THE MATTHEI TO MRS THATCHER MEMORANDUM
March 25, 1999
(Note of José Piñera. This memorandum was written by General Fernando Matthei Aubel, former Chilean Air Force Commander, for Mrs Margaret Thatcher, former UK Prime Minister. I learned about its existence reading Robin Harris's column in the Daily Telegraph entitled "Thatcher always honoured Britain's debt to Pinochet". Today November 24, 2009, I read the interview of General Basilio Lami Dozo, former member of the Argentinian Junta that invaded the Falklands. He reveals that if they had succeeded in keeping the Falklands, afterwards they would have attacked Chile. So I deemed important to contact general Matthei, who gave me permission to publish this Memorandum.)
General Pinochet and the Falklands War.
In the first days of April 1982, shortly after the Argentinean invasion of the Falkland Islands, the Head of Intelligence of the Chilean Air Force relayed to me that a Wing Commander of the Royal Air Force had arrived in Chile with a personal message from the Chief of the Air Staff of the RAF, and requested an urgent interview.
I received him immediately. It was Wing Commander Sidney Edwards, who at once presented his credentials and asked me if I would be inclined to help the British at this hour. The help they were requesting was mainly in matters of intelligence- As they had never considered Argentina a potential enemy, they had not bothered to gather adequate intelligence on them. He also told me that he was empowered to negotiate directly any urgent requests in aeroplanes, spares or other equipment that the Chilean Air Force needed, in order to strengthen our own defences in view of the Argentine menace. He further pointed out that we should bypass diplomatic channels. That neither the British Ambassador in Chile, nor the British Defence Attaché had any knowledge of him. I told him that before promising anything, I had of course to discuss this with General Pinochet, and get his blessing on the whole idea.
I saw General Pinochet, who was not at all surprised at the British request. We carefully analysed the request and its possible consequences. He authorised the operation on the condition that under no circumstances could Chilean territory be used by the British mount any operation against Argentina. General Pinochet also instructed me to keep our own Ministry of Foreign Affairs out of the picture. I would like to point out that there was no other person present at this meeting. Wing Commander Edwards was given a complete briefing on the Argentinean Air Force by our own intelligence team. He was then given free access to our air operation centre in Punta Arenas, where we monitored all Argentinean air force operations through our long-range radar and our ground-based communications equipment. Wing Commander Edwards carried a portable radio with a direct satellite link to the staff of the British Task Force. During April 1982 we worked hand in hand with the British. An RAF Nimrod was flown to Chile to perform an electronic and communications mission for mutual benefit. As it flew strictly over Chilean territory, I considered that we were not violating the land rules laid down by General Pinochet.
The Royal Air Force also shipped six disassembled Hawker Hunter planes to Chile on board a C-130 transport airplane. Other C-130s brought a long range military radar, which we installed following British wishes opposite Comodoro Rivadavia. I would like to mention that the C-130s came via Tahiti and Easter Island, because at the time no other South American country would allow overflight of British military airplanes.
We must not forget that Chile was the only Latin American Country that did NOT back Argentina in this war against Britain, and that the President of Chile at the time was General Augusto Pinochet.
So, when the British Task Force arrived in Southern waters, everything was working smoothly. When the British attacked on May 1st, we were able to provide the Task Force Commander with minute to minute information on the Argentinean reaction. We were able to pick up the Argentinean airplanes as they were taking off, and monitored their flight and communications, as they were transmitting in clear voice. We followed their route as far as 50 miles out to sea. The British Task Force had thus a timely warning of the coming attacks, and was able to prepare its defences and scramble its fighters to intercept.
I was also informed immediately of all the ongoing operations, and was able to follow them in my office. Every important piece of information, I passed on to General Pinochet. He constantly reviewed what we were doing, and was highly interested in what was happening. The only snag we ever had was when a British helicopter carrying commandos force-landed on Chilean territory a few miles west of Punta Arenas. We had no knowledge of this operation, and as this violated one of the principles we had laid out, we had a very strong argument with Wing Commander Edwards, who promised it would never happen again.
As the wreck of the helicopter burned, everybody in Punta Arenas, and later in Argentina, got wind of the mysterious helicopter. I informed General Pinochet immediately. He then gave the pertinent instructions to deny all Chilean knowledge of this to our own Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and I was given a free hand to help the crew out of Chile.
The crew was ordered through their own radio links to give themselves up at a clearly specified Chilean Air Force facility. We then put them on regular airline flights to the United Kingdom.
At the end, I would like to mention another event of great consequences. At the very end of the Falklands War, on June 8th, two British attack transports, "Sir Gallahad" and "Sir Tristam", were attacked and destroyed by Argentinean fighter bombers with considerable loss of life. That day, after several months of continuous operation, our long-range radar had to be switched off for long-overdue maintenance. The Argentinean forces were then able to achieve a complete surprise attack. One can only speculate how the British Task Force would have fared, without the half-hour warnings on Argentinean air strikes provided by Chilean intelligence.
As a final word, I would like to say that this co-operation has never been mentioned before, and it would have never been mentioned had it not been for the very unjust situation in which General Pinochet finds himself today in Britain. A country he helped in a time of need, and when no other Latin American county was willing to do anything in favour of the United Kingdom.
Fernando Matthei Aubel
Former General and Commander in Chief of the Chilean Air Force