Magazine article NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs

Chile: Military Scandal Could Aid Effort to Reform Constitution

Magazine article NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs

Chile: Military Scandal Could Aid Effort to Reform Constitution

Article excerpt

A crisis between the government of Chilean President Ricardo Lagos and the Chilean Air Force (FACh) has spotlighted the limitations to the democracy put in place by former dictator Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) and could give a boost to Lagos' efforts to get rid of the country's remaining "authoritarian enclaves."

The storm has been brewing since early September when human rights activists said that the Comando Conjunto, a repressive group created within the FACh shortly after the coup that brought Pinochet to power, had been revived to help block legal action in the courts against security forces accused of human rights abuses during the de facto regime.

A contemporary of the Direccion de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA), the Comando Conjunto mainly consisted of Air Force officers and noncommissioned officers, and one of its primary tasks was to pursue and kill or "disappear" leaders of the Partido Comunista and other leftists forced by the coup to go underground.

Several weeks ago, the official newspaper La Nacion reported that former agents of the Comando Conjunto were working to obstruct justice by covering up information from the Mesa de Dialogo.

In August 1999, the administration of President Eduardo Frei (1994-2000) set up the Mesa de Dialogo de Derechos Humanos, a forum with representatives from the armed forces plus human rights lawyers and church groups. In a major breakthrough, the military delegates agreed to help determine what happened to more than 1,300 people who were disappeared during the Pinochet era (see NotiSur, 2000-06-30). Nine special human rights judges were appointed on the Mesa de Dialogo's recommendations.

The FACh, under commander in chief Gen. Patricio Rios, had made a commitment to help locate the disappeared. Last year, the FACh turned over to the government a report regarding the fate of 200 disappeared, information that has largely proved erroneous. Human rights lawyers have complained about the incomplete and useless records they have received (see NotiSur, 2001-01-02).

The Lagos government initially reacted with skepticism to the reports in La Nacion, but on Sept. 10, Jorge Correa, deputy minister of the interior, conceded that there might be a link between the supposed network and the difficulties that human rights lawyers had run across in their search for the remains of victims. Correa said the government had decided to pursue legal action.

Judge Mario Carroza, who is assigned exclusively to investigating cases of people who disappeared during the Pinochet regime, said the case was "very delicate" since it concerned the possibility that a group of military officers was trying to obstruct justice.

On Sept. 27, Carroza ordered the detention of two FACh officers for kidnapping opponents of the dictatorship. The officers are retired Gen. Enrique Ruiz Bungue--a former head of FACh intelligence--who is under house arrest, and retired Col. Juan Saavedra Loyola--a former Comando Conjunto agent-- who is being detained at the air force base at Bosque.

Informant interview leads to general's resignation

In an interview in the Sept. 8 edition of La Nacion, an anonymous source identified as Colmillo Blanco (White Fang) gave details about the Comando Conjunto. He said former members began to regroup last January, on orders from above, to obstruct legal proceedings against alleged perpetrators of human rights abuses.

One of the Comando's former agents, Viviana Ugarte Sandoval, implicated in the disappearance of a pregnant woman during the dictatorship, is the wife of FACh Gen. Patricio Campos Montesinos. Campos was assigned to compile the data on human rights violations for the Mesa de Dialogo. Colmillo Blanco said Gen. Campos knew his wife's background and ordered subordinates not to say anything.

The FACh "categorically" rejected allegations that it was colluding with former agents of the dictatorship. …

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