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Operation Condor (Spanish: Operación Cóndor, also known as Plan Cóndor, Portuguese: Operação Condor) was a campaign of political repression and state terror involving intelligence operations and assassination of opponents, officially implemented in 1975 by the right-wing dictatorships of the Southern Cone of South America. The program was intended to eradicate communist or Soviet influence and ideas, and to suppress active or potential opposition movements against the participating governments.
Due to its clandestine nature, the precise number of deaths directly attributable to Operation Condor is highly disputed. Some estimates are that at least 60,000 deaths can be attributed to Condor, and possibly more. Condor's key members were the governments in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil. The United States government provided technical support and supplied military aid to the participants until at least 1978, and again after Republican Ronald Reagan became President in 1981. Such support was frequently routed through the Central Intelligence Agency. Ecuador and Peru later joined the operation in more peripheral roles. These efforts, such as Operation Charly, supported the local juntas in their anti-communist repression.
Operation Condor, which took place in the context of the Cold War between Western societies and the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc, had the tacit approval of the United States. In 1968, U.S. General Robert W. Porter stated that "in order to facilitate the coordinated employment of internal security forces within and among Latin American countries, we are...endeavoring to foster inter-service and regional cooperation by assisting in the organization of integrated command and control centers; the establishment of common operating procedures; and the conduct of joint and combined training exercises." Condor was part of this effort.
According to American historian Patrice McSherry, based on formerly secret CIA documents from 1976, in the 1960s and early 1970s plans were developed among international security officials at the US Army School of the Americas and the Conference of American Armies to deal with perceived threats in South America from political dissidents. A declassified CIA document dated 23 June 1976, explains that "in early 1974, security officials from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia met in Buenos Aires to prepare coordinated actions against subversive targets." Condor was an operation similar to Operation Gladio, the strategy of tension used in Italy in the 1970s, of which Licio Gelli was a member.
The program was developed following a series of government coup d'etats by military groups, primarily in the 1970s:
According to American author, journalist and educator A. J. Langguth, the organization of the first meetings between Argentinian and Uruguayan security officials, concerning the watching (and subsequent disappearance or assassination) of political refugees in these countries, can be attributed to the CIA, as well as its participation as intermediary in the Argentinian, Uruguayan and Brazilian death squads meetings.
Cooperation among various security services had existed prior to the creation of Operation Condor, with the aim of "eliminating Marxist subversion." During the Conference of American Armies held in Caracas on 3 September 1973, Brazilian General Breno Borges Fortes, head of the Brazilian army, proposed to "extend the exchange of information" between various services in order to "struggle against subversion."
In March 1974, representatives of the police forces of Chile, Uruguay and Bolivia met with Alberto Villar, deputy chief of the Argentine Federal Police and co-founder of the Triple A death squad, to implement cooperation guidelines. Their goal was to destroy the "subversive" threat represented by the presence of thousands of political exiles in Argentina. In August 1974, the corpses of Bolivian refugees were found in garbage dumps in Buenos Aires. In 2007, Patrice McSherry also confirmed the abduction and torture during this period of Chilean and Uruguayan refugees who were living in Buenos Aires, based on newly declassified CIA documents dated June 1976.
On 25 November 1975, leaders of the military intelligence services of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay met with Manuel Contreras, chief of DINA (the Chilean secret police), in Santiago de Chile, officially creating the Plan Condor. According to French journalist Marie-Monique Robin, author of Escadrons de la mort, l'école française (2004, Death Squads, The French School), General Rivero, intelligence officer of the Argentine Armed Forces and former student of the French, developed the concept of Operation Condor.
Based on the governments' perception of threats, officially the targets were armed groups (such as the MIR, the Montoneros or the ERP, the Tupamaros, etc.), but the governments broadened their attacks against all kinds of political opponents, including their families and others, as reported by the Valech Commission. The Argentine "Dirty War", for example, which resulted in approximately 30,000 victims according to most estimates, kidnapped, tortured and killed many trade-unionists, relatives of activists, social activists such as founders of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, nuns, university professors, etc.
From 1976 onwards, the Chilean DINA and its Argentine counterpart, SIDE, were the operation's front-line troops. The infamous "death flights," theorized in Argentina by Luis María Mendía — and previously used during the Algerian War (1954–1962) by French forces — were widely used. Government forces took victims by plane or helicopter out to sea, dropping them to their deaths and planned disappearances. In late 1977, due to unusual storms, numerous corpses washed up on beaches south of Buenos Aires, producing evidence of some of the government's victims. There were also hundreds of cases of babies and children being taken from mothers in prison who had been kidnapped and later disappeared; the children were given in illegal adoptions to military families and associates of the regime.
The dictatorships and their intelligence services were responsible for tens of thousands of killed and missing people in the period between 1975 and 1985. Analyzing the political repression in the region during that decade, Brazilian journalist Nilson Mariano estimates the number of killed and missing people as 2,000 in Paraguay; 3,196 in Chile; 297 in Uruguay; 366 in Brazil; and 30,000 in Argentina.
On 22 December 1992, torture victim Martin Almada and José Fernández, a Paraguayan judge, visited a police station in the Lambaré suburb of Asunción to look for files on a former political prisoner. They found what became known as the "terror archives" (Portuguese: Arquivos do Terror), documenting the fates of thousands of Latin Americans political prisoners, who were secretly kidnapped, tortured and killed by the security services of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. The archive has a total of 60,000 documents, weighing 4 tons and comprising 593,000 microfilmed pages. Southern Cone Operation Condor resulted in up to 50,000 killed; 30,000 "disappeared"; and 400,000 arrested and imprisoned. Some of these countries have relied on evidence in the archives to prosecute former military officers.
According to these archives, other countries, such as Peru, cooperated by providing intelligence information in response to requests from the security services of the Southern Cone nations. While Peru had no representatives at the secret November 1975 meeting in Santiago de Chile, there is evidence of its involvement. For instance, as late as June 1980, Peru was known to have collaborated with Argentine agents of 601 Intelligence Battalion in the kidnapping, torture and "disappearance" of a group of Montoneros living in exile in Lima.
The "terror archives" also revealed a degree of cooperation by Colombia and Venezuela. (For instance, Luis Posada Carriles was probably at the meeting that ordered Orlando Letelier's car bombing). A Colombian paramilitary organization known as Alianza Americana Anticomunista may have cooperated with Operation Condor. Brazil signed the agreement later (June 1976), but refused to engage in actions outside Latin America.
Mexico, together with Costa Rica, Canada, France, the UK, Spain and Sweden received many people fleeing as refugees from the terror regimes. Operation Condor officially ended when Argentina ousted the military dictatorship in 1983 (following its defeat in the Falklands War) and restored democracy.
The Argentine Dirty War was carried out from 1976 to 1983, during the military juntas and around Operation Condor. The Argentine SIDE cooperated with the Chilean DINA in numerous cases of desaparecidos. They assassinated Chilean General Carlos Prats, former Uruguayan MPs Zelmar Michelini and Héctor Gutiérrez Ruiz, as well as the ex-president of Bolivia, Juan José Torres, in Buenos Aires.
The SIDE also assisted Bolivian general Luis Garcia Meza Tejada's Cocaine Coup in Bolivia, with the help of the Italian Gladio operative Stefano Delle Chiaie and Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie (see also Operation Charly). In April 1977, the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, a group of mothers whose children had been disappeared, started demonstrating each Thursday in front of the Casa Rosada on the plaza. They were seeking to learn the location and fates of their children. The disappearance in December 1977 of two French nuns and several founders of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo gained international attention. Their remains were later identified as among those bodies washed up on beaches in December 1977 south of Buenos Aires, victms of death flights. Other Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo continue the struggle for justice to this day (2013).
In 1983 in Argentina, after the restoration of democracy, the government set up the National Commission for Forced Disappearances (CONADEP), led by writer Ernesto Sabato. It took testimony from hundreds of witnesses about victims of the regime and known abuses, documenting hundreds of secret prisons and detention centers, and identifying leaders of torture and death squads. Two years later, the Juicio a las Juntas (Trial of the Juntas) largely succeeded in proving the crimes of the top officers of the various juntas that had formed the self-styled National Reorganization Process. Most of the top officers who were tried were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, including Jorge Rafael Videla, Emilio Eduardo Massera, Roberto Eduardo Viola, Armando Lambruschini, Raúl Agosti, Rubén Graffigna, Leopoldo Galtieri, Jorge Anaya and Basilio Lami Dozo.
Under pressure from the military following these trials, Raúl Alfonsín's government passed two amnesty laws protecting military officers involved in human rights abuses: the 1986 Ley de Punto Final (law of closure) and the 1987 Ley de Obediencia Debida (law of due obedience), ending prosecution of crimes committed during the Dirty War. In 1989–1990, President Carlos Menem pardoned the leaders of the junta who were serving sentences in what he said was an attempt in reconciliation and healing.
In the late 1990s, due to attacks on American nationals in Argentina and revelations about CIA funding of their military after a 1990 explicit Congressional prohibition, US President Bill Clinton ordered the declassification of thousands of State Department documents related to US-Argentine activities, going back to 1954. These revealed US complicity in the Dirty War and Operation Condor.
Following continuous protests by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and other human rights groups, in 2003 the Argentine Congress repealed the amnesty laws. The Argentine Supreme Court under separate review declared them unconstitutional in June 2005. This enabled the government to renew prosecution of crimes committed during the Dirty War.
DINA civil agent Enrique Arancibia Clavel, who was prosecuted in Argentina for crimes against humanity in 2004, was sentenced to life imprisonment for his part in the murder of General Prats. It has been claimed that suspected Italian terrorist Stefano Delle Chiaie was involved in the murder as well. He and fellow extremist Vincenzo Vinciguerra testified in Rome in December 1995 before federal judge María Servini de Cubría that DINA agents Clavel and Michael Townley were directly involved in this assassination. In 2003, Judge Servini de Cubría requested that Mariana Callejas (Michael Townley's wife) and Cristoph Willikie, a retired colonel from the Chilean army, be extradited, as they were accused of also being involved in the murder. Chilean appeals court judge Nibaldo Segura refused extradition in July 2005 on the grounds that they had already been prosecuted in Chile.
On 5 March 2013, twenty-five former high-ranking military officers from Argentina and Uruguay went on trial in Buenos Aires, charged with conspiracy to "kidnap, disappear, torture and kill" 171 political opponents during the 1970s and 1980s. Among the defendants are former Argentine "presidents" Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, from the period of El Proceso. Prosecutors are basing their case in part on U.S. documents declassified in the 1990s and later, and obtained by the non-governmental organization, the National Security Archive, based at George Washington University in Washington, DC.
President Fernando Henrique Cardoso ordered the release of some military files concerning Operation Condor in 2000. That year Italian attorney general Giancarlo Capaldo, who was investigating the "disappearances" of Italian nationals in Latin America, likely due to actions by Argentine, Chilean, Paraguayan and Brazilian military, accused 11 Brazilians of involvement. According to the official statement, the Italian government "could not confirm nor deny that Argentine, Brazilian, Paraguayan and Chilean militaries [military officers] will be submitted to a trial." As of December 2009, nobody in Brazil has been convicted of human rights violations for actions committed under the 21 years of military dictatorship.
The Condor Operation expanded its clandestine repression from Uruguay to Brazil in November 1978, in an event later known as "o Sequestro dos Uruguaios", or "the Kidnapping of the Uruguayans." With the consent of the Brazilian military regime, high officers of the Uruguayan army secretly crossed the border and entered Porto Alegre, capital of the State of Rio Grande do Sul. There they kidnapped Universindo Rodriguez and Lilian Celiberti, an activist Uruguayan couple of the political opposition, along with her two children, Camilo and Francesca, five and three years old.
The illegal operation failed because two Brazilian journalists, reporter Luiz Cláudio Cunha and photographer Joao Baptista Scalco from Veja magazine, had been warned by an anonymous phone call that the Uruguayan couple had been "disappeared." To check on the information, the two journalists went to the given address: an apartment in Porto Alegre. When they arrived, the journalists were at first taken to be other political opposition members by the armed men who had arrested Celiberti, and they were arrested in turn. Universindo Rodriguez and the children had already been clandestinely taken to Uruguay.
When their identities were made clear, the journalists had exposed the secret operation by their presence. It was suspended. The exposure of the operation is believed to have prevented the murder of the couple and their two young children, as the news of the political kidnapping of Uruguayan nationals in Brazil made headlines in the Brazilian press. It became an international scandal. The military governments of both Brazil and Uruguay were embarrassed. A few days later, officials arranged for the Celiberti's children to be taken to their maternal grandparents in Montevideo. After Rodriguez and Celiberti were imprisoned and tortured in Brazil, they were taken to military prisons in Uruguay, and detained for the next five years. When democracy was restored in Uruguay in 1984, the couple was released. They confirmed all the published details of their kidnapping.
In 1980, Brazilian courts convicted two inspectors of DOPS (Department of Political and Social Order, an official police branch in charge of the political repression during the military regime) for having arrested the journalists in Lilian's apartment in Porto Alegre. They were João Augusto da Rosa and Orandir Portassi Lucas. The reporters and the Uruguayans had identified them as taking part in the kidnapping. This event confirmed the direct involvement of the Brazilian government in the Condor Operation. In 1991, Governor Pedro Simon arranged for the state of Rio Grande do Sul to officially recognize the kidnapping of the Uruguayans and gave them financial compensation. The democratic government of President Luis Alberto Lacalle in Uruguay was inspired to do the same a year later.
Police officer Pedro Seelig, the head of the DOPS at the time of the kidnapping, was identified by the Uruguayan couple as the man in charge of the operation in Porto Alegre. When Seelig was prosecuted in Brazil, Universindo and Lílian were still in prison in Uruguay and were prevented from testifying. The Brazilian policeman was acquitted for lack of evidence. Lilian and Universindo's later testimony revealed that four officers of the secret Uruguayan Counter-information Division – two majors and two captains – took part in the operation with the consent of Brazilian authorities. Captain Glauco Yanonne, was personally responsible for torturing Universindo Rodriquez in the DOPS headquarters in Porto Alegre. Although Universindo and Lilian identified the Uruguayan military men who had arrested and tortured them, not one was prosecuted in Montevideo. The Law of Impunity, passed in 1986, provided amnesty to Uruguayan citizens who had committed acts of political repression and human rights abuses under the dictatorship.
Cunha and Scalco were awarded the 1979 Esso Prize, the most important prize of the Brazilian press, for their investigative journalism of the case. Hugo Cores, a former Uruguayan political prisoner, was the one who had called Cunha in warning. In 1993 he said to the Brazilian press in 1993:
"All the Uruguayans kidnapped abroad, around 180 people, are missing to this day. The only ones who managed to survive are Lilian, her children, and Universindo".
After being overthrown, João "Jango" Goulart was the first Brazilian president to die in exile. He died of an alleged heart attack in his sleep in Mercedes, Argentina, on 6 December 1976. Since his body was never submitted to an autopsy, the true cause of his death remains unknown.
On 26 April 2000, former governor of Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sul Leonel Brizola alleged that ex-presidents João Goulart and Juscelino Kubitschek (who died in a car accident) were assassinated as part of Operation Condor. He asked for investigations to be opened into their deaths.
On 27 January 2008, the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo printed a story with a statement from Mario Neira Barreiro, a former intelligence service member under Uruguay's dictatorship. Barreiro said that Goulart was poisoned, confirming Brizola's allegations. Barreiro also said that the order to assassinate Goulart came from Sérgio Paranhos Fleury, head of the Departamento de Ordem Política e Social (Department of Political and Social Order) and the licence to kill came from president Ernesto Geisel. In July 2008, a special commission of the Legislative Assembly of Rio Grande do Sul, Goulart's home state, concluded that "the evidence that Jango was willfully assassinated, with knowledge of the Geisel government, is strong."
In March 2009, the magazine CartaCapital published previously unreleased documents of the National Intelligence Service created by an undercover agent who was present at Jango's properties in Uruguay. This revelation reinforces the theory that the former president was poisoned. The Goulart family has not yet identified who could be the "B Agent," as he is referred in the documents. The agent acted as a close friend to Jango, and described in detail an argument during the former president's 56th birthday party with his son because of a fight between two employees. As a result of the story, the Human Rights Commission of the Chamber of Deputies decided to investigate Jango's death.
Later, CartaCapital published an interview with Jango's widow, Maria Teresa Fontela Goulart, who revealed documents from the Uruguayan government that documented her complaints that her family was being monitored. The Uruguayan government was monitoring Jango's travel, his business, and his political activities. These files were from 1965, a year after the coup in Brazil, and suggest that he could have been deliberately attacked. – say that he could have been the victim of an attack. The Movement for Justice and Human Rights and the President João Goulart Institute have requested a document referring to the Uruguayan Interior Ministry saying that "serious and responsible Brazilian sources" talked about an "alleged plot against the former Brazilian president."
When Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998 in response to Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzón's request for his extradition to Spain, additional information concerning Condor was revealed. One of the lawyers seeking his extradition said there had been an attempt to assassinate Carlos Altamirano, leader of the Chilean Socialist Party. He said that Pinochet met Italian neofascist terrorist Stefano Delle Chiaie during Franco's funeral in Madrid in 1975 and arranged to have Altamirano murdered. But the plan failed.
Chilean judge Juan Guzmán Tapia eventually established a precedent concerning the crime of "permanent kidnapping": since the bodies of victims kidnapped and presumably murdered could not be found, he deemed that the kidnapping was thought to continue, rather than to have occurred so long ago that the perpetrators were protected by an amnesty decreed in 1978 or by the Chilean statute of limitations.
General Carlos Prats and his wife were killed by a car bomb on 30 September 1974, in Buenos Aires, where they lived in exile. The Chilean DINA has been held responsible. In Chile, Judge Alejandro Solís terminated the prosecution of Pinochet in January 2005 after the Chilean Supreme court rejected his demand to revoke Pinochet's immunity from prosecution (as chief of state). The leaders of DINA, including chief Manuel Contreras, ex-chief of operations and retired general Raúl Itturiaga Neuman, his brother Roger Itturiaga, and ex-brigadiers Pedro Espinoza Bravo and José Zara, were charged in Chile with this assassination. DINA agent Enrique Arancibia Clavel has been convicted in Argentina for the murder.
Bernardo Leighton and his wife were severely injured by gunshots on 5 October 1976, while in exile in Rome. According to declassified documents in the National Security Archive and Italian attorney general Giovanni Salvi, who led the prosecution of former DINA head Manuel Contreras, Stefano Delle Chiaie met with Michael Townley and Virgilio Paz Romero in Madrid in 1975 to plan the murder of Bernardo Leighton with the help of Franco's secret police.
Another target was Orlando Letelier, a former minister of the Chilean Allende government. Letelier was appointed the ambassador from Chile to the United States while Salvador Allende was in power. He was one of the first members of Allende's former government to be arrested by the Pinochet regime. However, he was released twelve months later due to pressure from Venezuela and the United States. He was ordered to leave Chile, upon which he moved to Washington D.C. He then spend his time lobbying to Congress and other European governments against Pinochet's regime. For this reason he became the voice of Chile's resistance movement. He then got a job as the Director of Planning and Development at the Institute for Policy Studies. Ronni Moffitt was Letelier's assistant at the Institute. She was 26 and recently married when she died. On September 21, 1976 as Letelier and Moffitt traveled to work with Moffitt's husband Michael, the car they were driving suddenly exploded. Letelier and Moffitt both later died at the hospital, while Ronni's husband Michael survived the blast. Although it was not initially clear who had been responsible for the bombing, Letelier had showed up on DINA's radar since his move to the United States. It is also known that the Chilean government had revoked Letelier's citizenship in only several days before the explosion that killed him. The United States government suspected Colonel Contreras as having a part in the assassination of Letelier and Moffitt, however, he divulged nothing to Harry Kissinger and the CIA. Michael Townley, General Manuel Contreras (former head of the DINA), and Brigadier Pedro Espinoza Bravo (also formerly of DINA), were convicted of the murders. In 1978, Chile agreed to transfer Townley to the U.S. in order to reduce the tension about Letelier's murder. Townley was freed and taken into the US witness protection program. The U.S. is still waiting for Manuel Contreras and Pedro Espinoza to be extradited, on charges of murder.
In December 2004 Francisco Letelier, the son of Orlando Letelier, wrote in an OpEd column in the Los Angeles Times that his father's assassination was part of Operation Condor, which he described as "an intelligence-sharing network used by six South American dictators of that era to eliminate dissidents."
Michael Townley has accused Pinochet of being responsible for Letelier's death. Townley confessed that he had hired five anti-Castro Cuban exiles to booby-trap Letelier's car. According to Jean-Guy Allard, after consultations with the terrorist organization CORU's leadership, including Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, those elected to carry out the murder were Cuban-Americans José Dionisio Suárez, Virgilio Paz Romero, Alvin Ross Díaz, and brothers Guillermo and Ignacio Novo Sampoll. According to the Miami Herald, Luis Posada Carriles was at this meeting, which decided on Letelier's death and also the Cubana Flight 455 bombing.
Operación Silencio (Operation Silence) was a Chilean operation to impede investigations by Chilean judges by removing witnesses from the country. It started about a year before the "terror archives" were found in Paraguay.
In April 1991 Arturo Sanhueza Ross, linked to the murder of MIR leader Jecar Neghme in 1989, left the country. According to the Rettig Report, Jecar Neghme's death had been carried out by Chilean intelligence agents. In September 1991, Carlos Herrera Jiménez, who killed trade-unionist Tucapel Jiménez, left by plane. In October 1991, Eugenio Berríos, a chemist who had worked with DINA agent Michael Townley, was escorted from Chile to Uruguay by Operation Condor agents in order to avoid testifying in the Letelier case. He used Argentinian, Uruguayan, Paraguayan and Brazilian passports, raising concerns that Operation Condor was not dead. Berríos was found dead in El Pinar, near Montevideo (Uruguay), in 1995. His body had been so mutilated to make identification by appearance impossible.
In January 2005, Michael Townley, who now lives in the U.S. under the witness protection program, acknowledged links between Chile, DINA, and the detention and torture center Colonia Dignidad. The center was established in 1961 by Paul Schäfer, who was arrested in March 2005 in Buenos Aires and convicted on charges of child rape. Townley informed Interpol about Colonia Dignidad and the Army's Bacteriological Warfare Laboratory. This last laboratory would have replaced the old DINA laboratory on Via Naranja de lo Curro street, where Townley worked with the chemical assassin Eugenio Berríos. The toxin that allegedly killed Christian-Democrat Eduardo Frei Montalva may have been made in this new lab in Colonia Dignidad, according to the judge investigating the case. In 2013, a Brazilian-Uruguayan-Argentinian collaborative documentary, Dossiê Jango, implicated the same lab in the alleged poisoning of João Goulart, Brazil's deposed president.
In February 2004, reporter John Dinges published The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents. He revealed that Uruguayan military officials threatened to assassinate U.S. Congressman Edward Koch (later Mayor of New York City) in mid-1976. In late July 1976, the CIA station chief in Montevideo had received information about it. Based on learning that the men were drinking at the time, he recommended that the Agency take no action. The Uruguayan officers included Colonel José Fons, who was at the November 1975 secret meeting in Santiago, Chile; and Major José Nino Gavazzo, who headed a team of intelligence officers working in Argentina in 1976 and was responsible for more than 100 Uruguayans' deaths.
Interviewed in the early 21st century by Dinges, Koch said that George H.W. Bush, then CIA director, informed him in October 1976 that "his sponsorship of legislation to cut off U.S. military assistance to Uruguay on human rights grounds had provoked secret police officials to 'put a contract out for you'." In mid-October 1976, Koch wrote to the Justice Department asking for FBI protection, but none was provided. (This was more than two months after the meeting and after Orlando Letelier's murder in Washington.) In late 1976, Colonel Fons and Major Gavazzo were assigned to prominent diplomatic posts in Washington, D.C. The State Department forced the Uruguayan government to withdraw their appointments, with the public explanation that "Fons and Gavazzo could be the objects of unpleasant publicity." Koch only learned about the connections between the threats and the post appointments in 2001.
Edgardo Enríquez, Chilean leader of the MIR, "disappeared" in Argentina, as did MIR leader, Jorge Fuentes. Alexei Jaccard and Ricardo Ramírez were "disappeared," and a support network to the Communist party was dismantled in Argentina in 1977. Cases of repression in the country against German, Spanish, Peruvian, and Jewish people were also reported. The assassinations of former Bolivian president Juan José Torres and former Uruguayan deputies Héctor Gutiérrez and Zelmar Michelini in Buenos Aires in 1976 were also part of Condor. The DINA contacted Croatian terrorists (i.e. Ustashe émigrés and descendants), Italian neofascists and the Shah's SAVAK to locate and assassinate dissidents in exile.
According to reports in 2006, resulting from trials of top officials in Argentina, Operation Condor was at its peak in 1976 when Chilean exiles in Argentina were threatened; many went underground or into exile again in other countries. Chilean General Carlos Prats had been assassinated by DINA in Buenos Aires in 1974, with the help of former CIA agent Michael Townley. Cuban diplomats were assassinated in Buenos Aires in the Automotores Orletti torture center, one of the 300 clandestine prisons of the dictatorship. These centers were managed by the Grupo de Tareas 18, headed by former police officer and intelligence agent Aníbal Gordon, earlier convicted of armed robbery, who reported directly to General Commandant of the SIDE, Otto Paladino.
Automotores Orletti was the main base of foreign intelligence services involved in Operation Condor. José Luis Bertazzo, a survivor of kidnapping and torture who was detained there for two months, identified Chilean, Uruguayan, Paraguayan and Bolivian nationals held as prisoners and who were interrogated by agents from their own countries. The 19-year-old daughter-in-law of poet Juan Gelman was tortured here along with her husband, before being transported to a Montevideo prison. There she delivered a baby which was immediately stolen by Uruguayan military officers and placed for illegal adoption with friends of the regime. Decades later, President Jorge Batlle ordered an investigation and finally, Macarena Gelman was found and recovered her identity.
According to Dinges' book Los años del Cóndor (The Years of the Condor), Chilean MIR prisoners in the Orletti center told José Luis Bertazzo that they had seen two Cuban diplomats, 22-year-old Jesús Cejas Arias and 26-year-old Crescencio Galañega, tortured by Gordon's group. They were interrogated by a man who had travelled from Miami to interrogate them. The Cuban nationals had been responsible for protection of Cuban ambassador to Argentina, Emilio Aragonés. They were kidnapped on 9 August 1976, at the corner of calle Arribeños and Virrey del Pino, by 40 armed SIDE agents, who blocked the street with their Ford Falcons. (These were the car models used by the security forces during the dictatorship.)
According to Dinges, the FBI and the CIA were informed of their arrest. He quotes a cable sent from Buenos Aires by FBI agent Robert Scherrer on 22 September 1976, in which he mentioned that Michael Townley, later convicted for the assassination of former Chilean minister Orlando Letelier in Washington, D.C., had taken part in the interrogations of the two Cubans. On 22 December 1999, the former head of the DINA confirmed to Argentine federal judge María Servini de Cubría in Santiago de Chile that Michael Townley and Cuban Guillermo Novo Sampoll were present in the Orletti center. They had travelled from Chile to Argentina on 11 August 1976 and "cooperated in the torture and assassination of the two Cuban diplomats." Luis Posada Carriles, an anti-Castro Cuban terrorist, boasted in his autobiography, Los Caminos Del Guerrero (The Roads of the Warrior), of the murder of the two young men.
The USA helped the dictatorial anti-communist General Stroessner in many ways like with the U.S. Army officer, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Thierry, who sent to help the local workmen to build a detention and interrogation center named “La Technica.” as part of Operation Condor. La Technica was also a well known torture centre.
Although the United States was not a member of the Condor consortium, documentation shows that the United States provided key organizational, financial and technical assistance to the operation. The US government sponsored and collaborated with DINA and with the other intelligence organizations forming the nucleus of Condor. CIA documents show that the agency had close contact with members of the Chilean secret police, DINA, and its chief Manuel Contreras. Contreras was retained as a paid CIA contact until 1977, even as his involvement in the Letelier-Moffit assassination was being revealed.
The Paraguayan Archives include official requests to track suspects to and from the U.S. Embassy, the CIA, and FBI. The CIA provided lists of suspects and other intelligence information to the military states. In 1975 the FBI searched in the US for individuals wanted by DINA.
On 5 October 1976 Henry Kissinger met with Argentina's Foreign Minister and said:
In June 1999, by order of President Bill Clinton, the State Department released thousands of declassified documents revealing for the first time that the CIA and the State and Defense Departments were intimately aware of Condor. One DOD intelligence report dated 1 October 1976, noted that Latin American military officers bragged about it to their U.S. counterparts. The same report described Condor's "joint counterinsurgency operations" that aimed to "eliminate Marxist terrorist activities"; Argentina, it noted, created a special Condor team "structured much like a U.S. Special Forces Team." A summary of material declassified in 2004 states that
"The declassified record shows that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was briefed on Condor and its 'murder operations' on August 5, 1976, in a 14-page report from [Harry] Shlaudeman [Assistant Secretary of State]. 'Internationally, the Latin generals look like our guys,' Shlaudeman cautioned. 'We are especially identified with Chile. It cannot do us any good.' Shlaudeman and his two deputies, William Luers and Hewson Ryan, recommended action. Over the course of three weeks, they drafted a cautiously worded demarche, approved by Kissinger, in which he instructed the U.S. ambassadors in the Southern Cone countries to meet with the respective heads of state about Condor. He instructed them to express 'our deep concern' about 'rumors' of 'plans for the assassination of subversives, politicians and prominent figures both within the national borders of certain Southern Cone countries and abroad.'""5 August 1976 briefing of Henry Kissinger by Harry Shlaudeman, State", National Security Archive
Ultimately, the demarche was never delivered. Kornbluh and Dinges suggest that the decision not to send Kissinger's order was due to Assistant Secretary Harry Shlaudeman's sending a cable to his deputy in D.C which states "you can simply instruct the Ambassadors to take no further action, noting that there have been no reports in some weeks indicating an intention to activate the Condor scheme." J. Patrice McSherry adds, "According to [U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay Robert] White, instructions from a secretary of state cannot be ignored unless there is a countermanding order received via a secret (CIA) backchannel."
Kornbluh and Dinges conclude that "The paper trail is clear: the State Department and the CIA had enough intelligence to take concrete steps to thwart Condor assassination planning. Those steps were initiated but never implemented." Shlaudeman's deputy Hewson Ryan later acknowledged in an oral history interview that the State Department was "remiss" in its handling of the case. "We knew fairly early on that the governments of the Southern Cone countries were planning, or at least talking about, some assassinations abroad in the summer of 1976. ... Whether if we had gone in, we might have prevented this, I don't know", he stated in reference to the Letelier-Moffitt bombing. "But we didn't."
A CIA document described Condor as "a counter-terrorism organization" and noted that the Condor countries had a specialized telecommunications system called "CONDORTEL." A 1978 cable from the US ambassador to Paraguay, Robert White, to the Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, was published on 6 March 2001 by The New York Times. The document was released in November 2000 by the Clinton administration under the Chile Declassification Project. White reported a conversation with General Alejandro Fretes Davalos, chief of staff of Paraguay's armed forces, who informed him that the South American intelligence chiefs involved in Condor "[kept] in touch with one another through a U.S. communications installation in the Panama Canal Zone which cover[ed] all of Latin America".
Davalos reportedly said that the installation was "employed to co-ordinate intelligence information among the southern cone countries". White feared that the US connection to Condor might be publicly revealed at a time when the assassination in the U.S.A. of Chilean former minister Orlando Letelier and his American assistant Ronni Moffitt was being investigated. White cabled Vance that "it would seem advisable to review this arrangement to insure that its continuation is in US interest." J. Patrice McSherry describes such cables as "another piece of increasingly weighty evidence suggesting that U.S. military and intelligence officials supported and collaborated with Condor as a secret partner or sponsor." In addition, an Argentine military source told a U.S. Embassy contact that the CIA was privy to Condor and had played a key role in setting up computerized links among the intelligence and operations units of the six Condor states.
Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State in the Nixon and Ford administrations, was closely involved diplomatically with the Southern Cone governments at the time and well aware of the Condor plan. According to the French newspaper L'Humanité, the first cooperation agreements were signed between the CIA and anti-Castro groups, and the right-wing death squad Triple A, set up in Argentina by Juan Perón and Isabel Martínez de Perón's "personal secretary" José López Rega, and Rodolfo Almirón (arrested in Spain in 2006).
On 31 May 2001, French judge Roger Le Loire requested that a summons be served on Henry Kissinger while he was staying at the Hôtel Ritz in Paris. Le Loire wanted to question the statesman as a witness regarding alleged U.S. involvement in Operation Condor and for possible US knowledge concerning the "disappearances" of five French nationals in Chile during military rule. Kissinger left Paris that evening, and Loire's inquiries were directed to the U.S. State Department.
In July 2001, the Chilean high court granted investigating judge Juan Guzmán the right to question Kissinger about the 1973 killing of American journalist Charles Horman. (His execution by the Chilean military after the coup was dramatized in the 1982 Costa-Gavras film, Missing.) The judge's questions were relayed to Kissinger via diplomatic routes but were not answered.
In August 2001, Argentine Judge Rodolfo Canicoba sent a letter rogatory to the US State Department, in accordance with the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), requesting a deposition by Kissinger to aid the judge's investigation of Operation Condor. On 10 September 2001, a civil suit was filed in a Washington, D.C., federal court by the family of Gen. René Schneider, murdered former Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army, asserting that Kissinger ordered Schneider's murder because he refused to endorse plans for a military coup. Schneider was killed by coup-plotters loyal to General Roberto Viaux in a botched kidnapping attempt. As part of the suit, Schneider's two sons filed for civil damages against Kissinger and then-CIA director Richard Helms for $3 million.
On 16 February 2007, a request for the extradition of Kissinger was filed at the Supreme Court of Uruguay on behalf of Bernardo Arnone, a political activist who was kidnapped, tortured and disappeared by the dictatorial regime in 1976.
French journalist Marie-Monique Robin found in the archives of the Quai d'Orsay, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the original document proving that a 1959 agreement between Paris and Buenos Aires set up a "permanent French military mission" of officers to Argentina who had fought in the Algerian War. It was located in the offices of the chief of staff of the Argentine Army. It continued until François Mitterrand was elected President of France in 1981. She showed how Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's government secretly collaborated with Videla's junta in Argentina and with Augusto Pinochet's regime in Chile.
In 1957 Argentine officers, among them Alcides Lopez Aufranc, went to Paris to attend two-year courses at the Ecole de Guerre military school, two years before the Cuban Revolution, and before the rise of anti-government guerrilla movements in Argentina. "In practice", said Robin to Página/12, "the arrival of the French in Argentina led to a massive extension of intelligence services and of the use of torture as the primary weapon of anti-subversive war in the concept of modern warfare." The "annihilation decrees" signed by Isabel Perón were inspired by earlier French documents.
During the Battle of Algiers, police forces were put under the authority of the French Army, and in particular of the paratroopers. They systematically used torture during interrogations and also began to "disappear" suspects, as part of a program of intimidation. Reynaldo Bignone, named President of the Argentinian junta in July 1982, said, "The March 1976 order of battle is a copy of the Algerian battle."
On 10 September 2003, French Green Party deputies Noël Mamère, Martine Billard and Yves Cochet petitioned for a Parliamentary Commission to be established to examine the "role of France in the support of military regimes in Latin America from 1973 to 1984" before the Foreign Affairs Commission of the National Assembly, presided by Edouard Balladur. The only newspaper to report this was Le Monde. Deputy Roland Blum, in charge of the Commission, refused to allow Marie-Monique Robin to testify. The government's report in December 2003 was described by Robin as being in the utmost bad faith. It claimed that no agreement had ever been signed on this issue between France and Argentina.
Reporter Marie-Monique Robin said to L'Humanité newspaper: "The French have systematized a military technique in the urban environment which would be copied and passed to Latin American dictatorships.". The methods employed during the 1957 Battle of Algiers were systematized and exported to the War School in Buenos Aires. Roger Trinquier's famous book on counter-insurgency had a very strong influence in South America. Robin said that she was shocked to learn that the French intelligence agency Direction de surveillance du territoire (DST) communicated to the DINA the names of refugees who returned to Chile (Operation Retorno), all of whom were killed. "Of course, this puts the French government in the dock, and Giscard d'Estaing, then President of the Republic. I was very shocked by the duplicity of the French diplomatic position which, at the same time received political refugees with open arms, and collaborated with the dictatorships."
Marie-Monique Robin also showed ties between the French far right and Argentina since the 1930s, in particular through the Roman Catholic fundamentalist organization Cité catholique created by Jean Ousset, a former secretary of Charles Maurras (founder of the royalist Action Française movement). La Cité published a review, Le Verbe, which influenced military officers during the Algerian War, notably by justifying their use of torture. At the end of the 1950s, the Cité catholique established groups in Argentina and set up cells in the Army. It greatly expanded during the government of General Juan Carlos Onganía, in particular in 1969.
The key figure of the Cité catholique was priest Georges Grasset, who became Videla's personal confessor. He had been the spiritual guide of the Organisation de l'armée secrète (OAS), a pro-French Algeria terrorist movement founded in Franquist Spain. Robin says that this Catholic fundamentalist current in the Argentine Army contributed to the importance and duration of Franco-Argentine cooperation. In Buenos Aires, Georges Grasset maintained links with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the Society of St. Pius X in 1970. He was excommunicated in 1988. The Society of Pius-X has four monasteries in Argentina, the largest in La Reja. A French priest there said to Marie-Monique Robin: "to save the soul of a Communist priest, one must kill him." Luis Roldan, former Under Secretary of Religion under Carlos Menem (President of Argentina from 1989 to 1999), was presented to her by Dominique Lagneau, the priest in charge of the monastery, and described as "Mr. Cité catholique in Argentina". Bruno Genta and Juan Carlos Goyeneche represent this ideology.
Argentine Admiral Luis María Mendía, who had theorized the practice of "death flights", testified in January 2007 before Argentine judges that a French intelligence "agent", Bertrand de Perseval, had participated in the abduction of two French nuns, Léonie Duquet and Alice Domon, who were later murdered. Perseval, who lives today in Thailand, denied any links with the abduction. He has admitted being a former member of the OAS, and having escaped for Argentina after the March 1962 Evian Accords that ended the Algerian War (1954–62). Referring to Marie Monique Robin's film documentary titled The Death Squads – the French School (Les escadrons de la mort – l'école française), Luis María Mendía asked of the Argentine Court that former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, former French premier Pierre Messmer, former French ambassador to Buenos Aires François de la Gorce, and all officials in place in the French embassy in Buenos Aires between 1976 and 1983 be called before the court.
Besides this "French connection," he has also accused former head of state Isabel Perón and former ministers Carlos Ruckauf and Antonio Cafiero, who had signed the "anti-subversion decrees" before Videla's 1976 coup d'état. According to ESMA survivor Graciela Daleo, this tactic tries to claim that the crimes were legitimised by Isabel Perón's "anti-subversion decrees." She notes that torture is forbidden by the Argentine Constitution. Alfredo Astiz, a marine known as the "Blond Angel of Death" because of his torture, also referred to the "French connection" at his trial.
Chilean judge Juan Guzman, who had arraigned Pinochet at his return to Chile after his arrest in London, started prosecution of some 30 torturers, including former head of the DINA Manuel Contreras, for the disappearance of 20 Chilean victims of the Condor plan.
In Argentina, the CONADEP human rights commission of 1983, led by writer Ernesto Sabato, investigated human rights abuses during the "Dirty War". The 1985 Trial of the Juntas convicted top officers who ran the military governments for acts of state terrorism. However, the amnesty laws (Ley de Obediencia Debida and Ley de Punto Final) of 1985–1086 ended the trials. The Congress repealed the laws in 2003, and in 2005 the Argentine Supreme Court ruled they were unconstitutional. Criminals such as Alfredo Astiz, sentenced in absentia in France for the kidnappings of the two French nuns Alice Domon and Léonie Duquet and murder of Duquet (whose remains were identififed in 2005) can be prosecuted in Argentina now.
Chilean Enrique Arancibia Clavel was convicted and sentenced in Argentina for the assassination of Carlos Prats and of his wife. Former Uruguayan president Juan María Bordaberry, his minister of Foreign Affairs and six military officers, responsible for the disappearance in Argentina in 1976 of opponents to the Uruguayan regime, were arrested in 2006.
On 3 August 2007, General Raúl Iturriaga, former head of DINA, was captured in the Chilean town of Viña del Mar on the Pacific coast. He had previously been a fugitive from a five-year jail term, after being sentenced for the kidnapping of Luis Dagoberto San Martin, a 21-year-old opponent of Pinochet. Martín had been captured in 1974 and taken to a DINA detention center, from which he "disappeared." Iturriaga was also wanted in Argentina for the assassination of General Prats.
According to French newspaper L'Humanité,
"in most of those countries legal action against the authors of crimes of 'lese-humanity' from the 1970s to 1990 owes 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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