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Operation Condor

For other uses of Operation Condor, please see Operation Condor (disambiguation)

'Operation Condor''''' was a campaign of political repressions involving assassination and intelligence operations officially implemented in 1975 by the right-wing dictatorships of the Southern Cone of South America. The program aimed to deter left-wing influence and ideas and to control active or potential opposition movements against the usually conservative governments. Due to its clandestine nature, the precise number of deaths directly attributable to Operation Condor will likely never be known, but it is reported to have caused thousands of victims, possibly even more.

Condor's key members were the right-wing military governments in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil, with Ecuador and Peru joining later in more peripheral roles. These nations were ruled by dictators such as Jorge Rafael Videla, Augusto Pinochet, Ernesto Geisel, Hugo Banzer, and Alfredo Stroessner. The operation was jointly conducted by the intelligence and security services of these nations during the mid-1970s with some support provided by the United States of America.


On 25 November 1975, leaders of the military intelligence services of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay met, with Manuel Contreras, chief of DINA (the Chilean secret police), in Santiago de Chile, officially creating the Plan Condor . However, cooperation between various security services, in the aim of "eliminating Marxist subversion", previously existed before this meeting and Pinochet's coup d'etat. Thus, during the Xth Conference of American Armies held in Caracas on September 3, 1973, Brazilian General Breno Borges Fortes, head of the Brazilian army, proposed to "extend the exchange of information" between various services in order to "struggle against subversion". Furthermore, in March 1974, representatives of the police forces of Chile, Uruguay and Bolivia met with Alberto Villar, deputy chief of the Argentine Federal Police and co-founder of the Triple A death squad, to implement cooperation guidelines in order to destroy the "subversive" threat represented by the presence of thousands of political exilees in Argentina . In August 1974 the corpses of the first victims of Condor, Bolivian refugees, were found in garbage dumps in Buenos Aires .

According to French journalist Marie-Monique Robin, author of ''Escadrons de la mort, l'ecole francaise, the paternity of Operation Condoris to be attributed to General Rivero, intelligence officer of the Argentine Armed Forces and former student of the French. Lexportation de la torture, interview with Marie-Monique Robin in L'Humanite, August 30, 2003

Operation Condor, which took place in the context of the Cold War, was given at least tacit approval by the United States which feared a Marxist revolution in the region. The targets were officially leftist guerrillas but in fact included all kinds of political opponents, including their families and others, as reported by the Valech Commission. The Argentine "Dirty War", for example, which resulted in approximatively 30,000 victims according to most estimates, targeted many trade-unionists, relatives of activists, etc.

From 1976 onwards, the Chilean DINA and its Argentine counterpart, SIDE, were its front-line troops. The infamous "death flights", theorized in Argentina by Luis Maria Mendia and also used during the Algerian War (19541962) by French forces were widely used, in order to make the corpses, and therefore evidence, disappear. There were also many cases of child abduction.

On December 22, 1992 a significant amount of information about Operation Condorcame to light when Jose Fernandez, a Paraguayan judge, visited a police station in the Lambare suburb of Asuncion to look for files on a former political prisoner. Instead he found what became known as the "terror archives", detailing the fates of thousands of Latin Americans secretly kidnapped, tortured and killed by the security services of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. Some of these countries have since used portions of this archive to prosecute former military officers. The archives counted 50,000 persons murdered, 30,000 "desaparecidos''" and 400,000 incarcerated.

According to these archives other countries such as Peru cooperated to varying extents by providing intelligence information in response to requests from the security services of the Southern Cone countries. Even though Peru were not at the secret November 1975 meeting in Santiago de Chile there is evidence of its involvement. For instance, in June 1980, Peru was known to have been collaborating with Argentine agents of 601 Intelligence Battalion in the kidnapping, torture and disappearance of a group of Montoneros living in exile in Lima.

The "terror archives" also revealed Colombia's and Venezuela's greater or lesser degree of cooperation (Luis Posada Carriles was probably at the meeting that ordered Orlando Letelier's car bombing). It has been alleged that a Colombian paramilitary organization known as Alianza Americana Anticomunista may have cooperated with Operation Condor. Brazil signed the agreement later (June 1976), and refused to engage in actions outside Latin America.

Mexico, together with Costa Rica, Canada, France, the U.K., Spain and Sweden received many people fleeing from the terror regimes. Operation Condor officially ended with the ousting of the Argentine dictatorship in 1983, although the killings continued for some time after that.

Notable cases and prosecution


The Argentine Dirty War was carried on simultaneously with and overlapping Operation Condor. The Argentine SIDE cooperated with the Chilean DINA in numerous cases of desaparecidos. Chilean General Carlos Prats, Uruguayan former MPs Zelmar Michelini, Hector Gutierrez Ruiz and the ex-president of Bolivia, Juan Jose Torres, were assassinated in the Argentine capital.

The SIDE also assisted Bolivian general Luis Garcia Meza Tejada's Cocaine Coup in Bolivia, with the help of Gladio operative Stefano Delle Chiaie and Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie (see also Operation Charly). The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, a group of mothers who had lost their children to the dictatorship, started demonstrating each Sunday on Plaza de Mayo from April 1977, in front of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires, the seat of the government, to reclaim their children from the junta. The Mothers continue their struggle for justice to this day (2007).

The National Commission for Forced Disappearances (CONADEP), led by writer Ernesto Sabato, was created in 1983. Two years later, the Juicio a las Juntas (Trial of the Juntas) largely succeeded in proving the crimes of the various juntas which had formed the self-styled National Reorganization Process. Most of the top officers who were tried were sentenced to life imprisonment: Jorge Rafael Videla, Emilio Eduardo Massera, Roberto Eduardo Viola, Armando Lambruschini, Raul Agosti, Ruben Graffigna, Leopoldo Galtieri, Jorge Anaya and Basilio Lami Dozo. However, Raul Alfonsin's government passed two amnesty laws protecting military officers involved in human rights abuses: the 1986 Ley de Punto Final (law of closure) and the 1987 Ley de Obediencia Debida (law of due obedience). President Carlos Menem then pardoned the leaders of the junta in 19891990. Following continuous protests by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and other associations, the amnesty laws were repealed by the Argentine Supreme Court nearly twenty years later, in June 2005.

In Argentina DINA's civil agent Enrique Arancibia Clavel, prosecuted for crimes against humanity in 2004, was condemned to life imprisonment for his part in General Prat's murder. In 2003, federal judge Maria Servini de Cubria requested the extradition from Chile of Mariana Callejas, who was Michael Townley's wife (himself a U.S. expatriate and DINA agent), and Cristoph Willikie, a retired colonel from the Chilean army—all three of them are accused of this murder. Chilean appeal court judge Nibaldo Segura refused extradition in July 2005 on the grounds that they had already been prosecuted in Chile. [*]

It has been claimed that Italian terrorist Stefano Delle Chiaie—also an operative of Gladio "stay-behind" secret NATO paramilitary organization—was involved in the murder of General Prats. He and fellow extremist Vincenzo Vinciguerra testified in Rome in December 1995 before judge Maria Servini de Cubria that DINA agents Enrique Arancibia Clavel and Michael Townley were directly involved in this assassination. [*]


In Brazil, president Fernando Henrique Cardoso ordered in 2000 the release of some military files concerning Operation Condor. Italian attorney general Giancarlo Capaldo, who is investigating the disappearances of Italian citizens, probably by a mixture of Argentine, Chilean, Paraguayan and Brazilian military, accused 11 Brazilians of involvement. However, according to the official statement, "they could not confirm nor deny that Argentine, Brazilian, Paraguayan and Chilean militaries will be submitted to a trial before December." As of August 2006, nobody in Brazil has been convicted of human rights violations during the 21 years of military dictatorship there.

On April 26, 2000 former governor of Rio de Janeiro Leonel Brizola alleged that ex-presidents of Brazil Joao Goulart and Juscelino Kubitschek were assassinated as part of Operation Condor, and requested the opening of investigations on their deaths. Goulart died of a heart attack and Kubitschek a car accident. Brasil examina su pasado represivo en la Operacion Condor, El Mostrador, 11 May 2000 Operacion Condor: presion de Brizola sobre la Argentina, El Clarin, 6 May 2000

The Kidnapping of the Uruguayans

The Condor Operation expanded the covered-up repression from Uruguay to Brazil in an event that happened in November 1978 and later known as "o Sequestro dos Uruguaios, that is, "the Kidnapping of the Uruguayans". In that occasion, under consent of the Brazilian military regime, high officers of the Uruguayan army secretly crossed the frontier, heading to Porto Alegre, capital of the State of Rio Grande do Sul. There they kidnapped a militant couple of the Uruguayan political opposition, Universindo Rodriguez and Lilian Celiberti, along with her two children, Camilo and Francesca, 8 and 3 years old.

The illegal operation failed when two Brazilian journalists the reporter Luiz Claudio Cunha and the photographer Joao Baptista Scalco, from Veja Magazine, were warned by an anonymous phone call about the disappearance of the Uruguayan couple. The two journalists decided to check the information and headed to the appointed address: an apartment in the borough of Menino Deus in Porto Alegre . There, they were mistakenly taken as other members of the Uruguayan opposition by the armed men who had arrested Lilian. Universindo and the children had already been clandestinely taken to Uruguay . The unexpected arrival of the journalists disclosed the secret operation which had to be suddenly suspended. Lillian was then taken back to Montevideo. The failure of the operation avoided the murder of the four Uruguayans. The news of a political kidnapping made headlines in the Brazilian press and became an international scandal which embarrassed the military governments of Brazil and Uruguay. A few days after, the children were taken to their maternal grand-parents in Montevideo. Universindo as well as Lilian were imprisoned and tortured in Brazil and then taken to military prisons in Uruguay where they remained during the next five years. After the Uruguayan re-democratization in 1984, the couple was released and then confirmed all the details of the kidnapping.

In 1980, two inspectors of DOPS were convicted by the Brazilian Justice as the armed men who had arrested the journalists in Lilian's apartment in Porto Alegre. They were Joao Augusto da Rosa and Orandir Portassi Lucas (a former football player of Brazilian teams known as Didi Pedalada), both identified later as participants in the kidnapping operation by the reporters and the Uruguayan couple - which surely confirmed the involvement of the Brazilian Government in the Condor Operation. In 1991, through the initiative of Governor Pedro Simon, the State of Rio Grande do Sul officially recognized the kidnapping of the Uruguayans and compensated them for this, inspiring the democratic government of the President Luis Alberto Lacalle in Uruguay to do the same a year later .

Police officer Pedro Seelig, the head of the DOPS at the time of the kidnapping, was identified by the Uruguayan couple as the man in charge of the operation in Porto Alegre. When Seelig was denounced to the Brazilian Justice, Universindo and Lilian were in prison in Uruguay and they were prevented from testifying against him. The Brazilian policeman was then cleared of all charges due to alleged lack of evidences. Lilian and Universindo's later testimony also proved that four officers of the secret Uruguayan Counter-information Division two majors and two captains took part in the operation under consent of the Brazilian authorities. One of these officers, Captain Glauco Yanonne, was himself responsible for torturing Universindo Dias in the DOPS headquarters in Porto Alegre . Even though Universindo and Lilian recognized the Uruguayan military men who had arrested and tortured them, not a single one of them was prosecuted by the Justice in Montevideo. This was due to the Law of Impunity which guaranteed amnesty to all Uruguayan people involved in political repression.

The investigative journalism of the Veja Magazine awarded Cunha and Scalco with the 1979 Esso Prize, the most important prize of the Brazilian Press. Hugo Cores, a former Uruguayan political prisoner who was living in Sao Paulo at the time of the kidnapping and was the author of the anonymous phone call to Cunha, spoke the following to the Brazilian press in 1993: "All the Uruguayans kidnapped abroad, around 180 people, are missing to this day. The only ones who managed to survive are Lilian, her children, and Universindo".

The kidnapping of the Uruguayans in Porto Alegre entered into history as the only failure with international repercussion in the whole Operation Condor, among several hundreds of clandestine actions from the Latin America Southern Cone dictatorships, who were responsible for thousands of killed and missing people in the period between 1975 and 1985. Analyzing the political repression in the region during that decade, the Brazilian journalist Nilson Mariano estimates the number of killed and missing people as: 297 in Uruguay, 366 in Brazil, 2,000 in Paraguay, 3,196 in Chile and 30,000 in Argentina. The so-called "Terror Files" a whole set of 60,000 documents, weighting 4 tons and making 593,000 microfilmed pages which were discovered by a former Paraguayan political prisoner Marti Almada, in Lambare, Paraguay, in 1992 - provides even higher numbers: the total result of Southern Cone Operation Condor had left up to 50,000 killed, 30,000 missing and 400,000 arrested.


When Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998 in response to Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzon's request for his extradition to Spain, information concerning Condor was revealed. One of the lawyers who asked for his extradition talked about an attempt to assassinate Carlos Altamirano, leader of the Chilean Socialist Party: it was claimed that Pinochet met Italian terrorist Stefano Delle Chiaie during Franco's funeral in Madrid in 1975 in order to have Altamirano murdered. But as with Bernardo Leighton, who was shot in Rome in 1975 after a meeting the same year in Madrid between Stefano Delle Chiaie, former CIA agent Michael Townley and anti-Castrist Virgilio Paz Romero, the plan ultimately failed.

Chilean judge Juan Guzman Tapia eventually established a precedent concerning the crime of "permanent kidnapping": since the bodies of victims kidnapped and presumably murdered could not be found, he deemed that the kidnapping was deemed to continue, rather than to have occurred so long ago that the perpetrators were protected by an amnesty decreed in 1978 or by the Chilean statute of limitations. Ironically, the perpetrators' success in hiding evidence of their crimes frustrated their attempts to escape from justice.

General Carlos Prats

General Carlos Prats and his wife were killed by the Chilean DINA on September 30, 1974 by a car bombing in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where they lived in exile. In Chile the judge investigating this case, Alejandro Solis, definitively terminated the prosecution of Pinochet for this particular case after the Chilean Supreme court rejected a demand to revoke his immunity from prosecution in January 2005. The leaders of DINA, including chief Manuel Contreras, ex-chief of operation and retired general Raul Itturiaga Neuman, his brother Roger Itturiaga, and ex-brigadeers Pedro Espinoza Bravo and Jose Zara, are accused in Chile of this assassination. DINA agent Enrique Arancibia Clavel has been convicted in Argentina for the murder.

Bernardo Leighton

Bernardo Leighton and his wife were severely injured by gunshots on October 5, 1976 while in exile in Rome. According to the National Security Archive and Italian attorney general Giovanni Salvi, in charge of former DINA head Manuel Contreras' prosecution, Stefano Delle Chiaie met with Michael Townley and Virgilio Paz Romero in Madrid in 1975 to plan the murder of Bernardo Leighton with the help of Franco's secret police.

Orlando Letelier

Another target was Orlando Letelier, a former minister of the Chilean Allende government who was assassinated by a car bomb explosion in Washington, D.C. on September 21, 1976. His assistant, Ronni Moffitt, a U.S. citizen, also died in the explosion. Michael Townley, General Manuel Contreras, former head of the DINA, and Brigadier Pedro Espinoza Bravo, also formerly of DINA, were convicted for the murders. In 1978, Chile agreed to hand over Townley to the US, in order to reduce the tension about Letelier's murder. Townley, however, was freed under the witness protection program. The US is still waiting for Manuel Contreras and Pedro Espinoza to be extradited.

In an article published 17 December, 2004 in the Los Angeles Times, Francisco Letelier, the son of Orlando Letelier, wrote that his father's assassination was part of Operation Condor, described as "an intelligence-sharing network used by six South American dictators of that era to eliminate dissidents." Augusto Pinochet has been accused of being a participant in Operation Condor. Francisco Letelier declared, "My father's murder was part of Condor."

Michael Townley has accused Pinochet of being responsible for Orlando Letelier's death. Townley confessed that he had hired five anti-Castro Cuban exiles to booby-trap Letelier's car. According to Jean-Guy Allard, after consultations with the terrorist organization CORU's leadership, including Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, those elected to carry out the murder were Cuban-Americans Jose Dionisio "Bloodbath" Suarez, Virgilio Paz Romero, Alvin Ross Diaz, and brothers Guillermo and Ignacio Novo Sampoll. According to the Miami Herald, Luis Posada Carriles was at this meeting that decided on Letelier's death and also about the Cubana Flight 455 bombing.

Operation Silencio

Operation Silencio (Operation Silence) was an operation to impede investigations by Chilean judges by removing witnesses from the country, starting about a year before the "terror archives" were found in Paraguay.

In April 1991 Arturo Sanhueza Ross, linked to the murder of MIR leader Jecar Neghme in 1989, left the country. According to the Rettig Report, Jecar Neghme's death was carried out by Chilean intelligence agents Neghme Cristi Jecar Antonio, Memoria Viva, . In September 1991 Carlos Herrera Jimenez, who killed trade-unionist Tucapel Jimenez, flew away. In October 1991 Eugenio Berrios, a chemist who had worked with DINA agent Michael Townley, was escorted from Chile to Uruguay by Operation Condor agents, in order to escape testifying in the Letelier case. He used Argentinian, Uruguayan, Paraguayan and Brazilian passports, raising concerns that Operation Condor was not dead. In 1995 Berrios was found dead in El Pinar, near Montevideo (Uruguay), his murderers having tried to make the identification of his body impossible.

In January 2005, Michael Townley, who now lives in the USA under the witness protection program, acknowledged to agents of Interpol Chile links between DINA and the detention and torture center Colonia Dignidad, [*] which was founded in 1961 by Paul Schafer, a Nazi accused of child-abuse and torture, arrested in March 2005 in Buenos Aires. Townley also revealed information about Colonia Dignidad and the Army's Bacteriological Warfare Laboratory. This last laboratory would have replaced the old DINA's laboratory on Via Naranja de lo Curro street, where Michael Townley worked with the chemical assassin Eugenio Berrios. The toxin that allegedly killed Christian-Democrat Eduardo Frei Montalva may have been made in this new lab in Colonia Dignidad, according to the judge investigating the case.

U.S. Congressman Edward Koch

In February 2004 John Dinges, a reporter, published The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents . In this book he reveals how Uruguayan military officials threatened to assassinate US Congressman Edward Koch in mid-1976. In late July 1976, the CIA station chief in Montevideo received information about it, but recommended that the Agency take no action because the Uruguayan officers had been drinking when the threat was made. In an interview for the book, Koch said that George H.W. Bush, CIA's director at the time, informed him in October 1976 more than two months afterward, and after Orlando Letelier's murder that "his sponsorship of legislation to cut off US military assistance to Uruguay on human rights grounds had provoked secret police officials to 'put a contract out for you'". In mid-October 1976, Koch wrote to the Justice Department asking for FBI protection. None was provided for him. In late 1976, Colonel Fons and Major Gavazzo were assigned to prominent diplomatic posts in Washington, DC, but the State Department forced the Uruguayan government to withdraw their appointments, with the public explanation that "Fons and Gavazzo could be the objects of unpleasant publicity." Koch only became aware of the connections between the threats in 2001.

Other cases

The Chilean leader of the MIR, Edgardo Enriquez, was "disappeared" in Argentina, as well as another MIR leader, Jorge Fuentes; Alexei Jaccard, Chilean and Swiss, Ricardo Ramirez and a support network to the Communist party dismantled in Argentina in 1977. Cases of repression against German, Spanish, Peruvians citizens and Jewish people were also reported. The assassinations of former Bolivian president Juan Jose Torres and former Uruguayan deputies Hector Gutierrez and Zelmar Michelini in Buenos Aires in 1976 was also part of Condor. The DINA entered into contact even with Croatian terrorists, Italian neofascists and the Shah's SAVAK to locate and assassinate dissidents. Los crimenes de la Operacion Condor, La Tercera, 2001.

Operation Condor was at its peak in 1976. Chilean exiles in Argentina were threatened again, and again had to go underground or into exile. Chilean General Carlos Prats had already been assassinated by the Chilean DINA in Buenos Aires in 1974, with the help of former CIA agent Michael Townley. Cuban diplomats were also assassinated in Buenos Aires in the infamous Automotores Orletti torture center, one of the 300 clandestine prisons of the dictatorship. These centers were managed by the Grupo de Tareas 18 headed by convicted armed robber Anibal Gordon, who reported directly to General Commandant of the SIDE Otto Paladino. Automotores Orletti was the main base of foreign intelligence services involved in Operation Condor. One of the survivors, Jose Luis Bertazzo, who was detained there fort wo months, identified Chilean, Uruguayan, Paraguayan and Bolivian prisoners who were interrogated by agents from their own countries. It is there that the 19-year-old daughter-in-law of poet Juan Gelman was tortured with her husband, before being transported to Montevideo where she delivered a baby which was immediately stolen by Uruguayan military officers. Automotores Orletti el taller asesino del Condor, Juventud Rebelde, January 3 2006 (mirrored on El Correo.eu.org /

According to John Dinges's book Los anos del Condor Chilean MIR prisoners in the Orletti center told Jose Luis Bertazzo that they had seen two Cuban diplomats, 22-year-old Jesus Cejas Arias, and 26-year-old Crescencio Galanega, tortured by Gordon's group and interrogated by a man who travelled from Miami to interrogate them. The two Cuban diplomats, charged with the protection of Cuban ambassador to Argentina Emilio Aragones, had been kidnapped on August 9, 1976 at the corner of calle Arribenos and Virrey del Pino by 40 armed SIDE agents who blocked the street with their Ford Falcons, the cars used by the security forces during the dictatorship. According to Dinges the FBI and the CIA were informed of their arrest. He quotes a cable sent by FBI agent in Buenos Aires Robert Scherrer on September 22, 1976 in which he mentioned in passing that Michael Townley, later convicted for the assassination on September 21, 1976 of former Chilean minister Orlando Letelier in Washington D.C., had taken part to the interrogatories of the two Cubans. The former head of the DINA confirmed to Argentine federal judge Maria Servini de Cubria in Santiago de Chile on December 22, 1999 that Michael Townley and Cuban Guillermo Novo Sampoll were present in the Orletti center, having travelled from Chile to Argentina on August 11, 1976, and "cooperated in the torture and assassination of the two Cuban diplomats." Anti-Castro Cuban terrorist Luis Posada Carriles also boasted in his autobiography, "Los caminos del guerrero", of the murder of the two young men.

U.S. involvement

CIA documents show that the CIA had close contact with members of the Chilean secret police, DINA, and its chief Manuel Contreras. Some have alleged that the CIA's one-time payment to Contreras is proof that the U.S. approved of Operation Condor and military repression within Chile. The CIA's official documents state that at one time some members of the intelligence community recommended making Contreras into a paid contact because of his closeness to Pinochet; the plan was rejected based on Contreras' poor human rights record, but the single payment was made due to miscommunication.

A 1978 cable from the US ambassador to Paraguay, Robert White, to the Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, was published on March 6, 2001 by the New York Times. The document was released in November 2000 by the Clinton administration under the Chile Declassification Project. In the cable Ambassador White reported a conversation with General Alejandro Fretes Davalos, chief of staff of Paraguay's armed forces, who informed him that the South American intelligence chiefs involved in Condor "[kept] in touch with one another through a U.S. communications installation in the Panama Canal Zone which cover[ed] all of Latin America". According to Davalos, this installation was "employed to co-ordinate intelligence information among the southern cone countries". Robert White feared that the US connection to Condor might be publicly revealed at a time when the assassination in the U.S.A. of Chilean former minister Orlando Letelier and his American assistant Ronni Moffitt was being investigated. White cabled that "it would seem advisable to review this arrangement to insure that its continuation is in US interest."

The "information exchange" (via telex) included torture techniques .

This demonstrates that the US facilitated communications for Operation Condor, and has been called by J. Patrice McSherry (Long Island Univ.) "another piece of increasingly weighty evidence suggesting that U.S. military and intelligence officials supported and collaborated with Condor as a secret partner or sponsor."

It has been argued that while the US was not a key member, it "provided organizational, intelligence, financial and technological assistance to the operation." [*]

Material declassified in 2004 states that "The declassified record shows that Secretary Kissinger was briefed on Condor and its 'murder operations' on August 5, 1976, in a 14-page report from Shlaudeman. 'Internationally, the Latin generals look like our guys,' Shlaudeman cautioned. 'We are especially identified with Chile. It cannot do us any good.' Shlaudeman and his two deputies, William Luers and Hewson Ryan, recommended action. Over the course of three weeks, they drafted a cautiously worded demarche, approved by Kissinger, in which he instructed the U.S. ambassadors in the Southern Cone countries to meet with the respective heads of state about Condor. He instructed them to express 'our deep concern' about 'rumors' of 'plans for the assassination of subversives, politicians and prominent figures both within the national borders of certain Southern Cone countries and abroad.'" [*]

Ultimately, the demarche was never delivered. Kornbluh and Dinges suggest that the decision not to send Kissinger's order was due to a cable sent by Assistant Secretary Harry Shlaudeman to his deputy in D.C which states "you can simply instruct the Ambassadors to take no further action, noting that there have been no reports in some weeks indicating an intention to activate the Condor scheme."McSherry, adds, "According to [U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay Robert] White, instructions from a secretary of state cannot be ignored unless there is a countermanding order received via a secret (CIA) backchannel."

Kornbluh and Dinges conclude that "The paper trail is clear: the State Department and the CIA had enough intelligence to take concrete steps to thwart Condor assassination planning. Those steps were initiated but never implemented." Shlaudeman's deputy Hewson Ryan later acknowledged in an oral history interview that the State Department was "remiss" in its handling of the case. "We knew fairly early on that the governments of the Southern Cone countries were planning, or at least talking about, some assassinations abroad in the summer of 1976. Whether if we had gone in, we might have prevented this, I don't know," he stated in reference to the Letelier-Moffitt bombing. "But we didn't."

Henry Kissinger

Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State in the Nixon and Ford administrations, was closely involved diplomatically with the Southern Cone governments at the time and well aware of the Condor plan. According to the French newspaper ''L'Humanite'' the first cooperation agreements were signed between the CIA and anti-Castro groups, fascist movements such as the Triple A set up in Argentina by Juan Peron and Isabel Martinez de Peron's "personal secretary" Jose Lopez Rega, and Rodolfo Almiron (arrested in Spain in 2006). Latin America in the 1970s: "Operation Condor", an International Organization for Kidnapping Opponents, ''L'Humanite'' in English, December 2, 2006, transl. January 1, 2007

On May 31 2001 French judge Roger Le Loire requested that a summons be served on Henry Kissinger while he was staying at the Hotel Ritz in Paris. Loire wanted to question Kissinger as a witness for alleged U.S. involvement in Operation Condor and for possible US knowledge concerning the "disappearances" of 5 French nationals in Chile during military rule. Kissinger left Paris that evening, and Loire's inquiries were directed to the U.S. State Department. Henry Kissinger rattrape au Ritz, a Paris, par les fantomes du plan Condor, Le Monde, May 29, 2001

In July 2001 the Chilean high court granted investigating judge Juan Guzman the right to question Kissinger about the 1973 killing of American journalist Charles Horman, whose execution at the hands of the Chilean military following the coup was dramatized in the 1982 Costa-Gavras film, Missing. The judges questions were relayed to Kissinger via diplomatic routes but were not answered. [ http://www.guardian.co.uk/pinochet/Story/0,11993,735920,00.html Kissinger may face extradition to Chile], The Guardian, June 12, 2002

In August 2001 Argentine Judge Rodolfo Canicoba sent a letter rogatory to the US State Department, in accordance with the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), requesting a deposition by Kissinger to aid the judge's investigation of Operation Condor.

On September 10 2001 a civil suit was filed in a Washington, D.C., federal court by the family of Gen. Rene Schneider, murdered former Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army, asserting that Kissinger ordered Schneider's murder because he refused to endorse plans for a military coup. Schneider was killed by coup-plotters loyal to General Roberto Viaux in a botched kidnapping attempt, but U.S. involvement with the plot is disputed, as declassified transcripts show that Nixon and Kissinger had ordered the coup "turned off" a week before the killing, fearing that Viaux had no chance. As part of the suit Schneiders two sons are attempting to sue Kissinger and then-CIA director Richard Helms for $3 million. [ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/1536547.stm Kissinger accused over Chile plot], BBC News, September 11, 2001 [ http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,550375,00.html Kissinger sued over Chile death

], The Guardian, September 12, 2001 [ http://www.usdoj.gov/osg/briefs/2005/0responses/2005-0743.resp.html Schneider v. Kissinger ], U.S. Department of Justice, June 28, 2005

On September 11 2001, the 28th anniversary of the Pinochet coup, Chilean human rights lawyers filed a criminal case against Kissinger along with Augusto Pinochet, former Bolivian general and president Hugo Banzer, former Argentine general and dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, and former Paraguayan president Alfredo Stroessner for alleged involvement in Operation Condor. The case was brought on behalf of some fifteen victims of Operation Condor, ten of whom were Chilean.

In late 2001 the Brazilian government canceled an invitation for Kissinger to speak in Sao Paulo because it could not guarantee his immunity from judicial action.

On February 162007 a request for the extradition of Kissinger was filed at the Supreme Court of Uruguay on behalf of Bernardo Arnone, a political activist who was kidnapped, tortured and disappeared by the dictatorial regime in 1976.Piden extraditar a Kissinger por Operacion Condor, in: La Jornada, 2007-02-16 (in Spanish) [*]

The "French connection"

French journalist Marie-Monique Robin found in the archives of the ''Quai d'Orsay, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the original document proving that a 1959 agreement between Paris and Buenos Aires set up a "permanent French military mission" of officers who had fought in the Algerian War, and which was located in the offices of the chief of staff of the Argentine Army. It continued until socialist Francois Mitterrand was elected President of France in 1981. Argentine - Escadrons de la mort : lecole francaise, interview with Marie-Monique Robin published by RISAL, October 22, 2004 available in French & Spanish ( Los metodos de Argel se aplicaron aqui, Pagina/12'', October 13, 2004 She showed how Valery Giscard d'Estaing's government secretly collaborated with Videla's junta in Argentina and with Augusto Pinochet's regime in Chile. Conclusion of Marie-Monique Robin's ''Escadrons de la mort, l'ecole francaise. The first Argentine officers, among them Alcides Lopez Aufranc, went to Paris to attend two-year courses at the Ecole de Guerre military school in 1957, two years before the Cuban Revolution and when no Argentine guerrilla movement existed. "In practice", said Robin to Pagina/12, "the arrival of the French in Argentina led to a massive extension of intelligence services and of the use of torture as the primary weapon of anti-subversive war in the concept of modern warfare." The annihilation decrees signed by Isabel Peron had been inspired by French texts. During the Battle of Algiers police forces were put under the authority of the Army, and in particular of the paratroopers, who used interrogation under torture and "disappearances".

On September 10, 2003 French Green Party deputies Noel Mamere, Martine Billard and Yves Cochet petitioned for the constitution of a Parliamentary Commission on the "role of France in the support of military regimes in Latin America from 1973 to 1984" before the Foreign Affairs Commission of the National Assembly, presided by Edouard Balladur. The only newspaper to report this was Le Monde''. MM. Giscard d'Estaing et Messmer pourraient etre entendus sur l'aide aux dictatures sud-americaines, Le Monde, September 25, 2003 However, Deputy Roland Blum, in charge of the Commission, refused to hear Marie-Monique Robin, and in December 2003 published a 12-page report described by Robin as being in the utmost bad faith. It claimed that no agreement had been signed, despite the agreement found by Robin in the ''Quai d'Orsay''

When Minister of Foreign Affairs Dominique de Villepin traveled to Chile in February 2004 he claimed that there had been no cooperation between France and the military regimes. Argentine : M. de Villepin defend les firmes francaises, Le Monde, February 5, 2003

Reporter Marie-Monique Robin said to ''L'Humanitenewspaper: "The French have systematized a military technique in the urban environment which would be copied and pasted to Latin American dictatorships." Lexportation de la torture, interview with Marie-Monique Robin in L'Humanite'', August 30, 2003 . The methods employed during the 1957 Battle of Algiers were systematized and exported to the War School in Buenos Aires. Roger Trinquier's famous book on counter-insurgency had a very strong influence in South America. Robin said that she was shocked to learn that the French intelligence agency Direction de surveillance du territoire (DST) communicated to the DINA the names of refugees who returned to Chile (Operation Retorno), all of whom were killed. "Of course, this puts the French government in the dock, and Giscard d'Estaing, then President of the Republic. I was very shocked by the duplicity of the French diplomatic position which, at the same time received political refugees with open arms, and collaborated with the dictatorships."

Marie-Monique Robin also showed ties between the French far right and Argentina since the 1930s, in particular through the Catholic fundamentalist organization Cite catholique created by Jean Ousset, a former secretary of Charles Maurras (founder of the royalist Action francaise movement). La Cite published a review, Le Verbe, which influenced military officers during the Algerian War, notably by justifying the use of torture. At the end of the 1950s the Cite catholique established itself in Argentina and set up cells in the Army. It greatly expanded during the government of General Juan Carlos Ongania, in particular in 1969. The key figure of the Cite catholique was priest Georges Grasset, who became Videla's personal confessor and had been the spiritual guide of the Organisation de l'armee secrete (OAS) pro-French Algeria terrorist movement founded in Franquist Spain. This Catholic fundamentalist current in the Argentine Army explains, according to Robin, the importance and duration of Franco-Argentine cooperation. In Buenos Aires Georges Grasset maintained links with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the Society of St. Pius X in 1970 and excommunicated in 1988. The Society of Pius-X has four monasteries in Argentina, the largest in La Reja. There, a French priest declared to Marie-Monique Robin: "to save the soul of a Communist priest, one must kill him." There she met Luis Roldan, former Under Secretary of Religion under Carlos Menem (President of Argentina from 1989 to 1999), who was presented by Dominique Lagneau, the priest in charge of the monastery, as "Mr. Cite catholique in Argentina". Bruno Genta and Juan Carlos Goyeneche represent this ideology.

Argentine Admiral Luis Maria Mendia, who had theorized the practice of "death flights", testified in January 2007 before Argentine judges that a French intelligence "agent," Bertrand de Perseval, had participated in the abduction of two French nuns, Leonie Duquet and Alice Domont, who were later murdered. Perseval, who lives today in Thailand, denied any links with the abduction but admitted being a former member of the OAS, and having escaped for Argentina after the March 1962 Evian Accords which ended the Algerian War (1954-62). Referring to Marie Monique Robin's film documentary titled The Death Squads - the French School (''Les escadrons de la mort - l'ecole francaise''), Luis Maria Mendia asked of the Argentine Court that former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, former French premier Pierre Messmer, former French ambassador to Buenos Aires Francois de la Gorce, and all officials in place in the French embassy in Buenos Aires between 1976 and 1983 be called before the court. Disparitions : un ancien agent francais mis en cause, Le Figaro, February 6, 2007 Besides this "French connection" he has also accused former head of state Isabel Peron and former ministers Carlos Ruckauf and Antonio Cafiero, who had signed the "anti-subversion decrees" before Videla's 1976 coup d'etat. According to ESMA survivor Graciela Daleo, this is another tactic which claims that these crimes were legitimised by the 1987 Obediencia Debida law, and that they were also covered by Isabel Peron's "anti-subversion decrees" Imparti ordenes que fueron cumplidas, Pagina/12, February 2, 2007 Alfredo Astiz also referred before the courts to the "French connection". Astiz llevo sus chicanas a los tribunales, Pagina/12, January 25, 2007

Legal actions

Chilean judge Juan Guzman, who had arraigned Pinochet at his return to Chile after his arrest in London, started procedures against some 30 torturers, including former head of the DINA Manuel Contreras, for the disappearance of 20 Chilean victims of the Condor plan. Latin America in the 1970s: "Operation Condor", an International Organization for Kidnapping Opponents, ''L'Humanitein English, December 2, 2006, transl. January 1, 2007

In Argentina the CONADEP human rights commission led by writer Ernesto Sabato investigated human rights abuses during the "Dirty War", and the 1985 Trial of the Juntas found top officers who ran the military governments guilty of acts of state terrorist. However, the amnesty laws (Ley de Obediencia Debida and Ley de Punto Final) put an end to the trials until the amnesties themselves were repealed by the Argentine Supreme Court in 2003. Criminals such as Alfredo Astiz, sentenced in absentia in France for the disappearance of the two French nuns Alice Domont and Leonie Duquet will now have to answer for their involvement in Condor.

Chilean Enrique Arancibia Clavel was condemned in Argentina for the assassination of Carlos Prats and of his wife.

Former Uruguayan president Juan Maria Bordaberry, his minister of Foreign Affairs and six military officers, responsible for the disappearance in Argentina in l976 of opponents to the Uruguayan regime, were arrested in 2006.

On 3 August, 2007 General Raul Iturriaga, former head of DINA, was captured in the Chilean town of Vina del Mar on the Pacific coast Claudia Lagos and Patrick J. McDonneln Pinochet-era general is caught, Los Angeles Times, August 3, 2007 . He had previously been a fugitive from a five-year jail term, after being sentenced for the kidnapping of Luis Dagoberto San Martin, a 21-year-old opponent of Pinochet. Martin had been captured in 1974 and taken to a DINA detention centre, from which he "disappeared." Iturriaga was also wanted in Argentina for the assassination of General Prats .

According to French newspaper L'Humanite'' "in most of those countries legal action against the authors of crimes of 'lese-humanity' from the 1970s to 1990 owes more to flaws in the amnesty laws than to a real will of the governments in power, which, on the contrary, wave the flag of 'national reconciliation'. It is sad to say that two of the pillars of the Condor Operation, Alfredo Stroessner and Augusto Pinochet, never paid for their crimes and died without ever answering charges about the 'disappeared' - who continue to haunt the memory of people who had been crushed by fascist brutality.".

See also

History of Argentina

History of Bolivia

History of Brazil

History of Chile

History of Paraguay

History of Peru

History of Uruguay

Dirty War

Amnesty Law

Films depicting Latin American military dictatorships

South American intelligence agencies





Some participants in Operation Condor

Stefano Delle Chiaie, Italian terrorist, also an operative for Gladio "stay-behind" NATO clandestine structure

Michael Townley, US expatriate, DINA agent involved in Orlando Letelier's 1976 murder in Washington D.C.

Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban anti-Castro terrorist who participated in Operation Condor and worked for the Venezuelan DISIP (currently in the US)

Virgilio Paz Romero, who participated to Orlando Letelier's 1976 assassination and the attack against Bernardo Leighton in Rome

Alianza Anticomunista Argentina (aka Triple A)

Italian secret services

Prominent victims of Operation Condor

A few well-known victims of Operation Condor:

Martin Almada, educator in Paraguay, arrested in 1974 and tortured for three years

Victor Olea Alegria, member of the Socialist Party, arrested on September 11, 1974 and "disappeared" (head of DINA Manuel Contreras was convicted in 2002 for this crime)

General Carlos Prats, who immediately preceded Pinochet at the head of the Chilean army, assassinated in Buenos Aires in 1974

William Beausire, businessman with dual British and Chilean nationality, abducted in transit in Buenos Aires airport in November 1974, taken to the Villa Grimaldi torture centre in Chile and never seen since [*].

Bernardo Leighton, Christian-Democrat who narrowly escaped murder in Rome in 1975 organized by Italian terrorist Stefano Delle Chiaie

Carlos Altamirano, leader of the Chilean Socialist Party, targeted for murder by Pinochet in 1975

Attempted assassination against Emilio Aragones, the Cuban ambassador in Buenos Aires, in 1975, organized by leader of the CORU, Orlando Bosch

Sheila Cassidy, British physician, arrested in Chile in 1975 and tortured for medical treatment to an opponent of the regime.

Volodia Teitelboim, member of the Communist Party of Chile, targeted for murder alongside Carlos Altamirano, in Mexico in 1976

"Disappearance" of two Cuban diplomats in Argentina, Crecencio Galanega Hernandez and Jesus Cejas Arias who transited through Orletti detention center in Buenos Aires (August 9, 1976 - see [[:es:Lista de centros clandestinos de detencion (Argentina)|Lista de centros clandestinos de detencion (Argentina)]]); both were questionned by the SIDE and the DINA, with the knowledge of the FBI and the CIA

Pascal Allende, nephew of Salvador Allende and president of the MIR, escaped assassination attempt in Costa Rica in March 1976

Orlando Letelier, murdered in 1976 in Washington D.C. with his assistant Ronnie Moffitt

US Congressman Edward Koch, who became aware in 2001 of relations between 1970s threats on his life and Operation Condor

Christian-Democrat and president of Chile from 1964 to 1970 Eduardo Frei Montalva, who may have been poisoned in the early 1980s according to current investigations

former Bolivian president Juan Jose Torres, assassinated in Buenos Aires in 1976

Hector Gutierrez Ruiz, former Uruguayan deputy, assassinated in Buenos Aires in 1976

Zelmar Michelini, former Uruguayan deputy, assassinated in Buenos Aires in 1976

Carmelo Soria, Spanish diplomat, civil servant of the CEPAL (a United Nations organism), assassinated on July 21, 1976

Jorge Zaffaroni and Maria Emilia Islas de Zaffaroni, maybe members of the Tupamaros, "disappeared" in Buenos Aires on September 29, 1976, kidnapped by the Batallon de Inteligencia 601, who handed them out to the Uruguayan OCOAS (Organismo Coordinador de Operaciones Anti-Subversivas)

Dagmar Ingrid Hagelin, 17-year-old Swedish girl shot in the back by Alfredo Astiz in 1977 and later murdered

Poet Juan Gelman's son and daughter-in-law (whose baby was stolen by the Uruguayan militaries)

Archives and reports

National Security Archives, a NGO which publicizes the few CIA documents obtained under Freedom of Information Act

"Terror archives", discovered in 1992 in Paraguay, which permitted opening of prosecution cases against former or active militaries involved in Operation Condor

Rettig Report

Valech Report

Detention and torture centers

Colonia Dignidad, a bizarre and secretive German enclave in activity until 2005, put under state administration end of 2005

Esmeralda (BE-43)

Estadio Nacional de Chile

Villa Grimaldi

Other operations and strategies related to Condor

Operation Colombo, for which Augusto Pinochet was being judged at the time of his death

Caravan of Death, carried on a few weeks after the 1973 coup

Fictional references

Don Winslow's 2005 book The Power of the Dog is based on the actions and some of the consequences of Operation Condor.

In DC Comics, the father of the superheroine Fire was a key figure in Operation Condor.


Stella Calloni, Los anos del lobo and Operacion Condor: Pacto Criminal, Editorial Ciencias Sociales', La Habana, 2006.

John Dinges, "The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents"

Peter Kornbluh, The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountablity (New Press).

Marie-Monique Robin, ''Escadrons de la mort, l'ecole francaise. Book and film documentary .

Nilson, Cezar Mariano; Operacion Condor. Terrorismo de Estado en el cono Sur''. Lhole-Lumen; Buenos Aires, 1998.

*Paredes, Alejandro. La Operacion Condor y la guerra fria. . Universum. [online]. 2004, vol.19, no.1, p.122-137. ISSN 0718-2376.

Gutierrez Contreras, J.C. y Villegas Diaz, Myrna. Derechos Humanos y Desaparecidos en Dictaduras Militares, KO'AGA RONE'ETA se.vii (1999) - Previamente publicado en "Derecho penal: Implicaciones Internacionales", Publicacion del IX Congreso Universitario de Derecho Penal, Universidad de Salamanca. Edit. Colex, Madrid, Marzo de 1999

Informe de la Comision Nacional sobre prision politica y tortura. Santiago de Chile, Ministerio del Interior Comision Nacional sobre Prision Politica y Tortura, 2005.

External links

Operation Condor on Nizkor's website

Predatory States: Operation Condor and Covert War in Latin America, by J. Patrice McSherry [http://www.rowmanlittlefield.com/Catalog/SingleBook.shtml?command=Search&db=^DB/CATALOG.db&eqSKUdata=0742536874 ]

The Condor Years - How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents

Ed Koch Threatened with Assassination in 1976

Plan Condor on Disinfopedia

Nacimiento del Operativo Condor, article in Spanish by Dr Martin Almada on how the enquiry of his case led to the discover of the Lambare files.

Operation Condor - John Dinges John Dinges is a reporter, author of several books about Operation Condor. He has worked as a correspondent for the Washington Post in South America and is the former director of NPR.

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