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Lt. Colonel Roberto Federico Souper Onfray is a Chilean military officer who launched an unsuccessful coup d'état against the Marxist regime of Salvador Allende, surrounding the presidential palace with a tank regiment. 22 civilians were killed during the brief coup attempt, including Leonardo Henrichsen, a Swedish-Argentine news photographer filming the events.
Souper was married to María Eugenia Wilshaw. He attended the Chilean military academy ( "Escuela Militar") following his attendance at the Jesuit-run seconary school, "San Ignacio" in Santiago. After being commissioned as an Army officer he rose through the ranks and served with units including the "Húsares" of Angol, and the "Granaderos" (grenadiers) of Iquique. Souper's family was characterised as being of a "military caste" following the entry of the first Souper on the Chilean historical scene, when colonel Robert Souper Howard (born in Harwich, England) played a prominent role in the War of the Pacific.
The aforementioned attempted coup, known as the Tanquetazo, took place on June 29, 1973 and was widely reported in international wire and news media. At the time, Souper was the commander of the "Regimiento Blindado Nº2" Chilean Army tank force in the Santiago region. Souper's failure is considered significant in that it provided the military with a valuable lesson as to what conditions were necessary for a coup to succeed. Some continue to speculate that the United States government may have sponsored Souper, although most CIA documents covering this subject area have been declassified and no linkage has been uncovered. There is no reliable evidence that the US actively assisted or even approved of Souper's tanquetazo and given the absurdly uncoordinated nature of the event, and the lack of support for it within the rest of the Chilean military, such a connection is considered unlikely. However, there is considerable published information about the Chilean organisation "Patria y Libertad" that did promote the coup attempt and members of that group notoriously took refuge in the embassy of Ecuador when the coup's failure was made clear. Souper's cousin, Carlos Souper Quinteros, along with Roberto's brothers Jaime and Patricio, were active members of "Patria y Libertad."
Souper, detained under the Allende administration and under prosecution for sedition in a military court, was released following the successful coup on 11 September 1973. He then became an agent for the Santiago regional intelligences services (División de Inteligencia Regional de la División de Inteligencia Metropolitana). Declassified CIA documents do not identify American participation in the tanquetazo, but in those materials Souper was named by the CIA as early as August 1971 as one of eight known officers predisposed to oppose the government of Salvador Allende.
In 2001 Souper was a director of the "symbolic" armoured cavalry unit known as "Coronel Santiago Bueras". In 2004 the Chilean newspaper "La Cuarta" identified Souper as a probable participant in the death of Chilean musician and songwriter Victor Jara, according to the finding of special judge Juan Carlos Urrutia.
In 2005 the daughter of the Swedish-Argentine filmmaker, Leonardo Henrichsen, killed near the presidential palace during the "Tanquetazo" in 1973, initiated legal proceedings in Chile against those responsible for the death of her father. The story was carried in the Argentine media.
In 2012 Souper was charged in Chile, along with several others, with the murder of Chilean folk singer Victor Jara in 1973. At the time, Souper was reported to be in a rest home, suffering from Alzeimer's. The 11 October 2013 edition of "Diario UChile" indicated prosecution of Roberto Souper (as an accomplice) and other defendants, for aggravated homicide .
- Some facts on the coup (Spanish)
- Chilean media article on charging military officers in death of Victor Jara (Spanish)
- Dictan procesamientos por homicidios en casos “Víctor Jara” y “Calle Janequeo” (Spanish)