By Karl Turner
Just last week I was lucky enough to attend Aung San Suu Kyi’s address in Westminster Hall. She is a remarkable woman. Someone who has shed blood, sweat and tears to usher her country towards what is often taken for granted in our country: democracy. She has been a strong leader in a country where the deafening silence of dictatorship has for years drowned out the powerful whisper of democracy.
Despite having spent 15 of the last 21 years under house arrest and having endured violent attacks she still spoke about the need for "dialogue and co-operation". Despite what she has suffered she still maintains that the path of progress is paved by conversation.
Later this week the Queen will literally extend a hand to Martin McGuiness. A man who not so long ago would have murdered her if he had been given the chance and has the blood of her family on his hands. This is more recognition of the need for productive engagement to come before emotional reaction.
One can look to countless examples in which those fighting for freedom have worked alongside those who seek to suppress it. These decisions to engage are not a mark of approval for the actions or beliefs of those we choose to work with but rather an exercise in pragmatism and necessity. Sometimes for diplomacy to be successful it is vital that we talk with those holding power in order to cajole them into relinquishing it. The decision to engage with Martin McGuiness, the Burmese regime, or even Apartheid is made in order to reach the goal of freedom and democracy.
Perhaps Mr Rosindell’s comments last week were an attempt in this direction. Could his expression of "huge admiration" for General Pinochet have been an exercise in pragmatism and necessity? Simply put, no.
Things have changed too much for Mr. Rosindell’s comments to hold any diplomatic meaning. To begin with, Pinochet has been dead for six years. Further still he has not been in power for 22 years. Since the democratic election of a new leader in 1990, Chile has transitioned into an infantile democracy. The time for building bridges with this brutal dictator ended a long time ago. The time for pragmatic engagement has ended. Pinochet no longer holds power; he is not even alive. We cannot hope for nor do we need concession or co-operation from him. In this instance, expressing admiration for Pinochet does nothing but eulogise the horrors of his regime.
Surprisingly, there was a small chorus of support for Rosindell from the right-wing fringes of his party. They leapt to his defence citing Pinochet’s ‘economic achievements’ attempting to argue that this was enough to whitewash his horrific human rights record. It was almost transactional – X amount of economic growth is enough for Y amount of torture. It was as if dry economic mechanics were considered more important than freedom from persecution or the protection from torture.
To freely praise, with no underlying motive, a man that sanctioned sadistic torture against innocent men, women and children says a lot about your politics and beliefs. To then defended Mr Rosindell‘s comments claiming that Pinochet’s economic success is more important than a free democracy says a lot about your priorities.
I wonder what the mother of the 17 year old opposition party member who was found dead in 1974 would make of Rosindell’s admiration. A section of the boy’s abdomen had been subject to vivisection. Both his legs were broken, as was his left arm. His body was littered with cigarette burns and he had been castrated.
I wonder what the fathers of the women who were found with this boy would think of Mr Rosindell’s comments. They had been beaten. They had been brutally raped and left with internal ruptures and massive bleeding. I wonder what those Chilean’s would have made of Rosindell’s comments as they laid their moaning from the pain and shock of torture.
To turn to the man behind these atrocities and express "huge admiration" for him says a lot about your politics and even more about your principles.
Karl Turner is the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull East.
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