Sixty Meters to Freedom



On January 30, 1990, a group of forty-nine activists imprisoned by the Pinochet dictatorship escaped from the Cárcel Pública in Santiago de Chile. We asked Yasna Mussa to describe this bold historical episode, which occurred just a few weeks before the end of the dictatorial rule in Chile. She wrote the following text after speaking with two of its protagonists: Luis González and Santiago Montenegro.

Mussa Funambulist 4
Luis González in his house in the commune of Lo Espejo, Santiago de Chile. He reviews the files, maps, and documents that he still has about the escape from the Cárcel Pública. / Photo by Yasna Mussa (January 2024).

For Luis “el Chino” González and Santiago Montenegro, the smell of moist dirt reminds them of the tunnel they dug for months to escape from the Public Prison in Santiago de Chile. A smell of fresh, recently turned soil. Dirt that was impregnated on their bodies, their nails, their clothes, and that they had to hide to go unnoticed and to not arouse any suspicion among the prison guards who watched them day and night.

At that time, in 1989, they were held captive in the bowels of a high security prison where many political prisoners of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship were confined.

The memory of that smell is not the only thing that González and Montenegro have in common. That period in prison was also their second incarceration, and both of them were behind bars because of their political ties with the Frente Patriótico Manuel Rodríguez (FPMR), the armed wing of the Communist Party of Chile (PCCh), which in 1983 made the decision to fight back the dictatorship with guns. The name of the organization is a tribute to Manuel Rodríguez Erdoíza, a politician and guerrillero who fought clandestinely for Chilean independence.

With military training and formed in Cuba and some other Latin American countries, the FPMR carried out actions to achieve not only a symbolic impact, but also a concrete one: in 1986 they carried an assassination attempt of the dictator, who managed to survive in an operation that eliminated five of his bodyguards. The results of this attack, which came close to achieving tyrannicide, had direct and dramatic repercussions, specifically for a good part of the active members of the PCCh. The National Information Center (CNI), the dictatorship’s political police and intelligence agency, set the goal of ending the leadership of the FPMR.