September 11, 1973

PART I. That morning of September 11, 1973. A personal testimony

Marcello Ferrada de Noli – Pinochet's prisoner

A personal testimony on behalf of the City of Noli in Liguria, Italy
Marcello Ferrada de Noli

On occasion of the 100 birthday of the late Chilean President Salvador Allende, the Region of Liguria and the City of Noli organized a commemorative program.  Prof. Alberto Peluffo, Vice Mayor of the City of Noli, Italy, asked me to write a personal testimony on the happenings around Pinochet Coup D’État. This is the English version of the text wich some parts were read by A. Peluffo to the public assisting to the act. Here is also included (Part II) a complementary text, based on my testimony as  Pinochet’s prisoner at the Stadium and the Quiriquina Island camp. The public event in the City of Noli took place in Piazza del Commune the 15th of August 2008.


 Combatants of the leftist organization MIR and from other leftist parties offered active resistance to Pinochet’s army on the 11th of September. However, the resistance to the military takeover was in general sporadic, with low firepower, and did not prevail. In other words it did not occur in the scale expected, or planned. We in MIR were some how psychologically prepared “for the moment to come” and for relevant activities, as we new (and even provided Allende with intelligence on the coup preparation) that the putsch was imminent. But the open direct resistance was crushed very soon, and also due to the brutality of Pinochet forces the core-militants did not succeed to encourage the mobilization of the vast majority of Allende supporters in order to take up the fight together. A third aspect was that Allende himself warned (on the 11 of September) the supporters that have elected him of not taking unnecessary sacrifices.  I was in Concepción at the moment of the coup and at that time with assignment in the Organization detail of the Regional Committee, meaning that my “structure” was of a “central” kind. Three of the five members of the detail were captured. I spent times at different detention centres such as the Stadium, the Navy’s camp of prisoners at Quiriquina Island, the “marines” detention quarters at the Navy base in Talcahuano, and finally back to the Stadium in Concepción.

Many died in these places either under torture or executed by firing squad. For instance, in the photo here below taken at the prisoner camp of Quiriquina Island and published in the front page of the mayor Chilean newspaper “Tercera de La Hora” (6 of October 1973), is mentioned the Intendente of Concepción Fernando Alvarez (head for the Regional government at the moment of the coup), at the centre of the picture. In fact, he died under torture at the camp in Quiriquina Island some days after that picture was taken. I am also depicted in the same photo, up right (signalled by the red arrow). The photo was taken at a visit of the Red Cross International at the camp, and for which I was to be thereafter considered as a “recognized” prisoner instead of risking “hidden” status.

Three factors have contributed to obscure the real magnitude of the resistance on the 11th of September and the days ensued. One is the reluctance of the putsch leaders of acknowledging the true magnitude of their casualties. Doing this would have shown that the resistance was effective and thus motivating its continuation.  A second factor is that the far most of the operations were of clandestine character. Also, due to the fact that all the press, all TV channels and all radio stations were seized the 11th and remained under the direct control of the military (not only by decree, but physically under control) it was not possible either to communicate eventual results of the actions. A third is the “factor seguridad” of the militants and units involved. As cadres become arrested in increasing numbers, the units or combatants acting with own initiative tightened security to keep knowledge of the actions to the absolute minimum, or even unknown. For instance, not even the closest members of our families, spouses, etc. would know or suspect what had really happened. This ignorance would save them too. And that silence continued for the years to come, no matter that many lived then in exile.

However, an unequivocal recognition from the part of the military authorities on that the active resistance in Concepción took place in form of armed attacks is given in the text of the photo published in the front page of la “La Tercera” and showed here above (see translation below).


Translation of the text above, first part:
<< In “Isla Quriquina” have (the military government) concentrated the extremists and the local authorities in Concepción of the past “Marxist” regime. The first ones [the “extremists”] are there because
they have attacked the Armed Forces with firearms >>.

By September 11, 1973, I was 30 years old and working at the University of Concepción, as professor of social psychology methodology. Because I had previously worked in Mexico as invited professor at the University of Nuevo León in Monterrey, I was released from captivity partly after direct demands from Mexican academic scholars and authorities (pressures and solidarity came also from colleagues in Italy and Germany), and partly after demands from my family which had strong tradition among the military. After Quiriquina I was put a few days in house arrest in Concepción, and then taken again to the prison at the Football Stadium, where I had to sign a document committing me of not to speak about the atrocities there or at Quiriquina Island etc. I was not set free in Chile but expelled from the country directly to Mexico from detention, escorted to the airport by the military.

However, I escaped from the flight in Lima (the first stopover in my way to Mexico), an after a few days I changed route, under instructions of my organization, and I went directly to Rome, Italy. The aim was my participation in the Russell Tribunal on the crimes of Pinochet’s junta, which had started in Rome. I was one of the two witnesses at the session of the Russell Tribunal. Thereafter I was invited to work in as member of the scientific committee of the Russell Tribunal, where also participated writer Gabriel García Márquez, Linda Bimbi, and Senator Lelio Basso. After that I was by my organization MIR to Sweden, where my last assignment from MIR’s Comité Exterior was to lead the “Counterintelligence unit”, organized to monitor and counterattack the activities of Pinochet liquidation squads in Northern Europe. I led that activity until June 1977 (I resigned all my activities in MIR in June 1977, during the MIR Conference in Stockholm).

. . .

In these days I become 65 years old (the 25th of July). The main Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN) had recently an article about some of the aspects mentioned above, in a public congratulation for my 65 birthday. The article was authored by DN staff-journalist Per Mortensen and published the 17th of July. The article (click here) is titled “Professor has sailed in dangerous waters”. In the article is also mentioned my Italian bond, Noli, and my Italian ancestors. Also my sailing/navigation along the Swedish coast issue in the article and thus the title and the connection the journalist made at the end of the text with Antonio Noli and Cape Verde. I marked for you in red one text of the article relevant to Allende and your specific question. The translation of the marked text is below the newspaper clip that follows.

 Click to enlarge

“The one who understood in which ethical frame is within, and after that made up his decision,
has thereafter no choice”.
So reasons Marcello Ferrada-Noli, one of the founders of the militant left organization MIR in Chile.
Although a majority democratically elected Allende as their president, which was killed thereafter,
it was only a minority of Chileans which confronted Pinochet with active resistance.
Where the courage to do this does comes from?
Marcello Ferrada-Noli resumes after a long reflection:
–     It is a question of honour to act according one’s conviction, which is not to be confounded with
martyrdom. It is also a question of instinct, an altruistic behaviour such as the person who risks
his/her life in saving the life of another.
–     Perspective must be to see mankind as something bigger than only the ego of our own, and not
like the amoeba, that, in Einstein’s words, experiences the drop of water in which she lives as
being the all universe.
And finally:
–      When there is no other available alternative, the one who fights has nothing to lose but his own oppressed existence”

Part I 

September 11th, 1973

Marcello Ferrada de Noli as Pinochet prisoner 1973In the aftermath of the defeat against the military forces the days after the coup, thousands among combatants, or unarmed civilians, or left politicians & officials in the Allende government were executed or imprisoned. Some died in detention-centers or prisoners camps as consequences of torture. See PART III. My life as Pinochet’s prisoner in Quiriquina Island. In the photo above from the newspaper “El Diario Color”, the captions read: “Marcello Ferrada. Ex-Profesor de Filosofía  de la Universidad de Concepción, with a military hair-cut and thoughtful. He did not approach to the journalists. At his side, others detained in the Island”. Click to enlarge 

It was a very shiny seven o’clock, that morning of September 11th 1973 in Concepción, the largest city of southern Chile. I was then staying at the family country house some 20 kilometres north of the University campus, where not so long ago I had been appointed professor of psychosocial methods. I have come back from México some months before. Going out towards the garage, the meeting of a sunny day made me decide at the last second to ride instead my motorcycle to the job. As it did show, it was a spur-of-the moment decision that most certainly save me from being captured, tortured, and killed that very same day.

Nearly exact three years ago had Allende became the first democratically elected president in the western world. I was then 27 years old and living at that time in London, and I decided to come back immediately to Chile. During those first years, the structural changes made by Allende’s government in favour of the less privileged sectors of society, and that to certain extent were to be financed by the nationalization of the Chilean cooper mining  industry – then exploited by private USA corporations – brought about many powerful enemies to him and his government from both in and outside Chile.

The biggest and most important parties of the centre-left coalition that supported Allende’s government were yet in good faith convinced that the vast popular support to Allende together with the democratic credentials of his government would indeed avert any serious political attempt against the “gobierno popular”. On the other hand, a tiny minority voice within the left ranks, mainly represented by MIR – the revolutionary left movement – was pretty convinced that Allende government was not safe, and that a coup d’état would be imminent. With thesis as point of departure, MIR had instead prompted Allende to secure his support among the masses by deepening the socialist measures in their favour. At the same time, MIR started to do some preparations to resist militarily if necessary, and seriously thought that such resistant could be prosperous when the time would arrive.

The facts probed, fatally, that both theses were equivocate. Pinochet and his generals were not only well militarily prepared but their mission well assisted and even organized with powerful help from abroad, from the land of the foreign owners of the Chilean mines.

In short, using drastic and brutal over violence, Pinochet generals and their allies seized militarily the power that has been denied to them politically by the course of the democratic polls. With all, the most effective tactic of Pinochet operation was the consequent concealing of his purposes to his chief, President Allende, to whom he had swear loyalty until the last moment. Not even MIR, in spite of all the intelligence was able to gather about the coup preparations, was able to predict the very date of the putsch.


September 11th 1973. The presidential palace, with Allende inside, is bombarded from air
by aircrafts based in Concepción.
Photo published in Wikipedia, English version (search: Miguel Enriquez)

Consequently, that morning of the 11th of September, while I was riding my motorbike to Concepción, entering Collao Avenue, I was not aware that Pinochet troops were since earlier setting up checkpoints and stopping every single car or bus going downtown. The military were in search of combat weapons and looking for cars transporting persons whose names were in their arrest-lists. They did let pass through only single walkers, and when it was clear at first sight they could not be wearing combat weapons.

The military and the police forces collaborating with them in the preparation of the military take-over have their lists, exactly like Gestapo. In these lists were all the authorities appointed by the government, all the trade unions leaders (not only of national or regional organizations, but of every single union leader at the working sites) and the leaders of the left political parties and organizations, the academic and intellectuals with left sympathies, the leaders of student organizations, etc.

I dare to say that my odds were not the best. I was at that time member of the leadership of the association of university teachers and workers, which was my public political assignment. Besides, as a young university professor graduated in philosophy and recently having published a book [1] which – although its mainly philosophic content – I had expressly dedicated it to an Indian leader of the agriculture workers (Moises Huentelaf, who fallen death 1972 by the bullets of the powerful landowners of Southern Chile), I was indeed considered by the military among the so called “left intellectuals”. Not to mention I had published articles in the independent leftist magazine “Punto Final”. And “worst” of all, I have been one of the founders of MIR back in October 1965 and also co author, together with long-time friend Miguel Enríquez (MIR’s leader) and his brother Marco Antonio, of the first  “Tesis politico-militar” of MIR approved in the constituent congress [2]. Although no more than eighty people from all along Chile was present at the constituent congress of 1965, at the time of the coup, 1973, MIR had grown to thousands of supporters, and many of them core-militants.  For the first time, I will also acknowledge here that my clandestine political role as MIR militant was member of the Organization Committee of MIR for the Region Concepción.

As I saw increasing checking points I left the motorcycle and continued more discretely per foot towards Concepción. As I was already in the way towards the University I decided to get into the house of Avenue Roosevelt 1674, the residence of Dr. Edgardo Enríquez Frödden (see here) which was then living in Santiago in his condition of Education Minister in Allende’s government. I knew that his son Marco Antonio, one of my closest friends (brother if Miguel Enríquez) was living there. Marco Antonio Enríquez was a scholar from Sorbonne university in Paris which also had come back to Chile. There we were updated of the happenings via the radio. Pinochet coup had started in the Navy base in Valparaiso and coordinated with Army troops in Santiago. They were now moving around the President Palace “La Moneda” in downtown Santiago.

From the Enríquez’s place I called the “central” but it was not operative that early. In the meantime we saw the army trucks, full lasted with soldiers, going in direction to the university campus.  At aproximately10.30 I made finally contact and I was given a “punto” (meeting point) in Concepción downtown, specifically at the exit Maipú Street of Galería Rialto (if I remeber the name well), to receive details of the orders.

At that times MIR had prepared, nation-wide among its core organization, a military-political organization based in the “GPM-structures” (“grupos político-militares”). This means that every single militant, regardless his/her public political commitment, was member of a concrete GPM. These GPMs, also called “structures”, were in turn organised in clandestine military-political cells (“las bases”). In my particular case, being at that time working clandestine at the Organization detail of the Regional Committee, my GPM was the one called “the centralized structure” and my operative cell was the detail itself, integrated at that time by five members (of whom three have survived, all of us living in different countries in Europe).

The main contingency strategy of MIR for the eventuality of a putsch was contained in the nation-wide “Plan militar de emergencia” (PME), according to which every single GPM, and its turn every concrete cell, had a previously assigned geographic area to act upon politically and militarily during the planned resistance.  Up to my knowledge, every single MIR militant have had some military training. Apart of the cells mentioned above, existed at MIR also a few so-called “grupos de fuerza”, integrated with militants with a certain degree of specialization for this kind of resistance task. For instance, during the months prior the coup, the training coaches of MIR ranks used to belong to those structures.  Some of them, also as militants of MIR, had previously served as bodyguards of President Allende. Nearly all of them are now dead.

18th September 1973. Seven days after the coup, Tedeum in the Cathedral of Santiago. Pinochet and his Junta.
Cardinal Silva Enríquez took however a rather distant position towards the Junta.

The organization cell which I belonged to – as I said before pertained to the central structure of MIR in Concepción – had been assigned combat stations precisely in the centre part of Concepción City. This posed a terrible problem for me, personally, since my parents lived in the building of Colo-Colo Street and Avenue San Martín, two blocks from the Concepción “Plaza de Armas” and were the government offices were located. This means also that near my parent’s residence was situated (circa two hundred meters towards the opposite direction) the head quarters of the Military Division of the garrison Concepción are (at O’Higgins Street and Castellón Street)! Also my son and his mother have been sheltered at my parents’ residence; this after my father went to the country side and brought them to “safe”. In fact, Pinochet forces have had – during my absence – a siege to the property at the country   side on the afternoon of September 11th.

The resistance in Concepción, and in Chile as a whole, was not done at the scale that MIR had expected, although numerous combats took place in several sites all over the country. In this fight participated also militants from other political parties of the left.  In Concepción, sporadic skirmishes were reported regarding the nights of the 11th and 12th of September, both in the centre of the city and in some point of its periphery. And this was supposed to be according to the plan.

After 35 years it is not possible to be exact without the documents in hand, but, as I recall in gross terms, the PME had among other items in its strategy these four moments to be implemented: a) MIR cells assigned for combat in down town were not to seize positions or barricade but to develop hit and run operations in multiple targets with the principal focus of distracting Pinochet forces from the combats in the “cordones industrials”. b) These so-called industrial cordons were the regions in the outer perimeter or outskirts of the city where factories were allocated, and also many “poblaciones” – the living areas of that time for the working class and the poor. Here it was previously organized, and predicted, severe resistance to the military forces. c)  The cool mining workers from Lota and Coronel, cities near Concepción, were “expected” to cross Bio-Bio Bridge in a mass march (a political demonstration, not necessarily with arms) towards Concepción and thus reaching first the city’s periphery where the workers would unite with the people in the cordones. d) The battle would continue pushing the military towards the centre parts of the city and were they had their head quarters and also the three regiments were located.

The only aspect I can personally testify is the one related to the night “enfrentamientos” (perhaps more properly referred as sporadic “fire exchange”) from some roofs of buildings in Concepción down town the 11th and 12th of September. They did exist. And I also remember vividly some sounds of explosions and the sound at intervals of automatic fire, heard long away from downtown, during those two days. As a matter of fact, in a visit I made to Concepción in 1984 (my first visit to Chile after my exile in Europe) the impact of bullets were still visible on the walls and stairway of the building were my parents lived, in Colo-Colo St. and San Martín Av., and in the big neighbouring wall of the Hotel Alonso de Ercilla. Most certain are that those marks have survived in one or another fashion under the make up. They were too big and too many to conceal by cosmetics.

On the other developments, I never knew for real what real happened at the “cordones industrials” of Concepción. We heard the automatic fire and some heavy explosions-sounds that came from the city’s outskirts. Mostly the very same day of September 11th. I met some comrades both at the stadium and at Quiriquina Island who were assigned to that front. But one fundamental rule (for one’s survival and the rest’s) is that you never, ever, ask your comrades in captivity on “how did it go” on such matters. On the other hand, I certainly know what happened with the projected march of the mining workers.

According to the information I have, the head of MIR’s Regional Committee in Concepción, which was supposed to have the ultimate responsibility for the political side of the PME would have ordered MIR militants in Lota and Coronel – in spite of the orders contained in the PME – to halt the march towards Concepción. He visited me at my residence in Stockholm in 1980 and after his account of facts I am prone to believe the version I had heard from before that he tried to halt the march in order to avert  the almost certain massacre that  march would eventually end in.  Indirectly, this is a clear acknowledgement for us that the resistance against the deployment of military Pinochet forces in Concepción did not achieve the goals of the PME.

Personally, I was first publicly declared dead at the combats of Concepción, which in the beginning occasioned much problem during my first time in military captivity, as I explain down below (in order to survive torture, it existed the praxis to attribute to the perished combatants the responsibility facts and whereabouts searched by the interrogators). In fact, I continued moving myself in clandestine forms in Concepción, and in regular contact with our operative-liaisons (females all of them. Known as “las compañeras de la central”), until the order of cease operations and “submerge” was given to me by her and as it was contained in a communication from MIR leadership in Santiago to all the GPMs which had survived in Chile.

We could sum up that in that period the armed resistance to Pinochet’s forces was defeated, but not perished.
The year after, being in Rome, I painted the piece “Vinta ma non sconfitta” which also was the motive of
the poster for an art exhibition organized by the publishing house Feltrinelli, here below:

 As MIR cadres were abated and our logistics became more and more precarious I have to mover more and more often between safe houses. MIR transports were in a moment extremely scarce or too risky to use, and I had finally to rely in my family for such transports. “Safe houses” were at the end just places of people around your private life, acquaintances without political bounds, or places dangerous per se. This was the case of the last safe house I could count with, in the northern sector of Concepción, and actually belonging to the maid employed at my parents’ residence. What I did not know it was she had a relationship with a sergeant of the Regiment Chacabuco. I call my father immediately to come and pick me up but the car was detained “for driving after the curfew”. I never knew if it was a set up. My family is indeed right-wing and many were, and in later generations still are, officers in the armed forces or in the Navy. On the other hand this fact contributed that I am still alive.

I was taken first to the Stadium in Concepción. The morning after I was lined with two other prisoners waiting execution – right under the goal frame – by firing squad. One of the fellow prisoners was the former executive director of the state-owned SOCOAGRO in Chillán, and the other was a 16 years old worker from a “cantera” (sort of stone mine) caught with explosives apparently taken from the mine. I was recognised by a petty officer years before serving under my father’s command. I was saved, and it was not going to be the last time. See more details in the text below (Part II) of Anna-Leena Jarva, based on my testimony and other documents.

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