The atrocities of Operation Condor – the U.S.-backed covert plan by Argentina, Chile, Brazil Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia to eliminate left-wing influence in Latin America – have been gradually revealed through declassified documents that detail the diplomatic manoeuvring and state terror that left tens of thousands of people killed, tortured and disappeared. Argentina is estimated to have the highest death toll with over 30,000 dictatorship opponents killed and disappeared. The Videla dictatorship in Argentina worked in close collaboration with Chile’s dictator Augusto Pinochet, who had ushered in a violent neoliberal experiment in Chile and a far reaching network of international surveillance to keep tabs on, and eliminate, any traces of organised resistance to the dictatorship that had the potential to form abroad.
U.S. intelligence was deeply involved in the propping of dictatorships in Latin America in particular after Chile’s Unidad Popular led by Salvador Allende triumphed at the polls. Declassified documents have shown that the U.S. knew about the tactics used by the Argentinian dictatorship – emulated after Chile’s practice of disappearing opponents into the ocean, packaged and thrown off helicopters provided by the U.S. In some cases, the death flights also served as a murder practice – some victims were thrown into the ocean drugged, yet still alive.
Recently, it has also been revealed that U.S. intelligence surveillance over the extent of human rights violations in Latin America was aided by Germany and Switzerland. A Swiss company, Crypto AG, was jointly owned by the U.S. and West Germany. The company was then acquired by the participating countries in Operation Condor and later incorporated into the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) technology.
News reports have revealed that the Swiss government was knowledgeable about the CIA operations conducted through Crypto AG, which makes the country complicit in the dealings of Operation Condor and sheds doubt about Switzerland’s purported political neutrality, a stance which has enabled it to embrace duplicity and serve both oppressor and the oppressed.
Eventually, the surveillance technology targeted over 100 countries. Swiss media have reported that along with Sweden, Israel and Britain, Switzerland was privy to the information compiled through the operation. The Swiss government has launched an investigation into the case and the company’s licence has been suspended.
Among the intelligence gathered by the U.S. through the surveillance programme was the plan for the assassination of Chilean diplomat and ambassador to the U.S. in the Allende era, Orlando Letelier, who was murdered by a car bomb in Washington in 1976. Michael Townley, a CIA agent who also worked for the Pinochet dictatorship’s National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) was responsible for placing the bomb underneath Letelier’s vehicle. The murder was directly ordered by Pinochet. Operation Silence, in which efforts were made to prevent judges from investigating dictatorship crimes in the 1990s, resulted in the murder of Townley’s DINA partner, Eugenio Berrios, a chemist tasked with producing sarin gas for the dictatorship. Berrios’s body was discovered, heavily mutilated, in Uruguay, thus eliminating the possibility of further evidence being given in the Letelier case.
The link between Chile and Argentina in terms of dictatorship cooperation to eliminate opponents resulted in the killing and disappearance of Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) militants.
Revelations regarding Crypto AG will likely add to the level of U.S. complicity in Operation Condor, apart from other forms of political violence globally which were aided by the CIA. In Latin America, particularly given the current turbulence from coups, such as in the case of Bolivia, to popular mobilisation as we are seeing in Chile, the news regarding surveillance is likely to have an impact on both current happenings and in terms of the region’s collective memory.