General Augusto Pinochet, the dictator who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990, has died in hospital of heart failure, aged 91 - having escaped numerous attempts to charge him for murder, human rights abuses, fraud involving 28 million US dollars, and corruption.
Doctor and former nun Sheila Cassidy, whose famous book Audacity to Believe charted her own mistreatment at the hands of the regime, said today: "I don't think he had any repentance... he continued to think that what he did was justified, and that those he killed and tortured were basically dirt, human vermin."
Pinochet seized power in a US-backed military coup on 11 September 1973, displacing the democratically elected left-wing coalition headed by Salvador Allende. His army notoriously turned the Santiago stadium into a torture chamber. Among those who died there was folk singer Victor Jara.
The CIA backed the Chilean coup to defend mining and multinational business interests. In spite of the 'dirty war' he ran against opponents, including one ongoing covert operation called the Caravan of Death, General Pinochet enjoyed support from US government luminaries such as Henry Kissinger and Jeanne Kirkpatrick, as well as large sections of the middle and upper class in Chile.
The dictator received the last rites from a Catholic priest, although major sections of the Church opposed his regime and many Christians among were his victims. He sought allies among fundamentalist groups, and was blessed by a Pentecostal mega-church.
In 1998 General Pinochet was indicted for trial on human rights abuses by a Spanish Court, while he was in Britain receiving medical treatment. In spite of pleas from church and human rights groups the then Home Secretary Jack Straw allowed him to return to Chile because of ill-health. His release was accompanied by an unexpected recovery.
Under Pinochet's dictatorship, Chile was turned into a right-wing economic experiment for the 'Chicago boys', headed by recently deceased Nobel Laureate economist Milton Friedman - an ally of former US and British leaders Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
Lady Thatcher said today that she mourned General Pinochet's passing. He was her only regional ally in the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas crisis. She approved his anti-communism and hard line free-market agenda, which radically increased the rich-poor divide in Chile.
Her former chancellor Lord Lamont is on record as describing General Pinochet as a "good and brave and honourable soldier", saying that he brought "stability" to the country.
A priest tortured under Pinochet's brutal regime told Ekklesia that he wished to forgive those involved, adding: "This in no way excuses these awful crimes. We must never forget what was done, but it is social justice not revenge which will heal Chile."