Display Date
September 30, 1974

          Pinochet was paranoid of any attempt to undermine his power. In this context, he knew that General Carlos Prats opposed the 1973 military coup, and that he went into voluntarily exile in Buenos Aires, Argentina as a result of this opposition.[1]Pinochet had Prats watched at all times in order to detect any form of suspicious resistance activity.[2]He ordered this because he saw Prats as a threat with potential influence over certain military officers who may have been dissatisfied with their treatment and conditions under Pinochet’s increasingly totalitarian dictatorship.[3]Some of Prats’ earliest diary entries criticized Pinochet and compared him to the worst dictatorships known in history; he wrote, “We thought we were the most civilised people and today our country is sinking into barbarism.”[4]Once Pinochet discovered that Prats was working on his memoirs about the Allende era, including much criticism of right-wing political and military figures,[5]Pinochet ordered his assassination.[6]

          Missions to carry out assassinations were directly related to DINA (the Chilean secret police) and the southern cone intelligence network, Operation Condor. While the head of DINA, Manuel Contreras, helped arrange the meeting in October 1975 with the southern Latin American countries of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia that officially created Operation Condor, intelligence sharing preceded its official formation. Operation Condor had been created with the primary goal that each nation’s secret intelligence agency would come together to form a union in order to “combat subversion”.[7]General Carlos Prats was on of the first major targets.

          Contreras contracted American expatriate, Michael Townley for the assassination. Born in Iowa and raised in Chile, Townley later lived in an anti-Castro community in Miami, Florida, and was eager to complete the mission.[8] Townley spent three weeks monitoring Prats’ every move, waiting for the right moment to kill him.[9]Prats received a mysterious phone call warning him of the assassination, but he either disregarded it or didn’t take action soon enough.[10] Townley fashioned a remote control bomb, snuck into the parking garage where the Prats lived, and attached the bomb to the underside of Prats’ car.[11] A little past midnight on September 30, 1974, Prats and his wife came back from seeing friends.[12]He opened his car door and the bomb detonated, blasting him into the air and landing thirteen feet away onto the cement; his wife was trapped inside the burning car and was incinerated.[13] The Argentinian government claimed this was the work of a Chilean right or left-wing group, since  Argentinian terrorist groups usually would take credit for their acts of terrorism and Prats was not involved in the Argentinian political scene.[14] After hearing this, Pinochet instinctively denied all responsibility and claimed that it was an anti-Pinochet force trying to discredit the regime.[15] Even the US embassy denied the allegation that Pinochet was behind it, which shows how little they were concerned about Chile’s involvement in international terrorism. U.S. Ambassador, David Popper, feigned confusion as to why a Chilean group might have had a motive to kill General Prats,[16] perhaps for the sake of preserving U.S. influence and intervention in Chile. Nonetheless, Pinochet promised a proper burial with honors; but when the coffin arrived, he took away the honors, and recorded the names and took pictures of everyone who attended the funeral, and declared that the Argentinian government would not be investigating Prats’ murder.[17]


[1]Peter Kornbluh, The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability, (New York: The New Press, 2003), 325.


[3]Ibid, 326.

[4]Hugh O’Shaughnessy, Pinochet: The Politics of Torture, (New York: New York University Press, 2000), 85.

[5]Central Intelligence Agency, “Assassination of General Carlos Prats,” Secret Intelligence Report, October 25, 1974, in the Digital National Security Archive, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/news/19990630/07-01.htm(accessed October 12, 2018), 3.

[6]Kornbluh, The Pinochet File, 326.

[7]Ibid, 323.

[8]O’Shaughnessy, Pinochet, 87.

[9]Kornbluh, The Pinochet File, 326.

[10]Central Intelligence Agency, “Assassination of General Carlos Prats,” 2.

[11]Kornbluh, The Pinochet File, 326.


[13]Ibid, 326-7.

[14]Central Intelligence Agency, “Assassination of General Carlos Prats,” 1-2.

[15]O’Shaughnessy,Pinochet, 88.

[16]Kornbluh, The Pinochet File, 327.

[17]O’Shaughnessy,Pinochet, 88.

Media Caption
Vice President of Chile, General Carlos Prats, (front and center) with Pablo Neruda (front and second to left) at a ceremony in the national stadium
Media Citation
Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional, General Carlos Prats with Pablo Neruda, December 6, 1972, Wikipedia Creative Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Manifestación_a_Pablo_Neruda_(1….

Works Cited:

Central Intelligence Agency. “Assassination of General Carlos Prats.” Secret Intelligence Report. October 25, 1974. In the Digital National Security Archive. https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/news/19990630/07-01.htm(accessed October 12, 2018). 3.

Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability. New York: The New Press, 2003.

O’Shaughnessy, Hugh. Pinochet: The Politics of Torture.New York: New York University Press, 2000.

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