By Ramona Wadi
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.
Asociación Ilícita: los archivos secretos de la dictadura
Authors: Carlos Dorat Guerra, Mauricio Weibel Barahona
Publisher: Ceibo Ediciones, 2012.