Gustavo Leigh, key leader of 1973 Chilean coup, dies at 79
SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) -- Gustavo Leigh, the former head of the
Chilean Air Force and one of the original members of Chile's four-man
military junta led by strongman Augusto Pinochet, died on
Wednesday. He was 79.
Leigh, who ordered the bombing of the La Moneda presidential palace in
the bloody September 1973 coup that toppled elected socialist president
Salvador Allende, was admitted to the Air Force hospital in the Chilean
capital five days ago.
"We can confirm his death. He died a few moments ago because of a
vascular problem," a spokesman for the Chilean Air Force told Reuters.
Leigh, whose health had been precarious for several years, often had
differences with Pinochet, who was commander-in-chief of the army within
the junta. But both believed the coup that toppled Allende was necessary
because he was leading the country down the road to Marxism.
"The Marxist cancer must be eradicated," was one of Leigh's most famous
phrases in the days following the military takeover, which led to leftist witch
hunts across Chile.
More than 3,000 people died or disappeared in Pinochet's 1973-1990 rule,
most in the early years. Tens of thousands more Chileans fled the country
rather than live under the military.
Pinochet, 83, is facing extradition proceedings in London. He is wanted
Spain on charges of human rights abuses from his 1973-1990 regime.
In 1978, when a plebiscite in favor of the military regime allowed Pinochet
proclaim himself president, Leigh left the junta and became one of Pinochet's
most outspoken foes.
Leigh, who claimed he was in favor of handing back the country to
democratic rule, objected to Pinochet holding onto power. Pinochet
believed Leigh wanted to challenge him to lead the country.
"Pinochet always felt that I was interested in taking over from him, something
that never even entered my mind," Leigh said recently in one of his last
"I was in favor of putting the house in order, sweeping up, giving it a
coat of paint and handing it back over ... calling elections and going home
calmly with a sense of job accomplished. Not carrying on indefinitely," Leigh
But Leigh was not without his enemies outside Chilean military circles.
1990, a leftist rebel group carried out an assassination attempt on Leigh. He
miraculously survived the attack despite being hit by five bullets.
Leigh's death makes Pinochet the only surviving member of the original junta.