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Cablegate: Chile's Police Chief Dies in Helicopter Crash in Panama

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DE RUEHSG #0512/01 1512057
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P 302057Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3336
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEABND/DEA HQS WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
INFO RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 0955
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA 5601
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ MAY BOGOTA 2052
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 0337
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA 0321
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO 3989
RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 3454

UNCLAS SANTIAGO 000512

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

INL FOR CASAS
JUSTICE FOR OIO FUENTES
DEA FOR A, AD, AX, ADX, OC, OCX, OE, OEX, OG, OGX, OGL, OI, OIL, OM,
NC, NCX, NCD, OS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SNAR KCRM PREL PGOV PM CI
SUBJECT: CHILE'S POLICE CHIEF DIES IN HELICOPTER CRASH IN PANAMA

1. (U) Summary: Chile's police chief, Director General Jose
Bernales, his wife and some members of his delegation, died on May
29, when their helicopter crashed into a three-story building in
Panama City. General Bernales and his delegation were attending a
United Nations-sponsored conference on terrorism in Panama City.
Bernales was committed to cooperation with the USG on transnational
crime issues and will be missed, but we expect that cooperation to
survive his tragic demise. End summary.

Helicopter Crash Kills Chilean Police and Panamanians
--------------------------------------------- --------

2. (U) In Panama City on May 29th, 2008, Director General of
Carabineros, Jose A. Bernales (59), his wife Ms. Teresa Bianchini,
Carabinero Lieutenant Colonels Oscar Tapia and Ricardo Orozco,
Captain Mauricio Fuenzalida, and Tapia's wife, Carolina Reyes, died
in a helicopter crash while on an official visit to Panama.
According to Chilean press, after failed attempts to land, the
helicopter crashed into a three-floor department store in the highly
populated Caledonia neighborhood. Panamanian police confirmed the
death of at least four Panamanians at the site of the accident and
many others were rushed to hospitals.

3. (SBU) General Bernales and his delegation were in Panama
attending a UN-sponsored conference on terrorism. The 12-seat
helicopter (UH 1N) was built in 1973 and purchased (for $1) by
former President of Panama Omar Torrijos, father of the current
President Martin Torrijos. The Embassy has heard unconfirmed
reports that the helicopter experienced other mechanical problems
when flying with Panama's Vice President eight weeks ago, and had to
make a hasty, unplanned landing.

4. (U) President Bachelet decreed three days of national mourning
and flags were lowered to half-staff. Bachelet called General
Bernales, who had served as Chile's chief of the police since 2005,
"a great police director, an important support for the GOC on order
and security matters." In November 2007, General Bernales was
selected as the first President of AMERIPOL (Police of the Americas)
by the representatives of the 18 member countries.

Bernales: A Modernizer
----------------------

5. (U) Bernales did much to modernize the Carabineros, leading them
to improve their efforts to target transnational and organized
crime, for example. Under his leadership, the Carabineros
significantly upgraded their airwing and groundfleet capabilities,
personnel protection equipment, and forensic and electronic
surveillance capabilities. Improvements to their investigative
capabilities included an Integrated Automated Fingerprint
Identification System (IAFIS) and the development of an integrated
criminal database. Bernales actively labored to raise the
capabilities of the Carabineros to recognized international
standards, implementing modern concepts such as community policing
and proactive police resource allocation and deployment strategies.

A Friend of the Embassy
-------------------------

6. (U) Bernales was a close contact of the Embassy. The Carabineros
collaborate with various sections within the Mission on law
enforcement and national security issues such as counterterrorism
and transnational criminal activity. Under Bernales' leadership the
Embassy saw an unprecedented level of cooperation with Carabineros
on law enforcement issues. He met frequently with Embassy law
enforcement officials and, on several occasions, with the
Ambassador. Bernales personally sought and realized a formal
agreement of cooperation between the Carabineros and the FBI. A
Carabinero liaison officer works closely with the Regional Security
Office to coordinate security support and Carabineros are posted 24
hours a day at both the Chancery and the Chief of Mission Residence.
In response to demonstrations and security incidents directed at
the Embassy, the Carabinero response has consistently been swift,
professional, and measured. In January 2008, the Carabineros'
anti-narcotics unit (OS-7) requested, for the first time, DEA's
support in efforts to combat the alarming surge in transnational
cocaine trafficking along Chile's northern border with Bolivia. In
early May, OS-7 commanders contacted the Embassy with a request to
obtain DEA-provided training for their investigators.

7. (U) Ambassador Simons has authorized the Embassy to lower its
flag to half-staff in recognition of the national mourning period
for Director General Bernales. He also expressed his condolences in
phone calls to Defense Minister Goni and Interior Minister Perez
Yoma, and is sending a letter to President Bachelet. Senior Embassy
staff attended a May 30 mass at the Carabinero training school, and
the Ambassador will attend the funeral mass currently scheduled for
Sunday, June 1.

8. (U) General Eduardo Gordon will act as the temporary head of the
Carabineros until President Bachelet names a formal successor for
Bernales. Gordon had been a low-profile Carabinero officer until
Bernales appointed him to be his second-in-command in December 2005.
Prior to that appointment he served as the Chief of Carabineros in
Valparaiso.

Comment
-------

9. (SBU) Chileans are in shock at the death of the leader of their
much loved Carabineros. In polls, Chileans regularly rank
Carabineros as the most trusted of public institutions, and the
country is now in mourning. Bernales is famous for bring the
Carabineros and Chilean community together. Though the Embassy has
lost a committed partner in the fight against trasnational crime, we
do not anticipate Bernales' death to result in a deterioration of
daily cooperation. The Embassy has institution-wide relationships
with the Carabineros.
SIMONS

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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