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The Day Pinochet Nearly Died
Twenty years after the assassination attempt on the Chilean dictator
Marcelo Mackinnon (pelarco)     Print Article 
Published 2006-09-07 09:54 (KST)   
The ambush site
©2006 M.Mackinnon
The date: Sunday, Sept. 7, 1986. The hour: 6:35 p.m.

General Augusto Pinochet, then self-proclaimed President of Chile, returns to Santiago after spending the weekend at his countryside home.

Pinochet's motorcade consists of two police officers on motorcycles, two armor-plated SEL Mercedes-Benz automobiles, and four cars with armed escorts. The cars travel along a narrow and winding road that leads down from the Andes towards the Chilean capital.

On a steep upward curve, the cars must slow down, and, as they turn, a car hauling a trailer intercepts them and blocks the road. The motorcycle cops manage to dodge the trailer and escape, but 25 members of the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front (FPMR), begin to attack the motorcade with rockets and machine gun fire.

Some attackers get out of the trailer and destroy the first car with a U.S.-made LAW (light antitank weapon) rocket. The remaining guerrillas are on a slope looking down on the motorcade and destroy the second and third cars with LAWs.

A rocket is fired against the fourth car, the SEL Mercedes, in which Pinochet is riding, but ricochets from a window and does not explode. Pinochet's driver then carries out a maneuver that he practices every month and that is the standard procedure in case of such an attack on the motorcade. Pinochet's Mercedes reverses and then escapes back to his country house.

Cliff down to the river
©2006 M.Mackinnon
The firefight continues for another fifteen minutes, but the Chilean army commandos were caught by surprise, and many decide to get out of their cars and scramble down a cliff to safety. As the members of the FPMR leave the area, five bodyguards have been killed and nine wounded.

Later that night, Pinochet orders that six left-wing militants be kidnapped from their homes and shot in revenge. Among the victims was a journalist, Jose Carrasco, then the editor of an anti-Pinochet newspaper.

The FPMR's plan was that Pinochet's death would produce a major uprising among Chilean citizens that would topple the regime. Since 1983, there had been several national strikes and street protests, climaxing between Sept. 4 and 5, 1986.

Why did the ambush fail? According to experts, the FPMR did not choose the right combination of weapons nor did they close off the back escape route.

Monument to the bodyguards
©2006 M.Mackinnon
Some months before, a Cuban fishing trawler had reached the northern coast of Chile, handing over several tons of weapons to the FPMR. This cargo included RPGs (Soviet-made rocket-propelled grenade launchers), which, according to specialists, have a higher firing rate than the LAW.

Also, the bullets from assailants' M-16 assault rifles just rebounded off the armor-plated Mercedes-Benz SEL. To this day, Mercedes uses this incident as publicity for its products.

On the same night as the ambush, Pinochet appeared on television showing the impacts of the bullets and rockets on the SEL, commenting:

"They really hit us hard -- I thought I would never make it alive."

Even today, many Chileans wonder if Pinochet's death would have changed the course of their country's history.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Marcelo Mackinnon

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