Our dear friend and compañero, Andy McEntee, has passed away from a sudden heart attack. His unwavering defence of human rights in Chile will never be forgotten.

Comrades, today we have learned that our dear friend and compañero, Andy McEntee, passed away from a sudden heart attack [writes Jimmy Bell].

Many may have known Andy while campaigning to extradite General Pinochet to Spain. But Andy was so much more than that. He was a true friend not only to the Chilean community in exile in the UK and Europe, but a dedicated defender of the persecuted and oppressed across the world.

Andy had many great qualities. He was exceptionally bright, dedicated and with a deep sense of duty and commitment to fight injustice wherever he found it. He was instrumental in Pinochet’s arrest in London and the subsequent legal campaign to get him extradited to Spain to answer for his crimes against humanity.

Working in the Chile Committee for Human Rights, he became witness of the human consequences of the ‘dirty war’ that the military dictatorship unleashed against its own people, as well as its impact across Latin America through Operación Cóndor. He worked tirelessly to free political prisoners and to denounce the crimes of the military junta, while at the same time participating in the many cultural activities of the Latin American community. Ever the optimist, and with a wicked sense of humour, he always believed that no matter the distance nor the time that may have elapsed, human rights violators could and should be brought to justice.

As Chair of Trustees for Amnesty International UK, Andy worked for many years, unknown to most people, coordinating a series of legal actions to arrest General Pinochet during his many trips to Britain. These attempts took place during Pinochet’s visits to the UK to meet with arms manufacturers, or during his frequent shopping sprees to the fashionable shops of London. The dictator was allowed into this country despite the many questions raised in Parliament by MPs such as Jeremy Corbyn and the continuing protests of human right organisations and the exile community. Thus, many in Chile and across the world believed that the dictator, who had become senator-for-life in 1998, would escape justice.

But Andy, together with Spanish lawyers, would ultimately prove them wrong. Becoming the link between the exiled community in London and the Spanish lawyers, he helped to bring forward the extradition order to arrest the dictator. A simple piece of paper that would have repercussions well beyond Chile’s borders, bringing forward a new era of international law. Never again would dictators, torturers and human right violators feel safe.

Andy was an inspiration to us all. He worked tirelessly from the day that Pinochet landed in London, that cold October in 1998, until the day that the UK government, in cahoots with the Chilean government, conspired to allow the dictator to fly back to Chile. The picket of London (El Piquete de Londres) worked shoulder to shoulder with him, coordinating actions, putting out press releases, marching and picketing. His position was that it was essential to maintain the political and public pressure on the British government to secure an extradition. At the same time, he worked diligently with the legal team to achieve in the courts what was not only a principle of law, but the moral obligation of any civilised society of not allowing crimes against humanity to go unpunished.

Andy’s commitment was such that he invested everything in what he believed in. Even after the dictator was allowed to return to Chile without facing justice, Andy was there, keeping the pressure on the Chilean government to ensure that Pinochet faced justice in the Chilean courts.

Andy leaves an immeasurable legacy that cannot be described in words or verses. His contribution to justice and international law is quite unique in modern history, the repercussions of which continue to be felt even today. But perhaps even more importantly to those of us who met him and worked with him, is the fact that we had the honour of knowing an honest, sincere and committed human being.

The current pandemic will not allow us to be present in person when his body is put to rest. But be assured that we will be there, with tears in our eyes, with flags from the many countries and people that his acts of friendship and solidarity touched, especially Chileans and Mapuche, with our hearts full of love and respect, singing the song that we sung with him on those long days in the Piquete:

…De pie, cantar
el pueblo va a triunfar.
Será mejor
la vida que vendrá
a conquistar
nuestra felicidad
y en un clamor
mil voces de combate se alzarán
canción de libertad
con decisión
la patria vencerá.
Y ahora el pueblo
que se alza en la lucha
con voz de gigante
gritando: ¡adelante!

El pueblo unido jamás será vencido,
el pueblo unido jamás será vencido…

 Compañero Andy McEntee!
Ahora y Siempre!

Professor Jimmy Bell is a former Chilean refugee to the UK.

Jon Barnes and Andy Atkins add:

We respectively ran the UK’s Chile Committee for Human Rights (CCHR) over the 1982-88 period and have warm memories of working with Andy McEntee in the second half of the decade, having recruited him to the organisation in 1986. He took over as CCHR secretary in 1988 and led its work impressively until the committee closed at the very start of the 1990s, following the referendum rejecting continuation of the Pinochet dictatorship and opening the way to elections.

Just as changes were emerging in Chile as a result of the protest movement, so too was this a time of transition in CCHR. When I (Jon) left the committee, it meant that two people called Andy were left running our solidarity show – Andy Atkins and ‘Andy Mc’, as we used to call him. The Chilean community, with its customary wit, dubbed the new team set-up as the ‘Cumbre de los Andes’ (Peak of the Andy’s).

We are stunned and saddened by Andy Mc’s unexpected death and recollect with fondness, and huge respect, his person and work. One thing that struck us immediately was his fierce determination. He arrived staggeringly prepared for his job interview back in 1986 and his answers to our questions were so emphatic – we were probably more nervous than he was – that we almost became fearful of turning him down. If Andy was anything, it was tenacious.

Andy Mc brought important new knowledge and skills to the Committee’s work at this time. Lobbying politicians, campaigning with local groups and raising awareness through the media remained vital, not least because of the need to respond to the systematic bouts of repression with which the protest movement was met. But with signs of transition on the horizon, the organisation needed to renew its approach, and this is where Andy’s legal background showed its worth. Andy applied forensic rigour to his work on the issues at stake in the run-up to the political transition, aiding collaboration with key Committee supporters such as lawyer Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC.

This expertise, combined with Andy’s dogged persistence – once he got his teeth into something, he would not let it drop – paid dividends in the years ahead as he sustained his loyal commitment to the Chilean human rights cause in the 1990s, despite the closure of CCHR. As the article notes, the part Andy played with others in Pinochet’s London arrest in 1998 was ground-breaking, both for its enduring significance for progress in human rights accountability in Chile and its wider contribution to advancing the principle of ‘universal jurisdiction’ over human rights atrocities. Notwithstanding establishment of Chile’s truth commission in 1990, the worry was that human rights impunity would be seen as a necessary price to be paid for protecting the stability and consolidation of Chile’s so-called democratic transition.

In pondering with immense sadness the loss of Andy Mc, we have also chuckled in remembering his lively character and idiosyncrasies. Andy’s passion was infused at times with prickly edges that needed to be comprehended as a fundamental part of his commitment. We often pulled his leg over the intensity of his argumentation, but Andy would also give to us as good as he got. We too, of course, amid the pressures and demands of the work, had our own quirks, sensitivities and pretensions. Andy, with a glint in his eye, would comment acutely on them and cut us down to size.

Behind Andy’s at-first-sight gruff exterior lay a kind, sweet Scotsman that we, and the Chilean community, came to appreciate more and more. Such affection was also no doubt kindled by his wickedly wry sense of humour that he would often treat us to. Unsurprisingly, he was also a good mimic. On one occasion, I (Andy Atkins) picked up the phone at the CCHR office and kept telling the caller (who insisted on speaking to me with a posh voice): ‘Piss off – Andy stop messing around!’ I was convinced it was Andy Mc doing one of his imitations, but it turned out to be a member of the House of Lords he was due to meet.

Jon Barnes is former secretary of the Chile Committee for Human Rights (1982-86). Andy Atkins is also former secretary of the Chile Committee for Human Rights (1986-88).