Learn more about Operation Condor
For other uses of Operation Condor, please see Operation Condor (disambiguation)
Operation Condor (Spanish: Operación Cóndor, Portuguese: Operação Condor) was a genocide and a campaign of counter-terrorism and intelligence operations implemented by authoritarian right-wing dictatorships that dominated the Southern Cone in Latin America from the 1950s to 1980s, heavily relying on numerous assassinations. The systematic counter-terrorism aimed both to deter democratic influence and ideas disseminated in the region and to control active or potential opposition movements against these dictatorships. This organized counter-terrorism caused an unknown number of deaths, due to the covering up of the different governments involved. There have been prosecutions against the members, to varied degrees. However some are still pending, and some have been acquitted.
The operation was jointly conducted by the intelligence and security services of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay in the mid-1970s. The right-wing military governments of these countries, led by dictators such as Videla, Pinochet and Stroessner agreed to cooperate in sending teams into other countries, including France, Portugal, Spain, Italy and the United States to locate, observe and assassinate political opponents.
In November 1975, leaders of the secret polices of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay met together, with Manuel Contreras, chief of the DINA, in Santiago de Chile, creating the Plan Condor. Brazil signed the agreement later (June 1976), and refused to engage in actions out of Latin America.
In light of the Cold War, Operation Condor was given at least tacit approval by the United States, due to fear of Marxist revolution in the region. The targets were officially leftist guerrillas, but in fact included all kinds of political opponents, including family and others, as reported by the Valech Commission. It appears that Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State in the Nixon administration, was closely involved diplomatically with the Southern Cone governments at the time and well-aware of the Condor plan. On March 6, 2001, the New York Times reported the existence of a recently declassified State Department document revealing that the United States facilitated communications for Operation Condor. This 1978 cable released in 2000 under Chile declassification project showed that the South American intelligence chiefs involved in Condor "keep in touch with one another through a U.S. communications installation in the Panama Canal Zone which covers all of Latin America". Robert E. White, the U.S. ambassador to Paraguay, was concerned that the US connection to Condor might be revealed during the then ongoing investigation into the deaths of Orlando Letelier and his American colleague Ronni Moffitt.
A "U.S. communications installation in the Panama Canal Zone which covers all of Latin America", "employed to co-ordinate intelligence information among the southern cone countries", was acknowledged by a cable released in 2000 under Chile declassification project. The "information exchange" (via telex) included torture techniques (i.e. near drowning or playing the sound recordings of victims who were being tortured to their family). The infamous "death flights" were also 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 Condor came to light when José Fernandez, a Paraguayan judge, visited a police station in the Lambaré suburb of Asunción 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 people. <ref>Martín Almada, "Paraguay: The Forgotten Prison, the Exiled Country"</ref>
According to these archives, other countries such as Colombia, Peru and Venezuela also cooperated to varying extents by providing intelligence information in response to requests from the security services of the Southern Cone countries. Even though they weren't at the secret November 1975 meeting in Santiago de Chile there is evidence of their involvement. For instance, in June 1980, Peru was known to have been collaborating with Argentinian 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 decided Orlando Letelier's car bombing). In Colombia, it has been alleged that a paramilitary organization known as Alianza Americana Anticomunista may have cooperated with Operation Condor.
The Operation Condor officially ended with the ousting of the Argentinean dictatorship in 1983, although the killings continued.
Prosecution in each country has followed different paths in each country and therefore deserves separate treatment (see below).
 Notable cases and prosecution
The Argentine Dirty War was carried on simultaneously with Operation Condor, the two overlapping between themselves. Indeed, the SIDE cooperated with the Chilean DINA in numerous cases of desaparecidos. 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. 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.
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, Raúl Agosti, Rubén Graffigna, Leopoldo Galtieri, Jorge Anaya and Basilio Lami Dozo. However, Raúl Alfonsín's government voted two amnesty laws in order to avoid the escalation of trials against militaries involved in human rights abuses: the 1986 Ley de Punto Final and the 1987 Ley de Obediencia Debida. President Carlos Menem then pardoned the leaders of the junta in 1989–1990. Following persistent activism by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and other associations, the amnesty laws were overturned 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 a life-sentence in General Prat's case . In 2003, federal judge Maria Servini de Cubria asked Chile for the extradition 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 crime. But Chilean judge Nibaldo Segura from appeal court has refused in July 2005, arguing that they were already been prosecuted in Chile 2.
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 Carlos Prats. Along with fellow extremist Vincenzo Vinciguerra, he testified in Rome in December 1995 before judge María Servini de Cubría 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 disappearance of Italian citizens, probably by a mix of Argentine, Chilean, Paraguayan and Brazilian militaries, accused 11 Brazilians of being implicated in it. However, according to the official statement, "they could not confirm nor invalidate that Argentine, Brazilian, Paraguayan and Chilean militaries will be submitted to a trial before December." <ref> Radiobras Brazilian state website (Portuguese) </ref>
As of August 2006, nobody in Brazil has been convicted of human rights violations during the 21 years of military dictatorship there. With strong support from conservative groups within the Catholic and Freemasons, the military and civilians who committed atrocities during the totalitarian times were able to avoid prosecution.
Augusto Pinochet is in the process of judgement, not for his involvement in Operation Condor (the Supreme Court rejected the possibility to judge him), but for his responsibilities in Operation Colombo and charges of tax evasion. However, since his 1998 arrest in London and failed extradition to Spain, which was demanded by magistrate Baltazar Garzon, a bit more of information concerning Condor has been delivered. One of the lawyers who asked for his extradition talked about an attempt to assassinate Carlos Altamirano, leader of the Chilean Socialist Party: Pinochet would have met Italian terrorist Stefano Delle Chiaie in Madrid in 1975, during Franco's funeral, in order to have him murdered <ref> Las Relaciones Secretas entre Pinochet, Franco y la P2 - Conspiracion para matar, Nizkor Project, February 4, 1999 (Spanish) </ref>. 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 Guzmán Tapia would eventually make jurisprudence concerning "permanent kidnapping" crime: since the bodies of the victims could not be found, he deemed that the kidnapping may be said to continue, therefore refusing to grant to the military the benefices of the statute of limitation. This helped indict Chilean militaries who were benefitting from a 1978 self-amnesty decree.
 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 Solís, definitively relaxed Pinochet on this particular case, after the Chilean Supreme court rejected in January 2005 a demand to lift the ex-dictator's immunity. The direction of DINA, including chief Manuel Contreras, ex-chief of operation and retired general Raúl Itturiaga Neuman, his brother Roger Itturiaga, and ex-brigadeers Pedro Espinoza Bravo and José Zara, are accused in Chile of this assassination.
 Bernardo Leighton
Bernardo Leighton and his wife were severely injured on October 5, 1976 by gunshots 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 prepare, with the help of Franco's secret police, the murder of Bernardo Leighton (National Security Archive). In 1995, attorney general Giovanni Salvi accused the Italian secret services, involved in Operation Gladio, of having dissimulated proofs of DINA's involvement in the terrorist attack on Bernardo Leighton. Michael Townley was the intermediary between Manuel Contreras and Stefano Delle Chiaie and Pierluigi Concutelli. However, both were acquitted in 1987. In Italy, this is the third trial concerning Bernardo Leighton.
 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 Moffit, 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 accepted to hand over Michael Townley to the USA, in order to reduce the tension about Orlando Letelier's murder. Michael Townley was then freed under witness protection programs. USA is still waiting for Manuel Contreras and Pedro Espinoza to be extradited.
In an op-ed published 17 December, 2004 in the Los Angeles Times, Francisco Letelier, the son of Orlando Letelier, wrote that the assassination of his father was part of Operation Condor, described as "an intelligence-sharing network used by six South American dictators of that era to eliminate dissidents." Noting that Augusto Pinochet, who had just been placed under house arrest in Chile, 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 José Dionisio "Bloodbath" Suárez, Virgilio Paz Romero, Alvin Ross Díaz 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
In 1991, a year before the "terror archives" were found in Paraguay, Eugenio Berríos, 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 before a Chilean court in the Letelier case.
This is known as Operation Silencio, that started in April 1991 in order to impede investigations by Chilean judges, with the spiriting away of Arturo Sanhueza Ross, linked to the murder of MIR leader Jecar Neghme. In September 1991, Carlos Herrera Jiménez, who killed trade-unionist Tucapel Jiménez, flew away, before Berríos in October 1991 . Berríos then used four different passports, Argentinian, Uruguayan, Paraguayan and Brasilian, lifting concerns about Operation Condor still being in place. In 1995, he 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 witness protection program, acknowledged to agents of Interpol Chile links between DINA and the detention and torture center Colonia Dignidad 1, which was founded in 1961 by Paul Schäfer, 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 Laboratory on Bacteriological War. This last laboratory would have replaced the old DINA's laboratoy on Via Naranja de lo Curro street, where Michael Townley worked with the chemical assassin Eugenio Berríos. 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" (The New Press, 2004). 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 (among which Colonel José Fons, who was at the November 1975 secret meeting in Santiago, Chile, and Major José Nino Gavazzo, who headed a team of intelligence officers working in Argentina in 1976, where he was responsible for more than 100 Uruguayans´ deaths) 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 Departement 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 Enríquez, was "disappeared" in Argentina, as well as another MIR leader, Jorge Fuentes; Alexei Jaccard, Chilean and Swiss,Ricardo Ramírez 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 assassination of former Bolivian president Juan José Torres 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. <ref> Los crímenes de la Operación Cóndor, La Tercera, 2001. (Spanish) </ref>.
 US involvement
- Further information: U.S. intervention in Chile
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 track record, but the single payment was made due to miscommunication. 
On March 6, 2001, the New York Times reported the existence of a recently declassified State Department document revealing that the United States facilitated communications for Operation Condor. The document, a 1978 cable from Robert E. White, the U.S. ambassador to Paraguay, was discovered by Professor J. Patrice McSherry of Long Island University, who had published several articles on Operation Condor. She called the cable "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." 
In the cable, Ambassador White relates a conversation with General Alejandro Fretes Davalos, chief of staff of Paraguay's armed forces, who told him that the South American intelligence chiefs involved in Condor "keep in touch with one another through a U.S. communications installation in the Panama Canal Zone which covers all of Latin America". This installation is "employed to co-ordinate intelligence information among the southern cone countries". White, whose message was sent to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, was concerned that the US connection to Condor might be revealed during the then ongoing investigation into the deaths of Orlando Letelier and his American colleague Ronni Moffitt. "It would seem advisable," he suggests, "to review this arrangement to insure that its continuation is in US interest."
The document was found among 16,000 State, CIA, White House, Defense and Justice Department records released in November 2000 on the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, and Washington's role in the violent coup that brought his military regime to power. The release was the fourth and final batch of records released under the Clinton Administration's special Chile Declassification Project.
 Henry Kissinger
On May 31, 2001, French judge Roger Le Loire requested a summons served on Henry Kissinger while he was staying at the Hôtel Ritz in Paris. Loire claimed to want to question Kissinger for alleged U.S. involvement in Operation Condor as well as the death of French nationals under the Chilean junta. As a result, Kissinger left Paris that evening, and Loire's inquiries were directed to the U.S. State Department.
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 judge’s questions were relayed to Kissinger via diplomatic routes but went unanswered.
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. René Schneider, former Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army, asserting that Kissinger gave the order for the elimination of Schneider 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 prior to the killing, fearing that Viaux had no chance. As a part of the suit, Schneider’s two sons are attempting to sue Kissinger and then-CIA director Richard Helms for $3 million.
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.
 See also
 South American intelligence agencies
 Intelligence agents and terrorists involved 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)
- Alianza Americana Anticomunista Colombian organization
- Alianza Anticomunista Argentina (aka Triple A)
- Italian secret services
 Victims of Operation Condor
- Martín Almada, educationalist in Paraguay, tortured three years long
- Carlos Altamirano, leader of the Chilean Socialist Party, targeted for murder by Pinochet in 1975
- Bernardo Leighton, narrowly escaped murder in Rome in 1975
- Orlando Letelier, murdered in 1976 in Washington D.C.
- US Congressman Edward Koch, who became aware in 2001 of relations between 1970s threats on his life and Operation Condor
- Eduardo Frei Montalva, may have been poisoned in the early 1980s according to current investigations
- General Carlos Prats, assassinated in Buenos Aires in 1974
- Bolivian president Juan José Torres
 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 is currently judged
- Operation Gladio, NATO secret "stay-behind" paramilitary network
- Caravan of Death, carried on a few weeks after the 1973 coup
- "strategia della tensione", a violent strategy used by "stay-behind" armies in Italy during the 1970s, with the aim of pushing the state to declare a state of exception.
 Fictional References
- John Dinges, "The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents" (The New Press, 2004)
- Peter Kornbluh, The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountablity (New Press).
 External links
- Predatory States: Operation Condor and Covert War in Latin America, by J. Patrice McSherry (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005) 
- 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 Cóndor, article in Spanish by Dr Martín Almada on how the enquiry of his case led to the discover of the Lambaré 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.