Bachelet Meets Bush, Rejects Amnesty for US Personnel

Chilean President Michele Bachelet traveled to Washington last week and held a by-all-accounts cordial meeting with US Pres. Bush. However, Bachelet failed to capitulate to US cajoling on at least two critical issues that represent yet a further slide for Bush Administration policies in Latin America. 

First, Bachelet—a torture victim of US-sponsored dictator Agusto Pinochet—rejected calls to sign an bi-lateral agreement that would grant amnesty to all US personnel (military and otherwise) for war crimes and other nefarious activities. Ever since the advent of the International Criminal Court, the US has played shy, knowing that the US military holds—or has trained—the biggest war criminals in Latin America. With policy antecedents in the Clinton Administration, the Bush’s strategy has been to sign bi-lateral amnesty agreements with nations who are signatory to the ICC Convention, known as the Rome Statute.

Chile is the largest nation in Latin America that hasn’t signed onto the ICC. Even Colombia signed on (albeit with seven-year amnesty period for human right violations committed by Colombian citizens). Chile’s participation in the Court requires a Consititutional Amendment, but Former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, late in his term, ostensibly froze debate in the Chilean Senate, out of fear of an election season uproar from pro-Pinochet forces. 

Bachelet has not yet shown the political will or prowess to re-introduce the issue before the Senate, but her rejection of Bush’s call for an amnesty agreement is a good first step.