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Chile's MIR: The Revolutionary Left Movement

Urban Guerrillas Declare War on the Pinochet Dictatorship


Chile's MIR: The Revolutionary Left Movement

Miguel Enriquez

Photo Courtesy of Marcello Ferrada-Noli

This led directly to the loss and/or exile of much of the MIR’s leadership. In December of 1973 Bautista Van Schouwen, one of the student leaders of the MIR, was detained and “disappeared.” In October of 1974, about a year after the coup, tortured MIR members revealed the location of a house in Santiago where MIR leader Miguel Enríquez had been hiding. On October 5, Chilean security forces swarmed the house. Enríquez was killed while trying to save a wounded companion, Carmen Castillo. Castillo, who was also an important member of the MIR, was captured.

On February 19, 1975, four captured MIR leaders went on national television to urge their comrades to lay down their arms. They said that the military government was interested only in reconciliation and national unity. According to the four, the MIR leadership was in ruins: of the 52 members of the MIR Central Committee, nine had been killed, 24 were in custody, ten were in exile, one had been expulsed from the group, and eight were still at large. The MIR quickly issued a statement declaring the four to be traitors, but much damage had been done.

In October of 1975, Chilean police were again alerted to the location of a safe house where MIR leaders were hiding out, this time in the small village of Malloco, outside of Santiago. Andres Pascal Allende, who had assumed leadership of the MIR in Chile after the death of Enríquez, was forced to flee, eventually seeing asylum at the Costa Rican Embassy. Several other important MIR leaders were killed or captured.

In April 1976 Edgardo Enríquez, brother of Miguel and current leader of the MIR, was arrested in Buenos Aires. He was never officially seen or heard from again, and it is believed that he died in custody of Argentine or Chilean security forces.

The MIR after 1976

After the Malloco raid and the loss of Edgardo Enríquez, the MIR ceased to be a legitimate threat to the Chilean government. All of its leaders were dead, captured, or in exile. Many captured MIR members were co-operating with Chilean security forces, either willingly or not. The growing reach of Operation Condor meant that nowhere was safe: Condor even carried out international assassinations, such as that of Orlando Letelier, killed by a car bomb in Washington, D.C. in September of 1976.

In 1979, the MIR began to quietly operate in Chile once again. Some members who had been in Cuba to receive military training returned. The Chile they returned to was different from the one they had left, however. The economic boom was slowing and people were starting to protest in the streets. Another group, the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front (FPMR), had taken the lead in Chile’s armed resistance to Pinochet, including an assassination attempt in 1986 that killed four of the dictator’s bodyguards.

In the early 1980’s, the newly resurgent MIR began a wave of small-scale attacks, killing policemen and soldiers and even robbing several banks to get funds to support their activities. The organization sputtered along for the rest of the decade until the late 1980’s when it was clear that a return to democracy was in the works.

The MIR today

Today, the MIR exists as a minor Chilean political party, still dedicated to communism and the memory of Ché Guevara as well as all of its members that died in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The group has renounced violence and now seeks to use politics to further its ends.

Legacy of the MIR

When all was said and done, the MIR was actually responsible for very little in the way of armed Marxist insurgency. They were quiet during the Allende years and their organization was gutted by Pinochet’s ruthless tactics between 1973 and 1976. Most of their attacks too place in the early 1980’s, when they killed some policemen and soldiers in urban guerrilla attacks. When compared to Argentina’s ERP, Uruguay’s Tupamaros and even Chile’s FPMR, the MIR never gained the level of notoriety it needed to draw many recruits to its cause.

That’s not to say that it never was a threat to Chile’s government. During the Allende years, the MIR built up a very impressive arsenal and network that it intended to use to topple the government should Allende’s reforms not last. The MIR’s inability to mount a serious insurgency is a reflection on Pinochet’s methods, which were ruthless and bloody but also extremely effective. The MIR never had a chance against a government willing to round up, torture and kill thousands of its own citizens in an effort to root them out.

Perhaps the darkest legacy of the MIR is just that: it was what spurred the Pinochet government to declare war on its own people. The dictatorship used fear of the MIR and other groups as its rationale for continuing the terrors and tortures inflicted upon the people of Chile. In a nutshell, the “cure” – the arrest, torture and murder of thousands – was eventually much worse than the “disease” – a handful of communists who would likely not have succeeded in overthrowing the government in any event, as the people of Chile were not interested in becoming the next Cuba.

The book is not closed on the MIR just yet: they continue to exist as a legitimate if radical political party and still seem eager to make their mark on Chilean politics, this time with votes instead of guns.


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

A Special Thanks: Marcello Ferrada-Noli is a founder of the MIR, a close friend of Miguel Enríquez and one of the few survivors of those troubled times. I am grateful to Marcello for taking some of his valuable time to help me with this article, and if you’re interested in the subject, I suggest you click on the link below to his informative, personal page which goes into much greater detail of those idealistic student days. The photos on this page are courtesy of his personal collection.

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