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Chile

– in the House of Commons at 7:16 am on 24th July 1986.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North 7:16 am, 24th July 1986

On 22 July 1985, the House had an opportunity to have a lengthy Adjournment debate on the United Kingdom's relations with Chile but, by a fluke of procedure, it was much more than the normal half hour. I introduced that debate and raised a number of questions about Britain's relations with Chile and about what Britain could do to encourage the promotion of democracy in Chile and to bring an end to the brutality and bestiality of the Chilean regime. I put it to the then Under-Secretary of State—the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton)—that the changes for which we wished would he achieved by Britain ceasing the sale of arms to General Pinochet and breaking off diplomatic and trading links with the Chilean Government. He replied: I wish to underline the areas in which the hon. Gentleman, the Government and I personally share agreement. First, the internal situation in Chile, especially human rights, must be of great importance to us in determining the manner in which our relations are conducted. Secondly, the Government fully share the hon. Gentleman's concerns, and those of others, who have contributed to this brief but important debate, about human rights in Chile. We do not agree with every allegation in detail, but we are extremely concerned about human rights in Chile and we regret that, against the current trend in other South American countries, Chile is not making the fast progress towards the return of democracy that the Government would like to see. The hon. Gentleman went on to say that the Government and I differed on the way to achieve those ends. After describing how normal diplomatic relations with the Chilean Government had been restored in 1980, he said that the then Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who is now the Secretary of State for the Environment, had said: one factor in the decision to restore diplomatic relations had been to enable us"— the British Government— to present our views on human rights and on other matters at a higher level and with greater impact. This is a good reason —it was valid then, and it is valid today. I ask the hon. Gerttleman to think of the reasons for it." — [Official Report, 22 July 1985; Vol. 83, c. 843.] The tragedy of Chile has unfolded before us since 1973, 13 years ago. Despite Britain increasing its diplomatic representations in Chile in 1980, maintaining high level contacts, and continuing to allow the sale of arms to General Pinochet, one has to ask what has been achieved in that time. What has this constructive dialogue done for the people of Chile other than allowing the Government of General Pinochet to quote in their own defence the fact that they have diplomatic relations with Britain and to buy arms from the Government of Britain and use them against their own people? A process of constructive dialogue has benefited the Government of General Pinochet and not the people of Chile in any way whatsoever.

The question of Britain's relations with Chile goes back a long way. Until the coup of 1973, Chile was often called the England of south America. It was said that parliamentary democracy was strong and that the institutions of the country were strong and secure. Many of us watched with enthusiasm and excitement the progress that was made by the Government of Salvador Allende between 1970 and 1973 to get the country out of the grip of international monetary debt, to get a reasonable price for the commodities produced by it and to bring some hope to the poor people of the shanty towns of Santiago and other places. Enormous achievements were made.

Salvador Allende spoke with great feeling and great passion of the way in which his Government were being destabilised by the efforts of the United States before the coup in 1973. He spoke with passion and feeling about the power of international capital through the ITT and other multinational companies to destroy his Government. His Government were destroyed. Bombs fell on his home. He was killed, and thousands of people were rounded up in football stadia. The planes that bombed the Moneda palace in 1973 were manufactured in Britain. They were Hawker Hunter jets. The response of many people in this country and other parts of Europe was one of outrage and horror. Workers at the Rolls-Royce factory in East Kilbride immediately refused to load or supply any more parts for those Rolls-Royce engines. There was immediate popular feeling against the horror that had happened in Chile as people saw a democratic Government destroyed by military intervention supported by the United States.

The incoming Labour Government had a programme to provide facilities for refugees arriving from Chile. After the torture of the British doctor, Sheila Cassidy, in 1976 the British ambassador was withdrawn from Chile and a ban on all arms sales was imposed. At that time we made clear what we thought of General Pinochet and the horror and nightmare the people of Chile were going through.

When the present Government came to office in 1979, things seemed to change. There were visits to Chile by British Ministers who congratulated that Government on the Chicage school of monetarist economics that was being introduced and being pushed through by General Pinochet, full diplomatic recognition was reinstated, and arms sales were eventually resumed. It is that aspect of Britain's relations with Chile that I wish to mention.

I recently received an answer from the Secretary of State for Defence when I asked him what contact there had been with representatives of the Chilean armed forces by United Kingdom defence personnel in Chile since November 1984. I chose that date for good reason because that is when the state of siege was imposed. The answer was: We have had formal diplomatic relations with Chile since 1980, including a defence element. United Kingdom defence personnel have regular contact with representatives of the Chilean armed forces, both in Chile and the United Kingdom." — [Official Report, 24 July 1986; Vol. 102, c. 485.] We are looking at a period of British history which, when all the details come out, will turn out to be one of the most sordid aspects of this century, that is, the whole matter surrounding the Falklands war and the defence arrangements made at that time.

In January 1985 the New Statesman published a lengthy article written by Duncan Campbell, revealing how Britain gave military equipment to General Pinochet and turned a blind eye on human rights violations in Chile and, in return, received extensive clandestine help from the Chilean Government in the war against Argentina. I could quote from the article at length, but I want the Minister to have time to reply, so I shall be brief.

After the Argentine forces landed on the Falklands on 2 April, a series of meetings were arranged through Mr. John Heath, the British ambassador in Santiago, with the Government of General Pinochet and a series of understandings were reached. Two explicitly stated that the arrangements for British use of Chilean bases had the full approval of President Pinochet and the cabinet. The terms of the understanding were: Use of Punta Arenas, an air base in southern Chile, for RAF spy planes, disguised in Chilean markings.Use of Punta Arenas and other areas to infiltrate SAS special forces into Argentina for espionage and to destroy Argentine aircraft on the ground.A complete exchange of intelligence, including monitoring and codebreaking of Argentine signals carried out by Chilean Naval Intelligence staff. In return the Chilean Government gained: RAF Canberra aircraft used in the secret operation, which were to be turned over to Chile when the war was over.A squadron of RAF Hawker Hunter aircraft, most of which was delivered to Chile after the war started.Britain's support in undermining United Nations investigations into Chilean human rights abuses, by opposing the reappointment of the UN's special investigators.The dropping of British restrictions on arms sales to Chile. Supplies during 1982 also included enriched uranium, and the offer of a British maxnox nuclear reactor. The article points out that in mid-May ITN reporter Jon Snow was in Santiago and saw two Canberra aircraft with Chilean markings among a group of military aircraft, including heavy US air force transports. Two ex-RAF Canberra PR9s are now officially on the strength of the Chilean air force—the third crashed in 1983. None of those aircraft was officially delivered until October 1982, five months after they had been seen in Santiago. On 28 May 1982 with most of its Canberra aircraft in Chile, No. 39 squadron at Wyton was formally disbanded. At the beginning of 1982 it had 15 aircraft-13 of them flying —and on 28 May only a single aircraft could be found for the memorial flypast, according to the RAF News.

The article shows the degree of military involvement with Chile at that time. There were reports of British troops landing at Punta Arenas and of the use of Chile as a staging post for part of the Falklands war. This is a serious matter and has never been openly admitted or explained by the Government. In today's debate we need to know exactly what the status is of the military arrangements made between the British Government and that of General Pinochet. Exactly how many British troops have been using Punta Arenas as a base? Exactly what training facilities have been offered? Exactly how many Chilean armed officers are being trained at British military establishments at present?

One must conclude that the British Government's obsession with the Fortress Falklands policy and their expenditure of vast sums on the Falklands defence arrangements override their consideration of the human rights of the people of Chile. They are prepared to do deals with the Chilean junta to buttress the Fortress Falklands policy.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

Is my hon. Friend surprised at that fact?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

I am not surprised at that fact because the Government have a similar attitude towards their constructive dialogue with the Government of South Africa. I am surprised that none of this has been made public. We do not know how much public money is being spent in Chile by the Government on military matters.

Britain's voting record in the United Nations concerning Chile has been varied. Immediately after the Falklands war, the British representative there declined to support motions that criticised Chile, and opposed the reappointment of the special rapporteur on human rights in Chile. Last year, after the state siege and the atrocities committed by the Pinochet regime during it, Britain supported motions critical of that. But the British Government have hardly been in the forefront of condemning human rights abuses in Chile. One must wonder exactly what British representatives in Chile are doing to report back to the British Government on the abuses of human rights there.

We cannot have it both ways. We cannot say that we oppose the human rights abuses in Chile if at the same time the Chilean Government know that there is a secret deal in the background to provide them with military and logistical support and know full well that the British Government will do nothing about human rights abuses in Chile.

On arms sales, this year — as every year—several Ministry of Defence arms sales, or supermarket bonanzas, took place. In June, there was one at Aldershot, and in July one at Middle Wallop. People can attend those arms sales and exhibitions only by invitation and with the approval of the Ministry of Defence. The Minister must tell us how many Chilean people were invited to the arms sales by the Government and exactly what was sold to them. What exports have gone to Chile via RAF Brize Norton or Aldershot since those two exhibitions of equipment? If the Government are supplying arms to Chile, the people of Britain would be outraged, especially if they knew the extent of military involvement and support that we are giving to General Pinochet.

The military Government in Chile came to power in 1973. Immediately, they rounded up all the opposition and put them in football stadia or secret prisons. They tortured them and destroyed the lives of many people. Recently, I attended a tribunal in Bristol of Chilean refugees who, at great personal cost to themselves, explained the process of torture and the process by which they had lost people. One of them, Luis Verdugo, lost his wife, who disappeared soon after the coup. He has not seen or heard of her since. He was tortured by blindfolding, by pain mechanisms attached to his body and by accusations being made against him. Eventually, he was released, left Chile and became a refugee in Britain. He would be the first to admit that he is scarred for life, as are hundreds of other people by torture.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

Did my hon. Friend see the excellent film "Missing", and does he agree that, whatever the role of the British Government at the time of Allende's overthrow and later, it pales into insignificance when one considers the disgraceful, disreputable role of the United States Government, who organised the coup?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that. Henry Kissinger was involved, first, in organising the destabilisation of the Allende Government and, secondly, in organising the coup and supporting the Government of General Pinochet thereafter. The murder of Orlando Letellier in Washington by the CIA was yet another example of the lengths to which successive United States Governments have gone to destroy the Government of Allende and to give continued support to Pinochet's regime.

More recently much has been happening in Chile. As I was explaining, in 1973 the Government were overthrown, the football stadia were filled and many people were shot, disappeared and were murdered. Since that time there has been a process of regeneration of opposition. Year after year people die, people are murdered, people disappear, yet more people come forward determined to see a future of peace and hope for their country rather than the heel of the dictatorship.

A huge demonstration was organised in the early part of July when thousands of people took to the streets and there was a national strike. The vast majority of workers took part in the strike and supported it. The strike was in every sense an indication of the degree of opposition that exists to General Pinochet. That strike was succeeded by the imprisonment of the leaders of both trade unions and other popular organisations that sought to promote the strike, by very strict censorship and by the silencing of all the radio stations that had been reporting what was goring on. It also witnessed a wave of oppression by the army against those who took part in the popular opposition to the Pinochet Government which had been almost unprecedented.

Two young American refugees from Chile were killed in the dispute. I refer to the tragic deaths of 19-year-old Rodrigo Rojas, the son of a Chilean exile living in Washington and himself a United States resident, a nd Carmen Quintana, aged 18. I refer to The Guardian of 12 July, which reported that witnesses and relatives said that they were beaten, doused with an inflammable liquid and set on fire by a military patrol. The army denied involvement. Rojas died last Sunday, and Miss Quintana is seriously ill in hospital.

General Pinochet appears to have a different version of things because he seems to claim that the young man blew himself up during the demonstration. It is a measure of how far the Government of Pinochet have gone that even the United States embassy rejected those accusations, and the United States ambassador, Harry Barnes, attended the funeral last Wednesday.

What we have to consider is what role the British Government should be playing in these matters. The manifesto of the national civil assembly of Chile has been published. It is a very important document and it is representative of a mass of opinion and hope in Chile. It says: Chile is experiencing today a deep political, economic, social and moral crisis. The government has shut its doors to any agreement or dialogue and responds by intensifying repression. It offers no solution to the agonising problems which accumulate from day to day. A vast foreign debt which weighs us down. A third of the population condemned to unemployment and hunger. An internal state of indebtedness which has deprived people and enterprises of years of effort and investment rendering unsustainable the position of the productive sectors, the merchants, the transport operators, and those in mortgage arrears. A housing deficit of around 1 million homes. The deterioration and dismantling of the health and education systems which were once the nation's pride, and an exmaple to all Latin America. A labour legislation which seeks only to atomize and constrict the legitimate expression of workers' demands. It would take a long time to repeat all the grave problems which affect us. But the government sticks by a failed economic model and a political project which aims to keep General Pinochet in power through recourse to force. Indeed, anyone who has believed that General Pinochet intended ever to hand power over to a democratically elected Government must be very surprised because he continually makes statements that extend the lifetime of his own Government.

The manifesto is an expression of popular will to see the end of Pinochet and to see a democratic future for the people of Chile. We have to consider which side the British Government are on. We have witnessed the murders, the sale of British arms, the secret arms deals and, indeed, British approval of the existence of the Government of General Pinochet.

There can be no question whatsoever that the priority for this country and this Government should be to end immediately all arms sales to Chile, not just those that can be used for internal repression, but any arms sales to the Government of General Pinochet, because I do not believe that one can draw this fine distinction that the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office and the Foreign Office like to draw.

The second priority is to withdraw the British ambassador to Santiago. Only language of that type is understood by the Government of General Pinochet.

Thirdly, we must know what has happened to British or Anglo-Chilean residents who have gone missing in Chile. The case of Pedro Fernandez Lembach has been raised many times in the House. He remains imprisoned there. The British Government have said that as soon as he is released he will be granted admission to this country. Pressure must be exerted to get him released.

We need also to learn the whereabouts of William Beausire, who is still missing after many years. There are many other cases. I could give details of them, but I will not delay the House, because I want to allow the Minister sufficient time in which to reply.

We see in Chile a process of repression unparalleled anywhere in Latin America. It is similar to what is going on in South Africa in its horror for the people of Chile. The process of constructive dialogue is a discredited phrase. It has been shown in South Africa and Chile to be pointless. The only language that Pinochet understands is his inability to get guns with which to murder his own people.

It is vital for us to cease arms sales and impose on Chile all the sanctions available to us. There can be nothing more disgusting than a regime born of violence and murder having its representatives invited to this country to visit arms exhibitions and to have its officers trained at British military establishments.

I hope that the British Government will join civilised opinion throughout Latin America and elsewhere in the world. People are looking for a way out of the eternal cycle of debt, oppression and military dictatorship. Let us declare that we are opposed to the illegal Government of Chile, that we demand the removal of Pinochet and his armed forces from the streets and that we support the right of the Chilean people to elect their own Government, to decide their own way of life and not to have a form of life imposed on them by a combination of multinational companies, the United States and the military Establishment in Chile.

Photo of Mr Timothy Eggar Mr Timothy Eggar , Enfield North 7:43 am, 24th July 1986

I welcome this opportunity once again to explain the Government's policy and position on Chile, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) on his success in the ballot. He has been consistent in his interest in Chile.

I appreciate that hon. Members in all parts of the House remain concerned about the continuing human rights violations in Chile and about the lack of progress towards an orderly and peaceful transition to democracy. The absence of political dialogue there between the Government and the democratic opposition and the persistent oppression and repression of public demonstrations and basic political rights are of common concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House. The hon. Gentleman and I can at least agree on that. But the action proposed by him would almost certainly lead to the opposite effect to that which he intends.

The hon. Gentleman raised two human rights cases. The first was of Pedro Lembach. He is a Chilean national and we have no consular standing to intervene with the Chilean authorities on his behalf. But we have made it clear to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Justice and, in May and July of this year, to the Minister of the Interior that, if his sentence were commuted to one of exile, we would allow him to enter the United Kingdom. We shall continue to monitor the case very carefully and to make further representations, where opportunities arise.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the case of Mr. William Beausire. The Chilean authorities have informed us that investigations into that gentleman's disappearance have produced no results so far. In February 1985 they suspended further judicial review of all similar cases, including his, pending the presentation of new evidence. We are continuing to press the Chilean authorities to provide a more satisfactory reply. The matter has also been pursued with the Argentine Government through the Swiss protecting power.

To return to the main theme of the hon. Gentleman's speech—our diplomatic and other relations with Chile—we have had normal diplomatic relations with Chile since 1980. These relations enable us to express the concerns which we share—and which we believe are shared by the British public — on human rights, the lack of progress towards the restoration of democracy and other matters. It gives us an opportunity to make those representations direct to the Government of Chile at the very highest levels.

During the last 12 months, for example, our ambassador in Santiago has made a series of representations on these important matters to members of the ruling junta, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of the Interior and others, while here in London, Ministers and senior officials have made comparable representations to the Chilean ambassador and to visiting influential Chilean.

We have also been able to make our views and concerns known in other ways. In late March and early April of this year, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. GarelJones) made an important visit to Chile, during which he had meetings with key members of the Government and the democratic Opposition. He also addressed several audiences, including the Chilean defence college, on parliamentary democracy.

In May my noble Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, expressed our concerns very frankly and bluntly to General Matthei, the air force member of the ruling junta, when he was here on a private visit to the United Kingdom. These and many other contacts would not have been possible had we not had normal diplomatic relations.

We have also been able to make our views known on human rights in multilateral forums. Last December, at the United Nations General Assembly, we voted in favour of a resolution condemning Chile's human rights record, while in March 1986, at the United Nations Committee on Human Rights, we joined a consensus resolution criticising the Chilean Government's continuing poor record. We have also joined our European Community partners in a number of demarche actions and statements expressing concern about human rights abuses and lack of progress towards our shared goal, the restoration of democracy in Chile. Most recently, we have stepped up our Community action with a series of approaches to individual members of the junta and of the Government.

I think that I can reasonably claim that the Government have made considerable efforts to use the diplomatic channels that are open to them as a result of having diplomatic relations with Chile in order to get across our concern, and that of the House, about the state of human rights inside Chile. However, the hon. Gentleman went on to criticise the Government's policy on continued contact between United Kingdom defence personnel and representatives of the Chilean armed forces. I must emphasise that our defence relations with Chile are a normal part of our diplomatic relations with that country and that there is nothing sinister or unusual in those contacts.

They are a reflection of a long history of military contact between our two countries, especially between our two navies and air forces.

The hon. Member has once again called for an arms embargo. As has been said frequently from the Dispatch Box, we do not believe that it would be effective, not least because there are many other suppliers. Nor would it restore democracy.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

Does the Minister agree that, if the Chilean Government are using those arms against their own population, there is a moral argument for the British Government saying that they will not supply arms never mind the fact that someone else might supply them? Surely a moral argument stands on its own?

Photo of Mr Timothy Eggar Mr Timothy Eggar , Enfield North

I shall come to that matter shortly when I consider the criteria used in arms sales.

Our policy on arms sales continues to reflect our anxieties about the state of human rights in Chile. We take great care not to approve the sale of arms which we think are likely to be used for internal repression. We consider every application for arms sales to Chile with great care, and pay special attention to cases that could be described as borderline.

Perhaps I might quote the example of the export to Chile of the demonstration Centaur half-track vehicle, which the hon. Member for Islington, North raised at length during the Adjournment debate on 22 July 1985. The vehicle has been returned to the United Kingdom. Hon. Members have asserted that arms that we have sold to Chile have been used against the Chilean people. We have no evidence of that.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

Is the Minister aware that, although the demonstration Centaur half-track anti-personnel vehicle has been returned to Britain, during the national strike this year, an identical vehicle was seen on the streets of Santiago? It had apparently been manufactured by the Chilean junta one year after taking the design from the demonstration vehicle, and it was used to kill students who were taking part in the demonstration.

Photo of Mr Timothy Eggar Mr Timothy Eggar , Enfield North

I was not aware of that. If he would care to provide evidence, I shall of course look into the matter, but I notice that the hon. Gentleman accepts that the vehicle has been returned to the United Kingdom.

The hon. Gentleman also called for an end to the training of Chilean military personnel in the United Kingdom. We provide some training, but it is very limited. The hon. Gentleman knows that it has been the policy of successive Governments to keep the details of bilateral military training with other countries confidential. As I made clear in a parliamentary answer to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) on 9 April, we do not allocate places to Chileans for courses which cover internal security techniques.

Chile has a long history of democracy, and we are continually reminded in our contacts with democratic Chileans of the role that Britain played in their independence in the 1820s and the close family, cultural and commercial ties that we have had during her democratic history.

We and, we believe, the vast majority of the Chilean people want to see democracy peacefully restored in Chile. We continue to do all we can to urge the Chilean Government to take steps to bring back democracy. In particular, we are anxious to see the early promulgation of the long-promised laws on political parties, and on electoral registration. They would provide some demonstration that the Government are serious in their commitment to the political evolution foreseen by the Chilean Government in the 1980 Constitution. We are keen that the Government should permit rapid evolution towards normal democratic political activity. At the same time we maintain frequent and regular contact with the democratic opposition, both in Chile and the United Kingdom, and try to encourage them to develop their unity and to put forward credible long-term policies.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the strike and demonstrations that took place on 2 and 3 July. We condemned all violence on that occasion, in whatever quarter it arose. As my right hon. friend the Prime Minister said on 3 July in reply to a question posed by the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), we deeply regret the deaths that occurred on 2 and 3 July and we are particularly concerned, together with the hon. Member for Islington North, about the cases of Senor Rojas and Senorita Quintana. We welcome the appointment of a civilian judge to investigate the circumstances of those deaths and we hope that that judge will report quickly, giving the full facts.

This year we have continued to sponsor visits to the United Kingdom by a broad section of Chilean democratic politicians, for example Senor Lagos, of the Briories Socialist party, and Senor Allamand of the National Union party. These visits provide vital exposure to a wide range of democratic opinion in Britain and, for some, their first chance to see democracy in action.

While we on the Government side make considerable efforts to encourage political change in Chile, it is essential for us all to recognise that Chile's political problems can ultimately only be solved by the Chileans themselves. The first step must be dialogue between the Government and the democratic opposition, not continued confrontation. We regret the Government's rejection last December of the democratic opposition's national accord for the transition to full democracy, which we still believe provides a basis for dialogue. We also regret the Government's continued rejection of dialogue following presentation of the National Civil Assembly's "Demand for Chile". The initiative to start a dialogue now lies firmly in the hands of the Chilean Government.

We do not believe that the crude condemnation of the Chilean Government, called for by the hon. Gentleman, would have a favourable effect on the political evolution of Chile. Indeed, it is more likely to drive the Pinochet Government to greater intransigence and intensify Chile's lamentable political polarisation. Our policy is to try to be as constructive as possible. We firmly believe that constructive pressure and criticism has the best chance of bringing about the changes we would wish to see. The Government therefore fully intend to continue using every appropriate opportunity to encourage the moderate forces, both in the Government and within the democratic opposition, to prepare and organise themselves without delay to ensure an orderly transition to democracy. But the first step has to be the opening of a dialogue by the Government with the democratic opposition.