Chile’s ‘most wanted terrorist’ arrested in France after 22 years

Palma Salamanca, key member of the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front, after his arrest in 1996. (Image: La Tercera)

SANTIAGO – Ricardo Palma Salamanca has been arrested in Paris (France), Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz announced on Friday.

The man escaped from a Chilean jail in 1996 while serving his sentence for the murder of Senator Jaime Guzmán (founder of the UDI, conservative right-wing party) in April 1991. Guzmán was also a lawyer, a university professor and a key man in the government of notorious general Augusto Pinochet.

Palma Salamanca was walking on a street in Paris on Thursday when he was arrested by Interpol agents. Barely 48 hours later, he was released although a court in Paris decided to place him “under judicial control,” according to the EFE news agency.

He will have to appear every day in a police station in Paris, the city where he resides according to the information provided by the court.

Muñoz interrupted his vacation on Friday to get in touch with his European counterparts and confirmed on his Twitter that a “high authority of the French Foreign Ministry communicated to us last night detention of Mr. Palma Salamanca (…) awaiting an official confirmatory note from the French Government”.

This official note was referred to by the judge who leads the case, Mario Carroza, to say that there is no officialization of the arrest, but that “we do have some background information that we have collected both from the Foreign Ministry and from other sources.”

In Chile the arrest is taken for granted and Judge Carroza emphasized that the process to bring Palma Salamanca back to the country has been initiated before. In effect, this was requested last December when the fugitive was arrested in the same country and then released due to inconsistencies in his identity control.

“I hope the extradition process is approved and we can bring him,” Carroza said.

Judge Carroza expressed his desire that the extradition process in Palma be approved “immediately” so that he fugitive will serve in a Chilean jail the two life sentences he has pending.

The French justice will study the extradition request of the Chilean government during the month of March.

Palma Salamanca committed the crime on behalf of the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front (FPMR), a paramilitary group that fought against the Pinochet regime and of which he was an important member.

That murder led him to be condemned and imprisoned the following year. But what came next was a cinematic prison escape by helicopter and a flight that lasted for 22 years.

At the time of his escape, Palma Salamanca already served two life sentences (twenty years in prison according to the old legislation), one for the death of Jaime Guzmán and another for the kidnapping of Cristián Edwards, son of the deceased owner of the newspaper El Mercurio, Agustín Edwards, at the age of 33 years and for more than four months.

The news of the arrest was received with satisfaction by the Independent Democratic Union (UDI), the party that defends the legacy of Jaime Guzmán, who is considered the central figure of the guild in Chile. The president of the community, Juan Antonio Coloma, valued the work of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and revealed that during the next week Minister Muñoz will visit France in an agenda that considers intensifying the actions to achieve extradition. “A process is being closed, perhaps the longest in the Chilean justice system, but we hope that justice will be done,” he said.

The deputy Issa Kort, for his part, pointed to Palma Salamanca as “the most wanted terrorist” in the country and said he must appear before Chilean courts.

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Guzmán’s murder and escape

According to the original plan of the FPMR, Palma Salamanca did not have to shoot Guzmán, but accompany Raúl Escobar Poblete alias “Comandante Emilio” as reinforcement.

But Guzmán changed his route when he left the Catholic University and the young people ended up intercepting his car and shooting him, causing death, according to the newspaper La Tercera de Chile.

Palma Salamanca and three other members of the FPMR escaped from the maximum security prison in Santiago de Chile in 1996 by helicopter.

The operation was orchestrated by his friend “Comandante Emilio”, who was detained in Mexico in July of last year, and is considered one of the most spectacular prison escapes in the history of Chile.

On December 30, 1996, a helicopter carrying an armored basket was flying low in the vicinity of a high hecurity prison in Santiago. Palma Salamanca and the other three members of the FMRP got on board.

It is believed that after Chile the fugitives were refugees in Mexico all these years. Last year, after the arrest of Escobar Poblete, Palma Salamanca and his girlfriend Silvia Brzovic Pérez – also a member of the FMRP – fled to Cuba and then to France.

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Brzovic Pérez is still missing since he was not with his partner at the time of the arrest and is accused of participating in the kidnapping of Cristián Edwards.

Raúl Escobar Poblete was captured in central Mexican state of Guanajuato last year.

According the country’s attorney general’s office, Escobar had been living with a false Mexican identity.