Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

SOUTH AMERICA: 'Archives of Terror' Yield New Horrors

Darío Montero

MONTEVIDEO, Sep 16 2005 (IPS) - The so-called "archives of terror" discovered by a human rights lawyer in Paraguay over a decade ago continue to yield new information on the cooperation between the de facto regimes that ruled much of South America in the 1970s and 1980s.

Paraguayan activist and lawyer Martín Almada visited Uruguay this week to hand over documents recently found in the archives of terror, which indicate that the number of Uruguayans who were detained in Paraguay during the dictatorial regimes was much greater than human rights groups had previously realised.

In December 1992, Almada, who was held as a political prisoner and tortured in his country in the 1970s, came across a room full of official records in a police station near the Paraguayan capital.

The hundreds of thousands of documents that he basically discovered by accident pertain to the torture and forced disappearances carried out by the dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989) in Paraguay.

But the archives of terror are especially important because they contain secret documents shedding light on Operation Condor, a coordinated plan among the military governments that ruled Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay in the 1970s and 1980s, aimed at tracking down, capturing and eliminating left-wing opponents.

Thanks to legal action by Almada, the archives of terror are open to public scrutiny. They are stored on the premises of Paraguay's Supreme Court, in the Centre of Documentation and Archives for the Defence of Human Rights.

Up to now, human rights groups in Paraguay "talked about eight to 10 Uruguayans who were detained in our country, but just eight days ago we discovered a list in the archives of terror that shows that 35 Uruguayans were detained there. And five others must be added to that total, according to documents found in the Foreign Ministry," Almada told IPS.

Almada handed the records over to the Uruguayan Chamber of Deputies' Human Rights Commission Wednesday and they were given to the leftist Broad Front government Thursday.

The documents also reveal that Uruguayan military officers took part in founding Operation Condor.

In addition, they show that political prisoners were transferred by plane by the military between Paraguay and Uruguay.

The documents include statements obtained under torture from Uruguayan activist Gustavo Insaurralde, a member of the small leftist Party for the Victory of the People, and reveal that he was later flown by the armed forces to Argentina.

Insaurralde and Nelson Santana were the only Uruguayans known to have disappeared in Argentina after being seized in Paraguay and taken to that country, according to the records kept by the Association of Mothers and Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared, a Uruguayan human rights organisation.

That is why the new documents showing that 40 Uruguayans were detained in Paraguay are so important, said activists.

The names of the 40 Uruguayans seized in Paraguay in the 1970s were not revealed by Almada or by Uruguayan authorities, as they must be checked against the list of Uruguayan victims of forced disappearance to discover whether they are among the cases that human rights groups are already aware of, represent new cases, or were freed.

The documents also demonstrate that Uruguayan army Colonel Carlos Calcagno took part in the interrogation and torture of Insaurralde in Paraguay from Apr. 5-7, 1977.

"This led us…to demand that the courts in my country ask Uruguay to extradite Calcagno," said Almada. "The extradition request will arrive in Montevideo in the next few days."

He added that if the extradition goes ahead, it would set an important precedent in the investigation of Operation Condor.

The documents provided by Almada also confirm the existence of a flight by the Uruguayan air force to transfer 26-year-old Victoria Godoy Vera, a young Paraguayan woman listed among the "disappeared", from Montevideo to Asunción in 1974.

Although there is abundant information on flights carrying political prisoners between Argentina and Uruguay, until now activists did not have official records showing that such flights existed between Uruguay and Paraguay.

"I also gave the Uruguayan Congress a copy of the document that records the birth of Operation Condor (in late 1975 in Chile) and outlines the mechanisms by which it functioned, as well as a list of Uruguayan officers who belonged to the so-called Anti-Communist League in 1977, which formed the basis of that repressive plan," said Almada.

"These documents also indicate that Korean Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church had links" to Operation Condor as well, he added.

Almada said that in September 1977, after Jimmy Carter became president of the United States, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) withdrew its support from Operation Condor.

Documents declassified in recent years in Washington, D.C. clearly demonstrate that Operation Condor was backed by the United States since its creation at the initiative of the Chilean dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).

After September 1977, "ties began to appear between Moon's sect and the local and Latin American Anti-Communist League. A finance company, Urundel, was even set up in Paraguay to serve as a bank for the repressive operations in that country," said Almada.

He added that Operation Condor, which basically kept its "administrative headquarters" in Paraguay, was conceived of and led by the armed forces in the region, which often made use of the police to help with the "dirty work". Industrialists were also accomplices in the case of Paraguay, he noted.

Another new element that has emerged from the recently unearthed documents is the active intervention in these operations by local International Police (Interpol) offices, which provided data and exchanged information with the military during the de facto regimes.

And "The Condor is still flying, but in new trappings," Almada added.

He based that contention on a recently discovered military document "that shows that in April 1997, a Paraguayan colonel sent an Ecuadorian colleague a list of local 'subversives', as a 'contribution to add to the list of subversives in Latin America'."

"That document was taken before a judge, who summoned the colonel in question to testify. The officer revealed things that we did not expect. For example, that a list of this kind was exchanged at the Conference of American Armies held in 1995 in (the southern Argentine resort city of) Bariloche," said Almada.

The officer said that since the restoration of democracy, the "subversives" in the region have been basically activists with the homeless and landless movements and human rights organisations, investigative reporters, and those active in the "piquetero" movement of unemployed workers who have organised to demand jobs and express their grievances.

(The movement takes its name from the "piquetes" or roadblocks that are the groups' main tool of protest.)

After underlining that this was the first time he was invited to Uruguay to provide documents on Operation Condor, Almada said he believed that it was "the political climate in this country today that has made it possible for me to appear before one of the branches of the state.

"Never before had any Uruguayan government made a move to enable me to share documents from the archives of terror, despite the fact that presidents and other officials made many visits to Paraguay after the return of democracy," he added.

After socialist President Tabaré Vázquez of the leftist Broad Front took office on Mar. 1, the whereabouts of the victims of forced disappearance began to be investigated in Uruguay, with forensic teams searching – so far without success – for signs of clandestine graves and human remains at two military garrisons near Montevideo.

Thousands of leftists and other opponents of the dictatorship spent years in prison and were tortured in Uruguay.

But while as many as 30,000 people fell victim to forced disappearance in neighbouring Argentina during that country's 1976-1983 military regime, the number of Uruguayans who disappeared amounted to around 200, and most of them went missing in Argentina.

An amnesty law that Uruguayan voters ratified in a 1989 referendum put an end to prosecutions against members of the armed forces implicated in human rights violations.

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