Human Rights 'Miracle'

Detention of former Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet could signal a Latin American Nuremberg

Although Castellon has turned over his investigation to Garzón, his efforts reflected considerable zeal, particularly with regard to the overseas activities of DINA. Castellon traveled to Washington earlier this year, months after he asked the U.S. for documents and permission to interview key figures in the Letelier assassination. High on his wish list were interviews with Townley and Larios; however, Castellon's request was denied. Sources also report that while a significant document retrieval effort was made, necessary documents were withheld.

Such a move is hardly surprising, given the history of U.S. intelligence dirty work in Chile. While it's well known that the CIA worked to destabilize Chile's economy in an effort to oust Allende and later helped plan and execute the Pinochet coup, less appreciated is the agency's role in Operation Condor, the focus of Garzón's investigation.

in 1968, u.s. general Robert W. Porter publicly outlined a strategy for combatting Communism in South America: "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."

Pinochet at the polls in 1980 during his sham constitutional plebiscite
Villalobos / Liaison Agency
Pinochet at the polls in 1980 during his sham constitutional plebiscite

The working result of this seemingly inane jargon coalesced in Operation Condor, a state terror network that rivaled anything today's Mideast "rogue states" could serve up. A function of six South American dictatorships, Condor was orchestrated by DINA and, as Scott Anderson and Jon Lee Anderson found in a mid-'80s journalistic investigation, was based on the warped notion that all dissidents were Communists bent on world domination and had to be neutralized. Anyone fleeing from secret police in one country was subject to assassination by a reciprocal security service. And Condor operations weren't restricted to the six member countries; if someone fled to, say, Europe or the U.S., they, too, would be pursued and killed.

According to John Dinges and Saul Landau's Assassination on Embassy Row, an investigation of the Letelier murder (which, they noted, bore the hallmarks of a Condor operation), the CIA knew that assassins were en route to Washington, but didn't share the information with the FBI. The CIA, they also found, inundated the FBI with names of left-wing suspects after the bombing, postulating that "the left killed Letelier to create a martyr."

Despite previous investigations, the possibility remains that still-classified documents might show more CIA involvement in Condor-related operations. Murray Karpen, Ronni Moffitt's father, remains convinced of CIA complicity in his daughter's death. "Obviously, the CIA had to have known about it," he says. "I don't know if there's anyone left in government who had something to do with it, but if there are, they should be tried too, absolutely."

Since stepping down as President in 1990, Pinochet has spent the last eight years being received around the world as a right-wing icon. In the U.S., he is a revered figure among libertarian conservatives, who adore the dictator's embrace of Milton Friedman's economic theories, which, many believe, led to an economic renaissance in Chile. Or, as The Washington Post put it in an October 20 editorial, while Pinochet "did remove a democratically elected government and see to the killing of thousands and the detention of tens of thousands," he also "rescued [Chile] from a chaos to which he was only one contributor, and to its controlled evolution into a prosperous Latin democracy."

Such statements drive Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, into a rage. "That is, simply, a journalistic obscenity," says Birns, who was once a UN official posted to Chile. Indeed, he adds, had it not been for the U.S., Chile's economy might never have tanked in the first place.

"It came out very clearly in the Church hearings that it was the aim of U.S. policy to economically asphyxiate Chile under Allende--not only was there a successful concerted effort to make certain that no bank would lend Chile money, but the CIA also was paying off truckers to strike," Birns says. "Under Pinochet's labor laws--which are still in force--the trade unions suffered incredibly, losing their rights to strike, to collectively bargain, to have a reliable financial base. Whatever Chilean 'economic miracle' there is was built on the backs of the poor."

Interestingly, one of the architects of the "Chilean miracle," José Piñera, is today ensconced at Washington's libertarian Cato Institute as co-chair of its Social Security privatization effort. The fruits of Pinochet's economic policy also have found favor with the Clinton administration, which has been very bullish on Chile, even though a recent report by the Inter-American Development Bank found that Chile has one of the most skewed concentrations of wealth in the hemisphere.

"The administration approves of collective amnesia--their stance is, 'Get on with it, forgive and forget, don't sink into being maudlin about the past when there are market reforms at stake,' " says Birns. "Yet when it comes to someone bombing our embassies, it's, 'We'll hunt those terrorists down where they are.' "

Research: Lauren Reynolds

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