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New Chilean Ambassador to Australia Connected to Pinochet-Era Crimes

Alex Constantine - May 26, 2014

By Charlotte Karrlsson-Willis 
Santiago Times, May 20, 2014

Human rights groups at home and abroad denounce appointment of James Sinclair who served in Chile’s intelligence agency during dictatorship.

Chile’s appointment of James Sinclair as the new ambassador to Australia has been met with fervent rejection by both Chileans at home and in the Pacific nation who have linked Sinclair to Gen. Pinochet’s intelligence agency.

President Michelle Bachelet announced the appointment of Sinclair last week, listing his education at the Universidad de Santiago and the Universidad de Belgrano in Argentina as well as his previous posts as Chile’s ambassador to Indonesia and as a staff member at the embassies in the United States and Argentina as his credentials for the job. Excluded from that background information, however, is the role he played during Chile’s darkest years.

Activists and organizations including the Group for Relatives of the Disappeared (AFDD), the Group for Relatives of Politically Executed (AFEP), the Villa Grimaldi Park for Peace Cooperation, and even members of the Chilean congressional commission on human rights have spoken out against the appointment citing Sinclair’s past as a member of the CNI, an intelligence agency created by Gen. Pinochet during his reign as dictator in Chile.

“Not disclosing this job further maintains the permanent protection of the military family — which can be found by looking no further than Rosauro Martínez (former army Major currently elected deputy from Chillán) and now Sinclair,” Alicia Lira, president of the AFEP, said Monday.

“They are always looking for a way to whitewash the army, I name the army because the army was the worst oppressor of the people that has maintained its pact of silence, and this form of [appointing] military men who were accomplices, it is a way to ensure they are whitewashed,” Lira added.

Sinclair, who is the son of Gen. Santiago Sinclair Oyaneder, is accused of destroying key documents linking the Pinochet regime to atrocities carried out as part of Operation Colombo and Operation Condor, both of which help facilitate the targeting of leftists militants and believed threats against the military regime. Activists also believe the documents included evidence from the assassination of Orlando Letelier in the United States and the former commander-in-chief of the Chilean Army, Carlos Prats, in Argentina.

The dozens of documents were destroyed by the CNI at the request of the Chilean Foreign Ministry. Sinclair’s signature is on the paperwork for carrying out the destruction. Activists fear those documents could have been the crucial evidence needed to close the hundreds of still pending human rights cases from the dictatorship.

“For Villa Grimaldi, what is of particular concern is that someone with this well founded background of participation in the destruction of secret communication between the foreign ministry and the CNI, an organization that systematically violated human rights, will occupy a high position in the name of our country,” the Villa Grimaldi Corporation said in a statement Friday.

There is also concern that Sinclair’s personal past might influence his work as ambassador in Australia, as Chile seeks the extradition of Adriana Rivas González, the former secretary of Manuel Contreras Sepúlveda, once the head of DINA, Pinochet’s secret police. González is wanted in connection to the abduction and disappearance of members of the Communist Party from 1976-1977.

Communist Party (PC) Dep. Hugo Gutiérrez, who currently serves as president of the chamber’s Commission on Human Rights, also spoke out against the appointment of Sinclair, saying he trusts the poor choice will be corrected.

“I believe what has happened here is a mistake,” Gutiérrez said. “The case will be reevaluated and eventually, if everything that has been done by the human rights organizations is effective, I believe that this gentleman can not be the representative of Chile in a friendly country.”

For their part, Chileans in Australia have voiced the same concerns. Australia is home to one of the largest communities of Chileans abroad, many of whom moved there following the 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power. Approximately 25,000 Chilean-born individuals currently live in Australia.

The Australia Chile Friendship Society wrote an open letter to President Bachelet on Friday calling on her to reconsider the appointment. They cite the same issues — Sinclair’s past involvement in the Pinochet regime and the complications for the extradition of González.

“Given these points, as Chileans who live in Australia, we respectfully ask that Your Excellency immediately retract this appointment as upholding it would damage the democratic transparency of the Chilean government and its international diplomatic relations,” the letter reads.

The Chilean government has yet to respond to these concerns or to the call to reconsider the appointment of Sinclair. In recent weeks Bachelet has named numerous new postings, including the ambassadors to Colombia, Italy, Spain, Canada, China and several others amounting to more than a dozen new appointments to diplomatic posts in the past month.

Further Reading: The Condor Years, by John Dinges