Miguel Enríquez Espinosa (1944-1974) was a Chilean doctor and a leader of the MIR (Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria, or Movement of the Revolutionary Left), a Marxist guerrilla organization. He was a founder of the group, which supported the reforms of Salvador Allende administration (1970-1973). Later, it fought against the Augusto Pinochet Dictatorship. Enríquez’ location was betrayed to Chilean security agents in 1974 and he was killed in a shootout.
Miguel was born into a middle-class family with good political connections: his father was an important academic and two of his uncles were senators. He also had family ties to the military. He was a talented student in school and decided to pursue a career in medicine, eventually training as a neurologist. While a student, he joined several socialist groups and soon became known as a charismatic leader. In 1965, he was one of the founders of the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR)
, or Movement of the Revolutionary Left.
The MIR was a Marxist-Leninist organization inspired by the Cuban Revolution
. They opposed the government of Eduardo Frei Montalvo but not by taking up arms. They supported Salvador Allende and were delighted when he won the election, but they began to suspect (correctly) that Allende was vulnerable to a military coup. They began stockpiling weapons and making safe houses. Miguel was elected leader of the organization in 1967 and served until his death.
On September 11, 1973, their fears came true and Allende was removed by a military coup led by Augusto Pinochet
. Pinochet quickly set up a secret police force, known as DINA (National Intelligence Directorate) and tasked it with rounding up members of the MIR and other groups. The MIR’s leaders, including Enríquez, went underground. Many of them were rounded up in the early days of the coup, which fatally compromised many safehouses and arms caches. Enríquez himself eluded capture and began organizing resistance.
Chile was not the only South American nation to have leftist rebels attempting a Cuban-inspired takeover. In Uruguay, the Tupamaros
were carrying out urban guerrilla assaults, in Argentina the ERP (“People’s Revolutionary Army”) was active and Bolivia had the ELN. These groups had much in common: their general ideology was the same, they were contending with military dictatorships and their means were similar. It was Enriquez’ idea to join forces, and the JCR (Junta Coordinadora Revolucionaria, or “Revolutionary Co-ordinating Junta”) was formed. The first meeting was held in 1972, in Chile.
Death of Miguel Enríquez:
The DINA proved skilled at rounding up MIR members and torturing information out of them. In late September of 1974 they learned where Enríquez and other MIR leaders were hiding in a safehouse in Santiago and they moved in on October 5. Enríquez and the others were able to fight their way out, but he went back to aid a wounded colleague, Carmen Castillo. He was subsequently killed by a grenade, and Castillo was captured. The raid left the MIR in a serious leadership crisis.
Miguel Enríquez was married to Alejandra Pizarro and had a daughter named Javiera. His friends remember him as intelligent and witty with a good sense of humor. He was a tireless worker who could work or read for hours. He had an artistic streak and enjoyed classical literature and music. He was very decisive and a charismatic leader.
The MIR and JCR, the two organizations that Miguel founded, both survived him. The MIR continued to wage war against Pinochet, but with its leadership dead or compromised there was little it could do against the powerful DINA. By the end of the 1970's, the MIR was in tatters, replaced as the most feared guerrilla organization in Chile by the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front (FPMR).
The JCR continued to struggle along, but when the dictators of most of South America began working together (known as Operation Condor), the JCR and its member organizations were dealt a series of setbacks from which they never recovered.
Today in Chile, there is still a great deal of controversy and disagreement about the turbulent 1970's and 1980's. Some see Allende as a savior, a hero with a vision of a democratic, fair society in Chile, while others see him as a communist madman bent on giving away all of Chile's wealth to the lazy poor. Some see Pinochet as a monster, a tyrant who murdered thousands of his own people, while others see him as a valiant hero defending Chile from communism and preserving democracy.
Likewise, Chileans have mixed feelings about rebel leaders like Miguel Enríquez. To some, they were communists determined to tear apart the social fabric of Chile and turn it into another Cuba, where people suffer from want and freedoms are limited. Others see them as idealistic dreamers who had a vision of a better society - and who fought tooth and nail against the horrors of Chile's "Dirty War" which claimed thousands of innocent lives. Any opinion of Miguel Enríquez is thus bound to the corresponding opinion of Chilean history itself.
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.