Operation Condor (Latin America)
excerpted from the book
The Real Terror Network
by Edward S. Herman
South End Press
In 1976 six National Security States of Latin America- Argentina,
Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay- entered into a system
for the joint monitoring and assassinating of dissident refugees
in member countries. The program was directly initiated under
the sponsorship of Chile and its head of the secret police (DINA),
Manuel Contreras. Chile provided the initial funding, organized
a series of meetings in Santiago, and provided the computer capacity
and centralized services. However, the United States deserves
a great deal of credit for this important development, partly
as the sponsor and adviser to DINA and other participating security
services, but also because Operation Condor represented a culmination
of a long sought U.S. objective-coordination of the struggle against
"Communism" and "subversion." In 1968, U.S.
General Robert W. Porter stated that "In order to facilitate
the coordinated employment of internal security forces within
and among Latin American countries, we are...endeavoring to foster
inter-service and regional cooperation by assisting in the organization
of integrated command and control centers; the establishment of
common operating procedures; and the conduct of joint and combined
training exercises." Condor was one of the fruits of this
Under Operation Condor, political refugees who leave Uruguay
and go to Argentina will be identified and kept under surveillance
by Argentinian "security" forces, who will inform Uruguayan
"security" forces of the presence of these individuals.
If the Uruguayan security forces wish to murder these refugees
in order to preserve western values, Argentine forces will cooperate.
They will keep the Uruguayans informed of the whereabouts of the
refugees; they will allow them to enter and freely move around
in Argentina and to take the refugees into custody, torture and
murder them; and the Argentinians will then claim no knowledge
of these events. Under this system, two former Uruguayan Senators,
one a former President of the Senate, Zelmar Michelini and Hector
Gutierrez Ruiz, were kidnapped and murdered in Buenos Aires. We
also note, just to keep the reader abreast of the quality of this
cooperative enterprise, that both Michelini and Ruiz were tortured
before being murdered, and that Michelini's daughter Margarita
was also seized and "disappeared.
By July 1976 some 30 Uruguayan exiles, registered as refugees
with U.N. officials in Buenos Aires, had been taken into custody
and disappeared, surely murdered. Subsequently, several hundred
more Uruguayans were picked up and have not been heard from since.
Argentine authorities did not acknowledge these arrests, in conformity
"with the policy of the security forces to withhold information
on arrests involving investigation of subversion" (Juan de
Onis of the New York Times, parroting the language of fascist
terrorism). Many other cross-country disappearances have also
occurred. As reported by de Onis,
"Chilean exiles also were handed across the border to
Chilean secret police and have not been heard of since. Gen. Juan
Jose Torres, a former President of Bolivia, was kidnapped in Buenos
Aires and found dead in an automobile trunk. Gen. Carlos Prats
Gonzalez, commander-in-chief of the Chilean Army under the late
President Salvador Allende Gossens, was killed by a bomb in Argentina.
A similar network of intelligence [sic] operations has also worked
between Brazil and Uruguay. Persons abducted in the southern Brazilian
state of Rio do Sul, with cooperation from local political police,
wound up in Uruguayan jails."
Data are sparse, but the six country murder network toll starts
with abduction-murders of Uruguayans alone numbering in excess
of two hundred. This terror network threw fear into the hearts
of the many thousands of political refugees who had resettled
in the Operation Condor states, as they saw themselves now without
a safe haven or any protection by legal process. They were now
benefiting from that "coordinated employment of security
forces" that General Porter described earlier as one of the
prime objects of U.S. efforts in Latin America. As this extensive
and terrible form of transnational terrorism flowed from U.S.
policy efforts and perceived interests, it has not received much
notice in the U.S. mass media.
This murder network soon extended its operations beyond the
borders of the six participating countries. A secret report of
an FBI agent assigned to Buenos Aires, describing Operation Condor,
called attention to "a more secret phase" which "involves
the formation of special teams from member countries to travel
anywhere in the world to non-member countries to carry out sanctions,
[including] assassinations, against terrorists or supporters of
a terrorist organization from Operation Condor member countries."
It is worth noting that the FBI agent reporting on this matter
not only approves the enterprise (which he thought "a good
operation") but falls easily into accepting the notion that
the victims of its murder squads are "terrorists." Data
are lacking on the scope of this global phase of Operation Condor,
which is difficult to distinguish from unilateral international
terrorism carried out by the Argentine or Chilean secret police
or one of their contract agents, often members of the Cuban exile
terrorist network. Kidnappings, murders and attempted murders
in Mexico and Italy have been proclaimed by the Cuban Squad Zero
from 1975 onward, some surely under contract with DINA, although
others were apparently to divert attention from the real (DINA)
killers. Orlando Bosch has worked for and been protected by DINA.
The Letelier-Moffitt murders in Washington, D.C. were carried
out by a Cuban-Chilean agent team that may have been part of Operation
The CIA was well aware of the internal (member country) use
and global extension of Operation Condor and headed off its activities
in several allied countries like France and Portugal by informing
the authorities. The CIA did not head off the Moffitt-Letelier
murders, although it knew that DINA trigger men had entered the
United States. Why? It is possible that the CIA knew of the prospective
murders, and let them happen because it was murder of the right
people-people such as Operation Condor and the Free World's secret
police kill daily. It is also conceivable that the CIA suspected
something fishy about to happen, but chose not to inquire, because
of their "faith" in the choice of their fascist counterpart.
It is also possible that the CIA bungled and made no inquiry,
and that Pinochet and DINA murdered on the streets of Washington,
D.C. assuming that Washington would not mind; after all, both
DINA and Operation Condor are U.S. offspring. How was Pinochet
to know that bringing his death squads right into the heart of
the Free World was unseemly?
With its hand forced, and obligated to proceed in the case
of a well-publicized murder in Washington, the U.S. government
did a great deal to subvert the case. Documents were leaked to
the press which linked Letelier to Cuba, effectively smearing
him and creating a false red herring that was used both to justify
murder and to divert inquiry away from our warm friends in Chile.
Although the CIA knew from the day of the murder that DINA agents
had come in to do a job, this was hidden from the press and from
other parts of the government as long as possible, and the false
trail of suggestions of a left-terrorist murder was pushed by
people who knew this was a lie. Thus the prosecution of the murderers
was carried out by a government that was so compromised by its
own lies and suppressions and hamstrung by its own involvement
and collaboration with the Cuban and Chilean assassins, that it
was inevitable that the case would be conveniently "lost."
The United States government chose not to interfere with the death
squad at work on U.S. soil before the fact-and it was therefore
not going to be able to prosecute successfully after the fact.
The United States was one of the sponsors of Operation Condor,
had trained the Cuban terrorist trigger man, and had been instrumental
in bringing into existence the Pinochet regime. This set of relationships,
with its potential for "gray-mail," and its connection
with our "security interests," means that the terrorists
of Operation Condor, like the Cuban refugee terror network are
our progeny. We are not likely to hurt our own.