In the 20th Century Latin American Governments Found the Cuban Revolution (1959)

In the 20th century, Latin American governments found the Cuban Revolution (1959) concerning as it provoked new social movements and triggered a fear of communism infiltration.

Along with the United States of America, which feared another situation like Cuba, these countries feared their societies potentially being “subversive” or holding ideas that challenged the “traditional” order. As Jorge Rafael Videla ( an Argentine General) worded it, “a terrorist is not just someone with a gun or a bomb, but also someone who spreads ideas that are contrary to western and Christian civilization.

” Furthermore, the years 1975 through 1977 proved to be a period of immense transformation for countries in South America as, military regimes (in Brazil and Paraguay) were joined by like-minded military rulers who overthrew civilian regimes (in Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia).

In May 1975, Paraguayan police arrested two men (Chilean Jorge Fuentes Alarco and Argentine Amilcar Santucho) whom they considered a “major new guerrilla threat” as they were part of the JCR. When the Paraguayans were finished interrogating Fuentes, they turned him over to Chile where he was last seen alive inside Villa Grimaldi, Chile’s most feared secret detention center.

Other DINA victims would testify to Chile’s human-rights investigative body (years later), that they saw Fuentes there badly wounded from the torture, covered with a skin disease, and that he was kept in a cage and was driven insane by the DINA torture. Two days after Fuentes arrived in Chile, DINA chief Manuel Contreras wrote a thank-you note, dated September 25, 1975, to Paraguayan investigations chief Pastor Coronel where he conveyed ‘the most sincere thanks for the cooperation given to us … I am sure that mutual cooperation will continue and increase in the accomplishment of the common objectives of both services.

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’5According to Rosa Palau, co-director of the Paraguayan archive, this document would mark the beginning of the unearthing of Operation Condor.

Contreras would send another letter, inviting Paraguayan intelligence officials to a secret meeting in Chile with intelligence chiefs from Argentina, Bolivia, and Uruguay. The invitation described the meeting as ‘the basis of excellent coordination and improved action on behalf of the national security of our respective countries.’ This meeting, the First Working Meeting on National Intelligence, took place on  November 25-December 1, 1975. Operation Condor would be officially founded on November 28, 197,5 and was signed by intelligence representatives from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay.

This unprecedented secret military force, named after the world’s largest carrion bird, linked together the secret units of the involved countries into one organized group aimed to eliminate political, social, and student activists from these countries. This system consisted of three levels: Level one was the cooperation among military intelligence services, level two consisted of covert action(offensive warfare), and level three consisted of specialized assassination teams. Details of this cooperation were not fully exposed until 1992 when Jose Fernandez (a Paraguayan judge) came across “terror archives” that described the fate of thousands of Latin Americans who were “internal enemies” and as a result kidnapped, tortured, killed, or “disappeared” by the Operation. “Disappearance’referred to the process of secret arrest, torture, interrogation, followed by execution and the secret disposal of bodies ( US military observers would describe this as ‘Gestapo-like’).

Edy Binstock’s wife (Monica Pinus de Binstock), a member of the Montoneros urban guerrilla group, was captured in March 1980 by the operation. He recalled, “We had both escaped from Argentina because our lives were in danger there… I waited and waited and she never showed up.” In declassified US documents, he was able to discover that his wife was taken to the Campo de Mayo army facility (which operated as a death camp at the time). He has no idea of her fate following her imprisonment, making her another “disappeared.”

María Gatti and Jorge Zaffaroni were another couple who fled their country (in 1975). Seeking to go to Argentina, the couple and their infant daughter (Mariana) were kidnapped by Uruguayan agents and taken to Automotores Orletti, the Operation Condor headquarters in Buenos Aires where they exceptf their child) were murdered. Their child was given to an intelligence officer to raise as his own. The taking in of (newly) orphaned children was not uncommon in the operation. Alejandro Rei (of Buenos Aires) believed the man that raised him, Victor Rei, to be his biological father. DNA evidence revealed that Alejandro’s birth mother was Liliana Fontana who, along with her partner, had been detained, tortured,d and killed (their bodies 7 ​“Operation Condor.” CELS – Centro De Estudios Legales y Sociales, have yet to been found). Alejandro was the baby she had been carrying when she was arrested in 1977 and was given to Victor Rei  then intelligence officer) in 1978. The organization ‘the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo’ is a human rights group composed of women who lost their children to the dictatorship and operation, which helped lead to this discovery. The group has found 100 babies that were stolen during the dictatorship. Estela Barnes de Carlotto, the president of this organization, has stated“We got together and have been fighting for 40 years, during which we have had to face a dictatorship, risks, fears, and ignorance.” She has expressed that, in her country’s government denouncing human rights organizations as liars, she states, “they want to erase History, rewrite it in their way, to their liking.” She is among the many still searching for answers to her “disappeared ”daughters and her husband who were detained by the military and never seen again.

In Buenos Aires, there are archaeology students who, similarly to the efforts of Estela Barnes de Carlotto, work to ensure that Argentina does not forget its past. These students are working to restore the Athletic Club torture center, where 1,500 political prisoners passed through and the words ‘Help Me Lord’ are scrawled on a recovered wall.

Liliana Heker is one of those stepping forward to tell of her life in Argentina during this period. She has stated, “anyone living in Argentina … experienced first-hand their coexistence with death … I will mention a recurrent physical sensation that became symbolic to me … a chill on the back of my neck every night when I turned the key to enter my home; a sensation I recognize as the materialization of the fear of having someone lurking behind me.”

She would be among the few during these years of violence, repression, and censorship to write left-wing literary journals – an act of dangerous defiance should she be caught by the operation.

The “terror archives” uncovered by Jose Fernandez in 1992 would be among the first documents to fully expose this military cooperation. These archives alone provided information about as many as 50,000 murdered, 400,000 imprisoned and 30,000 “disappeared.” While the exact number of its victims may never be known, Operation Condor is a testament to the inhumane lengths these involved countries were willing to go to control those “dangerous” to their society.

Operation Condor impacted the civilian life of involved Latin American countries to the extent that many lives were destroyed and ended. Present and future generations affected by the operation in any form will carry the weight of unrest and unanswered questions. To this day, there are many, including the ‘the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo’, that still search for answers in regards to the fate of disappeared children, spouses, or relatives. There is a generation of children that, should have been spared death after the militaries took their parents, but may not know that they are among a list of disappeared children or are missing the truth of their past.

Many families are waiting for answers possibly held in any remains of political disappeared people unearthed, to be DNA tested, to possibly confirm the fate of loved ones.

There are people, having witnessed these oppressive years, fighting their government that has yet to officially acknowledge the existence of Operation Condor in any of these countries.

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In the 20th Century Latin American Governments Found the Cuban Revolution (1959). (2022, Aug 19). Retrieved from

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