SANTIAGO – One of four former guerrillas who escaped from a Chilean high-security prison in 1996 aboard a helicopter returned to the Andean nation Friday.
“I am very excited, very excited, I really wasn’t expecting this welcome,” Patricio Ortiz Montenegro said after being greeted at Santiago International Airport by supporters and dozens of journalists.
“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 said.
Ortiz was a member of the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front (FPMR), an armed group that fought against the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
He arrived Friday from Switzerland, where he was granted political asylum in 1997.
In December 1996, he was one of the protagonists of a Hollywood-style prison-break in a helicopter with FPMR comrades Mauricio Hernandez Norambuena, Pablo Muñoz Hoffman and Ricardo Palma Salamanca.
Ortiz, a former philosophy student, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing an officer during a March 1991 clash between FPMR fighters and police in a working-class neighborhood of Santiago.
The ex-rebel’s return to Chile is in the framework as “a transitory visit,” according to his lawyer, Alberto Espinoza, who in December persuaded the Supreme Court to grant a request for habeas corpus and revoke a warrant for his client’s arrest.
“He returns in the condition of a free man, with every right to live in his country, and he can enter and leave Chile freely. I can attest that the judicial orders that existed against him have all been left without effect, without any case pending,” the lawyer said.
Reacting to the return of Ortiz, right-wing Sen. Ivan Moreira urged journalists to warn “all Chileans because starting today a terrorist freely walks the streets.”
The Pinochet regime killed more than 3,000 people and tortured upwards of 25,000 others.
The largest of the insurgencies that fought the dictatorship, the Movement of the Revolutionary Left carried out an attempt on Pinochet’s life in 1986.