You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming. (Pablo Neruda)
Most of us here in the USA don’t study much about history, not even our own, nor do we overly concern ourselves with what goes on anywhere else south of Margaritaville. Many, rest comfortably in the notion that whatever goes on down there has nothing much to do with us, and our mainstream media usually colludes. A notable exception is Amy Goodman’s, Democracy Now, in-depth coverage of the historic, Operation Condor Trial, now taking place in Buenos Aires. Most of her broadcast segment is devoted to an interview with John Dinges author of, The Condor Years: How Pinochet and his Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents.
Operation Condor was created by General Pinochet in Chile, following the September 11th, 1973 military coup, against democratically elected President Salvador Allende. After that, everything in Latin American changed. Pinochet soon launched his “war on terror” that spread throughout the southern continent and beyond, with full financial, logistical, and military support through collaboration with President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. At that time George H.W. Bush was head of the CIA and US foreign policy was based on an extreme fear that communism would overrun South America. Pinochet considered anyone in opposition to his and other right wing military regimes, especially opponents from the left and center left, as a danger to political control and stability.
The Chilean dictator’s plan, which became Operation Condor, sought to eliminate any and all “dissidents”; not only in Chile, but in Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Peru and Bolivia. Secret police and assassination squads from all of these Condor Countries crossed borders and worked together to track, kidnap, torture, and kill anyone they labeled as a terrorist. Their victims included leftists, activists, labor organizers, students, priests, journalists, guerilla fighters and their families. In Chile alone the death toll is estimated to be something like 20,000. Numbers from the other countries are uncertain since most of the victims were “disappeared”, and their bodies never found.
Many of those fleeing Chile, and Operation Condor, sought refuge in Argentina since it was the last country to join the operation and did not become an actual dictatorship until 1976. After that, the foreigners and others labeled as dissidents were rounded up, tortured and disappeared. Among those arrested were many pregnant women and mothers with children. Among the crimes of the Argentine dictatorship is theft of these children who were given to the military and to other families, after their parents were executed. Many of these stolen children are now adults looking for information from the present government and getting DNA testing in hopes of learning the identity of their biological parents. Others find the task too overwhelming and prefer to stay loyal with their adoptive families and not seek this information. Nevertheless, the present regime has made DNA testing of all adoptees from that era mandatory.
The trial in Buenos Aires is being staged at a former auto repair shop that was used for detention and torture. While many of the perpetrators are either dead or quite elderly, at least 25 military generals will faces charges, and over 500 witnesses are expected to testify. The fact that this trial is public means that the general population will learn more about the extent and details of atrocities committed under Operation Condor. Having done trauma work in Latin America for nearly 10 years now in Chile, Peru, Uruguay and Argentina, I am familiar with both Operation Condor and its ongoing aftermath. While the trials may provide information and a necessary exposure of secret crimes, it is important not to confuse justice with healing. Those of us who work with individual and social trauma, family systems and trans-generational phenomena, understand that it is not only victims who suffer under these fascist policies. The consequences of shock and trauma extend to witnesses and family members, often for generations. They also extend to the families and descendants of the perpetrators, and this is something that the justice system does not yet understand.