Observer Review: Pinochet In Piccadilly By Andy Beckett Essay, Research Paper
When Pinochet came to teaPinochet in PiccadillyAndy BeckettFaber ?15.99, pp286Idi Amin eats nothing but oranges, on the orders of his physicians. He dreams of leaving Saudi Arabia and returning to Uganda. Baby Doc Duvalier fled Haiti in 1986 with millions of dollars in his luggage. Having emptied out his monogrammed suitcases into the fleshpots of the Côte d’Azur, he now lives quietly in the suburbs of Paris. When the television executives get around to commissioning After They Were Infamous, these superannuated strongmen will win respectable ratings, but the big name that the guest bookers will want for the pilot programme is Augusto Pinochet Ugarte.It’s not that the former Chilean leader was more breathtaking than his tyrannical peers in breakfasting on babies or appointing family pets to key portfolios in his administration. No, it’s that his story includes his extraordinary stay on our own doorstep, during the 16 months when this self-proclaimed anglophile was Britain’s unwilling house guest. In the important dispute over the rights and wrongs of Pinochet’s extradition case, the incongruity of his enforced gardening leave in Wentworth tended to be overlooked.You can imagine a Graham Greene entertainment based on this period. It would involve a Surrey clergyman, perhaps one of those desperado ’sherry priests’ they are rumoured to have down there, making housecalls on the devout old monster at ‘Dunrulin’.In Pinochet in Piccadilly, we learn that the property was actually called Everglades, until it was renamed Savannah by the estate agents after the tenant had been allowed to fly home. His presence in Britain was like a ‘borrowing from a strange novel’, according to the journalist Andy Beckett, who pokes about at Pinochet’s links-side ‘gulag’ following his departure. ‘You’d see him sitting out there,’ an ex-neighbour tells Beckett admiringly, pointing to the lawn, ‘with his butler serving him drinks.’This elegantly written book attempts to set Pinochet’s detention in the context of the history between Britain and Chile. Beckett tracks down Sir Alan Walters, Baroness Thatcher’s former monetarist guru and an admirer of the general’s economic model. The book makes a plausible case that Chile was an unsparing testbed for what was later sold in Britain – with one or two safety features built in – under the marque of Thatcherism: in Santiago, union-bashing had meant just that.Beckett tells the story of the Rolls-Royce workers of East Kilbride, who refused to service the engines of Chile’s British-made jet fighters because similar aircraft had strafed La Moneda palace when Pinochet toppled President Allende. There’s a nice moment in the book when a Chilean left winger, who had been tortured by Pinochet’s secret police, heard about the shopfloor protest on a radio that his guards had inadvertently left on. ‘I sensed that I was not on my own,’ he said.Pinochet in Piccadilly explains how a Royal Navy helicopter came to be found burnt out on Chilean soil during the Falklands War. After a failed covert op at an Argentine airstrip, the chopper had run out of fuel so the crew scuttled it, with the connivance of the Pinochet regime.Readers of The Observer may already be familiar with Beckett, a writer on the paper’s sister title, the Guardian. He sustains a graceful style at book-length, and is particularly good on the characters of this ’strange novel’.Leaving a pro-Pinochet rally at a Blackpool cinema, Lord Lamont, the former Chancellor, ‘hurried out through a side exit like a court defendant’. In the West Country, Beckett visits a general, whose supporters saw him as a prospective British caudillo, or strongman, during the strife-torn 1970s. Unfortunately for Beckett, General Walker had been invalided out of questioning, like Pinochet himself. Journalistic passages of some asperity are linked by accounts of Beckett’s travels. In these, he lets himself go, so to speak, with avid accounts of the weather, and a fastidious eye.If anything, Beckett has not gone far enough. There’s no sign of an approach to Baltasar Garzón, the Spanish magistrate who precipitated the Pinochet affair by applying to question him over the deaths of his fellow countrymen. If Garzón falls outside Beckett’s Anglo-Chilean remit, then how about Judge Juan Guzman, the dapper Shavian given the task of prosecuting Pinochet at home? Guzman dug up graves of Chile’s ‘disappeared’ and received death threats for his pains. He merits four lines.This is a remarkable story, impressively told, but rather like the proceedings against the general, it will leave some wanting more. The producers of an out-takes show – working title: It Shouldn’t Happen To a Dictator – would have liked to know if Pinochet ever heard his one-time neighbours, Brucie and Tarbie, crying: ‘Fore!’ on the other side of his leylandii.