Former revolutionary militant Patricio Ortiz Montenegro, renowned for a daring prison escape in 1996, has returned to Chile after 23 years in exile.
Patricio Ortiz Montenegro fought against the fascist dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and in 1991 was jailed for 10 years for allegedly killing a policeman. But with three other prisoners he escaped from a high-security prison in a basket suspended from a helicopter. A warrant for his arrest was annulled late last year.
A group of about 50 comrades, friends and relatives greeted Ortiz when he arrived at Santiago International Airport on a flight from Switzerland. Some of them carried the red flags of the revolutionary group Patriotic Front of Manuel Rodriguez (FPMR), of which he was a member.
“I am very excited, very excited, I really wasn’t expecting this welcome,” Montenegro told his comrades. “I return to my country. I return with dignity. I return after 23 years to re-unite with all my comrades. I am part of the resistance in this country,” he added.
Ortiz is expected to stay in Chile for about three weeks before returning to Switzerland, where he has lived for more than 20 years as a political refugee.
He was sent to prison for allegedly killing a police officer, during a period of revolutionary armed struggle against fascism in Santiago. But he and three others escaped in spectacular style when a helicopter hovered over the prison and lowered a basket into which they all jumped.
The Chilean state, committed to continuing the fascist legacy of Pinochet, has previously urged Switzerland to send Ortiz back to serve out the rest of his sentence. However, in December the Chilean Supreme Court accepted an appeal by his lawyers that invalidated his arrest warrant. Last year, Chile pressed France to extradite another of the escaped revolutionaries, Ricardo Palma Salamanca, who was arrested in Paris after 22 years on the run.
An estimated 3,200 people were murdered and 28,000 tortured by agents of the state during General Pinochet’s dictatorship, which ended in 1990. More than 1,000 people are still listed as missing.
Revolutionaries around the world will celebrate the return of Patricio Ortiz Montenegro to his home in Santiago. As an ex-guerrilla, who fought in an armed struggle against fascist forces and escaped from prison, Montenegro has provided an inspiring example for militants around the world.