The Pinochet Case

Wednesday, October 21

Digital projection

Augusto Pinochet, the general who overthrew President Salvador Allende of Chile in 1973, was the first dictator in Latin America – or the world – to be humbled by the international justice system since the Nuremberg trials.

In September 1998, Pinochet flew to London on a pleasure trip. He rested for a few days. He had tea with Margaret Thatcher. But, suddenly, he began experiencing back pain and underwent an operation in the London Clinic. Upon waking from surgery, he was arrested by the London police. Who was responsible for this?

This new film by Patricio Guzmán investigates the legal origins of the case in Spain – where it began two years before Pinochet’s arrest. With the film’s protagonists, among them the prosecutor Carlos Castressana who filed the charges, and Judge Baltasar Garzón, who upheld them and issued the arrest warrant, THE PINOCHET CASE explores how a small group of people in Madrid laid the groundwork for this incredible feat — catching a dictator 25 years after his rise to power.

Scotland Yard served the arrest warrant, and THE PINOCHET CASE also follows the workings of the British legal system that ensued. The General spent 503 days under house arrest at an estate outside London, until Tony Blair’s government released him on grounds of ill health. But only after the House of Lords, in an historic decision with international repercussions, divested him of his legal immunity, ruling that even heads of state can be held accountable for crimes against humanity.

Crucial to the legal case against Pinochet were the testimonies of victims of those crimes. Hundreds of Chileans, most of them women, relatives of the “disappeared,” ex-prisoners that had suffered all kinds of torture and interrogation in secret prisons, traveled to Madrid to testify. THE PINOCHET CASE movingly incorporates their stories.

When Pinochet finally returned to Chile, he faced 200 accusations of crimes, this time in Chilean courts. Eventually the Chilean Supreme Court also stripped him of his immunity, and on January 29, 2001, Judge Juan Guzmán placed Augusto Pinochet under house arrest. The people were no longer afraid, and the Chilean justice system started to make up for lost time.

Part of Obstinate Memories: The Films of Patricio Guzmán

  • Country France/Chile/Belgium/Spain
  • Language In English and Spanish with English subtitles
  • Year 2001
  • Running Time 100 minutes
  • Director Patricio Guzmán