lunes, 12 de marzo de 2012

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

The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents (The New Press, 2004)
by John Dinges
USA, 2004

[The assassination of Orlando Letelier, the well-connected Pinochet opponent who was a foreign minister, defense minister, and Chilean ambassador to the U.S. under the Allende administration, in Washington, D.C. in 1976] is one of the Condor stories that is the object of this investigation.  The missed opportunity to prevent an act of terror and murder on the streets of Washington pales beside the deeper tragedy in Latin America and of the deeper failure of the United States in that period.  The historical question is this: How many of the thousands of murders committed by Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Brazil could have been prevented if the United States had taken "a strong forward public posture, [or] even a private posture" against the killing, torture, and disappearances its allies in friendly intelligence agencies were carrying out?
(John Dinges, writing about "The First War on Terrorism" in The Condor Years, 9)

John Dinges' The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents (available in Spanish as Operación Cóndor.  Una década de terrorismo internacional en el Cono Sur) is a splendid, tenacious piece of research that brings dozens of interviews and hundreds of pages of courtroom testimony and declassified documents to bear in its telling of the once secret history behind Operation Condor: the Pinochet-led "war on terror" that saw Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and other 1970s South American military dicatorships teaming up to share intelligence on real and imagined "subversives," to crush domestic dissent through kidnappings, torture, and other extralegal measures such as "disappearances," and to eventually extend assassinations of non-violent political opponents outside national borders in both Europe and the U.S.  It's a gripping but disturbing read.  While Dinges never really minces any words about the known thugs or morally reprehensible actions under consideration (on the Chilean Condor founder Manuel Contreras: "This well-regarded officer was the architect of a unique intelligence system that was about to embark on an orgy of mass murder" [66]), one of the things that lends confidence and credibility to his assertions is the combination of careful fact-checking and considered analysis on display when discussing loaded policy questions such as how much the U.S. might have helped set the table for the Pinochet coup or why some in the highest levels of the U.S. government might have looked the other way during Condor human rights violations.  Another thing that Dinges, a foreign correspondent in Chile during many of the Condor years and now a professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, succeeds at is the deceptively simple act of giving a voice to some of the innocents caught in the crossfire--at the very least, reading about Martín Almada, a Paraguayan who would later become "an accidental human rights hero" for leading post-dictatorship authorities to Paraguay's state "Archive of Terror," but at the expense of the loss of his wife, who suffered a heart attack while being forced to listen to Almada being tortured for a crime against the state he didn't commit (237-241), is an experience that I'm unlikely to forget anytime soon.  (The New Press)

 
John Dinges

10 comentarios:

  1. This does sound disturbing. I'm only a little familiar with the history of Pinochet, and so had never known about the assassination on US soil. Sadly, I am not surprised to learn that there is reason to think that the US may have permitted (or supported) such terror.

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    1. Although the work's definitely disturbing in terms of the details revealed, Amanda, it's also a great reading experience for the "detective work" and history lesson behind it. Impressive, even fascinating stuff. I should note, though, that Dinges is extraordinarily careful about where he lays blame for U.S. failure to help prevent the Letelier murder; in that case, he faults the U.S. government for not putting two and two together and issuing a stern warning to the Chilean government about knowing that Chilean agents were headed into the country under false passports but he doesn't claim that our intelligence operatives actually knew about the specific assassination target in advance (unfortunately, U.S. intelligence about Chilean hit squads operating in other countries didn't seem to matter all that much to many in positions of power--which speaks to your final point, of course).

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  2. I'm encouraged by such books to always read between the lines and to think ten times before assenting to propositions. A book I'll love to read.

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    1. Nana, one of the things Dinges' work underscores is that a government's public talk often doesn't accurately represent its private intentions--sometimes in the worst ways possible. It's a depressing reminder but, in my opinion, told in a way that honors the memories of the victims.

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  3. Sounds very interesting but somewhat creepy as well.

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    1. Very interesting indeed, Caroline, but I guess there's no easy way to talk about mass murder without it being "somewhat creepy" as well. Unfortunately, that the Bush administration tried to justify torture in the name of its own so-called "war on terror" shows that many of the same issues are still relevant today.

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  4. BTW, have you read Feeding on Dreams by Ariel Dorfman? Fascinating look at the coup from someone who was in Allende's government and spent many subsequent years in exile. (Also his recent Desert Memories is pretty hard to beat for an aesthetic and historical look at Northern Chile.)

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    1. Thanks for the tips, Jeremy--I know a little about Dorfman from a distance but have yet to read anything full-length by him (just interviews and a shorter excerpt or two read several years ago) although I've been meaning to for a while now. These suggestions of yours should come in very handy.

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    2. Oíga, propongo preguntar si tienes inglés como lengua materna o español... Cuando primero he leido tu blog, me ha llamado la atención que escribes postas bilinguales -- me has influenciado un poquito desde entonces.

      Ahora releo a mi blog El arte de la resurrección por Hernán Rivera Letelier -- si tienes interés, me alegraría escuchar tus pensamientos sobre esa novela. Yo mismo creo que es una de las mejores libros dentro de mi experiencia.

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    3. ¡Hola Jeremy! Aunque trato de escribir en castellano de vez en cuando para mejorar mi dominio del lenguaje, el inglés es mi lengua materna. Me gustaría publicar todas las entradas del blog como entradas bilingües, pero la triste realidad es que a veces me cuesta mucho hacerlo debido a mi nivel de castellano. De hecho, ¡a mí me parece que se requiere un esfuerzo sobrehumano a veces, je je je! De todos modos, gracias por la sugerencia en cuanto a esa novela chilena y suerte con tu proyecto de crear un blog bilingüe para tú mismo (no he leído nada por ese escritor, pero el trama me parece interesante). ¡Saludos!

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