Judge Guzman, Pinochet’s “killer”, is dead

An example of righteousness and professional conscience. Stubborn leader of the investigations into the crimes of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Chilean judge Juan Guzman Tapia died Friday, January 22 at the age of 81.

Son of the poet and diplomat Juan Guzmán Cruchaga, he met in his childhood Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges. It was in Paris, where he came to study political philosophy after a law degree at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, that he met his wife, Inès Watine.

In Chile, democratic life takes back its rights

In the first years of his judicial career in Chile, nothing indicates him among his colleagues. His conservative and Catholic education led him first to oppose the government of Salvador Allende and to support the coup d’état of September 11, 1973 led by General Pinochet. Certain instructions entrusted to him, such as that concerning the German colony Dignidad, located in the south of the country, where opponents were allegedly buried, made him open his eyes to the crimes of the dictatorship.

The judge in the Pinochet case

In 1999, after the return to democracy, that Juan Guzman became “the” judge of the Pinochet case. He was appointed special adviser to the Santiago Court of Appeal in order to comprehensively investigate the complaints lodged against the former dictator, in particular for the assassinations committed by “The Caravan of death”, a squad of soldiers who traveled the country executing a hundred opponents after the military coup.

Juan Guzman, the judge who makes life hard in Pinochet

Between 1999 and 2004, Juan Guzman gathered numerous testimonies from witnesses, directed the exhumation of the remains of several missing detainees. The notion of “permanent kidnapping” (permanent secuestro) allows him to circumvent the law of amnesty which then protects all crimes committed by the dictatorship between 1973 and 1978. Indeed, the bodies were still not found after 1978, the crime was still in progress and consequently, the amnesty law could not be applied there.

At the end of this investigation, he carries out the formal indictment of Pinochet for 19 crimes of permanent kidnapping and 57 cases of homicide. But, in 2002, the Supreme Court declared a dismissal alleging a “Moderate dementia”.

A just and upright man

Two years later, when the Court of Appeal lifted this condition, Judge Guzmán resumed the charge. He opens a new trial this time for theOperation Condor, a campaign of assassinations and anti-guerrilla warfare carried out in the mid-1970s. He placed Augusto Pinochet in forced residence for a week, but in 2005, the Supreme Court permanently suspended the trials. And the general died in December 2006 without having answered for his crimes.

“He was a courageous judge, very committed to the cause of human rights”, paid tribute on Twitter the deputy Carmen Hertz, whose husband, Carlos Berguer, was killed at the start of the dictatorship. He was the history of Chile, he whose family had celebrated the coup d’etat of 1973. I had the chance to meet him. A just and upright man ”, underlined for his part the French deputy (EELV) Sergio Coronado.

Judge Guzman retired in 2005 and published his memoir the same year: “At the edge of the world, the memoirs of Judge Pinochet” (Les Arènes editions).


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