Víctor Díaz Caro, the ex-guerrilla who tried to assassinate Pinochet: ‘The tortures I went through are just workplace accidents’

Now a cameraman for Spanish broadcaster TVE having taken refuge in Paris after escaping from prison in 1990, the former Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front fighter tells the story of the attempt on the Chilean dictator’s life

Víctor Díaz Caro Pinochet
Víctor Díaz Caro, TVE cameraman and former guerrilla in Chile, at the Hotel Francisco I in Madrid, September 28.Álvaro García
Diego Stacey

As a cameraman for Spanish state broadcaster TVE in Paris, Víctor Díaz Caro looks at life through a lens. However, 40 years ago, the Chilean he did so through a rifle scope: at the age of 23 he joined the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front (FPMR), a guerrilla organization opposed to the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

He was one among a group tasked with assassinating Pinochet in a mission known as Operation 20th Century. Although the ambush, carried out on September 7, 1986, left five of his bodyguards dead, the dictator suffered only minor injuries. A few weeks after the failed mission, Díaz, now 64, was arrested and tortured. He spent four years in prison until, in 1990, he escaped and fled to France, where he has been living as a political refugee ever since. It was there that he met the journalist Almudena Ariza, who suggested that he tell his story, which has been recounted on the podcast El Guerrillero, produced by Ariza and Spanish podcast producers Yes We Cast.

Question. Was it difficult to tell this story?

Answer. No, not at all. It has never been a secret; people just didn’t ask about it or go any further. Almudena [Ariza] has been the only one to take the initiative. One day I told her why I was there, and the next day she arrived with a tape recorder and we started talking.

Q. What do you think when you hear the name Augusto Pinochet?

A. If you had asked me 30 years ago, I would have said he was a murderous son of a bitch. But today I agree with my mother, who said: “They didn’t kill him for a reason.” Over time, it has been revealed that he was a thief and that his family had links to drug trafficking. If we had met our objective, we would have turned him into a martyr.

Q. What do you remember about the ambush on September 7, 1986?

A. I had to take care of the motorcyclists who were ahead of Pinochet’s motorcade so that they would not escape and raise the alarm in Santiago. Everything happened very quickly: I started shooting when I heard the shooting behind me and I was able to hit one of the motorcyclists. A few minutes later, the group leader caught up with us and euphorically got into the pickup truck I was driving and shouted: “We killed Pinochet!” Those of us who had been at the front of the retinue did not know until later that the dictator’s vehicle managed to escape.

Q. What did you feel?

A. It was going from complete happiness to utter despair. We felt like the weapon of justice of an entire people for a few hours before we knew he was alive. We were waiting for the news to come out on television to be certain, but when [Pinochet] appeared alive around midnight it was a big disappointment.

Q. Your father served as undersecretary general of the Communist Party in the Salvador Allende era. Weren’t you interested in a political career?

A. Politics is complex, but not everything goes. Seeing corruption on the right and on the left takes away one’s desire and strength to follow that path. I preferred to stay as an observer. I served as spokesman for the FPMR and fulfilled my mission, but that’s as far as it went.

We felt like the weapon of justice of an entire people for a few hours before we knew [Pinochet] was alive”

Q. You joined the guerrillas at a very young age. Is there a lack of a revolutionary youth figure?

A. Yes, we need new Ches [Guevara] and Fideles [Castro]. Both had their clear positions, being very young. But it is very difficult to be a leader; you get corrupted very easily.

Q. Is it possible to be a revolutionary in the 21st century?

A. It is not impossible, but you have to have solid weapons. Not necessarily those that fire bullets, but those that generate intellect. You have to read, educate yourself, and be able to fight fake news. Unfortunately, the new generation with their cell phones does not bode well for hope.

Víctor Díaz Caro: "If I had known how the regime killed my father, I would have been more ruthless."
Víctor Díaz Caro: "If I had known how the regime killed my father, I would have been more ruthless."Álvaro García

Q. Do you regret your life as a guerrilla fighter?

A. Maybe the political kidnappings. But the attacks on military barracks and the secret police, no. If I had known how the regime killed my father, I would have been more ruthless. Nor do I suffer from survivor’s syndrome: I have slept well all my life. The tortures I went through, as a brother says, are just workplace accidents.

Q. By “brother” you mean a comrade-in-arms.

A. They are my brothers. That is how it was written in our first manifesto and that is how I have always referred to them. I still talk to some of them: one lives in Tarifa [Spain] and my children call him “uncle many names,” because of all the aliases he had in Chile.

Q. Do you miss Chile?

A. Until the year of the Estallido [social uprising, the revolts of 2019], I had intended to return. However, when I saw how they [the protesters] were treated — two days ago I found out that there are still people in prison — I closed the book on Chile. It gave me enormous sadness. Although I am patriotic, I try not to give my opinion about Chile because my opinion is very bad.

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