1973: Charles Horman, American journalist in the Pinochet coup

Add comment September 18th, 2019 Headsman

Horman was interrogated at the military school and then transferred to the national stadium for further questioning. He was ordered shot and killed the evening of September 19. According to [redacted] the authorities at the stadium did not know that Horman was an American … the body was taken from the stadium and left at a location to create the idea that he had been killed in a firefight with the military. However, in the confused days following the coup, and after it was known that he was an American, the military sought to hide the fact that he was dead.

Declassified informant’s report (pdf) of the death of Charles Horman

On this date in 1973,* American journalist Charles Horman was extrajudicially executed by the Chilean coup junta of Augusto Pinochet.

Horman was a prizewinning U.S. journalist and filmmaker from the heyday of crusading, adversarial journalism: stateside, he’d made a documentary about napalm use in Vietnam and protested that war at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago.

With his wife Joyce, Horman had been living in the Chile of socialist president Salvador Allende since the spring of 1972, reporting freelance while working as a screenwriter. He was right there in the capital on September 11, 1973, to see Allende’s vision ground under tank treads when the Chilean military with U.S. support overthrew the elected civilian government and initiated a litany of horrors.

One of the most emblematic atrocities of Pinochet in his earliest hours was his regime’s commandeering the Santiago football stadium as a makeshift concentration camp for leftists whose blood would desecrate the facility’s recreational purpose.**

The putschists did not fear to extend their terror to subversive Yanks like Horman and (a few days after him) a fellow-journalist named Frank Teruggi — their murders secretly okayed by Pinochet’s CIA comrades.†

There’s a 1978 book investigating this affair, titled The Execution of Charles Horman; the book, and Horman’s fate, inspired the 1982 Costa-Gavras film Missing.

* There are some citations out there for September 17 (the date of Horman’s arrest) or September 19, and a good many general punts to only “September 1973” for this extrajudicial execution/murder. We’re depending for our part on the firm published findings of Chilean judge Jorge Zepeda:

the following day, September 18, 1973 at around 1:35 p.m., military officials took the remains of an unidentified male to the Servicio Medico Legal [Medical Legal Department], and this individual was later fingerprinted and identified as Charles Edmund Horman Lazar, in accordance with Protocol No. 2663/73; the Medical Legal Department concluded that his death had occurred on September 18 at approximately 9:45 a.m. The corresponding death certificate was issued on October 4, 1973 by Doctor Ezequiel Jimenez Ferry of the aforementioned Department.

** In November 1973, the Soviet Union honorably refused to set boots on this boneyard to contest a World Cup playoff and was disqualified as a result — although not before the hosts were made to take the pitch unopposed in a sham “match”.

Thanks to Chile’s consequent advance to the 1974 tourney, a Chilean player holds the distinction of being the first footballer red-carded at the World Cup finals.

† Post-Pinochet Chile unsuccessfully sought the extradition of the former American military mission commander for permitting these murders, when he as the delegate of the coup’s sponsor-empire presumably would have had the juice to forbid them.

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1973: Five for an Afghanistan coup

Add comment December 25th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1973, the government of Mohammed Daoud Khan — himself freshly installed as the first Afghan president, after deposing his cousin, the king, in a July 1973 coup — had five alleged conspirators executed.

The events of late 1973 are described here:

Radio Kabul announces the discovery of an allegedly Pakistan-backed plot to overthrow the new regime. A number of civilians and high-ranking military personalities are arrested, including former Prime Minister Mohammad Hashim Maiwandwal, who is later reported to have hanged himself on October 1 while awaiting trial. Five defendants are subsequently condemned to death and executed on December 25, while others receive long terms of imprisonment. A second attempted coup is foiled in December. The Kabul press accuses Pakistan of fomenting these conspiracies, but no solid evidence for the accusation is forthcoming. In view of Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto‘s desire for friendly relations with Afghanistan, it seems more likely that the conspiracies were the products of domestic discontent.

Mohammed Daoud Khan was successfully overthrown in 1978 by a Communist … setting in motion the sequence of events that would unleash the bloody Soviet-Afghan War.

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1973: Jose Gregorio Liendo, “Comandante Pepe”

Add comment October 3rd, 2018 Headsman

Comandante Pepe was shot on this date in 1973.

Jose Gregorio Liendo (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish), a onetime agronomy student, had quit his studies years before to join a Marxist guerrilla organization.

From the gorgeous inaccessibility of Chile’s mountainous border with Argentina, the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) launched pinprick-level attacks on the state in the late 1960s and took land reform by the barrel of the gun by seizing farms around Panguipulli for the use of workers.

The quixotic former student turned campesino revolutionary, Liendo became one of MIR’s most visible public faces under the nom de guerre of “Comandante Pepe”, even settling down in the mountains and marrying a local.

In the early 1970s this movement enjoyed the simpatico of the socialist Salvador Allende government. (One of MIR’s co-founders was President Allende’s nephew.)

That moment ended abruptly with the September 11, 1973 coup replacing a socialist administration with a far-right military dictatorship — and the latter immediately began slaughtering leftists.

The MIRistas themselves managed a few small attacks on the Pinochet regime in the weeks following the coup but were speedily overwhelmed. Captured after an attack on a carabineros station, “Pepe” with eleven comrades — a mixture of students and lumber workers — were condemned to immediate execution by a drumhead military tribunal in Valdivia.

“A week later, on October 9, the army executed seventeen more persons in the area,” according to Mark Ensalaco. “They were loggers, farmers, and peasant activists. The following day Helicopter Squadron 3 arrested sixteen employees of the same lumber and forestry complex where Comandante Pepe had worked and agitated. The prisoners were taken to a bridge over the Tolen River and executed.”

There’s a recent historical novel about this legendary character, Lo Llamaban Comandante Pepe (They Called Him Comandante Pepe).

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1973: Lt. Col. Mohamed Amekrane, no asylum

Add comment January 13th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1973, Morocco shot 11 officers for a regicidal mutiny.

Amekrane (left) with the coup’s leading spirit, Mohamed Oufkir

Their deaths were the consequence of the near-miss bid to bring down Morocco’s King Hassan II by bringing down his airplane, a plot to which Lt. Col. Mohamed Amekrane, the commander of the air base that launched fighters against the king’s convoy, was utterly pivotal. It’s no surprise that he’d be in the way of the royal revenge domestically after this incident; more surprising and controversial was the role the British would play in dooming the man.

As he discovered that the king’s passenger plane had somehow escaped the predations of his F-5s, Amekrane (it’s also sometimes spelled Amokrane) alertly requisitioned a helicopter and fled with another officer to British soil at nearby Gibraltar, where they requested asylum on Aug. 16.

This put Westminster in an awkward situation: repatriate the men to sure execution, or give refuge to the would-be assassins of a friendly head of state.* Still more was it a procedural twilight, where the power of bureaucratic discretion prevailed by declaring the form of the law in ambiguous circumstances.

After a flurry of consultations “at ministerial level” that also weighed “the possibility of repercussions with other governments,” (London Times, Aug. 18, 1972) the Heath government classified the fugitives as refugee illegal aliens and repatriated them within days, lamely explaining that Gibraltar, a small place, didn’t have much room for asylum claimants. And once they were fitted with the “illegal alien” hat it was simple: “they were returned to Morocco because that was the place from which they came.” (the Times, Aug. 19) Application, rejection, and deportation all took place within a mere 15 hours, purposefully too fast for anyone to get wind of what was happening or to mobilize resources in support of the Moroccans.

London’s legal chicanery drew a discomfited response from some other elites as well as members of the public or at least those with a propensity towards letters to the editor in the early 1970s. Parliamentarian Ivor Richard fumed that “there was surely no necessity in international law or in humanity deliberately to have sent them back to what appears to be their deaths.”

The Times would editorialize in that same Aug. 19, 1972 edition against the “haste and informality in the procedure which contradict Britain’s long tradition of care in such cases” — noting the irony that

the absence of an extradition treaty [might have been thought] would make it more difficult for the Moroccan authorities to reach out to fugitive offenders on British soil. In fact it has made it easier for them … because of British ministers’ willingness to use the power to deport aliens whose presence is judged undesirable in such a way as to achieve the result of extradition. And the exercise of that power is not subject to the same safeguards.

Amekrane had no safeguards at all once he was back in Moroccan hands. That November, he was condemned to die along with his companion on the Gibraltar caper Lt. Lyazid Midoaui, plus nine other members of the Moroccan Air Force complicit in the coup attempt; the whole batch was executed together on this date at a prison in Kenitra.

But in Britain his case outlived the fusillade. For the overhasty asylum refusal, Amekrane’s widow filed suit against the UK in a European Commission of Human Rights court, eventually winning a £37,500 settlement.

* The relations between the states in question went beyond mere chumminess: Franco’s Spain was maintaining a blockade against Gibraltar, in consequence of which the imperial outpost was heavily supplied by and from Morocco. The men’s lives were sold, so critics carped, for “lettuces.”

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1973: Mimi Wong Weng Siu, jealous hostess

1 comment July 27th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1973, former cabaret star Mimi Wong Weng Siu and her husband Sim Woh Kum were hanged for the murder of Wong’s Japanese lover’s wife.

“Overwhelmed by a consuming jealousy” (her prosecutor’s words) for Hiroshi Watanabe, a land reclamation engineer from Osaka who was in Singapore working to prepare Bedok for development, Wong recruited her estranged husband to help her get rid of the competition. (Sim was just in it for the payment Wong promised him.)

On the evening of January 6, 1968, the two broke into the home when Ayako Watanabe was alone there. Sim threw bleach in the victim’s eyes to incapacitate her, as Wong fatally gashed her neck and abdomen with a small knife.

The resulting 26-day trial riveted Singapore with the risque details of the dance hostess’s adulterous trysts. (And said dance hostess’s two courtroom fainting episodes.) But their manifest guilt plus their confessions — each vainly attempting to blame the other — assured their convictions.

While Sim situates as a side character of little lasting interest, Mimi Wong’s hanging was among the few that would really stick with long-tenured Singapore hangman Darshan Singh.

The title character, if you like, of Alan Shadrake’s Singapore death row critique Once a Jolly Hangman, Singh executed more than 850 people in more than four decades on the job and never wavered in his support for the policies that kept him occupied. Even so, Singh felt compassion for the individual humans he was called upon to kill; he was known to go out of his way to get to know condemned prisoners and to comfort them in their distressing situation.

According to an October 2013 AsiaOne profile, Singh had an unusually close pre-execution relationship with the first woman hanged in the only recently (since 1965) independent Singapore.

In prison, she was a difficult inmate who would at times strip naked and refuse to put on her clothes even when ordered by prison guards. She even threw urine at the wardens, said Madam Jeleha.

“Darshan was the only one who could control her. He would say ‘Mimi, wear the blanket and cover yourself. Don’t do this or you won’t be beautiful any more’, and she would listen to him,” Madam Jeleha said.

The two forged an unlikely friendship and other prison officers even joked that Wong was his girlfriend. Mr Singh never minded.

Before her execution, Wong told Mr Singh they should be lovers in the next life and she wanted to take him with her.

“After he hanged Mimi Wong, he fell very sick for a month. He was in Toa Payoh Hospital for more than two weeks,” his wife said.

Even when probed, he refused to tell his wife about Wong’s final moments.

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1973: Tom Masaba, Sebastino Namirundu, and 10 other Uganda Fronsana rebels

1 comment February 10th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1973, 12 actual or supposed Ugandan guerrillas opposing the Idi Amin dictatorship were shot in groups of one or two at various places around the country — having been condemned just days before in military trials for terrorism and assassination plots.

The Fronasa rebel movement was a new player on the Uganda political scene, and it drew a ferocious government response. Idi Amin’s regime was reluctant even to dignify its opposition by naming it, but it certainly made no secret about the punishments. “The public are to attend,” said the official announcement, ominously. (London Times, Feb. 8, 1973.)

“The execution by firing squad that has been carried out today is a real lesson to the people of Uganda to know that involvement in guerrilla activities means loss of life,” a military spokesman explained, unnecessarily. (Times, Feb. 12) Just to make sure the public turned up thoroughly for the lesson, the shootings were filmed and televised.

There’s an extensive photographic series of at least one set of executions — that of Tom Mabasa and Sebastino Namirundu in Mbale. It’s viewable here. Per the image captions,

Masaba and Namirundu were interrogated, stripped naked, fitted with short white aprons and tied to their execution posts. Masaba, who was accused of being a terrorist, was reported to have said, “Let those, like me, who are killing innocent people in the country, come out and report to the authorities.”

The book Battles of the Ugandan Resistance contains an account of Namirundu’s capture. According to the author, Namirundu was a mere bystander whe Ugandan troops arrived to his area trying to arrest rebel leader (and present-day Uganda president) Yoweri Museveni. Museveni gave them the slip, but as soldiers rudely searched houses, the teenaged Namirundu made a panicked run to get away from them, which act was taken as self-incrimination and led him to the stake.

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1973: Lim Seng, under Philippines martial law

4 comments January 15th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1973,* under the then-new martial law regime of Philippines strongman Ferdinand Marcos, a 52-year-old Chinese businessman was shot at Fort Bonifacio.**

Lim Seng was a struggling restauranteur in the 1960s when he dove into the heroin business.

He wasn’t struggling much longer.

He quickly became the Walter White of Manila heroin production, exploiting ties to criminal syndicates in the Golden Triangle to churn out (by the early 1970s) 1.2 tons of smack. Ninety percent of it was exported to the United States. (.pdf source on Lim Seng’s criminal career)

The other 10% helped feed a burgeoning heroin addiction among Manila students, leading to a seminal 1972 anti-drug law under which Lim Seng was arrested days after martial law came down that September. He faced a military, rather than a civilian trial.

Naturally quite wealthy from his enterprise, he evidently believed up until the last moments that he could buy his way out of execution. Little did he understand that he had been ticketed to demonstrate the incipient dictatorship’s iron fist: thousands of civilian spectators crowded the ropeline of the rifle range to glimpse the garishly publicized ceremony, while others took in the radio broadcast or news footage.


(via)

Lim Seng was the first person executed by the Marcos regime for drug trafficking.

* Lim Seng was tried in December 1972, and some sources report this as his execution date. Contemporary newspaper accounts unambiguously confirm that the execution took place on January 15, 1973.

** Fort Andres Bonifacio, formerly a base of the U.S. occupation called Fort McKinley, was christened for an executed Filipino patriot.

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1973: 14 during the Caravan of Death

2 comments October 19th, 2011 Headsman

Fourteen early-morning executions in Chile on this date in 1973 heralded the end of one of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship’s most notorious human rights abuses: the Caravan of Death.

For this “caravan” picture not camel-borne spice traders but a helicoptering death squad. In the bloody aftermath of Pinochet’s September 11, 1973 coup against the elected socialist government, the new strongman’s buddy Gen. Sergio Arellano Stark took this evil-omened chopper on a south-to-north tour from prison to prison beginning September 30 — leaving its wares behind at each stop, in the form of spent shells and murdered men.


Arellano and Pinochet were all hugs hours before the caravan departed.

The intended consumer of this murderous spectacle, according to the human rights organization Memoria y Justicia, was as much the military itself as it was the political opposition. “One of the reasons,” said one officer at Arellano’s very first stop,

was to set a drastic precedent in order to terrorize the presumed willingness of the Chilean people to fight back. But without a doubt, it was also intended to instill fear and terror among the commanders. To prevent any military personnel, down to lowest ranking officers, from taking a false step: this could happen to you!

And indeed, several officers were also sacked along the way, a couple even imprisoned and tortured. Their lenient treatment of presumed subversives constituted “failure to fulfill military duties”: one can readily imagine the impression made upon junior officers in Pinochet’s armed forces.

Said subversives had it worst of all, of course.

These were people already in prison, many having voluntarily turned themselves in upon request after the coup; they were drug out of cells in the dark of night and machine-gunned, or worse. Close to 100 defenseless political detainees died this way over a three-week span.

The Caravan reached Antofagasta on October 18, where Gen. Arellano was received by the zone chief Gen. Joaquin Lagos.

Arellano’s unit did its dirty work overnight: the names of its 14 victims on this date’s early hours are recorded here. One was an 18-year-old student, one a 66-year-old “maritime worker”. Several were figures in local government.

Lagos was horrified the next morning when he discovered what his guests had been up to — and he immediately gave Pinochet his resignation.

I felt hurt, powerless and angry [Lagos later said] that a criminal action of this nature that had been committed in my jurisdictional zone and behind my back.

Lagos had the juice to make this sort of gesture without winding up in prison himself: indeed, he gave Pinochet his resignation (and the reason) personally.

Though Lagos has said that Pinochet seemed much more concerned about his (Lagos’s) attitude towards the atrocity than the atrocity itself, he (Lagos) also remembers Pinochet placing a call to Gen. Arellano and, not reaching him, leaving his nomadic deputy a message “not to do anything more.” The Caravan did stop on Oct. 22: maybe, Lagos’s resignation did the trick, at least to the extent one can attribute any cause to the cessation. This outcome will always rate a bullet point on the brief against the “superior orders” defense.

Relatively speaking, these unfortunates are only one puddle of blood among seas from the Pinochet years. Still, the Caravan of Death in particular was (and still is) a focus of the indictments handed down against him after the return of civilian government, thanks in no small part to Gen. Lagos’s willingness to go on the record about it — and as a result, many of the legal maneuvers around Pinochet in the last years of his life, both in Europe and Chile, concerned this horrible affair.

Pinochet finally died in December 2006 while under house arrest for two specific Caravan of Death murders. While alive, however, his legal team predictably attempted to blame local commanders for the Caravan’s atrocities; in response to this gambit, Lagos went public on television with his version (which human rights organizations also tend to credit) — along with horrifying descriptions (Spanish link) of the death squad’s activites that left him too “ashamed” to return the victims’ remains to their loved ones.

They were torn apart. They were no longer human bodies. I wanted to at least put the bodies back together again, to leave them more decent, but you couldn’t.

They cut eyes out with daggers. They broke their jaws and legs

They shot them to pieces, first the legs, then the sexual organs, then the heart, all with machine guns.


From an entire album that Dark Order devoted to the Pinochet dictatorship.

Part of the Themed Set: Illegitimate Power.

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1973: Victor Jara, among thousands in Chile’s September 11

7 comments September 15th, 2008 Headsman

At an unknown time on this evening in 1973, or else the early hours of the following day, Chilean putschists ushering in the Pinochet dictatorship machine-gunned folk singer Victor Jara near the Santiago stadium that today bears his name.

“I don’t see why we need to stand idly by and let a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people,” said Henry Kissinger of Allende’s election. Victor Jara had another idea.

Four days before, Chile’s September 11 had seen General Augusto Pinochet topple the elected leftist government of Salvador Allende, murdering the president in his palace. (Or, go some accounts, Allende committed suicide — “pausing only twice to reload.”)

A long pall of evil settled over the country, with all the accustomed chilling familiars: “disappeared” people, mirrored shades, Jeane Kirkpatrick.

The day after the CIA-backed coup, popular folk singer and activist Victor Jara, a pioneer of the Nueva Cancion (“New Song” movement) then teaching at Santiago’s Technical University, was among thousands of undesirables rounded up and packed off to a makeshift prison camp at the city’s Chile Stadium — a stadium Jara had performed at.*

Left there to the tender mercies of a thuggish Chilean officer, Jara was beaten and tortured over the intervening days — evocative but possibly undependable tradition holds that the guitarist’s hands were cut off, shattered or otherwise destroyed. According to the U.S.-based United States Institute of Peace,

[t]he the last day Víctor Jara was seen alive was September 15. During the afternoon he was taken out of a line of prisoners who were being transferred to the National Stadium. In the early morning of the next day, September 16, shantytown dwellers found his body, along with five others, including that of Littré Quiroga Carvajal, near the Metropolitan Cemetery. As the autopsy report states, Víctor Jara died as a result of multiple bullet wounds (44 entry wounds and 32 exit wounds).

The Commission came to the conviction that he was executed without due process of law by government agents, and hence in violation of his fundamental human rights.

To say the least.

And as the text implies, Jara was only the most recognizable name among unknown hundreds killed as the military cemented its control of the country.

Jara remains larger-than-life martyr figure in Latin America and liberation movements worldwide, but he’s almost unknown north of the Rio Grande. Pinochet was our bastard; in the weird way history writes its own geography, Jara became a political emblem behind the Iron Curtain for the perfidy of the capitalist powers: obscure in Peoria, but a household name in Potsdam, as the credit roll from this 1978 East German film suggests.**

That’s Jara himself on the soundtrack, of course. The pat conclusion for such a figure is that his art is his legacy, and that Jara’s body of work as against Pinochet’s will be a walkover in posterity. Is that enough? Pinochet died in his bed at age 91; earlier this year, the Jara case was closed in underwhelming fashion. Thirty-five years down the road, most authors of Pinochet’s human rights depredations are dead or lost or decrepit. Justice delayed is justice denied.

Victor’s widow, Joan Jara — today director of the Fundacion Victor Jara (it’s a Spanish-only site); you can hear her interviewed on Democracy Now! for the 25th anniversary of her husband’s death in 1998 — managed to leave the country with some of his works.

Her publication of a poem he wrote while imprisoned, an untitled, unfinished work generally known as “Estadio Chile,” made it a signature cry of hope amid desperation. Here it is in the Spanish rough-hewn under the shadow of death; there’s an English translation here.

Somos cinco mil
en esta pequena parte de la ciudad.
Somos cinco mil
¿Cuantos seremos en total
en las ciudades de todo el pais?
Solo aqui, diez mil manos que sembran
y hacen andar las fabricas.

¡Cuanta humanidad
con hambre, frio, panico, dolor
presion moral, terror y locura!

…¡Y Mexico, Cuba y el mundo?
¡Que gritan esta ignomonia!

Somos diez mil manos menos
que no producen.
¿Cuanto somos en toda la Patria?
La sangre del companero Presidente
golpea mas fuerte que bombas y metrallas.
Asi golpeara nuestro puno nuevamente.

¡Canto que mal me sales
cuando tengo que cantar espanto!
Espanto como el que vivo
como el que muero, espanto.

De verme entre tanto y tantos
momentos de infinito
en que el silencio y el grito
son las metas de este canto.
Lo que veo nunca vi,
lo que he sentido y lo que siento
hara brotar el momento…

Whether or not it’s enough, his work is his legacy after all.

* Some 7,000 people were held at Chile Stadium in the days after the coup, most later moved in with other detainees at the larger Estadio Nacional. The USIP excerpt alludes to Jara being pulled out for execution during such a move.

** In a similar vein, Stanford has a small online exhibit of Jara-themed East German propaganda art. Not to be outdone, there’s a Soviet rock opera about Jara, and an asteroid discovered by a Soviet astronomer was named in Jara’s honor within a week of his execution.

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1973: Francisco Caamaño, the Dominican Republic’s would-be Fidel

2 comments February 16th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1973, Col. Francisco Caamano was (perhaps*) captured by forces of the Dominican dictatorship and summarily executed while trying to organize a guerrilla resistance.

Caamano was heir to a long family military tradition; his father had been a Defense Minister for the dictator Rafael Trujillo.

Unsteady governments followed Trujillo’s 1961 assassination. Caamano came to prominence by mounting a 1965 coup against a military junta and in favor of the constitutional regime it had overthrown two years earlier. The coup was an initial success — Caamano was temporarily the de facto head of state — but also triggered an American intervention against the distrusted leftist government.

Caamano licked his wounds in Cuba for a few years before mounting a small landing in early February 1973 with a handful of followers, looking to foment a peasant revolution — a play right out of the Cuban Revolution, but considerably less successful. Harried by the military, the operation was crushed within weeks with only three survivors.

A Spanish-language tribute to Caamano is here. Another more general educational page (also in Spanish) is here.

* This is the guerrillas’ version. The government’s version was that Caamano was killed in battle.

Note: Title corrected.

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