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José Zalaquett, Leader in Chile’s Search for Truth, Dies at 77

“If the United States is sincere in its professed dedication to human rights,” he wrote in an essay in The New York Times in 1976, “it must reconsider its foreign aid policy toward Chile.”

He was permitted to return to Chile in 1986, and in 1990, after Pinochet relinquished the presidency, his successor, Patricio Aylwin, named Mr. Zalaquett to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He later advised similar groups, including South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which dealt with the end of apartheid.

Rebuilding a just political system, he knew, was a delicate process.

“Every step of this transitional process takes on symbolic value and has lasting effects,” he said. “Truth is important. Justice is important. Forgiveness is, too.”

But he did not favor blanket amnesty for those who had committed abuses, as some of Pinochet’s supporters urged.

“The individual must atone for sins that have been committed and make reparations,” he said. “In this manner, it is as if the sinner is putting back the brick he took from the moral building.”

A blanket amnesty without this acknowledgment “only serves to validate human rights abuses,” he said.

“There is no truth, no repentance — just cynicism.”

José Fernando Zalaquett Daher was born on March 10, 1942, in Antofagasta, Chile, to Michel Zalaquett, a shop owner, and Ernestina Daher. He earned a law degree in 1967 at the University of Chile in Santiago.

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