Chilean Intelligence Agent on Trial for Killing Retired Chilean

17 November 2005

Chilean Intelligence Agent on Trial for Killing Retired Chilean
Calvin Sims
The New York Times, 16 February 1996

For two decades, Sofia and Maria Angelica Prats have tried to determine who was responsible for the bombing in 1974 that killed their father, Gen. Carlos Prats Gonzalez, a former Chilean army commander who opposed the military coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet. But last month, Argentina's president, Carlos Saul Menem, announced that his government had arrested a former Chilean intelligence agent, Enrique Arancibia Clavel, in connection with the bombing, which also killed Prats's wife, Sofia. Their car exploded outside their home in Buenos Aires, where they had been living in exile for 12 months after the coup. Law enforcement officials here said that Arancibia, who worked for Pinochet's notorious secret police, known as the Dina, had helped carry out the bombing and that he would stand trial in Argentina.

The prospect of a Chilean intelligence agent being convicted of murdering a retired Chilean general has raised tensions high in Argentina and Chile. A conviction would point guilt directly at Pinochet, who had tight control over the secret police after he overthrew the civilian government of President Salvador Allende Gossens. Although Pinochet relinquished power to an elected government in 1990, he continues to serve as commander of the Chilean army. 'We are getting closer, much closer to the truth,' said Sofia Prats Cuthbert, the eldest daughter, who came to Buenos Aires to meet with justice officials. 'I don't know if Pinochet was involved in the death of my parents. That's for the courts to decide. But I do know that Chile will never be whole as long as Pinochet is in power.'

Prats, who served as army commander under Allende, resigned on Aug. 23, 1973, rather than join the military faction that wanted to overthrow the government. His successor was Pinochet, who 19 days later ousted Allende, who died in the coup. Four days later, Prats went into exile in Argentina. Shortly before his death, Prats received an anonymous telephone call at his house in Buenos Aires. The caller, who spoke with a Chilean accent, said that if the general did not publicly endorse the Pinochet government, he would be killed.

'Today more than ever Pinochet has to answer why, as army Commander in Chief, he did nothing in Chile to find out who killed his predecessor,' said Juan Pablo Letelier, son of Orlando Letelier, a Chilean diplomat who was killed by the Dina in a similar car bombing in Washington. 'It is a shame that in Chile this crime has never been investigated and now the Argentines have found the killer in our neighbor country'. Political analysts said the Prats case is far more serious for the Chilean military than the Letelier case because investigators have determined that by the time of the Letelier assassination in 1976, the Chilean secret police had become a loose cannon basically beyond the control of Pinochet. This was not the case in 1974, when Prats was killed. A conviction would also show that the Pinochet government had assassinated a career military officer, a man who despite political differences was one of its own. 'It's one thing to kill a civilian who you think is a Communist, but it's another to kill your own men,' a high-ranking Western diplomat here said. 'It shows that Pinochet's military couldn't distinguish between a pinprick and a dagger in the heart'. Sofia Prats, 48, who is mayor of a small Chilean town, said: 'My father never imagined that the Chilean military could have done something of this magnitude. He believed that between military men there was always loyalty and fair treatment.'

Politicians from Chile's governing coalition have called for the resignation of Pinochet, saying that the secret police could not have committed the assassination without his approval. But the Chilean army said that the general had no intention of stepping down and that it would not investigate the Prats killing. 'It is something that happened outside Chile, it occurred 22 years ago, and I don't believe it is correct for the army to begin an inquiry about this case now,' said Gen. Fernando Torres Silva, the army's auditor general. The Chilean army has also criticized Argentina for prosecuting the case, saying that the Menem administration was using the Prats case to discredit the Chilean military. For its part, the Chilean government, which has been at odds with the military in the past, has said that it is pleased that Argentina is pursuing the case and that it will cooperate. The outcome of the Prats case will depend heavily on how vigorously Argentina prosecutes it. Political analysts here speculate that Menem is aggressively pursuing the case to show that Argentina is strong on human rights, after his country came under sharp criticism last year for failing to resolve the bombings of the Israeli Embassy and Jewish Cultural Center here.

The United States is also expected to become involved in the Prats case by allowing Argentina to interview Michael V. Townley, an American who admitted to planting the bomb that killed Letelier. Townley, who has served a prison sentence, has said that he acted on the orders of the Chilean secret police and that he was present in Italy and Argentina when similar attacks were made against high-ranking Chileans. 'You can't have a trial without Townley, whom we will probably be asked to make available to testify,' said James Cheek, the United States ambassador in Buenos Aires. 'We have a mutual legal assistance treaty with Argentina and we would want to help the Argentines out if requested to do so.' Meanwhile, the former Chilean intelligence agent accused of killing Prats is being held in Buenos Aires under heavy guard. Arancibia's lawyer, Alberto Eduardo Ottalagano, said that his client is innocent and was not in Argentina at the time of the bombing. 'Outside countries are influencing this case, which is not about the murder of the general but about making General Pinochet look bad,' Ottalagano said.

Copyright 1996 The New York Times