Human Rights

Patricio Ortiz Montenegro: political refugee or escaped terrorist?

SANTIAGO – Red flags, dozens of people cheering at the gate and numerous journalists: it looked like a movie star arrived when Patricio Ortiz Montenegro landed at the airport of Santiago. But with a prison escape and a murdered police officer on his name, Ortiz is anything but the entertainment star. His return to Chile, after 23 years in exile, has met heavy criticism from Chilean politicians.

The last time Patricio Ortiz Montenegro had touched ground in Chile was when he jumped into the basket hanging under the helicopter that helped him and three fellow inmates escape from a Santiago high-security prison. The former member of the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front (FPMR) guerilla  was serving 20 years in prison for the killing of a police officer.

But December 30, 1996, during yard time, a helicopter landed, shooting at the guards and ensuring that four front men of the leftist guerrilla could board. Apart from Patricio Ortiz, Mauricio Hernández Norambuena, Pablo Muñoz Hoffmann and Ricardo Palma Salamanca managed to escape. They were all convicted for assassinations during or after the military dictatorship.

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Political refugee or terrorist?

One year later, Ortiz arrived in Switzerland, where he was held in prison for one year. Chile demanded his extradition, but without success, mainly due to the lobbying of human rights organizations who considered Ortiz a political refugee.

Now, more than twenty years later, Ortiz has obtained the Swiss nationality and lives with his family in Zürich. Announcing his return to Chile, he stepped on the toes of various right-wing politicians, who still consider Ortiz a terrorist – although the Supreme Court last year suspended the warrant for Ortiz´s arrest.

Ortiz stayed in Switzerland out of fear for being arrested in another country and told press he will only stay in Chile for three weeks. Upon his arrival he told waiting journalists: “I arrive a free man. I return with dignity and I am looking forward to meeting my brothers again. I am part of the resistance in this country.”

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