History of Chile POLITICS

29 Years Ago: The Assassination of Jaime Guzmán

On Apr. 1 1991, Senator Jaime Guzmán was traveling to his political headquarters when he was gunned down by two members of the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front. Although his chauffeur quickly drove him to the Military Hospital, he died three hours later. This year marks the 29th anniversary of his assassination, which prompted politicians to hold commemorations throughout the day.

Jaime Guzmán is a controversial figure in Chile’s history. He was a constitutional lawyer and professor who advised Pinochet on economic matters. He was also the founder of UDI and one of the drafters of the 1980 Constitution. Guzmán also served as a senator before he was killed in 1991 by the Frente Patriótico Manuel Rodríguez (“Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front”).

His death impacted the nation due to its violent nature. It also sparked a manhunt for those responsible, that continues to this day. Only Mauricio Hernández Norambuena was directly arrested for the assassination, and he escaped in 1996 and is currently in prison in Brazil on an unrelated kidnapping conviction.

In 2014, Enrique Villanueva Molina was arrested for being the spokesperson of the Frente Patriótico, but was additionally accused of plotting the assassination, and he is currently in prison. The two men directly responsible for the attack, however, Ricardo Palma Salamanca and Raúl Escobar Poblete, are currently living abroad. Salamanca was granted asylum in France, while Poblete is in a Mexican prison on an unrelated kidnapping conviction.

Even though he only lived 44 years, Guzmán’s influence was profound, with UDI being the biggest right-wing party. He also was the mastermind of the current Constitution, and established guildism and neoliberalism, two ideologies that remain prevalent in Chilean society today – but are also highly contested.

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From An Aristocratic Family

Born 1946 into a wealthy family, Guzmán received a stellar education in the best Catholic schools in the country. Due to this religious upbringing, he also became a devout Catholic, even thinking about becoming a priest before deciding on studying law and being admitted to the Catholic University.

At university, he joined various conservative youth groups. By the time he graduated in 1968, Guzmán had founded the Guild Movement of the Chilean Catholic University (which would later become UDI) and had begun to promote his own political ideas which favored the so-called free market and authoritarianism. These ideas flowed from his idolization of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, Nazi political theorist Carl Schmitt, and British-Austrian economist F.A. Hayek.

From 1970 to 1973, he fought the government of Salvador Allende by going on political programs and by being a member of fascist terrorist group Patria y Libertad (“Homeland and Freedom”).

Involvement in the Dictatorship

After the 1973 coup, Guzmán was invited to join the commission created to write a new constitution, where he quickly became the main player, injecting his opinions about abortion, human rights, the death penalty, and the subsidiary state.

As soon as Guzmán completed his work on the commission, he became adviser to Pinochet, influencing the dictatorship’s political actions. During this period, he also became president of UDI and established its bases, among them the idea of social conservatism, defending Pinochet, and neoliberalism.

When democracy returned to Chile, Guzmán ran for senator and won in 1989. His four-year term was cut short by his assassination in 1991. 

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