Human rights activist praises Pinochet

June 6, 1994
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PRAGUE, June 6 -- A bitter feud has broken out between leading human rights activists in the Czech Republic over the recent visit by former Chilean leader Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Vaclav Benda, who spent four years in jail for his activities as a spokesman for the human rights organization Charter 77 under the Communist regime, shocked the public by inviting Pinochet to lunch last week.

Pinochet turned down the invitation, possibly fearing further complications to his controversial stay in the Czech Republic, reportedly to purchase weapons.

Benda, who was ousted earlier this year as chairman of Christian Democratic Party (KDS), told the former Communist newspaper Rude Pravo he had a favorable opinion of Pinochet.

Pinochet had, 'perhaps, his cruel traits,' said Benda, 'nevertheless they were answers to the extremely undemocratic and extremely cruel advance at the root of international communism.'

In a rejoinder published by the same paper Monday, Petr Uhl, who spent nearly nine years in prison under the Communist regime, accused Benda of pure power-seeking.

'You're not concerned about human rights, but about your own position in the political battle,' Uhl wrote in his open letter.

Both Benda and his party are facing political extinction, and the lunch appeared to be a desperate move to catch the free market, anti- communist wave.

However, Benda's views seem to hold sway over younger party members. His son Marek, at 25 not only a deputy but the head of the KDS parliamentary club, conceded Pinochet had a colored past.

But he said that Pinochet was 'undoubtedly a courageous man who in the conditions of South America stood up to communism.'

Tomas Svoboda, a member of the parliamentary defense committee, said he would like to meet Pinochet, adding that in his view the former dictator had prevented chaos which could have arisen in Chile.

'If we had Pinochet in February 1948 we would have been much better off now,' said Svoboda.

The Communist party seized power in 1948 with substantial Soviet backing, beginning a regime that lasted until the so-called 'Velvet Revolution' in 1989.

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