Retired Chilean Air Force head Fernando Matthei denied this week any knowledge of the identities of the pilots involved in the air strike that helped solidify the 1973 military coup d’etat and subsequent 17-year dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
Matthei was called to testify in the ongoing investigation into the death of former President Salvador Allende. The operation, which took place on the morning of Sept. 11, 1973, was carried out by a group of Chilean Air Force Hawker Hunter jets.
Through the air strike, the renegade military junta sought to take control of the La Moneda Presidential Palace, where the besieged President Allende had fought off attacks since 8 a.m. The air strike neutralized rooftop snipers loyal to the president, who eventually died of gunshot wounds to the head. The current investigation seeks to clarify who fired the gun that morning.
Matthei testified on Tuesday before Judge Mario Carroza, who in January took on the investigation of 726 claims of human rights violations that took place between Sept. 11, 1973 and March 11, 1990, including the death of Allende.
Though Matthei was not named head of the Air Force until 1978—well after the coup—the now-retired commander was director of the Academy of Air Warfare (AGA) in 1973. Prior to that position, he had served in the Air Force for nearly 30 years.
Plaintiff attorney Roberto Avila claimed in a lawsuit filed for the case that Matthei knew the identities of the pilots involved in the 1973 air raid.
Patricia Espejo, director of the Salvador Allende Foundation, is similarly sceptical of Matthei’s denial.
“It may be the case that Matthei doesn’t remember all the names of the pilots involved,” Espejo told The Santiago Times on Wednesday. “But I find it very difficult to believe that he never knew who any of them were.”
Espejo knew Allende personally and held a position as one of his secretaries. She was also sceptical of the scant information made available by the Air Force chief.
“It’s not possible,” she added. “The military is a highly ordered place. They keep track of and document everything.”
An article published by journalist Eduardo Labarca in Chilean daily El Mostrador on Wednesday claimed to have the names of all the pilots involved in the operation. Labarca reports having found the information through 12 hours of interviews with exiled military leaders.
Though she expressed interest in the article, Espejo indicated that the Foundation would govern itself based on what was concluded by Judge Carroza.
Aside from his rank at the time of the events, suspicion of Matthei’s knowledge may have also been stoked by an interview in the Chilean magazine Que Pasa? In the article, Matthei supposedly admitted that there was a “pact of silence” among the organizers of the air raid.
During Tuesday’s questioning, Matthei denied the existence of any such pact.
Originally an Air Force officer training school, the AGA under Matthei also served as a detention and torture centre following the 1973 coup, like other military academies at the time.
Matthei himself has been accused of being a direct participant in torture sessions that took place at the academy, according to survivor testimonies gathered by the UK-based Memoria Viva (Living Memory) online archive.
By Ivan Ebergenyi – The Santiago Times