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8.15.2009

Once Pinochet's Censor, Now President of the Constitutional Court

Even close observers of Chile's constitutional politics were taken by surprise when an electronic newspaper ('El Mostrador') reported a few weeks ago that the new President of the Constitutional Court had been the director of DINACOS (an agency organized during Augusto Pinochet's regime to implement censorship).

The new head of the Constitutional Court, Marcelo Venegas, had cultivated a low profile since arriving at the Court, in 2006. He became a member of it as a result of a close-door negotiation between the government coalition and the opposition.

Venegas, an undistinguished member of the Chilean legal profession, spent most of the time since the end of the authoritarian regime as an obscure legislative assistant to congressmen of Renovacion Nacional, one of the two political parties of the opposition.

The scandal that the information of Venegas' past created in Chile's legal and political circles did not, however, make any difference, since neither the new President nor his colleagues at the Court felt the need to revise the decision. Thus, Chileans will have to accept that the head of the body charged with advancing fundamental rights made a living censoring independent media during the country's most brutal dictatorship in history.

Venegas' appointment to the top post at the Constitutional Court represents yet another blow to the already low prestige enjoyed by the Court, after a year marked by mostly conservative decisions, such as the 5-4 ruling prohibiting the distribution by the government of the so-called 'morning-after pill', on the ground that it is an abortive medicine.

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