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Chile’s Pinochet victims rue Spanish judge verdict

Chileans whose families were victims of Augusto Pinochet’s regime reacted with dismay Thursday to the wiretapping conviction of Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, who gained fame when he tried to extradite the former dictator from London in 1998.

“This does a lot of damage to human rights organizations,” said Alicia Lira, head of an association of families of victims in Chile.

“This marks a step backward for investigations of crimes and violations of human rights in Spain and other countries, including ours.”

Lira said that thanks to Garzon’s efforts, “we managed to arrest Pinochet and deprive him of freedom for 500 days.”

The case brought international attention to Garzon, who ordered the arrest of Pinochet in London when at age 82, he was in London to undergo surgery.

Garzon got authorization to question Pinochet over charges of genocide and torture, based on complaints from families of Spanish nationals who disappeared while he ruled the South American nation.

Pinochet remained under house arrest for 500 days before being released to return to Chile for medical reasons.

But a Chilean lawyer who was close to the former military ruler, Hermogenes Perez de Arce, said the case in Spain against Garzon was “within the law” and said it represented “divine justice.”

Pinochet died in December 2006 at a military hospital in Santiago, at the age of 91, after evading repeated attempts to bring him to trial.

Garzon was found guilty of ordering illegal recordings of suspects talking to their lawyers in a corruption case that implicated senior politicians.

The 56-year-old was barred for 11 years from being a judge or magistrate and fined, effectively ending his once-soaring legal career. He can still take the case to the Constitutional Court.