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February 24, 1915|
|Died||September 30, 1974
Buenos Aires, Argentina
General Carlos Prats González (February 24, 1915 – September 30, 1974) was a Chilean Army officer, a political figure, minister and Vice President of Chile during President Salvador Allende's government, and commander-in-chief of the Chilean Army. Immediately after General Augusto Pinochet's September 11, 1973 coup, Prats went into voluntary exile in Argentina. The following year, he was assassinated in Buenos Aires, Argentina by a car bomb, revealed as committed by the DINA, Pinochet's secret police.
Carlos Prats González was born in Talcahuano in 1915, the oldest son of Carlos Prats Risopatrón and Hilda González Suárez. He joined the Army in 1931, and graduated at the top of his class.
In 1935, he was commissioned as an artillery officer. Three years later he became a Sub Lieutenant. Soon he returned to the Military Academy, this time as a teacher. He taught there and at the War Academy until 1954. In 1944, he married Sofia Cuthbert Chiarleoni, with whom he had three daughters.
In 1954, Prats González was promoted to Major, and sent to the military mission in the US, as adjunct military attaché, where he served until 1958. That year he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and returned as teacher to the War Academy. In 1961, he became commander of the Artillery Regiment Nº3 “Chorrillos”, and in 1963, became commander of the Regiment Nº1 “Tacna”.
In 1964, he was promoted to Colonel and sent as military attaché to Argentina. He returned to Chile in 1967 as commander of the III Army Division. In 1968 he was promoted to Brigade General and Chief of the General Staff. The following year he was promoted to Division General.
He was named Commander-in-chief on October 26, 1970, by President Eduardo Frei Montalva, following the assassination of his predecessor, General René Schneider a few days earlier, on October 22. His reputation as a respected figure in the Army allayed all fears of a possible military intervention following the popular election of Salvador Allende, a socialist, to the presidency.
General Prats became the head of the "constitutionalists", all members of the armed forces who supported the Schneider Doctrine. With time, he became the Army's strongest supporter of President Allende, and was appointed as a member of his cabinet several times. Allende appointed him as vice-President in 1972 (The Chilean Constitution does not have a standing vice-presidential office; rather, the sitting Minister of the Interior, as the senior cabinet minister, is temporarily designated "vice president" only during the President's absence during formal State visits abroad).
Carlos Prats' reported allegiance to the Schneider Doctrine was considered weakened when he agreed to participate as a cabinet member in the Allende government. Many moderate, apolitical Army officers who supported Prats and believed in the Schneider Doctrine interpreted his joining the Allende government as a tacit endorsement of it. They thought this was a betrayal of General Schneider's staunch non-interference position. At the same time, among anti-Allende Army cadres, Prats allowed fellow officers to infer that, if the Allende government allowed the economic and political situation to become too chaotic, Prats might be convinced of the need for a coup d'état.
This strategy of trying to please both sides resulted in Prats losing the trust of all sides. Non-interventionist, apolitical officers believed Prats had become a willing tool of Allende. Anti-Allende officers believed Prats would not stand in the way of Allende using the Army to carry out his socialist policies of forced nationalization and economic redistribution. Prats maintained some standing in the Army and among the people because he was considered to be a measured, sober career officer who would not be pressured by the mob, nor forced into doing anything unconstitutional or rash.
The Alejandrina Cox incident on 27 June 1973, in which General Prats lost his temper at being insulted by persons in a nearby car and fired on it, caused him a huge loss in public reputation. Prats lost the respect of the Army officer corps who, regardless of their political beliefs, considered such a potentially fatal loss of control as unprofessional and dangerous.
On June 29, 1973, Prats was the key player in putting down a minor coup attempt known as the Tanquetazo. This putsch was poorly organized but the military and others were disturbed by the unit's relative ease in reaching the gates of the presidential palace. The Tanquetazo failed and was suppressed, but the event showed that tactically, it would be relatively simple to stage a full-blown coup.
On August 22, 1973, the wives of Prats' Generals and officers staged a rally in front of his home, calling him a coward for not restoring civil order in Chile. This event convinced Prats that he had lost support of his fellow officers. The next day he resigned his positions: both as Interior minister and as Commander in Chief of the Army. With only two other generals in favor of a constitutional solution to the political crisis, generals Mario Sepúlveda Squella and Guillermo Pickering (both in key troop command positions), also presented their resignations in a show of support for him. General Augusto Pinochet, previously second in command and thought to be loyal to Allende, was appointed as Commander in Chief of the Army.
General Pinochet took over the position on August 23, 1973. General Prats' retirement removed the last real obstacle for a military coup, which took place three weeks later, on September 11, 1973. Immediately after the coup, on September 15, 1973, General Prats voluntarily went into exile with his wife in Argentina.
On September 30, 1974, in Buenos Aires, Prats and his wife Sofia were killed outside their apartment, by a radio-controlled car bomb. Debris reached the ninth-floor balcony of the building across the street. Later, it was learned that the assassination was planned by members of the Chilean secret police, DINA. It was committed by the American expatriate and Chilean citizen Michael Townley, who also committed the Orlando Letelier assassination in Washington, DC in 1976.
Following the September 11th coup of the year before, Carlos Prats from exile had made statements both public and private against the Junta and Pinochet. He had also signaled his willingness to assume the role of Commander in Chief of the Armed forces in exile, or the role of President for a shadow government or government-in-exile.
The former leaders of DINA, including chief Manuel Contreras, ex-chief of operation and retired general Raúl Iturriaga, his brother Roger Iturriaga, and ex-brigadiers Pedro Espinoza and Jose Zara, have been charged in Chile with Prats' assassination. The Chilean judge investigating the case, Alejandro Solis, exempted Gen. Pinochet from prosecution after the Chilean Supreme court rejected a demand in January 2005 to lift the ex-dictator's immunity .
In Argentina, DINA's civil agent Enrique Arancibia was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for Prats' murder. In 2000 SIDE agent Juan Martín Siga Correa was detained by Argentine officials on the orders of federal judge María Servini de Cubria. Martín Siga Correa was DINA's main connection with the SIDE and with Intelligence Battalion 601, and was also a member of the Tacuara Nationalist Movement.
In 2003, Argentine federal judge María Servini de Cubria asked Chile for the extradition of Mariana Callejas, who was Michael Townley's wife, and Cristoph Willikie Fleent, a retired colonel from the Chilean army; the three together were charged with this crime. But Chilean judge Nibaldo Segura from the Appeals court refused extradition in July 2005, arguing that they had already been prosecuted in Chile.
Italian terrorist Stefano Delle Chiaie was reportedly also involved in the murder of General Carlos Prats. Along with fellow extremist Vincenzo Vinciguerra, Delle Chiaie testified in Rome in December 1995 before Judge Servini that Enrique Arancibia Clavel (a former Chilean secret police agent prosecuted for crimes against humanity in 2004 and Michael Townley were directly involved in this assassination.)
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