poor rate of solving murder cases, just 84 per cent compared to a national average of 92 per cent.
He found the Met gave comparatively low priority to investigating murders that officers in charge of murder investigation teams were overloaded. Many were working on six cases at a time and one was working on 14 cases simultaneously.
Since the McPherson inquiry, the Met has set up a special unit to combat race crimes and organised racists in the capital have found themselves under greater pressure.
But the Met itself still has great problems. Mr Crompton said: "There is more to be done in securing the hearts and minds of non-specialist police officers.
"A pervasive feeling exists among some staff that what is seen as specialist treatment for the victims of racist attacks can only be delivered by prejudicing service to the wider community.
"Until officers and staff understand the impact of hate crime because of skin colour or cultural difference, securing appropriate initial response to victims will remain an unfulfilled challenge."
That's the polite way of putting it. Many officers have exposed their own underlying racism by reacting to the McPhe rson report as though they are the victims rather than the Lawrence family and the scores of others w ho have been treated unjustly by police racism.
It was just a year ago but they seem to have forgotten that the inquiry found the police investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence at fist tried to smear him and his companion Duwayne Brooks as criminals, ignored several witness statements which named the culprits, refused to speak to the Lawrence family, failed to search suspects' homes even when they were seen by police surveillance removing bin bags full of what could have been compromising evidence.
When Stephen's mother, who had decided in the face of police inaction to do some investigating herself presented the police with the names of the suspects, they screwed up the paper and threw it away in front of her.
The police undermined the identification evidence of Mr Brooks and one of the officers involved in this was found to be a friend of the father of one of the suspects -- a known criminal.
The report comes just as Sir Paul Condon is handing over as Chief Constable of the Met to John Stevens.
Condon says he is retiring with pride, in spite of everything. He and Stevens see lack of morale as the main problem facing the Met and attribute this to the McPherson inquiry.
Condon says this inquiry was "a tragedy for police". He claims: "There are many police officers whose lives have been damaged in a way in which they will never recover".
It seems that having their racist attitudes spelt out in public has shocked them so much that London police have since been afraid to use "stop and search" and this has led to a rise in street crime.
Ironically, from the fewer "stop and searches" they have made, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of arrests, indicating that when the tactic is used only as it should be, when there is real reason to suspect someone is a criminal and not just to bully black youths, it is a more effective weapon against crime.
The implication is that all this is the fault of the Lawrence family for fighting long and hard for justice for their son and of the McPherson inquiry.
Police are still trying to smear the Lawrence family and Duwayne Brooks as criminals to justify their original approach to the murder.
Just last month, on 27 December, Stephen's father, Neville Lawrence, was stopped and questioned about a street robbery. They questioned him about the ownership of the car he was in. Mr Lawrence has made a formal complaint ahout the incident.
The Met officers, from top to bottom, seem more keen to feel sorry for themselves for being criticised than to acknowledge it was their fault that the racist killers now cannot be brought to justice and that this has sent out a signal to racists that they can literally get away with murder.
The Home Office is planning drastic changes to the structure of police forces in England, merging county forces into larger regional bodies to cut down on administration costs.
We hope this will not be an excuse to quietly bury the findings of the McPherson report. But we are living in a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie which does not necessarily want to see harmony and unity among black and white workers.
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by our Middle East Affairs Correspondent
MARATHON Syrian-Israeli talks in America have ended will little to show for it apart from a promise to resume 1Y January. Israeli premier Ehud Barak maintains a "core agreement" could be signed by March.
The Syrians have expressed little public optimism except to note with satisfaction that this time everything which has been agreed so far has been noted -- to prevent the backtracking which took place by Israel's old hard-line Likud government on previous talks.
Syria is demanding the return of every inch of the Golan Heights held before the June 1967 war -- to the 1949 armistice line which includes a small part of mandate Palestine liberated by the Syrian army in the first Arab-Israeli war. Barak wants to retain this and only withdraw to the 1923 Syrian-Palestinian border drawn up by British and French imperialism.
Israel is also calling on Syria to agree to a whole host of "security", diplomatic and economic normalisation agreements before withdrawing from the Golan. Syria says these can only follow an Israeli evacuation.
Israel, or rather the new Labour-led government of Ehud Barak, is under pressure from the "Peace Now" movement to pull out of southern Lebanon and reach a settlement with Syria and the Palestinians -- a lobby far more potent than the vociferous band of Zionist fanatics who oppose any peace deal and who will never vote Labour under any circumstances.
More to the point, US President Bill Clinton desperately wants a foreign affairs success to boost the chances of his Democratic Party successor in US presidential race in November. The Americans are also concerned that if talks with Syria break down then the whole Middle East "peace process", which they hope will provide a basis for prolonged US domination of the region, will unravel.
The Syrian and Lebanese decision not to attend the "multinational" Middle East talks in Moscow sponsored by Washington is the first sign that this is already beginning to happen. Damascus and Beirut argue that there is no point in talking about regional co-operation before the conflict with Israel is resolved.
Barak is in a tight corner. Some of Labour's allies in parliament who draw their support from recent Jewish immigrants or the religious constituency, are opposed to total withdrawal. They could withdraw from the government forcing it into minority administration or provoke yet another general election. Barak says any deal will go to referendum first -- to avoid the call for an election he might lose -- and he is confident that after a full debate it will be carried.
The Syrians, on this occasion, need do nothing but wait. They've waited over 30 years for this moment and they can afford to wait a little longer.
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UNIONS and backbench Labour MPs reacted angrily last week to the reports that the Government is likely to freeze the level of the minimum wage for another year.
The reports came at the same time that Digby Jones, the new director general of the Confederation of British Industry, had urged the Bank of England not to raise interest rates and or the Government not to raise the minimum wage.
This call came in spite of claims that the British economy is doing very well. Taken with the rising rate of business failures it indicates that business is a lot shakier than the bosses are letting on.
Nevertheless, profits are certainly doing well enough to fund respectable wages.
Dave Prentice, deputy general secretary of the public sector union Unison, said that keeping an estimated two million workers on £3.60 an hour until 2001 would be "a disgraceful way to start the new millennium".
A report from the Low Pay Commission on the impact of the minimum wage since it was in troduced last April has been given to Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers. He is due to announce his response later this month.
The DTI claims that no decision has yet been reached on whether to freeze the minimum wage. But Government sources are saying there was never any intent that it should be uprated annually and it now seems almost certain itwill be frozen for a year.
Lynne Jones, MP for Birmingham Selly Oak said this news was a "great disappointment".
"The Government must not allow this initiative to wither on the vine," she said. She also reminded the Labour leadership that it committed itself in 1992 to a minimum wage of £3.40 an hour and this has risen now by just 20 pence in eight years.
TUC general secretary John Monks said: "Everyone now agrees that the minimum wage has had no effect on jobs or inflation. It is therefore disappointing that those on the minimum wage will no longer be able to keep up with inflation."
And Transport and General workers' Union general secretary Bill Morris said: "The minimum wage is one of the key tools in the Government's fight against poverty.
"If we are now to abandon the uprating principle it seems to me that we'll be abandoning the fight for a fair workplace and against poverty."
This shows that a minimum wage is a double-edged weapon and can also be used to hold down wages.
But more to the point, for trade unionists, the issue is about organising the membership to fight fora return to collective bargaining -- the only lasting guarantor of real wage rises and improved conditions.
It is this that will strengthen workers' hands against the false expectations of any manipulative and divisive policy of a minimum wage, however it is rated or reviewed.
The union leadership are there to defend and advance those interests and to tell Blair & Co that Labour's policy is contributing to harming those interests.
Unions have the clout, because workers will always be able to deliver it in the right circumstances, to make the government and the bosses listen.
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