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Biography of Carlos Prats

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Biography of Carlos Prats

General Carlos Prats

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Carlos Prats González was a general in the Chilean army who served as supreme commander of the Chilean army during the administration of Salvador Allende. When Allende was ousted in a 1973 coup led by Augusto Pinochet, Prats fled to Argentina, where he was killed by a car bomb in 1974 in an assassination that is considered a precursor to the infamous Operation Condor.

Military Career:

Prats had a distinguished military career and rose to the rank of General at the age of 53 in spite of the fact that Chile was not involved in any international wars during his lifetime. He spent a lot of time teaching at the military academy and was sent to the United States and Argentina for a time as a military attaché.

Prats and Schneider:

In 1970, controversial politician Salvador Allende was elected President. He was an extremely polarizing leader, as the poor loved him but the middle class and the wealthy despised him for his socialist beliefs. Immediately, there were calls for the military to remove Allende from power. General René Schneider, commander of all Chilean military units, refused because he was a firm believer in the constitution and felt that the military must not intervene in politics. When Schneider was assassinated on October 22, 1970, Prats, at that time commander of the Army, was promoted to replace him.

Prats and Allende:

Like Schneider, Prats believed that the military must not become involved with the civilian government. At that time, the Chilean military was divided between those who felt they should step in and remove Allende from power and those who agreed with Prats that they must stay out of politics. Prats was rewarded by Allende for his support, serving on his cabinet and even spending some time as Vice-President in 1972.

Alejandrina Cox :

On June 27, 1973 Prats was headed to his office in an official car when the passengers in a second car began making rude gestures and shouting at him for his support of the despised Allende government. Prats became enraged, and after the other car refused to pull over, he shot at it. The driver was an unarmed middle class woman named Alejandrina Cox and much was made of the General’s lack of restraint and dignity. His once-solid reputation ruined, Prats presented his resignation to Allende, who refused it.

The Tanquetazo:

Only two days later, on June 29, Lieutenant Colonel Roberto Souper led a military coup against Allende. Souper and some other officers had been plotting for some time and had been discovered. Rather than surrender, Souper took the second armored battalion of Santiago, which included sixteen tanks, and brought them downtown where they began an assault on the Presidential Palace and the Ministry of Defense. Prats took an active part in putting the rebellion down, bravely walking up to the tanks and demanding the soldiers inside surrender, which they did.

Resignation and Exile:

After the tanquetazo, Prats began to see that support for a coup within the ranks of the military was extremely high. In August, the wives of several high ranking officers held a protest on Prats’ front lawn, demanding the military step in and restore order in Chile. Feeling that he could no longer defend the constitution and the presidency, Prats stepped down on August 22, to be replaced as top military commander by Augusto Pinochet, who was mistakenly believed to be also in favor of military non-intervention in government. With Prats out of the way, the military removed Allende from office on September 11, 1973.

Life in Argentina:

Fleeing into self-exile in Argentina, Prats and his wife moved into a comfortable apartment in Palermo, a suburb of Buenos Aires. Always the proud military man, Prats made no public comments about the new rule in Chile, but it was well-known that in private he despised the military takeover of his home country. He hosted Chilean exiles and was friendly with some members of the Chilean embassy. He had begun work on his memoirs some time before, and completed a 100,000 word manuscript by September 1974. It was widely feared that revelations in this document could seriously damage the new Chilean government.

Assassination:

Plans to assassinate Prats were being discussed in Chile as early as mid-1974. The first attempt was a fiasco in which Chilean agents went to Argentina with cash to hire former members of the rightist Triple A alliance to kill Prats. The would-be assassins kept the money, never made an attempt on Prats and leaked word of the operation to both East German and French intelligence. In September the Chilean secret police hired American-born Michael Townley to do the job, and on September 29, 1974 Prats and his wife were killed by a car bomb planted by Townley.

Aftermath:

Argentina, which was undergoing considerable turmoil of its own, never caught Townley, who would go on to commit the 1976 assassination of Orlando Letelier in Washington, D.C. The murder of Prats put all Chilean exiles on notice that they were not safe anywhere from the long reach of Pinochet and his secret police. It is also widely suspected that Townley had the support of the Argentine secret police and carried out the killing with their approval if not with their direct aid. The effectiveness of such co-operation proved by the success of the mission, Chile, Argentina and several other South American countries would begin formally if covertly working together the following year in what was to be called Operation Condor.

Source: Dinges, John. The Condor Years: How Pinochet and his allies brought terrorism to three continents

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