On Monday, September 30, 1974, at approximately 0,50 horas,
12:30 AM in the city of Buenos Aires, Chile's former Commander-in-Chief
of the Army, also former Vice President of the Republic, General
Carlos Prats Gonzalez and his wife Sofia Cuthbert died from
the explosion of a bomb planted under the floor of their car,
between the two front seats and over the accelerator when
they were arriving at their home. The scorched remains of
the car and the victims' bodies were scattered over a radius
of 50 meters just as they were returning to their residence.
The bomb exploded after General Prats got out to open the
garage door and just as he returned to the car, where his
wife Sofía Cuthbert waited inside.
Carlos Prats fled Chile September 15 1973, just a few days
after the coup, to save his life from the menace of military
officials who had seized power. His wife later joined him
to the expert report prepared by Argentine Federal Police
on November 6, 1974, General Prats' car was completely and
irreparably damaged, having burned up after the explosion.
Windows shattered in the building and adjacent homes and the
garage door in front of the parked car was blown off.
reports indicate that General Prats died from trauma, multiple
viceral-vascular injuries, and internal and external hemorraging.
His wife Sofia Cuthbert died as the consequence of the multiple
bone-organ-vascular destruction internal hemoraging.
Threats and surveillance prior to the crime
The judicial inquest determined fehacientemente that General
Prats and his wife had received numerous anonymous death threats
and had been under surveillance in the weeks before the assassination.
The government of Chile had been informed of these threats,
including a direct threat to General Prats' life through an
anonymous telephone call received September 2, 1974.
Chilean officials refuse to issue passports
The series of threats and constant surveillance convinced
General Prats and his wife Sofia Cuthbert that they had to
leave Argentina. However, their request to Chilean consulate
officials for ordinarios passports was ignored and the passports
were never issued. General Prats had left Chile in September
1973 on a diplomatic passport which had been issued him since
he was Commander-in-Chief of the Army. His wife, Sofia Cuthbert
had traveled to Chile only on her identity card. Neither document
sufficed for travel to a third country.
judicial inquest confirmed repeated attempts by General Prats
to obtain the passports and the unjustified attitude Chilean
officials assumed concerning these efforts.
Report of the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission,
created April 25, 1990 after inauguration of the first democratic
government of Chile's post-dictatorial period, referred to
the circumstances of the denied passports as intrinsically
related to the assassination of the Prats couple in the following
Buenos Aires retired General Prats knew he was under surveillance
by informants, who he believed to have arrived from Chile
in order to find something that could affect his honor or
would allow them to point to him as the General at the service
During his stay in Buenos Aires his activities were closed
watched, and in Chile and in other countries he was the
object of open or veiled criticism by agents of the State
For these reasons General Prats and his wife wanted to leave
Argentina and settle in a country of Europe. In order to
hasten their travel plans, Sofía Cuthbert de Prats
in July 1974 requested passports from the Consul General
of Chile in Argentina, informing the consulate that they
would travel to Brazil. ... Her passport had been confiscated
upon leaving Chile, while General Prats had a diplomatic
passport, no longer in effect. According to the Prats family,
Chilean diplomats were the only persons who knew of that
the Prats intended to travel.
The passports were never issued. Official explanation, verified
in documents available to this Commision, fail to offer
a plausible reason for denying or delaying the passports.
Furthermore, Chile's ambassador in Argentina sent the Chilean
Foreign Relations Ministry a telegram, which he urged to
be shared with the Commander in Chief of the Army, to advise
authorities General Prats had received a death threat".
Participation of the Intelligence Directorate (DINA) in
Information gathered during the course of the judicial inquest
comprise conclusive proof that the DINA planned and carried
out the assassination with its agents and with cooperation
from an Argentina ultra-right terrorist group known as "Milicia."
The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission reached a
"Having analyzed these facts, the Commission has reached
the conviction that General Carlos Prats and his wife Sofía
Cuthbert were killed, in violation of their human rights,
by a terrorist action of which agents of the State of Chile
were responsible, and who are presumed to have belonged
law 521 of the Military Junta created the Dirección
de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA) on June 14,1974. By Decree
from the Defense Ministry, on August 6 of the same year, Army
Colonel Manuel Contreras Sepúlveda was appointed National
Executive Director. The Report of the National Truth and Reconciliation
Commission determined, however, that the DINA's beginnings
can be traced long before the formal creation date, to November
1973, and perhaps earlier.
same Report details other aspects related to the operation
of the DINA. "In late 1973 or early 1974 the DINA began
its actions in Argentina and later in other countries of Latin
its structure, personnel, and hierarchy, the Report states:
"..the hierarchy appears to have consisted first of a
General Command in charge of the National Director, under
whom were various subdivisions that carried out support functions
and answered directly to him, as well as departments or sections,
brigades and... One of the known subdivisions was a Foreign
Formally, the DINA was accountable to the Military
Junta and the Army Commander in Chief. The DINA utilized this
direct line of command [under the Military Junta] to protect
itself from any inquiry or intereference in its activities."
DINA's actions across Chile's borders are confirmed by the
During this period, the repressive
actions committed outside of Chile against Chileans or persons
connected to Chileans, are the responsibility of the DINA,
specifically its Foreign Departament." It adds: "the
foreign aparatus of the DINA appears to arise in April or
March of 1974," under the "National Director of
the DINA". Its operations "were conducted and coordinated
in Argentina, but not only in that country, for the purpose
of identifying, monitoring, arresting, and even eliminating
exiled Chilean opponents to the military regime, or Chileans
who lived abroad and participated in activities deemed dangerous
for the military government."
sentence dictated by Supreme Court Judge Adolfo Bañados
in the case involving the assassination in Washington, D.C.
of Chile's former Foreign Relations Minister Orlando Letelier,
explicitly determined the DINA's nature as terrorist organization.
Clause N. 111 of the ruling states:
"A profusion of facts lead us to believe that the leadership
of the DINA accepted terrorist violence as a method for combating
its political opposition."
Clause 120 of the ruling indicates:
"This state of affairs suggests unequivocally that the
DINA as institution accepted as viable, as has been said,
the recourse of extreme violence to fight political opponents."
Clause 131 concludes: "
and other direct facts also show
that the DINA made
use of violence as a system or philosophy."
This ruling, upheld by the Supreme Court of Chile in 1995,
sentenced former DINA Director Manuel Contreras and the Operations
Chief Pedro Espinoza, as authors of the assassination of Orlando
Letelier, one of many terrorist attacks conducted outsided
of Chile by DINA. The assassination of Orlando Letelier shared
characteristics with the car bomb assassination of General
Carlos Prats and his wife, which took place two years before.
Quezada on the Role of Augusto Pinochet
"Proof of Augusto Pinochet's involvement in the case
can be traced specifically to statements made by Michael Townley
in the United States, before Chilean detectives as well as
U.S. prosecutor Eugene Propper in the Letelier case. He also
made similar statements to FBI agents who investigated the
Letelier case. Later, the hierarchical relationship between
Manuel Contreras and Pinochet, lead us to presumptions concerning
his role in the crime. Pinochet was General Prats's subordinate;
a man Prats trusted. That makes the charges against Pinochet
in this crime all the more serious."
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The Judicial Proceedings in Argentina
judicial investigation opened in Argentina in the National
Criminal and Federal Court N.1the same day the homicides took
place. During the first years the court was unable to identify
the authors of the assassination. However, the characteristics
of the crime pointed to the Chilean military regime as responsible
for planning and carrying out the crime.
the participation of U.S. citizen Michael V. Townley in the
assassination of former Foreign Relations Minister Orlando
Letelier became publicly known, after Townley's expulsion
from Chile in 1978 due to pressure from the United States
government, the investigation of the murder of General Prats
focused on Townley, due to the evident similarity in both
acts of terrorism.
1983 Argentine courts petitioned U.S. officials for the extradition
of Michael V. Townley, on the basis of probable cause of his
involvement in the Prats crime. However, a District Court
of Virginia rejected the extradition, as the evidence gathered
in Argentina was founded entirely on Townley's testimony in
the Letelier case, which was inadmissible in light of the
plea bargaining agreement the U.S. Attorney General made with
1991 the investigation gained greater force. This was due
in part by the publication of the Report of the National Truth
and Reconciliation Commission of Chile, which confirmed the
responsibility of the DINA in the Prats-Cuthbert murder. The
interest of Argentine Federal Court Judge Maria Servini de
Cubria also gave the case new vigor.
January 1996, Judge Servini issued an arrest warrant for the
former DINA agent Enrique Arancibia Clavel who had participated
in the surveillance of General Prats prior to the murder.
Arancibia Clavel's responsibility was formally proven on November
20, 2000 when a Buenos Aires court sentenced him to life in
prison as author of the double first degree murder and as
member of an illicit association.
another seven members of the DINA's Foreign Department were
implicated in the Prats crime. The investigation made significant
progress, culminating in November 2000 when the Argentine
court sought the extradition of six former DINA agents: Manuel
Contreras, Pedro Espinoza, Raul Iturriaga Neumann, Jorge Iturriaga
Neuman, Jose Sarras and Armando Fernandez Larios. (Armando
Fernandez Larios is in the United States where he completed
a jail term for his participation in the assassination of
former Foreign Relations Minister Orlando Letelier. Judge
Servini will seek his extradition.)
Pinochet Ugarte was also charged as intellectual author of
the illicit association and for first degree murder. When
the petition for extradition reached the Supreme Court of
Chile, the high court decided that Pinochet could only be
extradited if deprived of his immunity .
Interviewed by Memoria y Justicia on July 13, 2002,
attorney Hernan Quezada stated:
Greater awareness exists in Argentina regarding the demands
of international law. In the Prats case the crimes were declared
not subject to statutes of limitation due to their nature
as crimes against humanity, in recognition of the preeminence
of international treaties over national law.
Chile Poblete Cordoba is the only case in which the Supreme
Court has explicitly recognized the preeminence of treaties
on international humanitarian law. But after that case, the
high court never pronounced on this issue again. It has accepted
various motions for review, overturning sentences that applied
the Amnesty Law, but its legal grounds have been different
from those cited in the Poblete Cordoba case.
August 6, 2001
The Supreme Court's Penal Chamber rejected the appeal filed
by attorneys, Hernan Quezada and Pamela Pereira in late May
2001, seeking the extradition to Argentina of Pinochet and
seven other defendants. The Court founded its decision on
the fact that, so far, the Argentine court had only charged
but not indicted the defendants.
September 12, 2001
The Supreme Court's Penal Chamber accepted the recommendation
from the Court Auditor to authorize Judge Servini de Cubria
to interrogate Mariana Callejas and Cristoph Willikie Fleent,
former head of the DINA's Foreign Departament. However, the
Court refused to allow the Argentine judge to interrogate
Augusto Pinochet, due to his immunity from prosecution. This
resolution revealed that the removal of Pinochet's immunity
as lifetime senator only applies to the Caravan of Death case.
October 8, 2001
Supreme Court Judge Jorge Rodriguez ordered preventive detention
of the defendants, upon request from the prosecuting attorneys.
The magistrate resolved that Manuel Contreras could comply
with preventive detenioncumpliera in his home and that Raul
Iturriaga, Pedro Espinoza and Jose Zara Holger would do so
in the Army Telecommunications Command. Jorge Iturriaga was
ordered to enter Santiago's Penitentiary but was permited
an exception due to his poor state of health.
December 14, 2001
Judge Maria Servini de Cubria accepted the petition from the
prosecuting attorneys and requested the removal of immunity
from Augusto Pinochet. However, the petition was never issued
in Chile, prompting the attorneys to request, in April 2002
, that it be sent.
"The Supreme Court's ruling prompted Judge Servini to
sent a writ requesting that Chilean courts issue their opinion
regarding the deprival of immunity. This took too long in
Argentina. The request was made 14 de diciembre de 2001 but
it was not formally received in Chile until May 2002. The
delay greatly affected the case, as in the meantime, the Supreme
Court dismissed Pinochet in the Caravan of Death case for
the Supreme Court finally considered the immunity issue, the
focus of the discussion was whether Pinochet needed to be
deprived of immunity before Judge Servini could be allowed
to question him. Only the Supreme Court's minority opinion
sustained that it was not necessary to deprive him of immunity
prior to questioning."
Supreme Court Auditor Monica Maldonado presented Judge Jorge
Rodriguez her report regarding the extradition request. The
document stated that probable cause existed regarding the
participation of Contreras, Espinoza and Iturriaga in the
crime, sufficient to indict them and seek their extradition.
However, she indicated that even though the condition existed
for extradition, the case should be investigated in Chile
by Judge Juan Guzman, who had under his charge a criminal
complaint for the Prats homicide.
November 8, 2002
The Supreme Court closed any possibility of bringing Augusto
Pinochet to trial either in Chile or in Argentina in the investigation
of the murder of the former Army commander-in-chief, by confirming
the Appeal Court ruling of October 2002 rejecting the petition
to remove immunity, a requisite for indicting Pinochet.
A unanimous ruling from the Supreme Court's Penal Chamber
discarded the possibility of extraditing the former DINA agents
to Buenos Aires. At the same time, in a surprising decision,
the Supreme Court opened a case in Chile against the five
defendants who formed the DINA hierarchy. This will be the
first time that the assassination of former Commander-in chief
Carlos Prats and his wife Sofia Cuthbert is brought to Chilean
courts. Among the reasons the Penal Chamber cited for its
historic decision is the fact that some of the defendants
have been charged in other cases underway in Chile.
"Like the Letelier case, the 1978 amnesty law cannot
be invoked. Likewise, statutes of limitation are not applicable
for these crimes
And the most significant aspect is
that the judges' study on the extradition petition cites that
probable cause exists regarding the participation of the five
defendants in the assassination of General Prats and his wife.
The daughters of the assassinated former General Carlos Prats
and Sofia Cuthbert filed a criminal complaint against the
DINA hierarchy in order to become parties of the case that
will be heard for the first time in Chile.
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