Judge who investigated Pinochet visits Whitehorse

Juan Guzman, the man who spearheaded the investigation into the crimes of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, is in Whitehorse as part of the Maddison Chair in Northern Justice series.

Juan Guzman, the man who spearheaded the investigation into the crimes of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, is in Whitehorse as part of the Maddison Chair in Northern Justice series.

Tonight, a screening of the 2008 documentary, The Judge and the General, which portrays Guzman’s attempts to bring Pinochet to justice, will be held at Yukon College’s lecture hall. A discussion will follow. The event is free to attend.

A judge of 36 years, Guzman spoke with reporters on Thursday afternoon in a wide ranging interview. He drew parallels between the First Nations in Canada and the treatment of the indigenous people of Chile, spoke of how his investigation fundamentally changed him as a person, and brought with it constant threats against he and his family, and offered perspective in the trial of Michael Nehass.

Soft spoken and reflective in his answers, Guzman said that prolonged segregation, the type of isolation Nehass has claimed to have suffered, is against human rights.

“That type of treatment hurts people,” he said. “Their psychiatric integrity and physical integrity, this is a form of attacking it.”

Guzman became an advocate for human rights during his investigation into Pinochet, the head of the military dictatorship that ruled Chile between 1973 and 1990.

Guzman’s investigation eventually uncovered that during Pinochet’s reign more than 3,200 people were assassinated, more than 1,200 were kidnapped and disappeared, and more than 250,000 were tortured, alongside boundless undocumented abuses and crimes.

Those discoveries led to a transformation in his own beliefs.

“After you see the existence of this evidence and you go to the graves of the people, find the bones, see that they were shot, then you realize all the things that happened to the people and those that mourn and continue to mourn for their discarded. I think any human being would have a great evolution. That’s the sort of change that I had.”

Guzman was the first to indict Pinochet for his human rights crimes.

His investigation also placed Pinochet at the centre of an illegal arms trade. The most notable transaction included the transfer of 370 tons of weapons to Croatia during the war against Serbia.

Eventually, Pinochet was hit with 10 charges, stemming from an international kidnapping and murder alliance known as Operation Condor, but died as he awaited trial.

It marked the second time Pinochet had been indicted for human rights abuses. In 2001, he was charged in connection to a military operation that occurred shortly after he came into power and resulted in the deaths or disappearances of more than 70 people.

Those charges were appealed up to the Supreme Court, which ruled that Pinochet was unfit, both mentally and physically, to stand trial.

When the Operation Condor charges were levied, Guzman interviewed Pinochet himself and ordered another round of medical tests, where Pinochet was ruled fit to stand trial.

There were also allegations levied against Pinochet for the secret production of chemical and biological weapons and the sale and trafficking of cocaine, which were later dismissed by the Chilean courts.

Guzman is hoping viewers who watch the film will learn how mistakes can be produced by propaganda.

“We were so scared in the 1970s when our president (Salvador) Allende was elected,” he said. “He was a socialist and very radical. We were victims of propaganda – told we were going to lose our property, going to have education that made us all think alike. Many of us stood for the coup, like myself. I believed, as many did, that a dictatorship for a small moment of time could be necessary.”

Because of his investigation and the resulting fallout, Guzman’s life continues to be in jeopardy. He and his family often received letters threatening their lives.

During his investigation he was assigned 24 policemen, eight of which travelled alongside him at all times. His two daughters also received bodyguards. His wife, the daughter of a French resistance fighter from the Second World War, never accepted her bodyguard. “I think she’s very brave,” Guzman said.

The family would retreat into the countryside whenever possible. “It was fundamental to forget everything from time to time,” said Guzman.

“I think that my wife, my family, my good friends did a lot to take me away from those sort of worries. Eventually you develop harder skin.”

In his first visit to the territory, Guzman emphasized the importance of preserving traditional First Nation languages and customs.

“Our history is very much alike, especially when it has to do with changing the way of life for people,” he said.

In Chile, six native languages remain, but Guzman said before the arrival of the European to Chile more than 20 existed.

“As long there are problems attached to lands, there are going to be social problems in different regions where there are indigenous people.”

Contact Sam Riches at


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