Operation Condor Revisited

by | Mar 27, 2013 | Videos | 0 comments

by James Corbett
March 26, 2013

Over the past several weeks we have been examining the economic and political state of Latin America, from Brazil to Argentina to Chile and other points in between. The tendency of most regional overviews of this sort is to misinterpret the region’s present by viewing it through the filter of the past. It is easy to dismiss everything in Central and South America as merely a product of banana republics and narcotrafficking crime bosses, but to do so is, as we have demonstrated, to completely misunderstand the strong economic growth and sweeping societal changes the region has seen over the past decade.

It cannot be denied, however, that the past casts a long shadow over us all, and those repressed memories that have not been dealt with will continue to haunt the collective memory of a people until they have been addressed. Perhaps this is why a particularly dark chapter in the history of South America has come to the surface once again in two completely separate separate incidents, in the past few weeks.

The 1970s saw a series of military coups sweep across Latin America, with military dictatorships coming into power in Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia. Together with longstanding military regimes in Paraguay and Brazil, these six countries began a clandestine intelligence operation codenamed Operation Condor designed to eliminate their opposition through a campaign of secret arrests, torture, disappearances, targeted assassinations and outright murder.

Although the roots of the idea of what eventually became Condor can be traced back as far as the 1940s, the operation’s genesis can be traced back to the Conference of American Armies in Venezuela in September, 1973, when Brazilian General Breno Borges Fortes suggested an extension of cooperation between the intelligence services of the various nations involved in the name of their shared “struggle against subversion.” What followed varied in detail from country to country, but can be linked to the deaths of over 50,000 dissidents, the disappearance of 30,000 more and the incarceration of over 400,000.

The program officially ended in 1983 with the fall of the Argentinian dictatorship, but did not come to light until almost a decade later when researchers looking for information on a former political prisoner in Paraguay accidentally uncovered the “terror archives” detailing the kidnapping, torture, and murder of thousands of so-called subversives at the hands of Argentinian, Bolivian, Brazilian, Chilean, Paraguayan and Uruguayan secret police.

Almost by definition, such a campaign could not be carried out without either the full cooperation or tacit support of the dominant social and political players in the region. As it turns out, they had both, including, unsurprisingly, the full backing of the US government, signed, sealed and personally delivered by none other than Henry Kissinger. [See this and this and this.]

More surprisingly to some, the campaign also had a level of tacit support from high ranking officials of the Catholic Church, perhaps the single most important social institution in Latin America during the period in question. And this support includes shocking accusations of complicity by a man who would later go on to become the Archbishop of Buenos Aires and then Pope Francis I, Jorge Bergoglio.

The accusation that Bergoglio and other high-ranking Church officials collaborated with the Argentinian dictatorship in their “dirty war” against regime critics is in fact nothing new. One former police chaplain, Father Christian von Wernich, was even sentenced to life in prison for his own role in seven murders, 42 kidnappings and 31 cases of torture during the campaign. In 2007 the New York Times quoted Father Ruben Capitanio as saying: “We have much to be sorry for. The attitude of the Church was scandalously close to the dictatorship to such an extent that I would say it was of a sinful degree.”

Bergoglio himself was the subject of a 2005 lawsuit alleging his role in the kidnapping of two Jesuit priests in 1976. According to investigative journalist Horacio Verbitsky, the two priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, were adherents to liberation theology and regularly visited the Buenos Aires slums to deliver aid and comfort to some of the poorest people in Argentina. When they refused to listen to Bergoglio’s warnings for them to stop these visits, according to Verbitsky, he stopped protecting them and they were captured by the authorities, only being released five months later when Bergoglio was eventually urged to petition for their release.

Until now, the Vatican has repeatedly dismissed these allegations as a “left-wing anti-clerical attack on the Vatican,” but last week an Argentinian newspaper published a smoking gun memo from the Argentinian foreign ministry from 1979 that confirms that the information used in the allegations against Jalics and Yorio were provided by Bergoglio.

Ironically, this latest scandal emerges just as Operation Condor is getting a fresh airing in an Argentinian courtroom. Earlier this month the largest trial so far in relation to the operation began in Buenos Aires, where 25 former military generals are facing trial for their part in the campaign. The trial is expected to hear testimony from over 500 witnesses and last two years.

Last week Professor Michel Chossudovsky of the Centre for Research on Globalization appeared on The Corbett Report to discuss these accusations against Bergoglio.

One of the reasons why these episodes from history do deserve to be thoroughly investigated and documented is precisely because of the old dictum: those who refuse to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. It should be no surprise, then, to learn that the abuses and atrocities committed in the name of the “anti-terror campaign” of Operation Condor, including the use of torture and the targeted assassinations of dissidents in far-flung corners of the globe, are finding parallels in the ongoing war of terror emanating from Washington, D.C. and built on the back of the Big Lie of 9/11.

The past has a strange way of coming to the surface again and again until it has been dealt with. In Latin America, a number of ghosts continue to haunt the region, casting their ghastly specter over the region and its peoples. But if history is, as in James Joyce’s famous formulation, a nightmare from which we are struggling to awake, then perhaps the convergence of events surrounding Operation Condor in recent weeks represents an alarm clock, and a chance for us all to finally wake from the nightmare of this tortured past.


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