- Operation Condor and Human Rights: A Report from Paraguay’s Archive of Terror
In May 1995, General Manuel Contreras, head of Chilean intelligence during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, was sentenced to seven years in prison for ordering the 1976 assassination, in Washington, D.C., of former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier. The assassination was allegedly the work of “Operation Condor,” a secret network that reportedly connected the intelligence services of the military dictatorships that ruled South America’s Southern Cone during the 1970s and into the 1980s. Using this network (purportedly masterminded by Contreras), these repressive regimes exchanged information on “subversive” groups or individuals operating within their countries; and ultimately coordinated the detention, deportation, torture, and killing of political prisoners. In addition to this exchange of information and prisoners, Operation Condor also served as a source of international hit squads (such as the one that killed Letelier) that struck at enemies of the participating regimes—Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay, Brazil, and Paraguay. The recent discovery in Paraguay, of a huge archive of government documents—known as the “Archive of Terror”—from the years of Alfredo Stroessner’s dictatorship (1954–1989) sheds light on this “internationalization” of repression and offers clues as to the existence and dimensions of Operation Condor. No comparable cache of publicly available documents exists in any of the other countries of the Southern Cone from this period of military rule. Therefore, the Paraguayan archive provides the best source of official documentation for analyzing the coordination of this repression and the functioning of Operation Condor. [End Page 492]
The information in the archive also could prove crucial to future cases brought against former officials of the Southern Cone dictatorships by victims of this network of repression. The number of such cases is likely to increase following the Contreras ruling. In view of this fact, it is important that the exact contents of the archive materials pertaining to Operation Condor be brought to light.
What follows is an examination of this documentation, researched in Paraguay over a three-month period in the spring 1995. During this time, I was granted unprecedented access to the archive and to other important information housed at the Palacio de Justicia in Asunciis an examination of this documentation, researched in Paraguay over a three-month period in the spring 1995. During tThe following analysis describes the relevant information found in the government archive pertaining to Operation Condor and attempts to address some of the human rights issues it raises. Through a presentation and description of relevant documents, this article attempts to ascertain the design and scope of Operation Condor from the perspective of the documents found in the Paraguayan archive. The goal is a legal, “textual” analysis of an international convention on repression, divorced as much as possible from the generalized speculation that has surround this issue for the past twenty years.
I. The Archive
The discovery and general contents of the “Archive of Terror” have been discussed elsewhere; 1 therefore, this article describes neither in detail. In December 1992, a group of Paraguayan jurists, led by Judges José Augustín Fernández and Luís María Benítez Riera, raided the Dirección de Producción of the Policía de la Capital (DIPC) located in the Asunción suburb of Lambare. The judges were acting under the habeas data provisions of Article 135 of the new post-Stroessner Paraguayan constitution, adopted in 1992, which provides citizens with the right to access information about themselves held by the state. 2 A writ of habeas data had been issued to former political prisoner (and current leader of the Paraguayan human rights movement) Martín Almada, who had been imprisoned from November 1974 until his expulsion from Paraguay in 1977. While in exile in Paris, Almada had been told of the existence of the archive by the disgruntled wife [End Page 493] of one of Stroessner’s henchmen. 3 The judges found almost two tons of documents concerning the activities of the DIPC, the center of Stroessner’s repression apparatus. The documents were immediately transferred to the Palacio de Justicia in Asunción where the archive is currently located...