MIR (Revolutionary Left Movement, Chile)

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The MIR (Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria or Movement of the Revolutionary Left) is a Chilean Marxist revolutionary guerrilla force that was formed in the mid 1960's. After the fall of Socialist President Salvador Allende Gossens, it actively attempted to overthrow the Augusto Pinochet regime (Chile, 1973–90). After several key leaders were captured and/or killed, the MIR ceased fighting for control of the main cities in the late 1970s and concentrated instead in creating a guerrilla front in southern Chile.

Revolution

The Cuban Revolution had spawned many attempts at imitation, not only Chile's MIR. There were several guerrilla armies in Latin America who had similar objectives, including the Tupamaros in Uruguay, the Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (People's Revolutionary Army or ERP) in Argentina and the Bolivian Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army or ELN), several of whose members had trained in Cuba.

As early as October of 1972, the various groups had begun discussing fighting together, pooling resources, information and safehouses. The guerrilla alliance was the brainchild of MIR's Miguel Enríquez, who hosted his fellow revolutionaries in Chile when they came for meetings and military training at the MIR's facility deep in the Andes Mountains

After the fall of Allende, it was decided to solidify the alliance between the four revolutionary armies. At a meeting in Buenos Aires, it was decided to name the group Junta Coordinadora Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Coordinating Junta or JCR). Enríquez himself had remained in Chile: the JCR would be headed by Mario Santucho, leader of Argentina's ERP rural guerrill army. The JCR seemed capable to take on the Southern Cone military: the Bolivians, with their ties to Fidel Castro, brought revolutionary credibility, the ERP had money from a string of political kidnappings, the MIR had a clandestine weapons facility and the Montoneros were experienced urban guerrillas in Argentina.

Foundation

The MIR was founded in 1965 by a union of leftist university student groups, primarily based in Santiago. They took their teachings from the Cuban Revolution, which they hoped to reproduce in Chile.

They soon found support in Santiago's poor and working-class neighborhoods and even among the Chilean Armed Forces. At its height in 1973, the MIR numbered some 10,000 guerrillas and civilian supporters.[1]

Marxist government

In 1970, left-wing politician and Marxist Salvador Allende Gossens was elected President of Chile and immediately began socialist reforms, including nationalization of key industries (such as copper mining), taking over education and health care and the seizure of factories and farmlands. There was a personal connection between Salvador Allende and Fidel Castro: in 1971 the Cuban dictator made a 25-day visit to Chilean cities and main towns.

When it became apparent that sectors in the Chilean military were preparing a takeover, the MIR began an active program of recruiting members of the armed forces and police. Their plan was to convince junior officers and conscripts of the need to support the civilian socialist government: they hoped that when the time came, these young men would disobey the orders of their superiors and support Allende.

The key Chilean generals and admirals learned of the plan and were horrified: their worst nightmare was a divided army, navy, air force and carabinier/police, which could lead to an all-out civil war. They made efforts to identify the units infiltrated by the MIR and suffocate rebellion: they also increased their pressure on Allende. In early September, 1973, General Carlos Prats, head of the Chilean Army and a supporter of Allende, relinquished his position, knowing that his departure would facilitate the coup d'état. On September 11, 1973, General Augusto Pinochet led a coup against Allende that ended with President committing suicide inside La Moneda, the presidential palace.

Military coup

The Chilean Armed Forces attacked with overwhelming force on 11 and 12 September 1973, with the MIR unable to make a proper stand in Santiago and win worldwide support as planned. Chilean Air Force Hawker Hunter fighter-bombers bombed the presidential palace and Aerospatiale Puma helicopter gunships patrolled the capital while the army and marine units quickly took control of the streets of Santiago and Valparaiso. The military and carabinier units arrested anyone suspected of being a communist or an insurgent, setting up a detention camp in the National Stadium. Thousands were rounded up: many were killed. The Chilean Army suffered 12 killed in various clashes with MIR/GAP guerrillas and civilian supporters in October 1973. The MIR leadership, however decided not to take on the Chilean Army in the main cities, but rather go underground whenever possible and wait for the perfect time to strike back. Many of the leaders of the organization fled abroad. Nevertheless, during the first three months of Pinochet's regime, the Chilean Armed Forces and supporting carabinier units reported substantial losses in the form of 162 killed in clashes with the left-wing guerrillas and civilian supporters from the MIR, GAP and Chilean Communist Party.[2]

Pinochet regime

Pinochet created the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (National Intelligence Directorate), which soon became known as DINA. He placed colonel Manuel Contreras in charge of rooting out the MIR guerrillas and civilian supporters. The MIR was hit hard by the counter insurgency campaign. Among the thousands of ordinary Chilean citizens that were detained for short or long periods and/or tortured, were several hundred young men and women with connections to the MIR. They confessed under torture and gave away names of other members, locations of safe houses, weapons caches, etc. According to MIR commander Andrés Pascal Allende, in all some 1,500-2,000 MIR members were killed or forcefully disappeared under the Pinochet military regime.[3]

Urban guerrilla warfare

During Pinochet's regime, the MIR was responsible for several attacks on government personnel and buildings. In early 1976, there had been plans to infiltrate 1,200 Marxist guerrillas from Argentina into Chile in an operation christened Plan Boomerang Rojo (Red Boomerang Plan), but the infiltration failed to materialize because of the military coup in Argentina in late March.[4]

On 15 July 1980, MIR guerrillas killed 43-year-old Lieutenant-Colonel Roger Vergara Campos, head of the Chilean Army Intelligence School, also shooting his driver, 42-year-old Sergeant Mario Espinoza Navarro. On 30 August 1983, MIR guerrillas assassinated 57-year-old Major-General Carol Urzúa Ibáñez, military governor of Santiago and his bodyguards, 30-year-old corporal Carlos Rivero Bequiarelli and 34-year-old Corporal José Domingo Aguayo-Franco.

Neltume guerrilla base

The years 1980–81 saw the MIR return in strength to the Valdivia Province where they sought to establish a guerrilla front in Neltume. The MIR had in September 1970 given basic military training to some 2,000 lumber workers in the Panguipulli Lake area (500 miles south of Santiago) and won over the trust of the general population. After the military coup, the Chilean Army deployed the entire 4th Division under Major-General Héctor Bravo in the area of Neltume area after 60-80 MIR guerrillas and civilian supporters attacked with molotov cocktails the local police station with the aim of ransacking the local armoury. Between 3 and 4 October 1973, Major-General Bravo ordered the execution of 11 captured MIR guerrilla fighters and supporters.

On 23 October 1973, 23-year-old Army Corporal Benjamín Alfredo Jaramillo Ruz, while serving with the 2nd Cazadores Infantry Regiment, became the first fatal military casualty of the counterinsurgency operations in the mountainous area of Alquihue in Valdivia after being shot in a nighttime operation. In the renewed military operations in the area between 1980 and 1981, the MIR guerrillas around Lake Panguipulli with the help of local civilians initially halted the advance of the Chilean Army. Later, in order to disperse them and subdue the province, Pinochet ordered a full brigade of elite troops in the form of paratroopers and special forces and their accompanying US military advisors to reinforce the rural offensive.[5] In the various cordon and search operations carried out in the cities of Talcahuano, Concepcion, Los Angeles and Valdivia between 23 and 24 August 1984, the military and carabinier units reportedly executed six captured MIR guerrillas and civilian supporters.[6]

Notes

  1. Historical Dictionary of Terrorism, Sean Anderson, Stephen Sloan, Page 447, Scarecrow Press, 2009
  2. Latin America's Wars: The Age of the Professional Soldier, 1900–2001, Robert L. Scheina, p. 326, Potomac Books, 2003
  3. Los Allende: Con Ardiente Paciencia por un Mundo Mejor, Günther Wessel, Page 155, Editorial TEBAR, 2004
  4. Battling for Hearts and Minds: Memory Struggles in Pinochet's Chile, 1973-1988, Steve J. Stern, Page 53, Duke University Press, 2006
  5. Chilean resistance courier, Issue 7, Page 23, Resistance Publications, 1977
  6. Determinants of Gross Human Rights Violations by State and State-Sponsored Actors in Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina, 1960-1990, Wolfgang S. Heinz, Hugo Frühling, Page 545, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1999