§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I welcome the opportunity to debate our relations with Chile and the situation in that country. First, I should declare an interest, which is in the Register of Members' Interests and is therefore openly on the record: I visited Chile last December and my fare was paid by human rights campaigners for Chile in this country; I was very grateful to them for that assistance.
Like other hon. Members, I have raised the issue of Chile in many debates since I was first elected in 1983. I visited Chile for the first time in 1970 and was inspired by much of what I saw there. I shared the hopes that were aroused by the election of the Popular Unity Government and, like millions around the world, I was appalled by the events of 1973, when British planes were used to bomb the presidential palace, which resulted in the death of President Allende, the rounding up of large numbers of people into the national stadium, and a reign of terror, including the caravan of death.
Many Members of Parliament worked tirelessly to help Chilean asylum seekers in the early 1970s. It would be wrong not to pause for a moment to remember the wonderful work by Dame Judith Hart and many other Members of Parliament in supporting Chilean people who came to this country. We should also recognise the enormous contribution by members of the Chilean exiled community, who have lived in this country ever since, as well as the work by the Chile Committee for Human Rights and the Chile Solidarity Campaign in raising support for victims of torture and showing the world the brutality committed during the Pinochet regime and during the coup.
That brutality was almost unparalleled in Latin America. After the planes bombed the palace, the police and the army went around systematically rounding up anyone who was believed to be a supporter of the Allende Government. The caravan of death went from town to town with groups of officers picking up anyone who was thought to be part of the Allende Government, who was then either summarily executed, or taken away for torture and later executed.
The bodies of many of those people have still not been recovered. That reign of terror did not stop after a few weeks; it went on for years. It had a strong foreign policy element: the Pinochet regime helped to establish Operation Condor, a process by which the military regimes of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay co-operated to round up their supposed opponents and to mete out unspeakable acts of torture against them.
The record of the west and other countries in relation to Chile is patchy. There was a United Nations programme to assist people to leave Chile to live in a place of safety. A number came to Britain and more went to Sweden, Mexico, Cuba and several other countries, where they contributed to the societies there. At the same time, the United States, which, through its multinational connections, was heavily involved in the 1973 coup—I look forward to reading the accurate memoirs of Henry Kissinger, when he finally gets around to publishing them—imposed on Chile an economic strategy known as the Chicago school. That highest form of monetarism led to massive 195WH unemployment, vast privatisation and the development of a yawning gap between rich and poor, which persists in Chile to this day.
The British contribution in the mid-1970s was to support human rights campaigners in Chile, but with the election of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister in 1979, British arms sales to Chile resumed. The Thatcher Government enjoyed close links with the Pinochet regime, as was amply demonstrated by visits to Pinochet while he was under house arrest in this country by Margaret Thatcher and Norman Lamont—and, indeed, by an hon. Member who is present today—and the Pinochet Foundation's presentation to Norman Lamont of a medal, which I am sure he is proud to wear.
Pinochet corrupted much of what went on throughout Latin America. For example, there was an interesting article in The Observer in December about the sale of drugs by the Pinochet regime. It stated:Twelve tons of the drug, with a street value of several billion pounds left Chile in 1986 and 1987 alone. The drugs, destined for Europe, have often been flown to Spanish territory by aircraft carrying Chilean-made arms for Iraq and Iran. Distribution to Britain and other European countries has been controlled by secret missions stationed in Chilean embassies in Stockholm and Madrid.Such issues require examination because of the suggestion that the Pinochet regime, while in receipt of British military aid or arms, was involved in the international drugs trade.
It should be remembered that, throughout the time of the caravan of death and all its horrors, many people in Chile bravely stood up and campaigned for human rights to defend others from being imprisoned and tortured. I shall quote from a poem sent to me recently by a Chilean man, Tito Tricot—I shall not read it all as Mr. Tricot is quite loquacious and the poem is very long. It gives some idea of the feelings of people in Chile towards Pinochet and the caravan of death. It states:General Pinochet will be tried in relation to the massacre of 75 Chileans when a special army task force, known as 'Caravan of Death', toured the country executing prisoners. They all died a painful and slow death; their bodies were mutilated, their eyes carved up with knives, their limbs torn apart. How can a human being be capable of such horror? How could they inflict such pain on defenceless people? How could Pinochet and his henchmen transform the entire country into a Caravan of Death?The change of Government in 1990 came about not by accident, but because of international pressure following the campaign of the people in Chile and because of the sheer horror at what went on there. That led to the plebiscite in 1988 and, finally, to the election in 1990 of President Aylwin, whose inauguration I attended. It was a moving event, held in the national stadium. There was talk of reconciliation, of those things never again happening in Chile and of opening the history books, but the constitution that Pinochet bequeathed to the people of Chile protected him and his henchmen, gave them priority positions in the Senate and in the supreme court and granted them a high degree of immunity.
Although the Rettig commission did a lot of work and named a lot of people who had gone missing, there were few, if any, successful prosecutions as a result. Indeed, very little happened abroad other than the prosecution 196WH for the death in Washington of Orlando Letelier in 1976. The problem for the people of Chile after 1990 was not that they had got rid of Pinochet, but that there was a collective attempt to forget what had happened.
Some people, however, were not prepared to forget and recognised that justice could come about only by revealing the truth. In that sense, credit must be given to Baltazar Garzon and others in Spain for their efforts to have Pinochet extradited when he arrived in this country.
I remember 16 October 1998 as a day of enormous significance, when news came that Pinochet had been arrested by the Metropolitan police under extradition law on the basis of a warrant issued by a Spanish court. Pinochet was subsequently held in this country for 503 days. In December, I visited the Agrupacion de los Desaparecidos, the family centre for those who disappeared, which displays a large poster saying "503 days". Those 503 days were crucial to the history of Chile because they enabled people to campaign for legal and constitutional change and to bring about the real justice that had been denied for so long.
The arrest of Pinochet had obvious reverberations around the world. The right of a state, in this case Britain, to arrest a former head of state was confirmed. Pinochet claimed first that he had diplomatic immunity and then that he had immunity as a former head of state. Both those claims were overturned by the House of Lords. Even after the House of Lords reheard the case once Judge Hoffmann had been removed from the initial panel of judges, Pinochet still was not granted immunity. Although he was indicted on charges of torture after 1988, he was nevertheless indicted both as a former head of state and head of the armed forces. The role played by the judiciary in this country in the process of international law against dictators, torturers and murderers was extremely significant.
Those who campaigned ceaselessly in Britain to ensure that the world knew about that deserve a huge amount of praise. They helped the world to know that Pinochet, the man who claimed that nothing moved in Chile without his permission, was finally brought down. It was a humbling sight to see him being taken away from Belmarsh magistrates court under a blanket. He was allowed to return to Chile on the basis of medical evidence that had been prepared at the request of the Chilean embassy here. Many of us strongly questioned both the purpose of the medical examinations and the conclusions that were drawn from them. The pictures of Pinochet getting off the plane in Chile and suddenly, Lazarus-like, being able to walk, talk, smile and wave, were a great surprise to many people.
I ask the Home Office and the Foreign Office to look again at the medical evidence on which Pinochet was allowed to go. A military hospital in Chile has now adjudged that he is fit to face trial and competent to understand the case against him. We should think carefully about the medical evidence that we were offered. It was not released initially. It was made public only after the Belgian Government continued with the case in the British courts.
I should also like the Minister to comment on the pressure under which the British Government were placed and the discussions that took place between the representatives of the British, United States, Spanish 197WH and Chilean Governments during 1999. I understand that requests were made to find some form of words to allow Pinochet to return to Chile. Many of us were campaigning for a judicial process to take place against Pinochet in Europe, under extradition law to Spain, because we thought it unlikely at that stage that he would be tried in Chile. When the books are opened, it will be nice to know who put pressure on whom to ensure that Pinochet was allowed to leave these shores without going through the due judicial process.
When Pinochet returned to Chile, Judge Guzman and others who had worked hard during the intervening 10 years and more to uncover the bodies from the caravan of death began to assemble a massive case against him and the other military personnel. There is something deeply moving about talking to people who have been exhuming bodies from unmarked graves. Many of those bodies are now stored in the morgue in Santiago while the painful process of DNA testing to match bodies with relatives continues. Imagine the pain of people whose relatives disappeared after the coup in 1973 who still do not know their fate. Occasionally, someone goes along to the national memorial in the cemetery in Santiago and engraves another name, as another body is found and finally identified as yet another person who disappeared during the dictatorship.
During my visit, I went to the national stadium, the centre of torture to which many people were taken. I also went to the velodrome, where the worst torture took place. We walked around the velodrome, with victims of torture and others, and were struck by the stupidity, the horror and the arbitrariness of it. We stood on a concrete cycling track with beautiful mountains in the background, listening to a man talking about how he was tortured there. That man was just an attendant, a messenger, at the Chilean department of education, but someone—some fevered brain in the police or military—decided that he was central to some communist plot to subvert the whole of South America. He was unspeakably tortured, and he spoke about it with tears in his eyes, explaining what had been done to him and so many others.
I also attended international human rights day at Villa Grimaldi, in Santiago, the centre of interrogation and torture. It was a very moving event: more than 1,000 people took part to bear witness. I went to the national cemetery, and saw the names of the victims carved on the memorial—the brilliant, the famous and the almost unknown died equally. The name of Victor Jara was alongside those of less well known people.
At that time, there were high hopes in Chile that Pinochet would be put on trial. Unfortunately, the following day in the High Court, a writ for habeas corpus was successful, and Pinochet was de-arrested. Subsequently Judge Guzman and others managed to have a large number of other cases registered in the court in Chile. The medical examination has taken place, and Pinochet has been re-arrested and indicted. We have almost reached the point at which a legal process can begin against him.
Other issues are at stake. It must be obvious that a trial of Pinochet is not a trial of one individual. He did not act alone. He seized power in a conspiracy with other officers, supported by the military and by a number of multinational companies who had been waging economic warfare against Chile for years to 198WH destabilise the country and create chaos in which they could seize power with all the brutality that they displayed. We need to know what those pressures were, who said what and who did what.
The United States of America was clearly involved. The Central Intelligence Agency had a large station in Chile. Henry Kissinger was personally involved. That much we know. Various companies were involved, not just in Chile but in the economic warfare against Chile. Thanks to brilliant work in the United States, many thousands of documents have been released by the State Department, and they are now held in the national archives at the national library in Santiago. Some documents have been doctored by the CIA—I was there on the day when they were presented, and some pages have literally been blanked out. They were obviously CIA documents, and it will now be hard to understand what was in them, but many others were very revealing, The USA's freedom of information law allows us that kind of information.
I ask again the question, which I have asked in the House and have raised in early-day motions—why cannot the same information be released in this country? The documents for 1970, which have been released under the 30-year rule, raise interesting points. They reveal a proposal from the United States and some other sources, that Britain should take part in some form of pre-emptive strike—a coup—to prevent the election as President of Chile of Salvador Allende, the Popular Unity candidate. That plot would have destabilised Allende's Government before they had even taken office. Records of meetings show that Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who became Foreign Secretary after the June 1970 general election, was put under pressure in this respect. Those papers give us a soupcon, a taster of what may be in other documents.
The United Kingdom is an important trading partner with Chile. We were an important arms seller to Chile, and we received a great deal of military co-operation secretly from Chile during the Falklands war. I ask the Minister to explain clearly why documents can be released in the United States, such as those relating to Operation Condor in Buenos Aires, in Montevideo and in Asuncion, which are now held at the high court in Asuncion, but not here. What is so special about Britain that we cannot reveal the secrets that we hold?
When the trial of Pinochet and his military officers takes place, we will need to know the truth, and those documents will help to uncover the truth of how torture and murder took place. I ask the Minister, with the greatest respect, to look again at this issue. Although there is no international legal process against Pinochet and his generals in the same way that there is in the case of Rwanda or former Yugoslavia, or that there was in the case of former Nazi Germany, it is likely that a big case will be held in Chile, and those documents could provide an important part of it and could encourage other countries to release documents.
The cases of two British nationals and one American national could be included in the process. I will deal first with the American national. Charles Horman, a young American living in Chile in the 1970s, was taken away, tortured and killed. His story became the subject of the absolutely brilliant film "Missing", which demonstrated the arbitrary nature of military power and its vileness and brutality. Charlie Horman's widow came to this 199WH country to bear witness when the House of Lords case was going on, and I met her then. She also went to Chile and took part in a symbolic cleansing process of part of the national stadium. She has since issued an appeal, from which I will briefly quote:Charles' mother Elizabeth, now 96, and I thank you for your support of our efforts to get at the truth concerning the death of Charles Horman in Chile in 1973— in which we firmly believe, the United States played a shameful part. Your help will enable us to shed light on one of the darkest chapters in the history of Latin America and our own country and will contribute to ending the practice of impunity for crimes against humanity, which characterised so much of the last century.Joyce Horman is asking for international help to ensure that her husband's case is taken through the Chilean courts, and she has already ensured that case is registered.
Two British nationals also died in Chile. William Beausire died in 1975 and Father Michael Woodward two years later. Both were tortured and killed for no good reason. Their families still grieve for them and are still in a very distressed state because of them.
I have constantly raised questions about these cases and there are two particular aspects that I would like to emphasise. First, when we had the opportunity to allow a private criminal case to take place against General Pinochet while he was being held in Britain, the then Attorney-General refused permission for that case to be deposited in the British courts. That was despite the fact that the Metropolitan police were undertaking an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of William Beausire, and despite the fact that a vast amount of evidence had been deposited with the Metropolitan police at that time by me and others. I asked the Solicitor-General about this at Question Time last week and the last part of his answer was:Under the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990, it is possible for authorities in this country to assist prosecution in Chile, and that might well happen."—[Official Report, 1 February 2001; Vol. 362, c. 442.]I have also received a letter from the Minister concerning that matter and the case of Father Michael Woodward. The Minister is aware of Father Woodward's case, having met his sister and spoken with his family. Indeed, he raised the case when he went to the inauguration of President Lagos in Chile last year. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be able to offer us some hope that, as with the case of Charles Horman, whose case has now been deposited in the courts in Chile, the British authorities will give all assistance they possibly can to uncover the truth of who was guilty of the murders of Beausire and Woodward, and that all Foreign Office documents relating to their disappearance and death, including cables and reports that came from the embassy at the time, will be revealed. Statements made at the time by the Foreign Secretary, David Owen, suggest that a great deal of knowledge should to be brought to light.
The process that has taken place in Chile can bring about justice. It cannot bring back the dead, turn the clock back or take the torches away, but it can indict the people who seized power and who destroyed so much of that country, murdered so many people and set such a terrible example around the world. It can and, I hope, 200WH will hasten the inauguration of the International Criminal Court that will mean the Pinochets of tomorrow will face justice more quickly and simply.
We have had more than 10 years of pursuit of Pinochet since he ceased to be president and he still has not faced justice. He offered no justice to his people but he has been offered every possible avenue of justice. We have a role to play. As a country, we played a role. I ask the Minister to ensure that we play our part in giving all the support we can to the people who are prosecuting in Chile. I ask him to open the books, to release the information to support the families of Beausire and Woodward, to tell us the truth about what happened and what the British arms sold to Chile were used for in the 1980s. Do we too, through our arms trade, have blood on our hands because of what happened in Chile?
I hope that that process can be a lesson for all of us about the dangers of the economic madness that went on in Chile after Pinochet seized power and the unbridled power of multinational capital, which was used to promote that coup and all the horrors that went with it, so that the world never again sees the likes of General Pinochet, Operation Condor and so many other things.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
We owe a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) for introducing this important debate on Britain's relations with Chile. We all recognise his long and deep interest in the country. My own interest does not go back quite as far as his, but I have been going to Chile every year since the mid 1980s for family reasons. My last visit was during the Christmas recess, when I spent a significant amount of time in the south of Chile and in the capital, Santiago.
I have tried to keep up to date and have the privilege of serving under the hon. Gentleman as vice-chairman of the British-Chile all-party group, which I founded when Chile regained a democracy. We try in the House to foster good relations with Chile. That is easy in the sense that Chile is an exemplary democracy: it scored a commendable success in effecting a difficult transition from a period of enforced military rule. The last presidential elections, closely fought, brought the socialist president Ricardo Lagos to power by an extremely narrow margin over Mr. Lavin. The campaign was peaceful and the institution of the new Administration was successful in every way.
The interesting thing is that although the hon. Gentleman criticises the Chicago school of economic reforms that were instituted at the time of the military government, those reforms have been largely maintained. Other Latin American economies have benefited from using these reforms as a model. Chile is a reasonably prosperous country: according to "Whitaker's Almanac" it has an unemployment rate of some 7 per cent. and an inflation rate of some 5 per cent, figures that compare favourably with many countries in the European Union. It has a diverse economy which is modernising rapidly.
As far as the United Kingdom is concerned Chile is, and always has been, an important trading partner. The United Kingdom was active at the time of Chile's liberation from the Spanish empire. The commander in 201WH chief of the Chilean navy at that time, Admiral Cochrane, was instrumental in the liberation of Chile. Moreover, through his assistance by seaborne interventions in the campaign of San Martin in Peru, he helped to liberate that country as well.
The first President of Chile, Bernardo O'Higgins, who was the bastard son of the viceroy of Peru, spent formative years at Richmond upon Thames. Those personal connections, reinforced by the Canning doctrine, whereby it was held that the new world was called into existence to redress the balance of the old, meant that the United Kingdom had an important relationship with the Chilean state from its beginning and throughout the 19th century, particularly in shipping, the development of Chile's railways, mining and the exploitation of the important nitrate deposits in the north.
As a consequence, there has been a significant Anglo-Chilean community in Chile. President Aylwin, the Christian Democrat who followed General Pinochet as head of state, can trace his roots back to the UK and has family connections, I believe, in Sussex. Such connections are not unusual among a large number of Chileans, which was brought home to me when I visited The Grange, a famous secondary school, where a plaque on the wall commemorated the casualties of the second world war. A large number of pupils had gone back to England to fight in the British armed forces, particularly as airmen; there were many names of those who perished on our behalf while fighting in the Royal Air Force.
In the post-war period, the trading relationship declined somewhat, but it has reasserted itself to the extent that the UK is the third biggest investor in Chile after the United States and Spain. Therefore, we have an important stake in Chile. Visible trade is also significant to us, although our trade is not in balance: the Chileans sell much more to us than we sell to them. Customs and Excise statistics show that UK exports to Chile in the first 11 months of last year were worth £106 million, whereas Chilean exports to the UK were worth £436 million. That is a remarkable achievement by the Chileans and shows how important it is for UK exporters to be even more active in the Chilean market. Only recently, there was a seminar in Santiago, which was attended by the Minister for Housing and Planning and European Union Commissioner Chris Patten. We are doing our best through the Latin American trade advisory group—which comes under the new trading arrangements instituted by Her Majesty's Government—and are hopeful that trade will grow and expand.
As I have said, Chilean democratic credentials are excellent, as is its tradition of the rule of law. The hon. Member for Islington, North referred to the case of Senator Pinochet, which is being dealt with in the Chilean courts. It is entirely appropriate that Chileans decide for themselves how they deal with citizens such as Senator Pinochet against whom serious allegations are levelled. It is often alleged that Chile has an imperfect democracy because of the appointed senators, of whom Pinochet is one. However, 38 of the senators are elected and only nine are appointed, whereas we have no directly elected members of the Upper House and a much larger number of appointed peers than those who remain in the Upper House by virtue of the indirect election. Chile has 120 deputies, who are elected for a 202WH four-year term. The presidential term is a single term of only six years, which is the maximum allowed under the Chilean constitution, whereas in this country one can be re-elected as Prime Minister for several terms. I do not think that the Chileans' democratic credentials are in question, nor is their adherence to the rule of law.
It is true and tragic that there was a period, dating from the assumption of power by the junta in 1973, when Chile was under military rule, but one must remember that the people of Chile largely urged the military to intervene: the Congress of Chile did so, as did the supreme court and the auditor general of Chile. Many more people were killed in Peru in that period, during the Sendero Luminoso terrorist campaign. Many more people were killed in the insurgencies in Colombia—we hope that the guerrilla problem there will be solved by President Pastrana's peace process. The same is true of the bitter civil wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, which were largely fostered and stoked up by the intervention of the Cubans. At least the intervention of the armed forces in Chile in 1973 ensured that Marxist influence was checked in Latin America. It was a turning point in the cold war, like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the assumption of power in Egypt by Anwar Sadat.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle)
I believe passionately that a crucial distinction ought to be made in respect of some of the examples that the hon. Gentleman has given. If I recall rightly, President Allende was democratically elected—that is a vital difference.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I have mentioned the fact that democratic institutions were being subverted in Chile at the time of Popular Unity Government of Salvador Allende. That was the tragedy of the situation.
No one understood the tragedy better than the Chilean people themselves. The economic position of the country was utterly disastrous, with an inflation rate of 500 per cent and acute shortages in the shops. Eventually, there were even attempts to generate mutinies in the armed forces, especially the Chilean navy. It was the attempt to engender mutiny in the Chilean navy that brought about the call by the commander in chief of the Chilean navy for the Chilean armed forces to intervene. It was not not something that people did lightly.
Now, the people of Chile, rightly, want to put all that behind them. They have had, as I have explained, a successful transition period and they wonder why, when people talk about Chile, they focus on such a relatively small period in that country's history. In 1988, there was referendum in which 44 per cent. voted for Senator Pinochet to stay in power—not a majority vote, but the same proportion of the electorate as the present Prime Minister in this country got at the last election. It was not a majority vote and General Pinochet relinquished power.
As I have explained, the transition was—thank God—exemplary and the Chileans rejoice in that fact. They want to move forward, to develop their economy and their institutions, improve social provision, eliminate poverty, improve the health services and do all 203WH the other things that a normal democratic Government would do. They deserve support and encouragement in this process, which is, by and large, going well.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Will the hon. Gentleman estimate how many people died or disappeared and how many were tortured in what he describes as a relatively minor period in Chilean history? Is he seriously suggesting that somehow the military was forced by a wave of public opinion to lock up people in the national stadium, institute the caravan of death and everything else? He is offering us a ludicrous perversion of history.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I wish that it were a perversion of history. The hon. Gentleman referred to the documents that have been published by American sources. If those are read and studied, they reveal a catalogue of foreign involvement in Chile. The outgoing president, Salvador Allende, who was murdered, was toting a machine gun that he was given by Fidel Castro, his closest ally, who had provided a great many Cuban experts. There were floods of illegal arms into Chile; many members of the security forces were killed and the country was descending into anarchy. In those circumstances, the armed forces felt that they had to intervene. I stress again that those are aspects of the cold war: there was an intense ideological division, not only in Chile, but elsewhere in the world. Thank goodness that we have put that period of history behind us.
I have stressed that the Chilean economy is, broadly speaking, well run and diverse. Chile has good trading relations with the UK and with other countries—for example, it has trading agreements with the European Union and Mexico and is a member of Mercosur. Chile's is a liberal, open economy from which its people have benefited. Now, they want to use the increased prosperity that the reforms have produced to improve the standard of living of the people as a whole. Such an objective merits merits every encouragement from the United Kingdom and other countries that have always had a friendly relationship with Chile.
The hon. Member for Islington, North mentioned arms sales. In that respect, the pattern of purchases from Chile is broadly based: the latest submarines are Franco-Spanish Scorpenes submarines, which replace British Oberon submarines. The army is buying Leopard 1 tanks from Germany; and in the wake of the United States Government's more liberal policy towards arms sales to Latin America, the air force is closely examining the F16, although there could be a problem over the armaments. No one could suggest that we are interested in Chile only because of arms sales. Britain's investments in Chile are much more broadly based, in industries such as mining, agriculture, salmon farming, transportation and much else besides. This is all to the good. As I explained, we are the third biggest investor in that country.
I hope that the House recognises that Chile is a liberal democracy with rule of law and democratic institutions that have the full support of the Chilean people. The people hope that the good relations with the UK that have always been beneficial to both countries will be maintained. I am sure that Her Majesty's Government want that and that most hon. Members want it, too.
§ Mr. Bill Olner (in the Chair)
Order. So that the Minister has time to reply to this important debate, I ask the hon. Lady to keep her comments brief.
§ Mrs. Michie
Thank you, Mr. Olner. I will be as swift as I can.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) on having secured the debate. I welcome the opportunity to raise briefly a matter which, given the tenor of the debate, may surprise the Minister and hon. Members. I hope that, although the issue that I raise is entirely different, the hon. Member for Islington, North will understand that that does not mean that I do not acknowledge and appreciate the remarks he made with knowledge and sincerity about human rights in Chile. However, I believe that it is necessary to draw attention to our trading relations with that country, and I am trying to do that under the heading of UK relations with Chile.
One matter in particular could cause a deterioration in our relations and the loss of significant exports, worth many hundreds of thousands of pounds. When talking about our history of trade and investment in Chile, the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) mentioned salmon farming and, in so doing, foreshadowed the matters that I wish to discuss.
I have in my constituency a company, Land Catch Salmon Hatchery, which has been exporting high-quality, disease-free salmon eggs to Chile since 1988. The company has established an enviable reputation and track record in many years of trading with Chile. I had the pleasure of opening the salmon breeding and research unit in 1988. The problem is the regulations introduced in December by the Chilean department of fisheries, apparently because of infectious salmon anaemia, commonly known as ISA. No ISA has been diagnosed in Scotland for two years. By banning the imports of salmon eggs originating from Scotland because of concerns about ISA, Chile is unilaterally treating the whole of Scotland as a controlled zone for ISA. It is not. Ormsary in my constituency has never had any ISA. It is in an ISA-free zone. The Scottish Executive Rural Affairs Department has established ISA-free zones to standards exceeding those recommended by international organisations and has made that clear, as has the company on numerous occasions to the Chilean authorities.
The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood also talked about our investment in Chile. There are customers in Chile who want to invest and who have built the required facilities. They need to know immediately that they can import land-catch eggs as normal but the new quarantine regulations make that difficult.
§ Mr. Bill Olner (in the Chair)
Order. Will the hon. Lady draw her comments to a conclusion so that the Minister may reply?
§ Mrs. Michie
The company is a highly regarded breeding stock catchery with stringent health and environmental regulations. The impasse has existed since the end of August. We are likely to lose another 205WH £500,000. I do not expect the Minister to be able to answer me in detail today but I should like advice about what I should do because the situation is critical.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) on winning the debate in the ballot and I thank him for raising the topic. He has conducted a sustained campaign for human rights internationally, and has stood up for human rights in Chile for many years—certainly for as long as I have known him.
My hon. Friend declared an interest and said that he had visited Chile. I hope that he did not declare that with any chagrin because I welcome the fact that he visits Chile. I would encourage other hon. Members and Ministers to do so as often as they can. We are building good relations with President Lagos's Government. Maybe I too should declare an interest retrospectively. I vividly remember the accounts of what happened in the Santiago football stadium in the early 1970s and I was involved in supporting the Chile Solidarity Campaign. Chileans came to my home city of Leeds where we made them warmly welcome and campaigned with them. Some of them remain good friends to this day, including some who, thankfully, have been able to return to Chile—some to high office in the Chilean Government, which is encouraging.
Those who commit atrocities should be brought to justice internationally and locally and we should campaign for that. I visited Chile just a few days after Pinochet's return—I went with some fear and trepidation, although I did not quite go out on the same plane as he did—to attend the inauguration of President Lagos. When I got there, I expected and received two reactions. One was from Chileans who felt that they wanted to "sort him out" themselves and bring him to justice, and the other was from those who felt that we should not even have challenged him because he had done such a great job.
Our relations with the new Government are now on an excellent footing and will be developed on that basis. We can work together on those matters and on trade relations. The episode of General Pinochet staying in Britain is not a barrier between us and is not holding back our relations politically, socially, culturally or commercially.
I welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) about trade. We have good trade relations. The Minister for Housing and Planning visited Chile in November, the Minister for Trade did so in December, and there have been meetings with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also had a positive meeting with President Lagos in New York in September last year. Our trade relations are going well. We are encouraging and strengthening our ties commercially, politically and economically.
The arguments of the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood were surprising. Would he have justified a coup in Britain against Mrs. Thatcher at the time of the poll tax? That would make an interesting debate, but I shall not go down that road.
I can tell the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) that we are concerned that Chile is imposing controls on the import of salmon eggs from 206WH Scotland. All countries have the right to regulate imports on health grounds, but the production of salmon eggs in Scotland is subject to one of the strictest health regimes in the world. We are urging, and will continue to urge, the Chilean authorities to remove their import controls. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising the issue on behalf of her constituents. The Government intend to help.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North raised human rights issues. Dealing with the legacy of the Pinochet Government remains an immense challenge for the present Chilean Government and for the Chilean people. The National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation, set up under President Aylwin, examined the human rights record of the military and its report identified more than 3,000 deaths and disappearances between 1973 and 1990.
Since 1990, more than 300 prosecutions for human rights abuses committed under the Pinochet regime have taken place in Chile—including the prosecution of the former head of the Chilean intelligence service under Pinochet. Some progress has been made since 1990—and since the restoration of democracy under Presidents Aylwin, Frei and Lagos. The fates of most of the 1,009 disappeared remain unknown, but information and the truth will come out eventually.
On January 5 this year, the armed forces handed over to President Lagos a report containing information gathered over the previous six months about the fate of some 200 of the disappeared. That information is now in the hands of investigating judges, who must try to establish what happened. The difference between the Executive and the judiciary is important: it is the judiciary who must process the allegations and bring those responsible to book.
As a direct result of the information provided by the armed forces in their round table report, established in August 1999, human remains have now been discovered in a disused copper mine on the Santiago hillside of Cuesta Barriga. The outcome of the round table leaves many cases yet unresolved, but it is a breakthrough. I gain the clear impression, on the basis of our relations with President Lagos and his Administration, that the Chilean Government intend to call people to account and ensure that justice is done.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Is my hon. Friend the Minister able to discuss with the Chilean Government, the Department of Health and human rights groups in Chile whether we could provide any forensic DNA-type support to help to identify the remains?
§ Mr. Battle
That is a practical and positive suggestion. I am prepared to make that offer: there is no reason why Chile cannot use the best of our scientific techniques.
The commander of the army's division in the northern region of Antofagasta where the caravan of death took place gave a surprise TV interview on 25 January, firmly blaming Pinochet for the military regime's human rights violations. General Lagos's comments were prompted by Pinochet's statement to Judge Guzman that the regional commanders, not he, were to blame for failing to investigate human rights abuses in those zones. General Lagos's graphic descriptions of the victims who had been tortured before being murdered unsurprisingly 207WH shocked the nation and the international community. A Government spokesperson described the interview as shattering and General Lagos's accusations prompted the usual reactions. They will be followed through.
On 31 January, Judge Guzman formally charged Pinochet as the co-author of 57 deaths and 18 kidnappings on that caravan of death case. His written decision details how the medical tests concluded that Pinochet had some mental impairment and was physically frail but was not incapable of facing trial. He rejected the defence's arguments that he should not face house arrest or trial for health reasons, but left open the possibility of Pinochet's poor health being a mitigating factor if and when sentence was passed. I simply draw my hon. Friend's attention to that because the UK medical decision is in the Library. It is important to emphasise that we let due process take place in all these matters. There was no collusion or collaboration and we were not leaned on by the Chilean authorities when Pinochet was here. I underline that.
Official reactions in Chile have been cautious. President Lagos was on holiday when the formal charges were placed, but Vice-President Insulza reiterated the Government's line of not commenting on judicial decisions. He recognised the significance of the ruling and welcomed the demonstration of the free and fair working of Chile's institutions, but he also noted that this was not the end of the line. The legal process has some way to run and there are several other processes to go through before there is a prospect of a trial. If appeals go badly for Pinochet, there could be movements towards that trial. The due processes of law are taking place in Chile.
I turn now to the other cases to which my hon. Friend referred. We have raised the case of William Beausire with the Chilean Government on a number of occasions and it was raised by previous Administrations in 1976 and 1979. The case was formally submitted to an ad hoc working group of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and our embassy in Santiago has also made numerous representations. As my hon. Friend acknowledged, I met Michael Woodward's sister, Pat Bennetts, on 10 February last year. Following that meeting I asked our embassy in Santiago to raise Father Woodward's case with the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The embassy called on the ministry in March 208WH last year and it accepted that, although the case was detailed in the Rettig report, it did not establish who had been responsible for the torture and death of Father Woodward. It maintained that the Government had investigated the case as far as they could, but Mrs. Bennetts could take the matter forward only through the Chilean courts.
When I visited Santiago for the inauguration I raised the case again with our ambassador and asked the embassy to proceed through the diplomatic channels to make sure that the case was kept in the forefront of the Chilean authorities' minds. Mr. and Mrs. Bennetts had a meeting at our embassy in Santiago on 12 January. Mrs. Bennetts informed the embassy of her intention to present a law suit on her brother's case. Mr. Bennetts also expressed concern about the comments made by the commander in chief of the Chilean navy and the Chilean ambassador to Canada to the effect that torture had never taken place on the Esmeralda. The embassy had raised that with the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 19 January and it has acknowledged that those remarks caused concern in the Chilean Government and that that ambassador has been admonished. I give my hon. Friend my personal assurance that I will continue to press this case. We will draw to the attention of the Chilean authorities any information and evidence that comes our way.
My hon. Friend referred at length to the release of documents. The release of documents is governed by the Public Records Acts of 1958 and 1967. There are provisions for the release of documents earlier than 30 years after their creation, although the Foreign Office does not usually release records unless there is a compelling case for so doing. As my hon. Friend acknowledged, there are implications for bilateral relations with Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay if records relating to most of the 1970s and 1980s are released. Nevertheless, it would be a massive task to review all those files before they could be released, and it is a statutory obligation on all Departments to screen them for sensitivity.
My hon. Friend makes a serious and fair point about evidence that might help the Chilean authorities to bring people to account for their crimes. In this debate, however, I can only give him a commitment to look again at those records and see if there is anyway we can assist in bringing people to account. The International Criminal Court may be of help in that matter.