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Colonia Dignidad

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Colonia Dignidad ("Dignity Colony") is the former name of the present-day Villa Baviera, (Bavaria Village) settlement located in an isolated area in the Province of Linares, Maule Region of central Chile, near the village of Parral. It was founded by a group of German immigrants led by ex-Nazi Paul Schafer in 1961. The full name of the colony was Sociedad Benefactora y Educacional Dignidad, like its precursor which the immigrants started in the mid-1950s.

The colony grew to some 300 residents, both Germans and Chileans, and covered 137 square kilometers (53 square miles). The main activity at the colony was agriculture, but it also featured a school, a free hospital, two airstrips, a restaurant and even a power station. The colony was quite secretive, surrounded by barbed wire fences, searchlights and a watchtower, and contained secret caches of war weaponry (including a tank). Some have described it as a cult, though others considered it simply a group of harmless eccentrics. In recent years, though, some facts have emerged about the disturbing history of the colony. With Villa Grimaldi, it is considered as one of the most important detention and torture centers of Augusto Pinochet's era, and links with DINA have been alleged.

Accusations of abuse

Some defectors from the colony have portrayed the colony as a cult where leader Paul Schafer held ultimate power. They claim that the residents were never allowed to leave the colony, and that they were strictly segregated by gender. Television and telephones were banned. Residents worked wearing Bavarian peasant garb and sang German folk songs. Sex was banned, with some residents forced to take drugs to reduce their desires. Severe discipline in the form of beatings and torture was commonplace -- Schafer preached that discipline was spiritually enriching.

Child molestation

Paul Schafer, a former Luftwaffe paramedic, was the founder and first leader ("Permanent Uncle") of Colonia Dignidad. He left Germany in 1961 after being accused of sexually abusing two boys. On May 20, 1997, he fled Chile, pursued by authorities investigating charges that he had molested 26 children of the colony. In March 2005, he was arrested in Argentina and extradited to Chile. He is also wanted for questioning about the disappearance of Boris Weisfeiler in 1985, an American Jewish mathematics professor of Russian origin.

Twenty-two other members of Colonia Dignidad were found guilty of aiding the molestation, including Dr. Hartmut Hopp, the second-in-command.

Torture

Investigations by Amnesty International and the Chilean National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation Report have verified that Colonia Dignidad was used by DINA, the Chilean secret police, as a concentration camp for the detention of political prisoners during Augusto Pinochet's dictatorial rule of Chile. Most accounts have this happening between 1973 and 1977 but precise dates are not known.

The son of DINA head Manuel Contreras claims that his father and Pinochet visited Colonia Dignidad in 1974, and that his father and Schafer were good friends. The current leader of Villa Baviera admits that torture took place within the old colony, but says that Villa Baviera is a new entity.

In March 2005, former DINA and CIA agent Michael Townley acknowledged to links between Colonia Dignidad and DINA, as well as relations with the Bacteriological War Army Laboratory. He would have spoken about biological experiments imposed to detainees, with the help of the fore-mentioned laboratory and another one, that used to be situated on Via Naranja de Lo Curro hill [*].

In 2005 the German-born Gisela Seewald, who arrived in Colonia Dignidad in 1963, confessed according to Judge Jorge Zepeda, that she applied psychiatric treatment against children, because Schafer assured her they were possessed.

Weapons caches

In June and July 2005, Chilean police found two arms caches in or around the colony. The first, within the colony itself, consisted of three containers with machine guns, automatic rifles, rocket launchers and large quantities of ammunition, some as much as 40 years old. Even a war tank was found under the ground. It was described as the largest arsenal ever found in private hands in Chile. The second, outside a restaurant operated by the colony, consisted of rocket launchers and grenades.

In January 2005, Michael Townley, a former DINA agent, who currently lives in the USA under a witness protection program, acknowledged to agents of Interpol Chile links between DINA and Colonia Dignidad. Townley also revealed information about Colonia Dignidad and the Army's Laboratory on Bacteriological War. This last laboratory would have replaced the old DINA's laboratory at Via Naranja de Lo Curro hill, where Michael Townley worked with the chemist Eugenio Berrios. Townley also gave proofs of biological experiments made upon the political prisoners at Colonia Dignidad, related to the two aforementioned laboratories [*].

Villa Baviera era

As of 2005, there is still a colony operating on the site, but the current leaders insist that changes have taken place. The current leader is Peter Muller. He has attempted to modernize the colony, allowing residents to leave to study at university and opening it up to tourism.

On August 26 2005 Chilean authorities entered in the enclave to take over its assets as part of an investigation into its former leaders. Control of the community was handed over to a state appointed lawyer.

In April 2006 former members of the colony issued a public apology and asked for forgiveness for 40 years of child sex and human rights abuses. In a full-page letter published in El Mercurio, a leading Chilean newspaper, they said their charismatic former leader Paul Schafer dominated them in mind and body while he molested children.

References

Levenda, Peter . Unholy Alliance: History of the Nazi Involvement With the Occult. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 0-8264-1409-5.

External links

Fugitive Chile cult leader held – BBC News

Chile discovers huge weapons cache on cult grounds (REUTERS)

Chile officials take over colony – BBC News

German held over 'Chile torture' – BBC News

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Colonia Dignidad