My worst moment: remember September 11th … 1973

A short story

The morning of 11th September 1973 will remain forever fixed in the memory of Julio Jorquera Muñoz.

Julio was a Graphic1 maintenance fitter at Elecmetal one of the workplaces in the heavy industry sector under the supervision of the government and which was administered by a Workers’ Council. It was also the political centre of Cordón Vicuña Mackenna, an organization which brought together in one group all of the industries of that sector. This was in Santiago, the capital city of Chile.

When he arrived at work that morning the atmosphere was tense. The radios had announced that the Navy had taken the port of Valparaiso and were suppressing industrial centres and workplaces. Julio, a militant in the socialist party and a union leader, was on the director’s committee of Cordón Vicuña Mackenna.

He had good reasons for being worried as he had tried to contact his wife but communications by then were cut.

However, in accordance with emergency plans already in place for this situation, he assumed responsibility and gave instructions to his comrades to be prepared for any contingency.

At 9:00am, Radio Magallanes, the only station still free to broadcast, announced that President Allende had arrived at Government House to confront the military coup. At the same time Julio received a communiqué from the leadership of the socialist party ordering him to organize a patrol of 12 men to go to Government House and join in the defense of the government.

Julio knew all of his comrades well and was aware that they hadn’t had sufficient preparation in the use of their arms but he called a meeting of party militants and read the communiqué to them. Nobody asked questions because everyone knew what they had to do. Julio called for 12 volunteers and twenty hands went up.

Faced with this situation he felt that the fairest thing to do would be to leave it to chance. Cutting up twenty pieces of paper he wrote the word SÍ on twelve of them, NO on eight, folded them over exactly the same and placed them in a hat.

He then explained to his comrades that whoever took out a piece of paper with SÍ written on it would go on the patrol and those who drew a piece saying NO would have to stay behind. He then asked each one to read out loud the word written on their piece of paper.image

This was how he selected the 12 members of the patrol which he was to lead.

The most difficult thing now, considering that all of the streets were being patrolled by the military, was to get to Government House and join the resistance forces. Julio and his comrades discussed different alternatives to avoid the military patrols but none of the ideas seemed safe.

Finally, an electrician, Jose Sanchez, suggested that as Government House was on fire they might use a fire engine to transport the men.

As the fire station was located nearby, his idea was accepted unanimously. But commandeering a fire engine wasn’t going to be easy so Manuel Carrasco, the political leader in their workplace, proposed that the 12 men should present themselves at the fire station with Julio in the lead, identify themselves as members of the secret police and demand that a fire engine be handed over.

It seemed a good idea because at that time Santiago was in chaos and various special forces, some civilian and some in uniform, were at large.

They made their way to the fire station in two black cars with their number plates hidden. Clutching sub-machine guns and pistols they ordered the station chief to hand over the fire engine and uniforms for a special operation. The chief and the firemen on duty at the time didn’t hesitate for a minute in complying and they didn’t ask questions.

Julio Jorquera and his 12 comrades dressed themselves in the firemens’ uniforms, boarded the fire truck and set out for Government House. Traveling at great speed and with the siren blaring nobody stopped them until they reached the perimeter of Government House.

They approached Santa Rosa St. almost reaching Bernado O’Higgins Avenue when they were intercepted by a 20 man patrol armed with sub-machine guns and under the command of a young officer. The militants led by Julio had their weapons ready to confront the military patrol if necessary but the officer only asked them to identify themselves and to explain where they were going. They had false identity papers and had no problem showing them to the officer and explaining that they had been called to a fire at Government House.

The officer, not very convinced with this explanation, tried to contact the fire station but happily for Julio and his comrades communications were cut. So the young officer decided to let them through and even gave them safe passage so that they weren’t stopped by any other patrol.

Years later Julio Jorquera remembers this dramatic experience and tells his children:

‘That was the worst moment of my life. If we had been discovered we would have been shot in the act, those were Pinochet’s orders. And it would have been a useless death because when we reached the place where we thought we were going to find the rest of the resistance there were only soldiers, the whole sector was surrounded by the military.

‘Judging that sooner or later we would be discovered we made our way to the embassy of Argentina which was located on Vicuña Mackenna Avenue and there we asked for political asylum. Since our lives were in danger, the ambassador, a very humane person, took us in and gave us protection. There were people already there, just like us, who had sought asylum.

At the end of December of that year the dictatorship granted permission for our exit from Chile and so we finally arrived in Buenos Aires where we were able to breathe once again the wonderful air of freedom. Thanks to the solidarity of the Argentinean people our lives were saved and this story can be written down and known by everyone.’

Marcial Parada
January 2008

[BushTelegraph Note: Please note that this is a short story. All the characters and events are fictitious.]

Marcial Parada is also the author of Vuelo Lan Chile – the true story of thirty-one families who left their country to escape from injustice and human rights violations suffered under the military dictatorship that ruled Chile.]

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