Today, December 12, 2016, roughly 500 pages of previously classified US Government documents concerning Argentina were released to the public on orders of the Obama administration.
They make for interesting reading, especially for anyone who remembers the 1970s and 1980s and the extreme state of tension in the Southern Cone of South America in that period. For me, however, it was a little more personal.
You know of my trip to Chile and to Colonia Dignidad in June of 1979. (You’re probably tired of hearing about it!) However, these recently declassified documents shed even more light on the circumstances I faced at the time as the Argentina documents often include information on Chile (and Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil) as well.
One such document contains information that, while corroborating what I wrote in Unholy Alliance and in The Hitler Legacy (as well as in numerous radio and podcast interviews) also provides additional details that confirm what I have been insisting for more than 35 years since that fateful trip: the Colony was a Nazi refuge, it was the center of the assassination and terror network known as Operation Condor, and that the Chilean secret police – at the time known as DINA although it had other acronyms as well – had a torture and interrogation center on-site and in other sites “nearby.”
Here is the relevant section, verbatim, from a document entitled “A Staff Report concerning Activities of Certain Foreign Intelligence Agencies in the United States submitted to The Subcommittee on International Operations, Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate” and dated January 18, 1979 (and thus six months prior to my trip to Colonia Dignidad):
(1) Chile. Although no intelligence officer of the Government of Chile apparently is currently stationed in the United States, such officers have visited the United States using false identification, and their activities were not known. The Chilean intelligence service is a member of a consortium of South American intelligence services, “Operation Condor,” which has, in the past, plotted assassinations in foreign countries and maintained files on anti-regime activists. This service maintains close liaison with the German Nazi colony of La Dignidad in Southern Chile, which makes its substantial resources available to it.
(this is from page 7 of the report; italics in the original)
Thus, we have several points worth mentioning. In the first place, our government found it could not keep tabs on Chilean intelligence officers entering the country since the officers used false identification. Secondly, Operation Condor is identified and Chile recognized as being part of the “consortium.” Most importantly, however, is the acknowledgement that Colonia Dignidad was a German Nazi colony, and that it maintained a close working relationship with the Chilean secret police. This was known six months before my visit. When I returned from Chile with my own, very personal, report, I was told I had to be mistaken. There was nothing to the rumors, etc. etc.
Further along, on (often heavily redacted) pages 13-15 of the report, we read:
Another element with an uncertain relationship to DINA is the “Colony.” Located in Parral, Linarest (sic) Province, “La Dignidad” was established by former Nazi Luftwaffe officers at the close of World War Two. The Colony is registered as a “farm property”
(3 lines redacted)
known in the Colony as “The Commander.”
(several more lines redacted)
residents must leave Chile through Argentina. The Colony’s leadership maintains good relations with Chilean military officials, particularly officers of the Chilean Air Force, who have close ties to the Colony’s former Luftwaffe pilots.
The Colony maintains complete autonomy over its territory. Investigations into its activities have always come to an abrupt halt. The Colony’s primary source of livelihood is a large dairy farm, although it also produces other agricultural products and engages in some mining. It maintains good relations with the local peasant population, in part because an excellent medical facility maintained by the Colony is open once a week for free medical treatment and medicine to farm families in the area. (line redacted) DINA has maintained a detention center inside the Colony and there are allegations that torture has taken place there. Allegations also have been made that German personnel, who are described as ex-Gestapo or ex-SS officers, have given instruction in torture techniques and have actually taken part in the application of those techniques.
(3-4 lines redacted)
The Colony has received large amounts of money over the years, probably from German Nazis. DINA, which maintains two facilities nearby, makes use of the Colony’s national and international contacts. Knowledgeable State Department officials believe that they “might very well indeed be part of the so-called network of German exiles in Latin America.”
Precisely what actions have been carried out by DINA and Operation Condor, and what role the “Colony” has played, are unclear. “Our knowledge of DINA operations is almost nil,” the CIA stated. What is clear is that DINA and Condor possess both the motive and capability to harm United States residents. The former director of DINA, Manuel Contreras, has said (redacted) DINA has representatives in all Chilean embassies abroad except behind the Iron Curtain. These agents, he said, served under civilian cover, and their mission included “hit” Chilean enemies in those countries. “We will go to Australia if necessary to get our enemies,” he said.
There is a great deal to unpack here, but a few points come immediately to mind.
The phrase “residents must leave Chile through Argentina” is revealing. It is, of course, exactly what happened when Chilean security forces raided the Colony to arrest its “Commander”, Paul Schaefer. Schaefer fled across the border into Argentina and was finally located there and extradited back to Chile where he stood trial for child abuse charges, among others.
The details about the medical facility are quite true, as I saw myself and as I learned from local police officials in Parral. The information that former Gestapo and SS officers operated at the Colony was only demonstrated much later, after my visit, but corroborated in details from Luftwaffe pilot Hans Ulrich Rudel’s address book (as published in its entirety in The Hitler Legacy) among other places, including interviews with prisoners who had been held at the Colony.
That the Colony received large amounts of cash from abroad was verified during my own visit when I was told precisely that by the local carabineros the morning before my visit there.
What was a little more terrifying, however, was the information that DINA maintained two facilities nearby the Colony. In other words, they were torturing prisoners at the Colony but had two more sites in the region as well. I had managed to walk into the dragon’s lair without knowing about it at the time. Further, the report acknowledges that the Colony was not only part of Operation Condor (as we would discover later, a major node in the Operation) but was also “part of the so-called network of German exiles in Latin America”: a rather sanitized way of saying ODESSA.
Finally, we learn that DINA and Condor “possess both the motive and capability to harm United States residents.” We know that they did so with the assassination of former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier and his assistant Ronni Moffitt in Washington, D.C. in 1976. I believe at this point that there was no need to get all Michael Vernon Townley on me at the time because my reporting on this subject was being rejected everywhere, including by the Simon Wiesenthal people. I was essentially neutralized. I had no journalistic credentials, didn’t work at any newspaper or other media outlet, and had only my experiences and my research to back up my story.
That was in June-July, 1979. As mentioned, six months after this report was sent to Congress. My government knew all about this place and its relationship to DINA, to torture of political prisoners, to assassinations and terror attacks in Chile and abroad. I had heard about it from reading Ladislas Farago’s Aftermath, and later from rumors heard among Latin exiles in Jackson Heights, Queens. I had decided to go there, at my own expense, taking a two-week vacation from my job as an export administrator for the Bendix Corporation in New York City.
Finally, fifteen years later, an editor in New York decided to take a chance on me and my story, and Unholy Alliance was published in 1994.
There is much else in these documents, containing as they do presidential briefings, memoranda and other evidence showing what we knew about the human rights abuses in South America at the time. The Soviet Union was a major threat, and it colored our foreign policy decisions in Latin America. Further, Argentina was developing its own nuclear power program at the time which was a grave cause for concern among Washington policy makers.
And for anyone who believes that only Communist regimes and Middle Eastern terrorists are capable of extreme and hideous forms of torture, one merely has to read the sickening account of one Alfredo Bravo who was kidnapped from a classroom in Buenos Aires where he was a teacher, taken to a remote location, and tortured and interrogated for days on end in ways too graphic to detail here. All because he was suspected of being in league with a union and with a human rights organization. In one scene, he is being threatened by a colonel who has on his desk a small Nazi flag.
And so it goes.
This is the link to the documents in question: