South America’s shameful past….
When one thinks of the Cold War period it is perhaps understandable to immediately think of Northern Europe, Russia and America as the sole places to put pins on the map. If Berlin was the epicentre then the shockwaves were far-reaching indeed and none more so than Latin America.
Beginning in 1968 but not given official status until 1975, Operation Condor was a state sponsored, American backed lesson in political repression by the right-wing governments of South America in a bid to oust any threat of communism from the region.
With the combined forces of Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia, Brazil and Uruguay they hunted down all forms of political activism associated with the Soviet Union and the communist ethos. Whilst no official figure can be recorded because of the secrecy of the operations the resulting deaths ran to the tens of thousands whist the injuries, imprisonment, torture and mental damage to countless others cannot be over-estimated. But for all of these horrors were it not for a chance discovery in Paraguay in 1992 then none of it might ever have come to public light.
In the Paraguay capital of Asuncion, a local judge searched the police station for information on a former political prisoner, no files on him were found but the judge unearthed a series of some sixty thousand files detailing the kidnapping, torture and deaths of thousands of Latin Americans by the countries listed above in what was described as the ‘Archives of Terror’. These files show how these countries colluded to carry out cross-border operations in one another’s lands to stamp out dissident movements linked to the Soviet Union and other political opposition groups.
These countries were mostly run by military dictatorships, Paraguay endured four decades of the immoveable ‘General’ Alfredo Stroessner, Chile watched as Pinochet brought an iron fist clanking down on the land and its people whilst Bolivia, Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil all saw their governments overthrown by military coup. As the operations continued so they widened their net to include all forms of social opposition labelled ‘leftist extremists’. This ‘Dirty War’ as it was locally known threw up hundreds of heart breaking stories of abuse. Hundreds of Argentinian women who had been arrested had their babies and children taken from them and given to families of the military before being ‘disappeared’ and never seen again. It is heart-breaking to read the testimonies of those who suffered and fled to refugee status in Mexico, the UK, France, Sweden and Spain, of bodies washed up on Argentinian shores, the secret prisons and death squads which travelled beyond the borders of Latin America.
Assassinations associated with Operation Condor went as far afield as America and Italy, three years after Pinochet seized power in Chile the former Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier was killed by a car bomb in the heart of Washington DC along with his assistant, a twenty five year old woman called Ronni Moffitt. It seemed incredible that such a murder could take place on US soil but the FBI traced the plot back to the Chilean secret police who hired American Michael Townley to carry out the attack under the clear knowledge and sanctioning by Pinochet who was never charged for his role.
That so many countries would come together and allow cross-border kidnappings and assassinations under the supporting eye of the United States beggars belief. It is yet another desperate reminder of the cruelty inflicted during the Cold War on so many. The political voices of those so rightly disaffected crushed by those who despised the Soviet Union and their totalitarian regime. It was and remains a truly shameful period in our recent history.