Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

South American Suspects Disappearing before Trials

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

South American Suspects Disappearing before Trials

Article excerpt

Like Nazi fugitives after World War II, security agents who tortured and murdered during South America's "dirty wars" against leftists in the 1960s and 1970s have been vanishing on the verge of trials and turning up safe elsewhere in the region.

The flight of four defendants and key witnesses suggests that a mutual protection network of former security agents, with apparent financial support, is defying efforts by the region's new democracies to solve horrific crimes, human rights activists charge.

Such a network would be a new phase of Operation Condor, the "dirty war" agreement under which intelligence agents from Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay cooperated in pursuing alleged leftists across borders and sometimes killing them.

"There is no doubt in my mind that a network of ex-state terrorists is protecting each other from the law," Chilean legislator Jaime Naranjo of the Socialist Party said recently. "This is Condor II."

Although military dictatorships have given way to civilian rule in several South American countries, the armed forces remain powerful. To varying degrees, they have used their power to win legal protection from charges of human rights violations.

Now, say their critics, active and retired officials are also resorting to subterfuge to rescue their fellows agents with an Odessa Chilena, a reference to the Odessa Plan through which Nazis were smuggled from Europe to South America after World War II.

Of the four known cases, the one setting off the loudest alarms involves Chilean biologist Eugenio Berrios, 45, a suspected former secret police agent who invented a gas that can cause what appears to be natural heart failure.

In November 1991, Berrios was called as a witness in the trial of the accused assassins of leftist former Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier, killed by a car bomb in Washington in 1976. For years, the Letelier trial has been Chile's most prominent human rights case and a major issue of concern for the U.S. government.

Fabiola Letelier, sister of the murdered ex-minister, says Berrios "could have revealed the whole structure of the DINA," referring to the notorious secret police agency under the dictatorship of Gen. …

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