There are infinite reasons to adore the nation of Chile: the rowdy and ravishing rivers and lakes of Pucon, the breathtaking sweep of Patagonian glaciars, the unique S-less "ma o meno" accents, the steep and colorful charms of Valparaiso, the pink flamingos and expansive salt flats of San Pedro de Altacama, the peerless poetry of Pablo Neruda.
But some of my favorite elements landed on the plate and in the glass. An expertly grilled quarter chicken and fries for $4. Juicy empanadas bursting with mushrooms and spinach and cheese and other creative combinations not seen in Argentinean and Bolivian renditions. Caldillo stews piled so high with shellfish you can't see who's across the table. Pisco sours like you'll never see stateside.
But a subtle undercurrent of shared sadness also moved through the country because a whole generation had seen its families thinned and its luminaries darkened by ruthless General Augusto Pinochet.
I got a chance to speak to the man charged with prosecuting the infamous dictator, Judge Juan Guzmán Tapia (above), ahead of an appearance he made at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. The piece we ran was titled "CHANGING HISTORY: Chilean judge who prosecuted Pinochet visits Monterey to talk about the bloody dictator and human rights."
“Everything to do with human rights is treated politically in my country today,” he told me, “but human rights, the most important rights, are higher than any political party.”
I was reminded of the conversation this weekend when WikiLeaks issued a statement that Julian Assange has hired an international human rights jurist, the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, to captain Assange's defense against extradition to Sweden.
Garzón described the Swedish allegations, which center around sexual misconduct, “arbitrary and baseless.” Garzón and Assange met at a South American stronghold of sorts, the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, to talk strategy.
Garzon's main claim to fame: He spent more than a year in the 1990s attempting to get Pinochet extradited from asylum in England to Spain for crimes against humanity.
Like Guzmán Tapia, he likely feels all the natural and edible riches of a culture aren't enough to put justice on hold.