On the 50th anniversary of the Chilean coup, Right Livelihood honours Laureate pursuing accountability

News 11.09.2023

September 11 marks 50 years since the democratic government of Chilean President Salvador Allende was overthrown by military forces led by General Augusto Pinochet in 1973. Marking the anniversary, we honour Right Livelihood Laureate Joan Garces, who has played a pivotal role in seeking accountability for Pinochet’s crimes.

Supported by the US as part of the so-called Operation Condor, a CIA-backed plan aimed to establish right-wing governments in all the countries of the South Cone of the American continent through the use of repression and state terrorism, the Chilean dictatorship lasted until 1990. While democracy has returned to the country, some key aspects of the repressive regime have remained, such as the 1980 Constitution and the privatisation of common goods.

1999 Right Livelihood Laureate Joan Garces is closely connected to this story. As a young lawyer and sociologist, he studied the Chilean case and got involved in the political process living in the country from 1970 to 1973. He was the personal adviser of President Allende and was at the Presidential Palace on the day of the coup.

“The stage at which I lived and participated in Chile is the moment of greatest development in the country’s history,” Garces said at a conference organised by the Right Livelihood College in Valdivia in 2021. “It was a phase of expansion. There was absolute freedom in all fields. So, the problem of human rights was posed in the economic perspective. In other words, there was another dimension, which was about social and economic rights. It was a government of transformation, with a socialist orientation, developing freedoms and expanding democracy in the economic field.” Garces explained.

Garces also referred to the resistance to the massive social transformation, saying, “The historical evolution of Chile was there and was strangled by the social sectors affected by the deliberate transformations taking place. The articulation of this internal reaction force was that of the empire, the interventionist force of the United States that wanted to strangle the process in Chile because it saw a greater danger in it, not only for Latin America but also for Western Europe, where the development that Allende called democracy, pluralism and freedom was being followed with great interest. What came next is known: the violation of human rights. I consider that a response to Chile’s capacity and willingness to change.”

Finding himself the sole survivor among Allende’s political advisers when the coup had run its course, Garces was forced to leave the country. He went to France first, and only after Spanish dictator Francisco Franco’s fall could he return to his native Spain. Once back, he dedicated himself to investigating crimes against humanity committed during the Spanish dictatorship.

During those years, he wrote several books and articles, such as “Allende and the Chilean Experience” (1976) and “Democracy and Counterrevolution” (1975).

Garces not only had a role near Allende during that government, but he also was a crucial figure in the detention of Augusto Pinochet in 1998 in the UK. When Pinochet visited London in October that year, undergoing medical treatment, Garces demanded his arrest and extradition to Spain to face trial under the principles of universal jurisdiction.

The Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón issued an international arrest warrant at Garces’ request, initiating a legal procedure under the charges of genocide, terrorism and torture.

After serving a year and a half in house arrest, Pinochet was released for supposed humanitarian reasons in 2000. He flew to Chile the same day he was released, where he died a free man in 2006.

Regarding his essential role in making the detention possible, Garces said, “It was a way to stay committed. Firstly, to my personal convictions. Secondly, to contribute and vindicate my friends, my fellow fighters who died in this combat and, in general, the Chilean people.”

Garces received the Right Livelihood Award in 1999 “for his long-standing efforts to end the impunity of dictators.”

Media contacts

Emoke Bebiak

English, French & International Media

E-mail: emoke.bebiak@rightlivelihood.org
Phone: +41 (0)78 333 84 84

Nayla Azzinnari

Spanish Media

E-mail: nayla@rightlivelihood.org
Phone: +54 9 11 5460 9860

Nina Tesenfitz

German Media

E-mail: presse@rightlivelihood.org
Phone: +49 (0)170 5763 663

Sydney Nelson

Swedish Media

E-mail: sydney.nelson@rightlivelihood.org
Phone: +46 (0)73 043 13 01