Juan Guzmán Tapia, the first Chilean judge to prosecute Augusto Pinochet for human rights violations, died this Friday in Chile at the age of 81. The magistrate ran the fences of the Judicial Power of his country when, in democracy, the dictator served as senator for life in Parliament. He first achieved a historic outrage in 2000 within the framework of the investigation of the Caravan of Death, the military entourage that after the 1973 coup d’état traveled through the country by Puma helicopter and killed dozens of people in different cities of Chile, most of them prisoners who were waiting to be subjected to illegitimate councils of war. In 2001, Guzmán rejected the health reasons invoked by the defense and named Pinochet as the mastermind of 57 homicides and 18 kidnappings, because in his investigation he showed that the operation to assassinate opponents was a decision of the general himself.
That prosecution was without effect, however, because the defense of the former commander-in-chief of the Army presented an appeal for protection alleging health reasons. Pinochet, who died at the end of 2006, died at the age of 91 in a clinic in Santiago de Chile, without ever having been arrested in his country.
The National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) expressed its regret after the death of the magistrate: “The INDH deeply regrets the departure of the lawyer and judge, Juan Guzmán Tapia. He was a great defender of human rights, who fought tirelessly for justice after the dictatorship. Our condolences to his family and friends”. Along the same lines, the communist deputy Carmen Hertz, a lawyer and widow of a politician executed by a military entourage in 1973, expressed “great sorrow over the death of Minister Juan Guzmán.” “He was a courageous and dignified magistrate who made possible the first violation of the genocidal Pinochet for crimes of the Caravan of Death and your processing as an author. He never accepted pressure from establishment and powers that be, “wrote the parliamentarian.
Guzmán was one of the judges who did not apply the 1978 Amnesty decree law. Based on Chilean legal norms, which do not allow a death to be decreed without the body, he established jurisprudence by determining that the disappeared detainees remained kidnapped by the repressive organs. As they had not been released or their remains had been found, therefore, the crime was permanent over time, which made it possible to investigate the judicial truth of dozens of the deaths of opponents that occurred in the 17 years of dictatorship (1973- 1990). In his career, Guzmán has processed at least 200 complaints against Pinochet, among which is the Operation Condor, the coordination of Latin American dictatorships to persecute and eliminate opponents. It was for this reason that the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón issued an international arrest warrant against Pinochet in October 1998 and requested the extradition to Spain of the dictator, who had traveled to London as a senator for life.
“You don’t have a right to do this, you can’t arrest me! I’m here on a secret mission! ”Exclaimed Pinochet, 82, on the night of October 26, 1998 when he was detained in the London Clinic of the British capital, according to the book I, Augusto, by Ernesto Ekaizer. After a strong diplomatic onslaught from the Chilean government, Pinochet returned to his country in March 2000. Judge Guzmán awaited him, who since the beginning of 1998 has been investigating the senator for life for the crime of genocide, kidnapping, illicit association and illegal burial, in the framework of the complaint presented by leaders of the Communist Party.
Guzmán was born in El Salvador in 1939, while his father was a diplomat in the Central American country. He studied Law at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and then traveled to France to specialize in Philosophy of Law in Paris, where he met his French wife, with whom he had two daughters. He entered the Chilean Judicial Power in 1970 and became a minister of the Santiago Court of Appeals, a position he held when he was appointed to investigate the complaints against Pinochet, in a case that definitely marked his career. Regarding the prosecution of the dictator, he once affirmed: “It was not a difficult decision, it was quite easy,” although he later acknowledged that they wanted to pressure him.
Before turning 65 in 2005, however, when he was investigating human rights cases and had been in public practice for 35 years, he surprised with the request for his early retirement, thus ruining the possibility of reaching the Supreme Court. He had a strained relationship with his superiors: “Since I’ve been dealing with these cases, I have a not very good rating, quite regular, because it creates antibodies and the pretext is my audacity,” Guzmán said.
One of his great passions was writing, probably a taste inherited from his father, Juan Guzmán Cruchaga, who combined diplomacy with poetry. In his childhood and adolescence he got to know great Latin American writers, such as Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral or Jorge Luis Borges. His love for letters led him to write his memoirs on the trial against Pinochet, On the edge of the world, which he presented just a few months after leaving the Judiciary. In the book, he relates that the announcement of the accusation against the dictator “resounded like a cannon shot, but the boiling lasted a short time.” “Appointed by Pinochet’s lawyers, the Court of Appeals annulled the prosecution, by accepting an appeal for protection. The Supreme Court confirmed this decision: it nevertheless ordered that Pinochet should be questioned within 20 days.