By Jacob Edelstein
Entitled “The Condor System”, chapter seven from John Dinges’ “The Condor Years”, serves as an excellent introduction to the structure of organized government terrorism that reciprocated the Argentinean `Desaparecidos’ tragedy. In what could be called remarkable detail, Dinges specifically delineates the circumstances that brought about the multi-continental treaty known as `Operation Condor’. In this chapter the author formally accuses some of the highest ranking officials in 1970’s South American government of participating crimes against humanity and he provides spectacular proof. Dinges only makes claims that he supports with absolutely sound evidence. In addition to the facts he provides, Dinges relates specific personal experiences from his time in South America that serve to further illustrate his points. He gives himself authority as an author by creating a concrete story and because of the police misconduct and general mistreatment he underwent, it is easy for the reader to trust him.
The chapter begins with a brief description of typical torture techniques used by DINA (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional) and other security forces to obtain information from suspected terrorists during the Condor years. Dinges says, “[Prisoners] Manacled on a metal bed frame, naked and spread eagled, with electric currents delivered to their most intimate and sensitive body parts, victims lost all physical control.” With this description, along with several other gruesome details, the reader is immediately conscious of the gravity of state authorized terrorism. During the Condor years government sponsored militants throughout Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, Argentina, and Brazil ran wild on a witch hunt for enemies and dissenters of each states respective regime. Per specific orders given by the upper echelon of the Condor governments, these militants universally and relentlessly sought out dissenters and brutally tortured them for information before killing them. The CIA quoted Chile’s Colonel Manuel Contreras saying: “We will go to Australia if necessary to get our enemies.”
According to Dinges, this systematic government terrorism began in Chile under General Pinochet. Throughout the 1970’s the cooperation between Chile and what would become `Condor’ governments grew until much of South America was overrun by military anti-subversion actions. Inspired by the government of Pinochet, in 1975, the Argentinean government signed decree 2770 into law giving the military virtually unlimited power. This detail is the link between our learning cluster and this reading. The tragedies that happened in Argentina during the late 1970’s could not have come to pass without the power that decree 2770 gave the military and, its draconian language can be seen as an invitation to the mass murder that was to ensue(Dinges 112). Dinges writes that the decree gave the military power to execute anything that “might” be necessary to eliminate their enemies.
This decree fundamentally changed Argentina. It redistributed nearly all government power to the military and less than half a year after it was signed, the country underwent a full military coup. In the hands of its armed forces Argentina united with Chile and other South American countries under operation Condor. With its newly found power the Argentine military systematically attacked, captured, tortured, and killed leftist resistance groups. Today many of the victims of those attacks are known as the “Desaparecidos”.