Alejandrina Cox incident
The Alejandrina Cox Incident was a minor traffic incident in Santiago, Chile on 27 June 1973 involving Army General Carlos Prats, then Minister of the Interior and Commander-in-chief of the armed forces for President Salvador Allende, and a civilian woman named Alejandrina Cox.
It is historically significant because, due to this trivial incident, Carlos Prats lost the support of the Chilean military, leading to his eventual resignation and replacement by Augusto Pinochet in August of 1973.
Prats was a well-known adherent of the Schneider Doctrine, and thus opposed to any sort of military intervention in the civilian government of Salvador Allende. Due to this incident, the last senior officer opposed to military intervention in the increasingly polarized and disintegrating political situation of the Allende government was forced out, thus paving the way for an eventual coup d'état on September 11, 1973, exactly one month after he resigned.
At the time of this incident, civil unrest was at its height in Chile, both in favor of and against Salvador Allende's policies. General Carlos Prats, Army Commander-in-chief and Interior minister, was responsible for maintaining order in an increasingly polarized country.
On June 27, 1973, at about 3 PM, General Prats was being driven to his office in his official car. The animus of the people at the time was such that as soon as he was recognized, he was insulted by people in nearby cars.
As Prats' car was at a busy intersection in Las Condes, a then-quiet upper-class suburb of Santiago, a small red Renault car pulled up next to the general and two people (two men as he described them later) inside the car started laughing, mocking him and making obscene gestures. The general asked his driver to hand him his handgun. The minister opened his side window and, pointing at the red car, ordered the driver to stop. Since the other driver ignored him, the general waved his sidearm, demanding an apology at gunpoint. As none was forthcoming, he shot the red car in its left front fender.
Both cars immediately stopped and the drivers came out. At that moment, the general discovered that the other driver was an upper-class housewife named Alejandrina Cox. She wore her hair cut short and that had led him to think she was a man. As he was remonstrating with Mrs. Cox, a crowd started to gather, many of whom sided with the woman. Soon the general was being insulted, and his official car was blocked from moving. A passing taxi driver rescued him from further violence after his car was covered with graffiti and his tires were slashed.
General Prats had the taxi driver take him immediately to La Moneda, where he presented his resignation to President Allende. The president refused to accept it and convinced him to stay in the government. Reports of the incident quickly made headlines across the front pages of all the newspapers. The opposition capitalized on the event, accusing the general of cowardice and of losing his self-control by firing at the vehicle of an unarmed woman. The government press defended him, saying that Prats had been provoked and that the incident could as easily have been a failed attempt on his life. (The incident in fact happened within a block of where General Rene Schneider had been gunned down three years prior.) The Army general staff publicly backed General Prats, but the controversy surrounding the issue, and existing unrest related to social issues, did not die down.
The public perception of General Prats as a serious, level-headed bulwark of the Schneider Doctrine - that is, deliberately keeping the army out of civilian affairs - was totally shattered by this incident. This single incident had an effect on Chilean history beyond the episode. General Prats became a laughing stock and seriously weakened in the eyes of the officer corps of the Chilean Army, of which he was the Commander-in-chief. Prats and Mrs. Cox eventually made public apologies to each other, but his position was seriously undermined. He remained in office for less than two months after the incident. During that period, he recovered his public standing somewhat by his bravery during the Tanquetazo. After the public protests of the wives of his generals and officers in front of his home on August 22, 1973, he lost more support. His resignation as Army Commander-in-chief removed the last obstacle for the Chilean coup of 1973.
- "El ocaso de Prats en el gobierno". Special edition (in Spanish) ("La Segunda" newspaper). September 5, 2003. p. 9.
- Prats' twilight, La Segunda (Spanish)
- MARGARET POWER, "Right-Wing Women in Chile, Feminine power and the struggle against Allende, 1964-1973", Scielo (Spanish)