Gen. Augusto Pinochet ends a 65-year army career when he retires as army commander today - but retains his substantial political and military clout by becoming a senator for life.
The former dictator’s decision to assume a Senate seat - a perk made possible by the constitution written during his 1973-90 regime - has stirred controversy. On Monday, the government announced a massive security operation to prevent unrest during rallies by Pinochet foes and supporters.
Pinochet’s critics say a man who shut down Congress after taking power in a bloody military coup has no place in the legislature. Pinochet was accused of widescale human rights abuses during his long reign, including more than 3,000 political killings, according to official figures.
A number of peaceful demonstrations in recent days have condemned Pinochet’s assuming a Senate seat, but legal and political efforts aimed at blocking him appeared doomed.
Some lawmakers planned to begin proceedings to force out Pinochet as soon as he is sworn in Wednesday. Their efforts appear unlikely to succeed - the right-wing opposition, which holds a majority in the Senate, has made clear it will block any impeachment attempt.
While making clear he personally opposes Pinochet becoming a senator, President Eduardo Frei said last week that the former dictator must be permitted to take the seat the constitution guarantees him as a former president.
The same constitution permitted Pinochet to stay on as army commander after he left power in 1990.
The army has made clear it will continue to support Pinochet after he steps down as army chief, granting him the title of “meritorious commander in chief.”
Pro-government and right-wing opposition politicians consider the move by the army’s 45 generals to be a clear signal that they will support Pinochet through any attacks brought against him on the Senate floor.
“Military men will never allow a comrade in arms to be treated the way some are treating Gen. Pinochet these days,” said Sen. Julio Lagos, a staunch Pinochet supporter.
Several current senators were jailed or exiled under Pinochet, and have made clear they plan to vent their views of him in the Senate.
Communist Party leader Gladys Marin called Pinochet a “coward” and accused him of “taking shelter behind the military. This is an unacceptable pressure.”
Pinochet, who has remained uncharacteristically silent in the face of the criticism, will leave the army in the style he prefers: honored during a parade at the Military Academy by 3,000 soldiers and 2,000 guests led by President Frei.
Succeeding Pinochet will be Gen. Ricardo Izurieta, a 55-year-old general widely viewed as a professional soldier with no political aspirations. Izurieta, who held no political position in the Pinochet government, has never been linked to its human rights violations.