Operation Condor

Julio Pino jpino at SPAMkent.edu
Fri Jun 9 13:42:22 MDT 2000


Brazil Opens Files on Region's Abuses in
          Age of Dictators
New York Times
June 9, 2000
          By LARRY ROHTER

               RIO DE JANEIRO, June 8 --
               Throughout the 1970's, the military
          dictatorships of South America organized a
          secret program, known as Operation
          Condor, to kidnap and kill one another's
          opponents. Now the democratic
          governments that succeeded them are
          joining together, albeit tentatively and
          somewhat reluctantly, in an effort to
          untangle the true extent and toll of that
          sordid collaboration.

          The sudden burst of activity is the result of
          an Argentine judge's request, made last
          year, for information about three Argentine
          citizens who disappeared here when both
          countries were under military rule. To the
          surprise of almost everyone, Brazil's highest
          court recently ordered that all documents
          relating to the case and to Operation
          Condor be supplied to Argentine
          authorities.

          According to historians and human rights
          groups, Operation Condor was a
          cooperative effort that involved the military,
          the police and intelligence forces of
          Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay
          and Uruguay. Each nation's "apparatus of
          repression" exchanged information with its
          counterparts in neighboring countries and
          kidnapped, tortured and killed guerrillas and
          other exiles from those countries on behalf
          of its colleagues.

          In Argentina, for example, at least 118 exiled Uruguayans, 51
          Paraguayans, 49 Chileans and 9 Brazilians were "disappeared,"
          according to tallies compiled by human rights groups.

          Operation Condor, named for the large bird that flies above the
peaks of
          the Andes, appears to have been a Chilean initiative, and
interest in its
          activities has heightened as a result of the judicial case
against Gen.
          Augusto Pinochet, that country's former dictator.

          Fewer exiles were killed here than in Chile or Argentina. But
Brazil's
          military dictatorship began much earlier, in 1964, and recently
unearthed
          documents indicate that Brazil's security apparatus began
training police
          and military intelligence from neighboring countries as early as
1969.

          The issue is one of particular interest to President Fernando
Henrique
          Cardoso and his Cabinet. As Georges Lamaziere, the president's press
          secretary, noted recently of the current administration, "a good
number of
          its members were victims of previous governments," including Mr.
          Cardoso himself, who spent several years in exile in Chile and
France.

          "Fortunately, even though the memories are painful, we can regard
this as
          a page that has been turned but should not be forgotten," Mr.
Cardoso
          said last month in his first public comment on the matter. His
government
          has also said that Brazil would pay a $72,500 indemnity to the
families of
          the three missing Argentine leftists, who are said to have been
executed
          here.

          Rights groups, however, have complained that the Cardoso government
          has been slow to produce documents that would clarify other
incidents
          still being investigated.

          Brazil's armed forces, backed by the minister of defense, Geraldo
          Quintao, have said variously that requested documents never
existed, that
          they appear to have been destroyed, or that to make them public
would
          violate a law requiring that such records be kept secret for 30
years.

          "I don't see why they should be opened," Mr. Quintao, a civilian,
said last
          week. "No country opens its intelligence archives immediately
after the
          fact."

          The inability of the armed forces to produce relevant records is
surprising
          in view of the spate of investigative reports that in recent
weeks have
          filled the pages of Brazilian newspapers and magazines. All of the
          accounts are based on official documents that have been leaked to
          reporters, and some include detailed interviews with former military
          officers who remember specific episodes of cooperation with
Argentine,
          Paraguayan and Uruguayan authorities.

          None of the material that has come to light thus far indicates
the direct
          involvement of any American government agency in Operation Condor.
          But the United States was clearly aware of the effort: the first
known
          mention of Operation Condor came in a 1976 cable from the American
          Embassy in Buenos Aires, and American agents worked closely with
          security officials in the region, many of whom had studied at the
United
          States-run School of the Americas.

          Lawyers and human rights groups, along with relatives of the
disappeared
          who want to make peace with the past, are eager to examine the
          Brazilian records.

          Though Paraguay made public thousands of pages of police files in
1992,
          no country involved in Operation Condor has yet opened its military
          archives for inspection, and the originals of many documents are
believed
          to have vanished.

          Inspired by the Pinochet case and using the Paraguayan records and
          material recently uncovered here, Brazilian and Paraguayan
lawyers and
          human rights groups are seeking to bring Gen. Alfredo Stroessner,
          Paraguay's former dictator, to justice. Overthrown in 1989 after
35 years
          in power, General Stroessner now lives in exile in Brazil, but an
effort is
          under way here to have him expelled or extradited to Paraguay.

          The flurry of investigations has also revived speculation about
the death
          of João Goulart, who was president when the military seized power
here
          in 1964.

          Mr. Goulart died in exile in Argentina in December 1976 of what was
          officially said to be a heart attack, but no autopsy was
performed, and his
          family had only limited access to his body when it was returned
to Brazil
          for burial.

          The Goulart family has always suspected that the former president
may
          have been poisoned or that someone tampered with his medicine, fears
          that have been fed by the recent publication of a September 1976
          document that shows the military here was convinced that he was
about
          to return to Brazil. In an effort to clarify the circumstances of
Mr.
          Goulart's death, a congressional inquiry has just begun, and family
          members this week authorized the exhumation of his remains.








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