Alejandrina Cox incident
The Alejandrina Cox incident was a traffic incident involving General Carlos Prats, then Minister of the Interior for President Salvador Allende, that had a big impact on the course of Chilean history and helped launch the Chilean coup of 1973.
At the time of this incident, civil unrest was at its height in Chile, both in favor 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 from many of the cars driving by.
As Prats' car was at a busy intersection in Las Condes, a then-quiet upper-class suburb of Santiago, a small red Renault car placed itself next to the general's and from inside two people (two men as he described them later) started laughing, mocking him and making obscene gestures. The general snapped and asked his driver to hand him his handgun. Then he opened his side window, and pointing at the red car, ordered the driver to stop. Since the other driver ignored him, the general resorted to waving his side arm, demanding an apology at gunpoint. As none was forthcoming, in an enraged and clearly irrational reaction, 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 confuse her with a man. As he was remonstrating Mrs. Cox a crowd started to gather around him openly siding with her. Very soon he was being insulted and jeered and his official car was blocked. A passing taxi driver had to rescue him from further violence, after he had his car graffitied and his tires slashed.
From the scene of the incident, General Prats had himself immediately driven to La Moneda and presented his resignation to President Allende. The president refused to accept it and managed to convince him to stay. Nevertheless, the news of the incident were immediately splashed across the front pages of all the newspapers and the opposition had a field day, accusing him of cowardice and of being mentally unfit to command because of his firing on an unarmed woman. The government press defended him hinting that he had been provoked and that it could have been a failed attempt on his life. The Army general staff backed him, but the controversy surrounding the issue and the underlying problems associated with it did not die down.
The public perception of General Prats as a serious, level-headed bulwark of the so-called Schneider Doctrine - that is, deliberately keeping the army out of civilian affairs - was totally shattered. This single, trivial incident, admittedly bizarre and embarrassing though it might had been for him, had tremendous impact on Chilean history beyond the purely episodic. It made General Prats a laughingstock and seriously weakened him in the eyes of the officer corps of the Chilean Army, of which he was the Commander-in-chief. Prats and Mrs. Cox eventually gave public apologies to each other, but his public position was seriously undermined nonetheless and he only managed to remain in office for less than two months after the incident. During that period he recovered somewhat his public standing with his brave stance during the Tanquetazo, but lost it again after the public protests of the wives of his generals and officers in front of his home on August 22, 1973. His resignation as Army Commander-in-chief removed the last obstacle for the Chilean coup of 1973.
Chilean coup of 1973
Chilean political scandals
MARGARET POWER, Right-Wing Women in Chile, Feminine power and the struggle against Allende, 1964-1973
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