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Plan Condor: A Recipe for Repression

Sociologist researcher and translator working in the development of Human Rights.

Military leaders of South America during Plan Condor

Military leaders of South America during Plan Condor

Plan Condor: Anti-Communist "Kill Club"

Created in the 1970s, Plan Condor is one of the most notable anti-communism operations backed by the United States (US). The US government used its political power to influence and rearrange the leaders of South American countries in its favor. Through the coordination of Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, and the Central Intelligent Agency (CIA), the operation was officially ratified in Chile in 1975 [1]. Plan Condor provided logistical and military training and communication networks to South American leaders, with the goal of hindering the spread of communism and terrorism in Latin America at all cost. However, this goal would enable decades worth of dictatorships and human rights violations in South America, while also taking the lives of thousands of individuals.

But how did this operation come into play exactly, and why weren't these repressive South American leaders stopped?

At the end of WWII, tension rose between the Soviet Union and the United States. This increasing animosity motivated the US to stop the spread of all Soviet ideologies: specifically, communism. This tension against communism would become known as the Cold War and would continue until the end of the 20th century. For many, this period is marked in history as a time of suffering, human rights violations, and repression. During this era, many nations, such as those in the Southern Cone of South America, came to fear and despise the word “communism” as well as all who followed the Marxist ideology. To contain the spread, military operations and attacks occurred all around the world, killing and torturing anyone who was deemed as or affiliated to a “communist.” At the forefront of this hostility, the US took it upon itself to stop the spread of communism in its sphere of influence.

Former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger

Former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger

Military dictatorship in Chile under Augusto Pinochet

Military dictatorship in Chile under Augusto Pinochet

Political Change in South America

In the 1960's and 1970's, many guerilla groups began surfacing in South America. To avoid the spread of these groups, military generals took down South American leaders in order to gain control in these regions. The US seeing Latin America as part of its spear of influence, took advantage of these new military dictatorships by backing the creation of its "anti-communist club"; Plan Condor. Named after Chile’s national bird, the condor, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil and Bolivia were the first countries to join the group [2]. Ecuador, Venezuela and Peru would eventually come to join as well but only participate marginally. To prepare the governments and their militaries, Latin American militias were trained at "La Escuela de las Américas" (School of the Americas) in Panama by US forces. In training these groups, an agreement was made for these dictators to only buy their fire arms from the US [3]. These measures allowed the US to gain on two fronts; economically and ousting communism.

The US only seeing the operation from the outside, little attention was given on the violent modalities used by the militaries and its leaders to oust communism and “terrorism.” This enabled these repressive governments to do as they pleased with little to no repercussions, resulting in one of the darkest hours of South America. These military leaders introduced various repressive acts such as police violence in the streets, bombings, killing sprees, torture camps, and kidnappings in order to control its people and induce fear in those who opposed the government or had communist views [4].

Coordination for Repression

Some of the most ruthless acts of repression and torture were committed by secret military police organizations, such as the DINA (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional) in Chile and the SIDE (Secretaría de Inteligencia del Estado) in Argentina. These secret services worked with all members of Plan Condor to locate, torture, and kill left wing followers and groups as well as ex-government politicians. In order to effectively and quickly rely encoded information amongst one another, Brazilian counterparts proposed a high-tech radio system of communications called, “Condortel”. This radio network allowed the operation to work on three fronts: 1. Group intelligence coordination, 2. Collaborative operations, 3. Assassination of political leaders and communists [8]. Although this coordination was backed by the US, little did the CIA know that their plan would turn on them and spread to Europe and North America where "hunter killer teams" would assassinate politicians and officials.

Public display of repression in South America during Operation Condor

Public display of repression in South America during Operation Condor

Killing Sprees

From the 1970’s to the end of 1980’s, during the ruling of military dictatorships in South America, more than 60,000 men, women and children were killed by Plan Condor [5]. Of the 60,000, half are accounted for in Argentina and 10,000 in Chile [6]. Additionally, more than 30,000 went “missing” and 400,000 individuals were taken as political prisoners [7]. Of all the casualties, Argentina and Chile were the most supreme however, due to lack of documentation, it is unknown the exact number of disappearances and deaths. The following presents the most notable dictators in the region during the operation as well as the estimated number of missing individuals per country:

Argentina: Jorge Rafael Videla

7,000 - 30,000 missing

Bolivia: Hugo Banzer

116 – 546 missing

Brazil: Ernesto Geisel (1974 – 1979), João Figueiredo (1979 – 1985)

434 - 1,000 missing

Chile: Augusto Pinochet

3,000 - 10,000 missing

Paraguay: Alfredo Stroessner

200 – 400 missing

Uruguay: Aparicio Méndez

123 – 215 missing

Dissolution of Plan Condor; Thousands Lost but Never Forgotten

Eventually, in the 1980s, the US government pulled away from the dictatorships they once supported in South America, stating that they did not condone any of the human rights violations and repressive governing that took place under these leaders. With the CIA no longer supporting this anti-communist club, a push for democratic governments were put into place, but the push was too little too late. The damage had already been done, thousands of lives were killed or deemed missing, and, for the most part, the majority of the military dictators were never condemned for their crimes.

After the installation of democratic governments in the region, the previous leaders went on to live a free life, living amongst the families of those they kidnapped, tortured and killed. Since the dissolution of the operation, trials have surfaced condemning few prior military generals of the region. Though a small feat to all the pain suffered by these populations, it is hope that this may bring some peace to the loved ones of the thousands tortured and killed through Plan Condor.

Sources:

[1] ¿Qué es la Operación Cóndor o el Plan Cóndor? (notimerica.com)

[2] Opération Condor en Amérique latine (franceinter.fr)

[3] «Operación Condor”, History Channel, 2013

[4] “Operation Condor: A Latin American alliance that led to disappearances and death”, CGTN America, 2015

[5] Plan Cóndor | Noticias | teleSUR (telesurtv.net)

[6] Operation Condor: The United States Involvement in South America (arcgis.com)

[7] ¿Qué es la Operación Cóndor o el Plan Cóndor? (notimerica.com)

[8] The Condor plan: what is it? | General culture (laculturegenerale.com)

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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