The PBS series, P.O.V., aired an excellent documentary Tuesday night called The Judge and The General. This film tells the story of Juan Guzmán, a judge assigned to try criminal cases against members of Augusto Pinochet‘s regime in Chile. Guzmán had been a supporter of Pinochet, and the film chronicles the information he uncovered while investigating these cases, and how he ultimately came to the realization that Pinochet’s legal immunity from prosecution was a huge hurdle toward Chile’s goal of truth and reconciliation. From the P.O.V. synopsis:
The Judge and the General follows the twists and turns
of the efforts of Guzmán and others to overcome Pinochet’s immunity and his claims to be too ill, even too senile, to stand trial, and then his final defense — when significant proof had been gathered — that he had known nothing of the crimes. Was Pinochet, who died in 2006 while under
house arrest, brought to justice in the eyes of society? Or did he escape being “touched,” as his supporters jubilantly proclaim? What are the prospects for the cases against Pinochet underlings that are now under way? Most important, what are the prospects for Chile finding both truth and reconciliation through a legal accounting of its recent violent past?
A brief discussion of the film’s finer points follows the jump.
This documentary is notable for many reasons. Many documentaries about
brutal political regimes or horrific human rights violations seek primarily to catalog the violations themselves. Certainly, this is an important task, but it can only be the first step toward a greater understanding of the political choices made by oppressive regimes. The Judge and The General begins where this approach leaves off. The filmmakers gain astonishing access into the inner workings of the coup and Pinochet’s regime. For example, a recording is played wherein Pinochet explicitly rejects any offer to negotiate with Allende, demonstrating the goals of the coup, which relied on the heavily divided political climate in Chile at the time. As Youssef Cohen examines in Radicals, Reformers, and Reactionaries (University of Chicago Press, 1994), the moderate factions of the left and right feared domination by extremists of the other side, and so the moderates joined with the extremists of their own side, which allowed for an intractable political climate that laid the way for a military coup.
The violations in Pinochet’s Chile are examined through the lens of post-repression reconciliation. The decision to repress is explained in context with international
pressures and support for Pinochet’s regime, and within the context of
Chile’s political climate, then and now. A clip from a David Frost interview with Richard Nixon reveals that his support of Pinochet and the coup arose from a fear of a “Red sandwich” in Latin America, anchored on one side by Fidel Castro, and on the other by the fear that Salvador Allende would easily fall under Soviet influence.
Scholars of Latin American politics will appreciate the glimpses we see
of the still divided responses to Pinochet’s regime. For example,
Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet–herself a survivor of Pinochet’s
brutality whose father was tortured following Chile’s September 11,
1973 coup–refused to declare national mourning when Pinochet died in
2006, eliciting visceral responses from Pinochet’s still numerous vocal
Among the more philosophical questions that arises in the film is the
question of the “Good German” phenomenon, wherein some witnesses to
state repression attempt to fight the injustice, while others choose to
go about their daily lives. This can be related on a larger scale to the Kitty Genovese case, in which a woman was stabbed to death while 38 witnesses watched without calling the police. P.O.V.’s website features essays from various authors about why people choose to comply with or fight against state-sponsored terror.
The full film can be seen on P.O.V.’s website until September 2, 2008. It can also be purchased here. As with every P.O.V feature, the related website contains a wealth of information and further discussion for educators, academics, and the interested public.