Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Asociación Ilícita: los archivos secretos de la dictadura

This book review was first published in Chileno here.

Asociación Ilícita: los archivos secretos de la dictadura
Carlos Dorat & Mauricio Weibel
Ceibo Ediciones, 2012

Through now revealed secret government documents, Asociación Ilícita: los archivos secretos de la dictadura details the extent of the far-reaching reign of terror imposed by Augosto Pinochet's dictatorship. Ramona Wadi reviews.

Re-enacting Chile’s dictatorship history is an arduous task, undoubtedly hindered by Augusto Pinochet’s insistence upon oblivion and legally sanctioned by the enacted impunity laws. Seeking to annihilate memory by imposing a reign of persecution, torture, disappearances and exile, the struggle to delegitimize the leftist struggle degenerated into Pinochet’s obsession to legitimise his dictatorship. Evidence compiled by authors Carlos Dorat and Mauricio Weibel reveals a sinister collaboration extending beyond the secret network Dirección de Intelligencia Nacional (DINA) and later Central Nacional de Información (CNI), involving ministries, embassies, diplomats, the FBI, the Vatican and right wing Latin American governments.

Asociación Ilícita: los archivos secretos de la dictadura (Ceibo Ediciones, 2012) examines documents which for some reason, failed to be destroyed by the CNI in 1988 prior to the transition period. The documents, detailing extensive correspondence on behalf of Pinochet, are mainly attributed to Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, Odlainer Mena, Humberto Gordon and Hugo Salas, proving the extent of collaboration between various governmental and international bodies, as well as incursions to divert civilian attempts to shed light upon Chile’s reality. From El Plan Condor to inscribed orders from Pinochet requesting the detention of socialist opponents, terror and diplomatic strategy comprise the analysis of what the authors term ‘a catalogue of horror and intolerance’.

September 11, 1973 unleashed the neoliberal experiment upon Chile, supported by the US which was, in Kissinger’s words, unwilling ‘to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide from themselves’. Following an initial purging of socialism in Chile, the published documents in this book reveal how political strategy, in collaboration with the Vatican, was aiming to install Pinochet as an icon of freedom and anti-communist struggle. Apart from the well known targeting of Communist Party and Movimiento Izquierda Revolucionario (MIR) militants, the military advocated a complete dismantling of social movements, student organisations and embarked upon restricting the Church’s activities. With regard to the latter, correspondence with the Vatican illustrates the alignment of the church oligarchy with Pinochet’s dictatorship, as opposed to priests working in the country who, contrary to what had occurred in other countries, aligned themselves with the left. While the Vatican urged priests to adhere solely to ceremonial roles, Cardinal Raul Silva Henriquez had abandoned the designated conservative role in favour of exposing dictatorship atrocities through the Vicaria de la Solidaridad. Part of the political strategy against human rights groups was to seek invalidation of exposed atrocities by citing Marxist infiltration.

A brief overview of DINA establishes an ideological framework attributed to Jaime Guzman, who fostered a counterinsurgency programme based upon combating Marxism and seeking the annihilation of social movements from the political scene. As DINA’s power intensified, counterinsurgency became central to the stability of the dictatorship, lending the state a channel through which to intensify diplomatic efforts with other right wing governments and repressive bodies, in order to present a formidable opposition to organisations expressing their outrage at the widespread violence. Documents relating to Operaciones Epsilon reveal that former head of DINA, Manual Contreras, was authorised to give orders to various ministries. An 11 page document relating to the assembly of ‘Comision Interamericana de Derechos Humanos’ sought to ‘neutralise worldwide accusations of human rights violations in Chile’, instead proposing an emphasis of human rights disputes in Vietnam and the Soviet Union, among other countries. The neutralisation of any verbal opposition against the dictatorship was to be met with an open and clandestine psychological campaign, in order to preserve Chile’s ‘image’ from any possible ‘discrediting and spreading of false information’.

The political threat was personified in particular by the clandestine Communist Party and MIR, who waged armed resistance against the dictatorship and suffered great losses due to persecution and disappearances of many militants, including the notorious Operacion Colombo. The book states that, according to research carried out by renowned author Manuel Salazar, Contreras had been compiling information about political leaders of leftist organisations since Salvador Allende’s presidency. Related documents published in this book and stamped as confidential outline the activities of several left wing leaders, including Victor Diaz and Luis Recabarren.

‘The problem of human rights’ constituted a major problem for the dictatorship, as it relentlessly sought to portray any internal or external criticism as tarnishing the image of Chile. Despite the extermination of socialist leaders, subsequent regrouping of MIR, Movimiento de Acción Popular Unitario (MAPU) and other left wing groups gave rise to an initiation of protests against the dictatorship, with people demanding the return of their exiled relatives. Hundreds were massacred by the CNI, as the military was deployed to the streets in an effort to stifle dissent. As the dictatorship faced the most difficult years of its era, Guzman advocated an ideology shifting towards permanent military rule.

The authors describe the oppression as methodical – indeed the documents reveal statistical data of ‘terrorist activity’ and ‘manipulation of conduct’. The constant preoccupation and compilation of data enabled the dictatorship to enact legislation according to the circumstances, in order to ensure a continuation of impunity. A trend of state terrorism is easily gleaned from the documents produced in the book, as well as the analysis provided by the authors. The ‘Caravan of Death’, the ‘Plan Condor’, which was carried out in collaboration with other Latin American countries, ‘Operacion Colombo’ – also known as the Case of the 119, ‘Operacion Epsilon’ and the collaboration with the US regarding ‘the distortion of Chile’s truth in favour of Marxism’ gave rise to the tracking of dissidents' and exiles' activity abroad, in order to prevent the possibility of the formation of a government in exile. Embassies were also authorised to keep copies of any published material relevant to Chile, in particular reports concerning human rights violations. The exercise was described as ‘censorship of negative information’. However, the dictatorship’s targeting of any person suspected of harbouring leftist sentiment, even through association not related to political activity and irrespective of nationality, led to disclosure of torture practices in international media. The case of Sheila Cassidy – a British doctor suspected of having offered medical assistance to Pinochet’s opponents led to international outrage, which in turn the dictatorship tried to stifle by refusing to issue working permits for journalists travelling to Chile in order to report on human rights. State organisations were also forbidden to comment about Chile without prior permission granted through formal official channels. At least 761 journalists were prohibited from reporting about human rights violations in Chile and their details were included in the dictatorship’s archives.

Hostility against the media was enhanced by the fact that culture – an integral part of Allende’s campaign and perhaps synonymous with the nueva canción movement, was not to be stifled. Inti Illimani and Illapu, together with other singers in exile such as Angel Parra, Isabel Parra and Patricio Manns maintained their political stance and disseminated their convictions through music. The literature of Ariel Dorfman and Antonio Skarmeta was banned in Chile, as was the political thought of Eduardo Galeano and Karl Marx.

Perhaps the significance of this book lies in the fact that it is yet another sliver in Chilean memory elucidating the callous ideology behind the committed atrocities. By analysing this archive of documents, Dorat and Weibel have succeeded in reassembling the fragments of the dictatorship, most importantly eliminating the gap between the experienced violations and the dictatorship laws which ravaged the lives of thousands of Chileans.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Former DINA agent Cristian Labbe appointed lecturer of political thought

FotoInstead of facing justice for the atrocities committed during Pinochet's dictatorship, former DINA agent, torture instructor and ex-mayor of Providencia Cristian Labbe has been appointed lecturer of 'Evolution in Political Thought in Chile' at the Santiago Unviersity of Finis Terrae. The university's student federation claimed it was not alerted to Labbe's appointment.

Spontaneous protests eurpted on campus on Labbe's first day at university, with indignation spreading on social media. Tweets exhibiting the hashtag  #EnLasClasesDeLabbé created a parody out of the situation, refusing to wallow in oblivion and constructing a parallel to the colonel's stint in DINA. "Those who copy will be detained for three days." "Physical activity will be conducted in the Estadio Nacional." References to torture, including the parilla, and the omnipresence of DINA were not omitted from tweets. In an interview, Labbe's son declared "It has not been easy for my father to reinvent himself."

Labbe's stint in DINA is highlighted by the following.

Apart from his role in Tejas Verdes, Labbe was also instrumental in instructing and administering torture at Rocas de Santo Domingo, Venda Sexy, Villa Grimaldi and Londres 38. Testimony from torture survivors recall Labbe in his role as torturer, applying electric shocks to detainees.

Labbe was also involved in the repression and murder of fifteen peasants in Valdivia, who are listed as desaparecidos.

Collaborated  with his close friend Miguel Krassnoff  Martchenko and Ingrid Olderock.

Involved in Operacion Colombo, which targeted and annihilated MIR and Communist Party militants. The intention of the dictatorship was to deny these disappearances and attribute their deaths to a fabricated political strife between the socialist factions.

Following the Chilean transition to 'democracy', Labbe held influential positions and benefited from impunity, despite evidence linking him to atrocities committed during Pinochet's reign. As mayor of Providencia, Labbe employed Erasmo Sandoval Arancibia; also known as Pete el Negro, condemned in 2007 of murdering the youngest victim of the dictatorship - a fourteen year old boy who was shot four times and doused with gasoline. Arancibia also formed part of the DINA operation known as Operacion Retiro de Televisores, an encrypted message instructing agents to move the remains of desaparecidos from Cuesta Barriga and dispose of them permanently by incineration or deposed into the sea from helicopters to ensure dispersion.

Reinventing one's self from torture instructor to a 'professor' of political thought is a mere superficial process. If Labbe has encountered any difficulty in his 'reinvention', it would be the futility of reinventing Chilean individual and collective memory which has proved resilient against Pinochet's enforced culture of oblivion.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Torture in Tejas Verdes (1)

According to the Rettig Commission report, the concentration camp 'Tejas Verdes' corresponds to Campamento N2 de prisioneros de la Escuela de Ingenieros Militares 'Tejas Verdes', used as a detention and torture centre from September 11, 1973 until mid 1974. Various socialist adherents detained in Tejas Verdes form part of the detenidos desaparecidos, including Miguel Rivas and Rebeca Espinoza.

Under the command of later DINA chief Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, Tejas Verdes was described by torture survivor Hernan Valdes as a centre of macabre violations. "... all I knew about evil until then was only caricature, only literature. Now evil has lost all moral reference.' (Valdes, 1974).

Former political prisoners and torture survivors cite extreme torture tactics as having been consistently applied to detainees, who were subjected to electric shocks, beatings, mock executions, burning of skin with wax and cigarettes, the pulling of nails, exposure to extreme temperatures, immobilisation, nakedness, sexual violence, deprivation of food and water, forced to eat their excrement and to listen to other detainees being tortured. Medical attention was restricted to checking each detainee's resilience, in order to avoid premature death and allow for other bouts of torture. 

A brief look at some of the DINA agents operating at Tejas Verdes reveals the extent of networking amongst other detention and torture centres.

Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko - later transferred to Londres 38 and Villa Grimaldi, also collaborated with Cuartel Simon Bolivar in the detention and torture of MIR militants.

Marcelo Moren Brito - head of Brigada Caupolican and in charge of Villa Grimaldi, also a participant in the murder of MIR secretary general Miguel Enriquez and accused of participating in the detention and disappearance of MIR militant Alfonso Rene Chanfreau Oyarce.

Ingrid Olderock - notoriously renowned for training dogs to violate women and associated with other torture centres, including Villa Grimaldi and Venda Sexy.

Cristian Labbe - personal friend of Krassnoff and later member of Brigada Halcon, instructor in torture methods and former mayor of Providencia.

Vittorio Orvieto Tiplizky: torture consultant. Referred to as 'el medico torturador'. Associated with Tejas Verdes and Villa Grimaldi.

Pedro Espinoza Bravo: associated with the 'Caravan of Death', torture at Villa Grimaldi, as well as the assassination of Orlando Letelier.

Gerardo Urrich Gonzales: tortured detainees at 'La Torre' in Villa Grimaldi and responsible for the disappearance of Rodolfo Valentin Gonzales Perez.