Cablegate: Eighteen Years Later, Pinochet-Era Human Rights

DE RUEHSG #1149/01 3591634
R 241634Z DEC 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Although General Augusto Pinochet stepped
down as President in 1990 and died two years ago, Chile
continues to struggle with his legacy. Successive
Concertacion governments were cautious about launching
investigations into abuses committed under Pinochet's rule,
and Chile's judiciary has been criticized for its slowness in
bringing charges against human rights abusers. While many
significant criminal cases have been successfully prosecuted
in the last few years, others continue to lumber through
Chile's judicial system. Pinochet's legacy remains a taboo
topic in much of Chilean society, and an area most
contemporary Chilean politicians try to avoid. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) Although the crimes committed during Pinochet's
17-year rule are legion, some have emerged as particularly
emblematic. This cable briefly describes key cases and their
current status.


3. (U) General Augusto Pinochet came to power as a result of
a violent coup deposing President Salvador Allende on
September 11, 1973. The following 17-year dictatorship in
Chile resulted in government-sponsored kidnappings,
assassinations, torture, fraud, and tax evasion. Following
his presidency, Pinochet continued to hold office as Army
Commander-in-Chief for 8 years, and then became
Senator-for-life. Under constitutional reforms passed in
2005, the practice of appointing former presidents
Senator-for-life was abolished, and Pinochet lost his
senatorial seat.

4. (U) Court cases brought against those in power during the
Pinochet era were prosecuted under Chile,s old inquisitorial
legal system. In addition, while he was Senator-for-life,
Pinochet had parliamentary immunity from prosecution. Calls
to strip immunity were reviewed on a case-by-case basis and
could not be applied to multiple cases. Pinochet,s lawyers
also frequently argued that he was unfit to stand trial due
to his failing physical and mental health. In December 2006,
Pinochet died without being convicted of any charges stemming
from his 17 year rule.

5. (U) Manuel Contreras, former Director of the National
Intelligence Directorate (DINA), is the most prosecuted
figure from the Pinochet era. Contreras was forced into
retirement in 1977. He faces close to 300 years in prison on
over 25 sentences, with additional charges and appeals both
pending. In the most recent case, Contreras was sentenced on
September 22, 2008, to seven years in prison for the
disappearance of Spanish Priest Antonio Llido Mengual. He is
currently serving time in Punta Peuco, a military prison
designed especially for those convicted of crimes committed
under the dictatorship.

Operation Condor

6. (U) In the 1970s, the Chilean Government partnered with
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay to
eradicate left-wing influence through intelligence sharing
and assassinations in a campaign known as "Operation Condor."
The Letelier assassination, Operation Colombo, and the Prats
assassination, all described below, are among the three most
prominent cases carried out as part of Operation Condor.

Operation Condor: Letelier Assassination

7. (U) In September 1976, a car bomb in Washington, D.C.
killed Orlando Letelier, a former Chilean government minister
and former Ambassador to the U.S., and his Amcit assistant
Ronni Moffitt. DINA members Manuel Contreras and retired
Brigadier General Pedro Espinoza Bravo were among those
convicted of involvement in the attack, which was conducted
as part of Operation Condor. The case against Pinochet was
shelved in 2005 as a result of Pinochet,s mental incapacity
to stand trial.

Operation Condor: Operation Colombo

8. (U) Operation Colombo covered up the
politically-motivated killings of 119 members of the
Revolutionary Movement of the Left (MIR), a radical leftist
group. In 1975, collaborating governments issued reports and
created publications masquerading as independent news media
to misinform the public about the fate of the MIR members,
reporting that they had been killed due to leftist infighting
when actually they had been killed or disappeared by secret

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police in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. On May 23, 2008,
Judge Victor Montiglio ordered the arrest of 98 former
members of the Chilean security forces responsible for the
killing of 42 Chilean dissidents. On June 11, 2008, the
Supreme Court unanimously rejected claims by the defense that
the long delays in bringing the case to trial and subsequent
constitutional changes warranted the dismissal of the case,
and instead decided to proceed with the prosecution of the
former DINA members. This case is still pending.

Operation Condor: Prats Assassination

9. (U) General Carlos Prats, Pinochet,s predecessor as the
Commander-in-Chief of the Army and a constitutionalist who
refused to sanction a coup against President Allende, was
assassinated in Buenos Aires in 1974 as part of Operation
Condor. Prats' wife was also killed in the car bomb attack.
Pinochet and nine former DINA officials were accused of
participating in the assassinations. On March 24, 2005, the
Supreme Court upheld Pinochet,s immunity in this case. On
June 30, 2008, Judge Alejandro Solis found the nine other
defendants guilty. Former DINA Chief Manuel Contreras will
serve two life sentences for the homicides themselves and 20
years for heading an illegal association leading to the
assassinations. The remaining eight DINA officials were
sentenced to terms ranging from 10 to 40 years in prison.

Caravan of Death

10. (U) From September to October 1973, Retired General
Sergio Arellano Stark led a military death squad on
helicopter expeditions throughout Chile. Their ostensible
mission of "ensuring uniform criteria for the administration
of justice" left 72 dead and 22 disappeared. The court
dropped charges against Pinochet in 2001 when he was found
unfit to stand trial. On October 16, 2008, Judge Montiglio
convicted five senior military officials, including General
Arellano, of murdering four men. Arellano, the highest
ranking former official to be convicted, was sentenced to six
years in prison but will not be required to serve his term
due to a recent diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. The
remaining four officers will serve prison sentences ranging
from four to six years.

Tejas Verdes Detention Camp

11. (U) From September 1973 to mid-1974, the Pinochet
government detained and tortured close to 1,500 political
opponents at the military engineering school at Tejas Verdes,
located 60 miles west of Santiago. In 2004, the Valech
Commission published a report describing some 28,000 cases of
torture and politically motivated imprisonment dating from
the Pinochet era, including many cases involving Tejas
Verdes. This report prompted Chilean judges to take action,
and its findings aided in the prosecution of former DINA
members. On March 7, 2005, Judge Alejandro Solis made
history by bringing the first charges of torture against
Chilean officials for actions at Tejas Verdes.

12. (U) In a separate Tejas Verdes case, Judge Solis charged
DINA head Manuel Contreras and seven other former military
officials with the disappearance of Miguel Herida Vasquez.
In August 2008, Judge Solis convicted six of the military
officials, including Manuel Contreras, of kidnapping.
(Charges against two of the defendants were dropped.)
Contreras was sentenced to 15 years; the others received
sentences of five years and one day.

Riggs Bank Case

13. (U) From 1994 to 2002, Pinochet and his wife used a bank
account at the U.S.-based Riggs Bank to disguise millions of
dollars of suspect funds and transfer them around the world
in violation of financial regulations. In July 2004, a
report by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on
Investigations accused Riggs Bank of participating in money
laundering for Pinochet by establishing offshore shell
corporations and hiding accounts from regulating bodies.
Following this report, Chile formally investigated Pinochet
for fraud, misappropriation of funds, and bribery. In 2006,
the Chilean government charged Pinochet's family members with
misusing public funds. However, in 2007, judges dropped
these charges because those accused were not public employees
and therefore could not legally be found guilty of misusing
public funds.

14. (U) On November 11, 2008, Judge Blanca Rojas accused

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Marco Antonio Pinochet, son of Augusto Pinochet, and two of
General Pinochet,s former business associates, Oscar Aitken
and Monica Ananias, of tax evasion totaling roughly USD 3
million. Rojas accused Marco Antonio Pinochet of authoring
maliciously incomplete financial documents to hide USD
200,000; Oscar Aitken of tax evasion to the amount of USD 2.6
million; and Monica Ananias of tax evasion of approximately
USD 150,000. On October 1, 2008, the State Defense Council
(CDE) announced it was initiating measures to acquire funds
siphoned from Chile and deposited into U.S. accounts. The
banks involved in the CDE inquiry are Riggs Bank, Banco de
Chile (New York), Espirito Santo Bank, Banco Santander,
Citibank, Coutts of Miami, and Atlantic Bank. Two offshore
holding companies with accounts in Argentina, the Bahamas,
and Switzerland are currently under investigation.


15. (SBU) Despite many cases which have been brought against
members of Pinochet,s government in recent years, the
Chilean judiciary has been criticized for its slowness in
dealing with Pinochet-era human rights cases. While Pinochet
stepped down as president in 1990, he remained
commander-in-chief of the Army for the next eight years.
Bringing current and former government officials to justice
during that era either was not considered, was seen as
potentially threatened Chile's internal stability, or was
simply seen as too likely to exacerbate the rifts in the
deeply divided Chilean society. It was only after Pinochet's
1998 arrest in London that the Chilean judiciary began to
seriously grapple with bringing human rights abusers to

16. (SBU) Although nearly all Chileans would recognize that
there were "excesses" during the Pinochet-era, Chilean
society remains deeply divided in terms of its assessment of
the period as a whole. For politicians like President
Bachelet, who was sharply criticized by some for skipping a
ceremony honoring the assassinated right-wing leader and
Pinochet advisor Jaime Guzman, Chile,s recent history
remains a political minefield they enter only reluctantly.
End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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