Chilean President Rejects Pardon, Orders Prison Review

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said issuing a broad pardon of prison inmates based on a proposal from Chilean Catholic bishops would be "neither prudent nor appropriate," but he agreed to consider humanitarian cases individually. In a letter delivered to Pinera July 21, the country's bishops called for better prison conditions and urged pardons for inmates who were elderly or ill or had minor children. Critics said the proposal would lead to the release of many former military officers convicted of human rights abuses under the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. On July 25, Pinera said he valued debate, but "proposals continue to create tensions and divisions between Chileans and have often reopened old wounds and past resentments." The president said he would consider pardons on humanitarian grounds, as long as they did not "harm the soul of our country or pose a danger to society," but would not include inmates convicted of crimes against humanity, homicide or other violent crimes, rape, crimes against children, drug trafficking or terrorism. Pinera ordered Justice Minister Felipe Bulnes to review the state of the country's prisons to improve living conditions for inmates and working conditions for prison guards. Bishop Alejandro Goic Karmelic of Rancagua, president of the Chilean bishops' conference, told reporters the bishops had not requested a blanket pardon and that he was happy that the president had ordered a review of prison conditions.

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