Trying to heal decades-old wounds from Chile's former military dictatorship, President Ricardo Lagos has offered leniency to soldiers who break silence over torture and disappearances.
Lagos on Tuesday also increased special pensions for families of the estimated 3000 people killed during General Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1990 repressive reign.
The plan also assigns more special judges to human rights cases to speed them up in court. The moves aim to push Chile's deeply divided society towards reconciliation, 30 years after Pinochet's military coup.
“Many people who have information are still sunk in a cruel and persistent silence,” Lagos, a socialist who has pushed a free trade agenda, said in a nationally televised speech.
To break the code of silence, he said, courts would offer reduced or commuted sentences to those who were only following orders under threats, but not to those who organized and ordered abuses.
At least 160 former members of the military are on trial on allegations of human rights crimes and a handful of officers have been convicted.
Victims’ families disappointed
Lorena Pizarro, president of the Group of Relatives of the Disappeared, said she was disappointed because the president did not overturn a limited 1978 amnesty for the military.
"There's no sharing of responsibilities here. We are the families of the victims and they are the criminals," Pizarro said.
Pensions for children and widows of the disappeared and executed, roughly $285 a month now, will be increased by 50%. Lagos also said he would form a special commission to look into one-time symbolic compensations for torture victims.
The president said the plan was not a definitive solution but another step toward uniting Chile's fractured soul.
Many Chileans revile the dictatorship. But some support Pinochet for toppling a socialist government; he ousted leftist President Salvador Allende on 11 September 1973. Allende was killed during the coup.
Pinochet, 87, his mental health fragile, has retired from public life.