(First published in Mint Press News)
Augusto Pinochet’s obsession with eradicating socialist opposition to his dictatorship prompted the creation of specialized brigades operating with the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) – a fact established many times throughout Chilean history and in court cases pertaining to the assassinations and disappearances of Communist Party and Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) leaders and militants.
Last week, visiting Judge Mario Carroza ordered the re-enactment of the death of MIR founder and General Secretary Miguel Enríquez. The re-enactment, according to reports on Chilean news website El Ciudadano, is aimed at establishing whether Enríquez’s death was the result of a premeditated execution or the fallout of his clash with an armed group.
The formal request for the re-enactment was made by Enríquez’s son, Marco Enríquez-Ominami; Miguel Enríquez’s partner, Carmen Castillo Echeverria; the Chilean human rights group Agrupación de Familiares de Ejecutados Políticos (Relatives of Executed Political Prisoners); and the Human Rights Program of the Ministry of Interior of Chile.
The Rettig Commission Report, commissioned by former President Patricio Aylwin in 1991, states that on Oct. 5, 1974 Enríquez was surrounded by a contingent of armed DINA officers, and a helicopter hovered overhead as reinforcement. As the agents opened fire upon Enríquez, the revolutionary leader attempted to shield Castillo, who was attempting to leave the scene. Castillo, who was six months pregnant at the time, was severely injured in the onslaught. She was transferred to a hospital and later detained by the same DINA agents reportedly behind Enríquez’s murder: Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko and Marcelo Moren Brito. According to autopsy reports, Enríquez was wounded 10 times by bullets throughout the hour-long attack.
Enríquez-Ominami has emphasized the importance of establishing the facts that led to his father’s death: “The context is very important, because it was against MIR that Pinochet ordered torture and violence to eliminate the rebellion and resistance headed by my father.”
The re-enactment will require the cooperation of witnesses who were present when DINA agents surrounded Enríquez’s safe-house in Santiago. Yet Enríquez-Ominami expressed doubt about the participation of witnesses, stating that the fear of retribution must be eliminated for the investigation to be valid.
A situation the U.S. helped to create
A physician and a well-read individual with extensive knowledge of Chilean history and the Cuban Revolution, Miguel Enríquez became MIR’s general secretary in 1967, distinguishing himself through the application of revolutionary socialist theoretical knowledge.
As Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular government pursued the revolutionary process through the existing democratic frameworks corrupted by the Chilean right-wing, MIR increased its criticism of Allende’s political decisions, in particular as overt and covert U.S.-backed operations to destabilize the socialist government threatened social order. Departing from the perception of the Cuban Revolution as a threat, the United States’ intent was to stifle any form of support for socialist governance in Latin America. Allende’s electoral triumph, in particular, was seen as a possible turning point — not least due to the fact that socialism in Chile was achieved through democratic elections as opposed to armed resistance against U.S.-backed right-wing dictatorships.
A Church Committee report from 1975 established that the U.S. had begun supporting covert operations in Chile in 1962, culminating in operations designed to prevent Allende’s electoral triumph. Throughout the period of socialist governance, the U.S. government channeled funds to right-wing political parties and the CIA aided militant right-wing groups in carrying out acts of sabotage designed to create instability. Ironically, in 1974, the CIA was asked to compile human rights reports regarding the human rights violations committed by the dictatorship — a situation which the U.S. government and the CIA helped to create.
MIR affirmed its adherence to armed resistance, calling upon Allende to arm the people against right-wing violence. In fact, Cuba provided support to MIR’s training for armed revolutionary struggle – a reflection of Cuban internationalism as well as Fidel Castro’s discussion with Allende in which he urged the Chilean president not to put trust in the military.
The Sept. 11, 1973 military coup was the initiation of a brutal extermination of socialist opposition. While a considerable percentage of socialist militants attempted to seek refuge in foreign embassies to avoid political oppression or retribution, Miguel Enríquez refused political asylum and the possibility of exile in order to attempt to lead the resistance against Pinochet’s dictatorship from within Chile.
Operating within organized cells, MIR became a target for Pinochet. Evidence of the torture, assassination and disappearance of MIR militants is abundant — many having met their end at Cuartel Simon Bolivar, the torture and extermination center described as “the place where no one got out alive” by former errand boy and DINA agent Jorgelino Vergara Bravo.
One of the agents responsible for the torture, assassination and disappearance of MIR militants was Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko, the former head of Brigada Caupolican, who attempted to shift his role from that of torturer to analyst. He is currently serving 144 years in prison for his role in various acts of brutality.
During the trial pertaining to the disappearance of MIR militant Maria Cecilia Labrin Saso, Krassnoff denied his role as torturer, despite the testimony of former torture survivors, some of whom stated that Krassnoff never attempted to conceal his identity and described himself as an agent undertaking analysis and intelligence studies aimed at providing information about “terrorist groups like MIR.” Yet it is an established fact that Pinochet’s intention was to eradicate the revolutionary movement to prevent any possible formidable opposition to his rule.
Investigative research by Mauricio Weibel published in the book “Asociación Ilícita: los archivos secretos de la dictadura” (“Illicit Association: The secret archives of the dictatorship”) details the spy network maintained abroad by Pinochet and collaborative governments and entities to keep tabs on exiled militants. A particularly notorious endeavor of the dictatorship is Operacion Colombo, also known as the Case of the 119 – a reference to the list of 119 militants (the majority of whom belonged to MIR) executed and disappeared by the dictatorship. The dictatorship narrative, this time in collaboration with Argentina and Brazil, attempted to influence public opinion by publishing articles alleging that the militants had fallen victim to political turbulence and splintering within the revolutionary movement itself.
Murdering Miguel Enríquez proved to be a difficult task for DINA. With political rhetoric aimed at uniting the masses – a direct defiance of Pinochet’s enforcement of terror and oblivion, Enríquez recognized that his survival and that of the revolutionary movement could only be ensured if he worked clandestinely.
In October 1974, DINA’s surveillance network managed to locate Enríquez’s relatives by curtailing the movements of his daughter, thus narrowing Enríquez’s location to a working class area south of Santiago where the revolutionary leader was thought to have taken up residence.
Then, on Oct. 5, he was surrounded and killed.
Accountability and impunity
While DINA’s aggression is clearly documented in Chilean history, it remains unclear whether Miguel Enríquez was armed at the time of his attack. Thus, obscure definitions and loopholes come into play. The Rettig Commission Report states that “the Commission cannot regard the death of Miguel Enríquez as a human rights violation in the strict sense. However, it does believe that he lost his life as a result of the situation of political violence, since he died resisting arrest by an agency which he had grounds for believing would torture and kill him if he were arrested.”
It is evident that criteria had to be established in order to determine and classify the various human rights violations committed during Pinochet’s dictatorship. However, in the cases of Miguel Enríquez and others, the notion that Pinochet’s dictatorship itself constituted a human rights violation has been disregarded, thus affording DINA officials the impunity to triumph over a proper reconstruction of events that would reveal the identities of the perpetrators.
The primary and most important premise has been eliminated from the narrative regarding Enríquez’s death: Pinochet’s intention was to entirely exterminate the MIR. This goal violates people’s legitimate rights of armed resistance against oppression.
Although several decades have passed, establishing the series of events and the facts that led to Enríquez’s assassination will serve to articulate the notion that even if Enríquez was indeed in possession of weapons at the time of the assault, his death was part of a predetermined, nationwide terror structure, thus ensuring a proper placing of accountability rather than the reliance of legal jargon to safeguard impunity through initiatives of the Chilean state.