Image: Pinochet
Santiago Llanquin  /  AP
Lucia Hiriart, widow of Chile's late dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, said the inauguration shows that "little by little justice is being done" for her husband.
updated 12/12/2008 5:28:15 PM ET 2008-12-12T22:28:15

Family and friends of former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet quietly inaugurated a museum in his memory on Friday, replete with uniforms and medals he wore, to the horror of victims of his rule.

Among items displayed at the new Pinochet Foundation museum in an upscale quarter of the capital, Santiago, are the last uniform he used as commander in chief of the Chilean Army along with dozens of his medals.

"I am happy because this is a way of doing some justice to what he represented and what he did," said Lucia Hiriart, his widow, flanked by family and some former ministers and retired military. The event was low-key.

Pinochet led a bloody coup against the socialist government of Salvador Allende in 1973, ushering in 17 years of dictatorship in which 3,000 people died or disappeared and around 28,000 were tortured.

Victims of his rule, some of whom complain the wheels of justice turn too slowly in Chile, were disgusted.

"Any monument to a dictator is shameful to the memory of all those who fell in the fight against the dictatorship," said Tito Tricot, an academic who was tortured and had his spine broken during Pinochet's rule.

"It is a reflection of what is going on in this country, of a negotiated, agreed transition, in which justice has not been done," he added. "It is offensive to me. Shameful."

Pinochet died of heart failure on December 10, 2006, at the age of 91, without having faced a full trial for human rights abuses committed during his rule.

But he still has a core of defenders who insist the general saved Chile from being transformed into a communist dictatorship and say he rebuilt an economy that the leftists had left in tatters.

Conservative retired Roman Catholic Cardinal Jorge Medina said this week that some of those who claim to seek justice for violations of human rights under Pinochet are actually seeking revenge.

Image: Pinochet
Santiago Llanquin  /  AP
Statues of the faces of the men who led the 1973 military coup against Chile's late President Salvador Allende, from left to right, Jose Toribio Merino of the Navy, late dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, Gustavo Leight of the Air Force and Cesar Mendoza of the police sit in a showcase in the new museum.
The new museum is sponsored by the Pinochet Foundation, backed by supporters and aides of Pinochet. The foundation's director, retired Gen. Luis Cortes, said it was financed with $23,000 from private donations.

"Anyone wanting to see this can come, as long as they do it with due respect," Cortes said.

Pinochet's desk can be seen behind ropes, next to a large show case containing the collection of hundreds of lead soldiers.

"This desk is exactly the way my general left it," Gen. Cortes told a reporter. "After retirement, he used to come here often to work quietly."

"This is very beautiful, so that all Chileans who want to can see these things he was given because of the important things that he did, not just out of support," Hiriart said.

The idea of the museum has appalled some Chileans. Sen. Jaime Naranjo of the governing Socialist Party said it "will rather look like a museum of horror."

Most early comments posted by readers on the Web site of Chilean newspaper La Tercera praised the museum dedicated to a man one called "Chile's liberator."

But another asked, "Are they exhibiting torture instruments, too?"

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