Chile: who’s behind the bombing spree?

Fourteen people were injured, four of them seriously, when a homemade bomb exploded at 2 PM on Sept. 8 in a shopping center restaurant at the busy Escuela Miltar subway station in Santiago, the Chilean capital. In response, President Michelle Bachelet, a Socialist Party of Chile (PS) leader who began her second term on March 11, held a special security meeting in the La Moneda palace on Sept. 9; she called for increased vigilance and for modifications to the Antiterrorist Law, a measure passed during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The bombing came shortly before the 41st anniversary of the Sept. 11, 1973 coup in which Pinochet's military overthrew Socialist president Salvador Allende Gossens.

No group had claimed responsibility for the attack as of Sept. 13. There were reportedly 26 attempted bombings in Chile previously this year, several supposedly by anarchist groups, but only four of the earlier bombs exploded, and none resulted in injuries. The media speculated that anarchist groups were involved in the Sept. 8 attack, and the Canal 13 television station suggested the bombing might be linked to the country's militant student movement. Others suggested involvement by the leftist rebel Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front (FPMR), which carried out an assassination attempt against Pinochet on Sept. 7, 1986, almost exactly 28 years before this year's bombing; five guards were killed, but Pinochet only suffered minor injuries. The group, now demobilized, quickly denied responsibility for the new attack. Rightwing forces "seek through injuring workers and Chileans in general to create political and social conditions to give birth to the reestablishment of security organizations in the style of the military-civilian governments," the FPMR said in a statement. Analysts noted that Chile's left groups had in the past avoided daytime attacks in crowded areas like subway stations and shopping centers.

There was also speculation that President Bachelet's mother, Angela Jeria–the widow of Gen. Alberto Bachelet, who was murdered by the Pinochet regime–might have been the target. She lives in the area near the Escuela Militar station and happened to be in the shopping center at the time of the explosion, accompanied by her usual security team of two carabinero police agents in civilian dress. She was not injured. (Terra Chile, Sept. 8, from AFP; Washington Post, Sept. 9, from AP; La Opinión, Los Angeles, Sept. 9; La Jornada, Mexico, Sept. 10, from correspondent; La República, Peru, Sept. 14)

As has been customary for years, militant protests marked the actual anniversary of the coup on Sept. 11, with burning barricades and vehicles and clashes with police in working-class districts of Santiago, including Villa Francia, Peñalolen, San Bernardo, Quilicura and Cerro Navia. President Bachelet used the occasion to call for a repeal of the Amnesty Law, which shields many abusers from the Pinochet era. "In democracy, Chile has not lost its memory and has not forgotten its persecuted, executed and missing arrested children," she said at a Sept. 11 commemoration. "Neither has [Chile] forgotten the wounds that continue causing pain." In addition to losing her father, Bachelet herself was tortured under the dictatorship. (VICE, Sept. 12)

In related news, Chilean journalist Loreto Daza reported, based on US government documents, that in 1986 the administration of former president Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) feared resistance to the regime in Chile might lead to civil war and considered a plan to remove Pinochet from power and offer him asylum in the US. One document described this as an "honorable departure for President [Pinochet], who would be received as a guest of our government." According to Peter Kornbluh, director of the Chile Documentation Project at the DC-based National Security Archive, Reagan admired Pinochet so much that he "wanted to go to Chile to personally thank him for ‘saving Chile' and tell him that ‘it was time to go.'" Then-secretary of state George Shultz nixed Reagan's idea. (The Guardian, UK, Sept. 11)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, September 14.