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Latin America in the 1970s: "Operation Condor", an International Organization for Kidnapping Opponents

Translated Monday 1 January 2007

Under the aegis of the CIA, and with the complicity of several Western countries, the dictatorships of Latin America in the 1970s united their "services" against activists and progressive opponents to military regimes.

In 1975, a meeting in Santiago, Chile, between Manuel Contreras, chief of the political police, the DINA, and representatives of the CIA, provided the official launching of "Operation Condor", a secret operation which all the dictatorships of a continent would join, a real common market of disappearances, as has been proven by documents discovered five years ago in a hanger behind a police station in the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion. This is being confirmed by "declassified" files that the CIA is releasing - at a snail’s pace.

In June 1976, Nixon’s senior advisor, Henry Kissinger and secretary of inter-American affairs, William Rogers, gave the green light to the dictatorship in Buenos Aires to "eliminate subversion within ten months".

The foundations of "Condor" were actually laid before the Pinochet coup d’état in 1973. Under the umbrella of the CIA, with the goal of eradicating "Marxist subversion and terrorist activities", the aim was to eliminate the principal obstacles to the ultraliberal economic policies Washington sought to impose on Latin America.

The first cooperation agreements were signed between the CIA and anti-Castro groups, fascist movements such as the Triple AAA - the Argentinean Anti-communist Alliance, set up by Lopez Rega, advisor to President Isabelle Peron.

From 1976 onwards, the Chilean DINA and its Argentinean counterpart, the SIDE, were its front-line troops. Condor’s first phase was limited to Latin America, but this was followed by a second, in Europe, principally in France, Spain and Portugal, as well as inside the USA itself.

In 1974, the military chief of staff of Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity Government, General Prats, died with his wife in an attack in Buenos Aires. The Argentinean capital would become the scene of the assassinations of the Uruguayan ex-parliamentarians, Zelmar Michelini and Héctor Gutiérrez and the ex-president of Bolivia, Juan José Torres.

In Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Asunción, activists of the Chilean Communist Party and militants MIR were assassinated. The list was long: the Peronista Montoneros, members of the MTO (the "All for the Country Movement"), two Argentinean groups that supported the armed struggle; the Uruguyan Tupamaros were kidnapped and transferred – many later figured among the "disappeared".

In 1976, far from Latin America, in Washington DC, the shadow of Condor led to the assassination of Orlando Letelier, ex-minister in Allende’s government, and his secretary, Ronnie Moffit. The same pattern had been seen in the 1975 attempted assassination by carbombing of the ex-vice-president of Chile, Bernardo Leighton, in Rome. Leighton narrowly escaped with his life. The extreme right-wing group Vanguardia italiana, the Italian branch of Condor, carried out this attempted assassination.

Augusto Pinochet always denied any knowledge about the Condor Operation, which is completely absurd for someone who was bragging of "knowing every leaf that moved in my country". His one-time faithful friend, Manuel Contreras, deceived by the attitude of the dictator at the time of his trial at which he was condemned to seven years in prison for the Letellier assassination, and by the discovery that Pinochet owned secret bank accounts abroad, repeats what everyone knows that "el tata", the "good daddy", was a both a partner in and shared responsibility of the Condor Operation - just General Videla in Argentina was directly overseeing the Condor.

South American groups representing victims and defending human rights have complained that the justice systems of the countries implicated in the Condor Operation have been "extremely slow". Political influence and the omnipresence of the army in the political life of the countries often protects the torturers and murderers from being charged in court. But this is starting to change in the new climate as governments with a new perspective on human rights and justice have been winning elections. In Chile, Judge Guzman started suing some 30 torturers, one being Manuel Contreras, for the disappearance of 20 Chilean victims of the Condor plan.

In Argentina, the military leaders of the 1976 coup d’état, and other high-level figures of the regime, as well as executioners like Alfredo Astiz, who was sentenced in absentia in France for the murder of two nuns, Alice Domont and Leonie Duquet, will now have to answer for their involvement in the Condor Operation.

A first step, in Argentina, was the condemnation of the Chilean, Enrique Arancibia Clavel, for the murder of General Prats and of his wife.

Uruguay just arrested ex-president Bordaberry, his minister of foreign affairs and six military officers, responsible for the disappearance in Argentina in l976 of Uruguayan opponents to the regime.

Nevertheless, in most of those countries, lawsuits launched against the authors of crimes of "lese-humanity" from the 1970s to 1990 have owe more to flaws in the amnesty laws than to a real will of the governments in power, which, on the contrary, wave the flag of "national reconciliation". It is sad to say that two of the pillars of the Condor Operation, Alfredo Stroessner and Augusto Pinochet, never paid for their crimes and died without ever answering charges about the "disappeared" - who continue to haunt the memory of people who had been crushed by fascist brutality.

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