Date: Wed, 11 Aug 1999 17:16:51 -0500 (CDT)
From: MichaelP <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: NY Times leaks a little old info about Project Condor
A SUNCION, Paraguay—When Martin Almada asked a judge for records of his arrest under the dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, he hoped merely to learn more about his own private tragedy: nearly four years of captivity, during which the police telephoned his wife so she would hear his screams under torture.
Instead, the one-time schoolteacher unearthed a mountain of records detailing repression among United States-backed military regimes throughout South America during the cold war. From floor to ceiling, five tons of reports and photos detailed the arrest, interrogation and disappearance of thousands of political prisoners during General Stroessner's 35-year dictatorship.
The documents trace the creation and work of Operation Condor, a secret plan among security forces in six countries to crush left-wing political dissent.
Paraguayans quickly named the files the
archives of terror.
Though discovered six years ago, the files have gained new prominence
throughout Latin America with the arrest of Chile's former
dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, in London last October. To this day,
they remain the only extensive collection of public records of a
project by the region's military rulers that succeeded in
exterminating thousands of political opponents.
The files have given a kind of vindication to survivors, their families and the families of those dead and missing by delivering concrete proof of a darkly secretive era.
The archives have also provided fodder for the developing case against General Pinochet, the only one of the region's dictators to face the prospect of trial. General Stroessner remains a fugitive from justice living in Brazil.
Baltazar Garzon, the Spanish magistrate seeking the extradition of General Pinochet from England, has collected more than 1,500 pages of evidence from the archives. Last December, he requested records on Hugo Banzer, the current President of Bolivia, who ran the military regime there from 1971 to 1978, and on General Stroessner.
This documentation might exist in other countries as well, but
it's hidden, while in Paraguay they didn't manage to hide it
all, Juan Garces, the lawyer who brought suit against General
Pinochet, said in a telephone interview from Madrid.
It proves that there was an organization with a structure and
discipline that didn't only exchange information but committed
criminal acts, he said.
Intelligence sharing between Washington's allies in South America did not begin with Operation Condor, but the plan formalized and deepened cooperation among police and military forces that had taken power in six countries: Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia.
After Gen. Manuel Contreras of Chile invited security chiefs to create
the basis of an excellent coordination and improved action at a
meeting in November 1975, police forces from member countries began to
operate in each others' jurisdictions. Their new ties allowed
security officials to take part in joint interrogations, to pursue
people across borders and to order surveillance on citizens who sought
asylum in other nations.
Trained during the cold war at the School of the Americas in Panama, the officials viewed their enemy as Communism, backed by Moscow in a subversive war without frontiers. To prevail, governments too would have to work across borders, they said.
The security threats were not entirely imagined. Rebels like the Montoneros in Argentina did aim to destabilize some governments. But in other countries there were no rebel movements, and military regimes used the club of anti-Communism to snuff out any calls for democracy or labor rights.
In Chile, General Pinochet had overthrown the democratically elected President, Salvador Allende Gossens, a Socialist, and hunted down his Cabinet officials and supporters. Among them was Orlando Letelier, who died when his car exploded on a street in Washington, also killing his American aide, Ronni Moffitt.
According to a 1979 Senate Foreign Relations report, which remains classified, the killings of Gen. Carlos Prats of Chile and Gen. Juan Jose Torres of Bolivia in Argentina were also reportedly the work of Operation Condor, as was the attempted assassination of a Chilean Senator, Bernardo Leighton, in Italy.
In Paraguay, the targets of General Stroessner included members of a rival faction in the governing Colorado Party, doctors who refused to cover up torture and Almada, who criticized the educational system in his dissertation.
They said I was an intellectual terrorist, Almada said. He
blames the Paraguayan police for the death of his 33-year-old wife,
who suffered a heart attack and died after hearing his screams over
Two of the thousands of cases contained in the archives are those of Gladys Sannemann and Agustin Goiburu, physicians in Asuncion who refused to falsify an autopsy to show that a man beaten to death under police custody in 1958 had died of natural causes. Instead, Dr. Sannemann took the cadaver to her medical school in Asuncion and performed a proper autopsy before her students.
Practically from that moment it began, said Dr. Sannemann, an
immunologist who is now 69 and practicing here in Asuncion. The
challenge marked her out for the Stroessner regime.
Seeking safety, Dr. Sannemann and her husband, Rodolfo Jorge, fled to Brazil in 1963, a year before the military seized power there, and then moved to Argentina. But in March 1976, the military took power in Argentina as well.
Hours after the coup, the Argentine police abducted Dr. Sannemann and tortured her at the Escuela Mecanica in Buenos Aires. Dr. Sannemann said she was bound and plunged into a bathtub of vomit and excrement.
They accused me of killing a patient in my office,
Dr. Sannemann said, calling the charge
a total lie. Then the
police falsely accused her of selling drugs, she said. A week later,
Dr. Sannemann's husband was abducted and tortured as well.
Dr. Sannemann landed at the Emboscada camp for political prisoners in Paraguay, where she treated more than 400 fellow prisoners from several South American countries, including women whose husbands had been executed and their children. The women, she said, had been imprisoned to silence them.
Dr. Sannemann and her husband were eventually given asylum in Germany in 1997 after the German Government pressed Argentina to bring about their release.
The fate of Dr. Goiburu, who also refused to whitewash torture, remained a mystery until the archives were opened. In 1977, he was kidnapped from a street in Missiones, an Argentine town where he had gone to escape the Stroessner regime. The Government steadily denied any knowledge of Dr. Goiburu's disappearance to his wife, Elba Elisa Benitez de Goiburu.
The archives, however, contained surveillance reports and photos of the doctor's house and office, and showed that eliminating him had become a priority for General Stroessner.
General Stroessner declined repeated requests for comment.
Mrs. Goiburu said she had no doubt that it was Condor that had taken the life of her husband, though he has never been found.
The archives do not detail Washington's role in cold war repression here. Along with documents surfacing elsewhere, however, they suggest that United States officials backed Condor nations not only with military aid, but also with information. Last month, the United States declassified 20,000 pages of documents from the cold war era, mostly involving Chile. Some have made their way to Judge Garzon.
The archives here show that a United States military official, Col. Robert Thierry, apparently helped draw up the apparatus of the police state as he trained police officers for the Technical Section soon after General Stroessner seized power here in 1954. A relative, Margaret Van Skike, located in Galveston, Tex., said that Colonel Thierry died several years ago.
Earlier this year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released a document confirming that it had provided the Pinochet regime with information about Jorge Isaac Fuentes de Alarcon, the leader of a leftist movement in Chile who, the archives here show, was first seized and interrogated by Paraguayan agents. F.B.I. officers checked addresses in the United States found in Fuentes's personal phone book and gave the results and information on Fuentes's questioning in Paraguay to the Pinochet regime. Fuentes disappeared in Chilean custody.
The archives include friendly letters, law enforcement magazines and
books sent by the F.B.I. to Paraguayan police officials. In one
letter, the F.B.I. director, Clarence M. Kelley, wishes Pastor
Coronel, the head of the Department of Investigations who is now
serving a 25-year sentence for torture,
a truly joyous Christmas
and a New Year filled with all the good things you so richly
deserve. Kelley died two years ago.
The archives also shed light on the killing of Letelier in
Washington. Two weeks before the assassination, General Contreras
requested $600,000 from the Pinochet Government, in a memo, for
neutralization of the Governing Junta's principal adversaries
overseas, especially in Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica, the United
States, France and Italy.
Earlier this year, the F.B.I. defended the sharing of information with
Chile as standard practice among law enforcement agencies of
governments friendly to Washington. A State Department spokesman
declined to comment on the record of United States cooperation with
the South American dictatorships, saying it was
The discovery of the archives in 1992, coming as Paraguayans tackled their first democratic presidential elections, brought euphoria at first.
Victims of the dictatorship flocked to the police station at Lambare,
15 miles outside the capital. Gloria Estrago, a former political
prisoner who is now a judge, said she imagined an old friend who
vanished in police custody, Mario Sher Prono, calling out to her,
Here's proof of what happened to me.
But for many, early exhilaration has given way to disillusionment. Key documents published in newspapers days after their discovery vanished from the archives.
There's no doubt they have been sanitized, said Rosa Palau,
the director of the archives. The archives, at least now, contain no
direct accounts of tortures or deaths, only of prisoners whom the
police arrested but never released, and formulaic confessions that say
nothing about the methods used to obtain them.
Only five officials here have been convicted for torturing and killing Paraguayans who challenged the Stroessner dictatorship. None have the security forces' code of silence. Nobody has said where the bodies are buried.
Mrs. Goiburu said the present Government had pressed her to drop efforts to find her husband's killer, as well as a lawsuit against General Stroessner for her husband's disappearance. Recently, Paraguay's new President, Luis Gonzalez Macchi, dismissed her from her job representing the Ministry of Education and Culture in a national professional association. The dictatorship is over, the widow said, but the reflexes of terror linger on.