Pinochet’s Secret War on International Media
BY MAURICIO WEIBEL
Business Recorder, August 05, 2012
The dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) systematically spied on foreign media correspondents in Chile. Previously unpublished documents from the secret services and several ministries that dpa had access to establish that the 1973-90 military regime watched over the reporting on Chile by journalists from around the world. They reveal yet another layer of Pinochet’s dictatorial rule, under which tens of thousands were killed, imprisoned and tortured.
A single memorandum of November 2, 1976 mentions as many as 761 correspondents from the United States, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Argentina, Brazil and Israel whose work was to be observed. The affected journalists included Karl Brugger, correspondent of the German television broadcaster ARD, who was murdered in 1984 in Rio de Janeiro. Robert Harvey of The Economist, Pierre Kalfon of Le Monde, Juan de Onis of The New York Times, James Pringle of Newsweek, and Patrick Buckley of Reuters were also spied on.
“When I returned to Chile, the secret services knew everything I had been doing outside the country,” said Carlos Dorat, a former dpa correspondent in Chile and former vice president of the Foreign Correspondents Association in the South American country. Dorat lived until 1984 in England, where he studied and was active in the Chilean exile community.
The former secretary general of the Chilean Presidency, general Hernan Mejares, warned in 1975 about the reporting of correspondents for the US networks CBS and NBC. “All the background leads to the belief that their purpose would be to work on a feature on Chile that is deliberately unfavourable,” Mejares told foreign minister Patricio Carvajal. However, Mejares further noted that banning their entry to the country would prompt “negative reactions” and should therefore be avoided.
In order to combat the “international campaign against Chile,” the head of the secret service, general Manuel Contreras, distributed in late 1976 to Chilean embassies around the world 600 positive profiles of Pinochet which described him as “soldier and statesman.” Contreras also proposed in June 1975 the so-called Plan Epsilon, in order to neutralise international reports on human rights violations in Chile through a “psychological campaign.” Among others, he suggested denouncing human rights violations in the Soviet Union, Cuba or Vietnam and organising, as a distraction, a football friendly between Chile and Brazil.
Cultural activities abroad that focused on the situation in Chile were to be watched too. On October 4, 1979, secret service general Odlanier Mena ordered the Chilean Foreign Ministry to send him any information on such events “in strict secrecy,” while secret service agents were deployed with diplomatic status to several embassies. Within Chile itself, all public sector workers had to be investigated by the secret service agency DINA prior to being hired.
As late as 1986, US diplomats in Santiago were spied on to establish whether they were giving confidential information to the media. In the same way, the Vicariate of Solidarity of the Roman Catholic Church, which was active in the defence of human rights under archbishop Raul Silva Henriquez, was also investigated. Former deputy interior minister Alberto Cardemil transferred in 1985 the records of all Vicariate employees to the Foreign Ministry, which in turn tried to counter these critical voices in talks with the Vatican. Cardemil, currently a legislator for the ruling party National Renewal, said Thursday that he did not recall having done such a thing.
Contreras, the secret service head who orchestrated much of the spying, is currently serving a life sentence for human rights violations. He is also blamed as the mastermind of several operations abroad, including the murder in Washington in 1976 of Orlando Letelier, the foreign minister under Chilean president Salvador Allende (1970-73). Allende, a socialist, killed himself in 1973 as Pinochet led a coup to oust him, according to a post-mortem carried out in 2011 that clarified decades of mystery over how he died. Pinochet died in 2006 – but not before justice authorities stripped him of immunity for crimes committed during his dictatorship and charged him with numerous cases of kidnappings and murder.