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Several Nations Investigating Operation Condor

by Mario Osava

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Operation Condor

(IPS) RIO DE JANEIRO -- The justice systems of Latin America's Southern Cone countries have begun working together to investigate the crimes of Operation Condor, created by the region's military dictatorships in the 1970s to carry out repressive political actions beyond their national borders.

Brazil's Federal Supreme Court recently admitted a request by Argentine Judge Claudio Bonadio to investigate the disappearance of three of his fellow citizens there. The Brazilian armed forces and police are now expected to provide the appropriate information to Argentina's justice authorities.

Horacio Domingo Camiglia, Monica Susana Pinus de Binstock and Lorenzo Ismael Vinas disappeared after arriving in Brazil 20 years ago, in the midst of dictatorships there and in their home country.

The first two were en route by plane from Panama to Buenos Aires, but it is suspected that they were detained at the Rio de Janeiro airport in March 1980. The third left Santa Fe, Argentina by bus in June of that year, but never reached his destination in Rio de Janeiro.

The Federal Supreme Court's decision prompted a new wave of media attention about Operation Condor, with new revelations about the trans-border collaboration and actions of the political repression forces under the military regimes of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.

But the cases of Brazilians who disappeared in neighboring countries must also be investigated, says Cecilia Coimbra, spokeswoman for Tortura Nunca Mais (Torture Never Again), a non-governmental organization that is pressing the Brazilian state to clear up cases of political repression and human rights abuses committed during the country's military regime (1964-1985).

At least 15 Brazilians disappeared in other countries, most in Chile and Argentina, according to Torture Never Again.

In addition, suspicions have resurfaced that Brazil's former presidents Joao Goulart (1961-1964) and Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-1960) were assassinated, and not the victims of illness or accidents as history would tell it.

Goulart was living in exile in Argentina when he died of supposed heart problems in 1976. Suspicions of assassination arose because authorities did not permit an autopsy, nor did they allow his body to be returned to his childhood home in southern Brazil.

The integration of the region's repressive forces gained notoriety in 1978 when Uruguayans Lilian Celiberti and Universindo Rodr’guez were detained in southern Brazil, tortured and clandestinely transferred to Montevideo. Police and military personnel from both sides of the border participated in the action, which was harshly denounced by the media.

But the events, personalities and the magnitude of Operation Condor remained secret even after the region's military governments came to an end.

Pinochet arrest has led to greater cooperation
Information about Operation Condor is being revealed gradually, mostly the result of legal efforts by relatives of the "disappeared" and human rights organizations. But occasionally it surfaces by accident or former agents of its covert operations come forward.

In the early 1990s, Paraguayan attorney Mart’n Almada uncovered the secret files in which the police forces of dictator Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989) kept record of their repressive actions.

Some of these files indicate that Argentine and Uruguayan political opposition activists being held in Paraguay were transferred into the hands of military personnel from Argentina. The detainees subsequently disappeared.

Other documents indicate that Operation Condor was set up in 1975 at the behest of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), who two years earlier had overthrown the popularly elected socialist president Salvador Allende.

In an interview with the Jornal do Brasil newspaper, retired Brazilian colonel Carlos Alberto Ponzi confirmed the existence of Southern Cone military agreements about the exchange of information and of leftist militants captured in the participating countries.

It was "a dirty war from both sides, and the left also acted internationally," argued the colonel, who headed the National Information Service from 1975 to 1980 in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, which borders Argentina and Uruguay.

But collaboration between military forces occurred even before Operation Condor was established. In 1969, the Brazilian army provided training to military personnel from throughout the Southern Cone to combat urban guerrilla movements, testified Marival Chaves, a former member of the army's information and political repression services.

Brazilians who were exiled in Chile and able to escape repression under the Pinochet dictatorship report that agents of Brazil's dictatorship participated in the torture of political prisoners in Santiago, primarily at the national football stadium, which was converted into a massive prison.

In contrast to the close ties between the military regimes of the 1970s and 1980s, international cooperation in investigating and clarifying the assassinations and human rights violations of that era had advanced very little.

That is, until Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon attempted to bring Pinochet to trial in Spain in 1998. The ensuing year-long international legal battle, and its effect on national human rights laws, has dramatically changed the prospects for international cooperation in investigating human rights crimes and bringing those responsible to justice.

Last week, for example, Uruguay's Celiberti provided testimony before a court in Rome, leading to its decision to open investigations into the deaths of Italian citizens who are believed to have been victims of Operation Condor as they had been detained in Brazil in 1978 and later transferred to Uruguay.

Meanwhile, La Nacion newspaper in Santiago published the testimony of U.S. citizen Michael Townley about the participation of Chile's National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) in the Buenos Aires assassination of Chilean general Carlos Prats, who had served as commander of the army and interior minister under Allende's socialist administration.

Townley, a former agent of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), said he participated in the assassination of yet another former Chilean minister, Orlando Letelier, in 1976 in Washington. He confessed as much in his statements before Argentine judge Maria Servini, who was in the United States to pursue her investigations of the Prats murder.

The Buenos Aires assassination of the exiled Chilean general and his wife, Sof’a Cubert, took place in 1974, when Isabel Peron, a constitutionally elected president, still governed Argentina.

The replacement of Prats by Pinochet as commander of the Chilean army paved the way for the overthrow and death of president Allende in September 1973.

Two years later, also in Argentina, former Bolivian president Juan Jose Torres was assassinated. He was deposed by the military in August 1971 after governing the country for one year with the support of the political left.

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Albion Monitor May 15, 2000 (

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