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Chilean Carabineros’ Tools of the Trade
By Julio A. Montes

Action started in the wee hours of the morning, with military movements around Santiago, and the Naval Infantry occupying Valparaiso. While the Naval Infantry took positions in the coast, the troops maneuvered around the Palacio de la Moneda in the Capital. Inside the fortified structure, the Carabineer Guard prepared defenses after General José María Sepúlveda, Corps Commander, had pledged his support to the government. As the occupants refused to surrender, the bombardment of the Moneda started mid-morning on September 11, 1973, and ended with the deposing of President Salvador Allende and his party, the leftist Popular Unity Party.

The National Palace, or Palacio de la Moneda, remains as one of the most symbolic places in Chile. Now a museum, the rebuilt Palace sits as a testament of that fateful day, and remains as it was in 1973, surrounded by historical buildings and gardens in downtown Santiago. The landmark is closely watched and secured by the uniformed police special forces. The Chilean gendarmerie – the famously tough and disciplined Carabineers (Carabineros) – maintains a Special Forces Prefecture (Prefectura de Fuerzas Especiales) as part of the Western Metropolitan Police Zone in Santiago. These carabineers, or uniformed police, specialize in crowd control, crowd security, VIP protection, and catastrophe rapid response. Its elements are able to deploy at moment’s notice anywhere in the country, and one of their main tasks is to maintain security and order around the Palacio de la Moneda.

In fact, security inside the symbolic monument is the task of the Palace Guard, a unit of the Carabineers Presidential Security Department – the Chilean version of the U.S. Secret Service. It is tasked with presidential escort, protocol, and installation security and presentation; its missions include security at the Presidential Residence at Cerro Castillo when the president is present, presidential escort, protection for all former-presidents, and any foreign chief of state who visits Chile. The origins of the Presidential Guard are traced to the Santiago Guard, established in 1851 to protect public buildings and the Moneda. By 1908, the task of guarding the palace fell to the Carabineer School Palace Guard jointly with the Army. By 1932, the Palace became the sole responsibility of the recently established Carabineer Corps, a role that has been carried ever since.

On that fateful day of September 11, the main body of the Carabineers had joined the Coup, but inside the Palace, the Carabineer Guard remained loyal and ready to fight back the assault. Eventually, Allende ordered the Guard to stand down to avoid its destruction, but a few Carabineers defended their positions to the bitter end. All and all, the Carabineer leadership became a formal element of the Military Government Junta, headed by General Augusto Pinochet, which ruled the country from 1973 to 1990. Today, Chile is one of the most prosperous countries in South America, with a solid economy, and a well established democracy.

Special Forces and the Palace

The Carabineer Corps is divided into 17 departments, to include maritime and aerial sections, and divided into three main regions: Northern, Central and Southern. It comprises prefectures, sub-prefectures, commissariats, sub-commissariats, lieutenancies, reserves and outpost; in fact, the Carabineers are distributed in zones, 39 districts and 174 commissariats. The zones include: Metro East, Metro West, 1st Zone Tarapacá, 2nd Antofagasta, 3rd Atacama, 4th Coquimbo, 5th Valparaiso, 6th Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins, 7th Maule, 8th Bio-Bio, 9th Araucania, 10th Los Lagos, 11th Aysen and 12th Magallanes.

The Western Metropolitan Zone in Santiago counts with 5 Prefectures. There we find the Special Forces Prefecture, comprising the 28th and 29th SF Commissariats at San Isidro, the 40th SF Commissariat at Cardenal José María Caro, and the 51st SF Mounted Commissariat at Calle Cuadro Verde. The 5th Special Forces Commissariat operates from Concepción in the Bio Bio zone (VIII Region), while the 7th Special Forces Commissariat responds under the Valparaiso Prefecture. Deployed operationally in crowd control duties, the SF Carabineers use a distinctive protective reinforced fiberglass helmet, body armor, gas mask and Tru-flite gas-grenade launcher. The riot police are equipped with foam-padded blocks designed to protect against blows and shields.

These units utilize a large fleet of armored jeeps, armored trucks and buses, and special crowd control armored trucks. Most of the armored jeeps have been built in country using the chassis of the Land Rover. I was able to examine one of the latest armored light vehicles built in Chile by Audiovisuales Federal Signal, which follows the traditional lines of a light utility SUV. It has been equipped with a DOHC V6 engine developing 190hp, matched to a manual transmission. The Carabineros were supplied with some 18 Mowag Roland armored personnel carriers in 1966. These were deployed to fight riots at Villa Francia and La Hermida, Santiago, and more recently have been relocated to the south, in Mapuche. There were three operational variants, with one of them equipped with a turret with a SIG-710 machine gun, but this has since been deleted. The vehicle has interior space for 6 men and an operational weight of 4.7 tons. Its plates provide protection against 7.62mm bullets.

Another interesting vehicle is the Brazilian AM-IV armored jeep, built by Bernardini S/A Industria e Comercio in 1989. It is equipped with a Mercedes Benz OM314 diesel engine developing 94hp, providing for a maximum speed of 140km/h. It weighs 3.37 tons, and has an interior space for a crew of 4. It is equipped with firing ports and 6 smoke/gas dischargers. The Chilean Grisolia y Compañía was established in 1969, and it is the local representative of the U.S. Federal Signal Corporation. Grisolia has produced and supplied several protected models for the Chilean police, and the last model is very similar to the Bernardini model, and it is equipped with a V6 DOHC engine, developing 190hp. IVECO supplied several armored riot control trucks as well. The nickname zorrillos apply to the riot control trucks, with “zorrillo chiquito” being applied to the armored jeeps.

Between 1980 to 1998, Chile acquired considerable police equipment in Europe, adding riot vehicles from several companies: Universal Trading, Mercedes Benz, Compañía Comercial Curacao (Colombia), Armor International Integral Security, Navistar International and Veblinter. Spain provided several riot trucks based on the ENASA Pegaso, and nicknamed Guanaco. The French Camiva, also part of IVECO-Magirus, is said to have supplied a VMOP – riot truck - (vehículo para el mantenimiento del orden público) using a Renault 350 truck chassis, equipped with a 347hp, and capacity for 6500 liters of water, 150 of color markers, and 250 liters of CS gas. It has two high-pressure water cannons that rotate 360 degrees, controlled by remote control. The Carabineers also appear to use some SECPRO 6000, based on a Mercedes Benz 1828 AXOR truck, equipped with a 230hp diesel engine, and equipped with a jet pulse water cannon. The vehicle has a tank for 6,500 liters of water, gas, foam and dye systems.

The Chileans make use of the Riot Control Vehicle model RCU 4500 I, and the RCU 6000 II, both manufactured by the Israeli Beit-Alfa Technologies Ltd. (B.A.T.). Those vehicles in service with Chile appear to have been equipped with the complete ballistic protection. The vehicles are fully protected with foam nozzles at the bottom section from fire, gas nozzles in the outer structure from approaching rioters, on-deck water and foam nozzles to protect against fire, and are equipped with bulldozer blades. In early 2012, the Carabineers announced the acquisition of 6 MB Actros 2041/4x4/K and four 3348K/6x4/3900 armored trucks for crowd control duties.

Recently, the Carabineers have also acquired 73 buses, some of them equipped with protective kits, along with BMW motorcycles, and the models R80 RT, R100 RT, R1100 RT, BMW F-650 GS, and some Kawasaki models.

Chile has a territory of 4,500km (2,795 miles) in length. In order to mobilize and to deploy anywhere, the Aero-police Prefecture operates a fleet of more than 35 aircraft, to include A109, Bk117 and other types of helicopters.

Police Special Operations Group

The Colonial Gendarmes Corps was established in Chile in 1896, followed by the Carabineer Regiment, and the Treasury and Municipal police. The Chilean Carabineros were established on April 27, 1927. The Chilean Carabineers serves warrants to dangerous criminals, bust barricaded drug warehouses, respond to terrorist threats, and performs SAR operations in any terrain using its Special Police Operations Group (GOPE - Grupo de Operaciones Policiales Especiales). The GOPE is called to deactivate explosives, perform search and rescue in the mountains, on water, and in the urban jungle, perform hostage rescue, and respond to antiterrorist operations. These capabilities provide for the motto “all terrain.”

The unit was established on June 7, 1979, and its tasks can be summarized in four areas of operations:
  • Antiterrorist – to include hostage rescue, raids, and operations against drug-traffickers and other dangerous criminals.
  • Ordnance disposal – deactivation of explosives, search of explosives, and after action investigations
  • SAR operations – urban, maritime and mountain rescue, response to contamination and chemical attacks.
  • VIP security – direct, high ground (snipers – counter-sniping teams), reaction (building search and persecution), and vehicle search.

The GOPE receives support from the PAES (Patrullas de Acciones Especiales), and maintains close ties with U.S. counterparts and also with similar units in Japan, France, Colombia and Ecuador. Within the last few years the GOPE has developed a particular cooperation with Company C, 7th Special Operations Group-U.S. Army, with training in boarding and assault techniques, advanced-sniping, and tactical airborne techniques. A team has now been trained in HALO-HAHO skills utilizing MC-4 parachutes, and jumping at 21,500 feet. At least 25 members of the GOPE have attended training with the 16 SOW, plus another 105 members have attended training with the 1/7 SFG.

A GOPE candidate must have served at least 3 years with an excellent record before volunteering to the unit, and before attending a grueling entrance testing. Once accepted, the officer joins a squad of 7 elements, where he will continue his training for another 12 months. Some five teams of 7 men each are ready to deploy at moments notice.

Their equipment includes the Golfo helmet – the name given to the US M85 kevlar type – and the synthetic fiber AMS helmet, similar to the French spectra. The Standard issue rifle is the HK-33, but SIG models are also available as well as Steyr AUG and some M16s. The FAMAE-CZ75 pistol is widely distributed, along with the Mod 92F models, and both guns are built under license by Fábricas y Maestranzas del Ejército (FAMAE), Santiago. The Glock 17 is in use with the Santiago police while the Carabineros and Policía de Investigaciones use the SIG P220 and Ruger-90 as well as those already mentioned. The MP5A3, MP5SD3 and the MP5A5 are the preferred SMGs from the GOPE while the Uzi and Mini-Uzi are also encountered. The Carabineros use the AUG A1 SMG in caliber 9mm, along with the rifle in 5.56mm. The GOPE has some AR-15A1 R613 (M16A1), and the HK33KA4 is the standard rifle. For precision shooting, the Carabineers use the HK 33/SG1. The HK33 was developed in 1985, and is basically a scale-down G3 assault rifle firing the 5.56 x 45mm caliber. The SG1 variant weights 8 lbs., and is a refined and precise variant of the standard rifle. Both the HK53 and the HK33 make use of 25- and 40-round box magazines.

The Ruger Mini-14 is also mentioned along with some AK-47 and SIG SG510-4 (7.62x51mm). For precision work we found the MSG90, the PSG1, the Mauser Model 66SP, and the SIG SSG3000. The shotgun suite includes the SPAS 12 from Luigi Franchi SpA, and the Mossberg Model 500 Cruiser. The only known machine gun in use is the SG710-3, obtained from Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaft (SIG), Neuhausen, Switzerland. The Grenade launchers used are: the FL 37×122mmR, from Federal Laboratories, Inc., Saltsburg, USA, and the Stopper 40×46mmSR from Milkor, Lynn East, South Africa.

Much of the protective gear used by the GOPEs and SF are made of ultra-light molecular weight polythyle (UHMW) fiber such as Spectra-TM, which can be up to 10 times stronger than steel. The material is also fire retardant.

Stable and Prosperous

The U.S. Department of State (DoS) concedes that narcotics-related corruption in Chile among police and officials is not a major problem, and no current senior official has been accused of engaging in the drug trade or profiting from it. In fact, Chile was considered until recently among the top 20 least-corrupt countries in the world. Unfortunately, the information from the DoS indicates that Chile is not immune to the drug problem, and it remains a transit country for cocaine and heroin shipments to the U.S. and Europe. It has also developed a domestic drug consumption market.

Similarly, Chile has not been exempt from terrorist attacks. The main insurgency groups known to have waged a war on the government at one time or another include the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front (FPMR), and the Lautaro Youth Movement (MJT). The Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionario (MIR) has been in the past one of the most violent and it has taken responsibility for various bombings in the country. Chile has also been known – as other Latin American countries – to explode in violent riots. The Carabineros de Chile have primary responsibility for public order and safety, crime control, counter terrorism, drug control and border security, and as such, have primary response duties to all these threats.

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