More on the Boris Weisfeiler case

In an earlier post there was a link to my article on the University of California Press website, Penn State University professor Boris Weisfeiler’s unsolved disappearance in southern Chile in 1985.  Weisfeiler’s brave sister has just completed her tenth visit to Chile to meet with U.S. Embassy officials and investigators assigned to the case.

A brief recap: Boris Weisfeiler, a Russian-American mathematics professor at Penn State University, was on a hiking trip to southern Chile when he disappeared.  Local police reported he had drowned while crossing a river, and claimed to have found his rucksack (with his passport and travel diary missing). Declassified U. S. State Department documents tell another story.  According to one Chilean informant (name deleted), Weisfeiler may have been killed by police who mistook him for a “subversive,” realized their mistake too late and then attempted to cover their tracks. Another anonymous informant indicated that Weisfeiler was taken to a secretive German colony used by the Pinochet regime’s security forces, where he was interrogated and executed. And a U.S. consular official who visited the area “had the distinct impression that officials were keeping close track of her whereabouts from the time she arrived until the time she departed.”

Chile’s courts have been investigating the case since 2000, but until now there have not been any significant breakthroughs. Olga Weisfeiler met with the new president of Chile’s State Defence Council, roughly equivalent to the U.S. Attorney General’s office, who told her their office would support all her lawyer’s requests and that they considered the case to be their “legal and moral responsibility.”  The new director of the Chilean detective police’s human rights department seemed very well-informed and told Olga that her brother’s case was one of the best known.  She was pleased with the level of U.S. Embassy attention to the investigation, detected “a more businesslike attitude” toward her brother’s case among Chilean officials.

“They are trying to eliminate all the discrepancies in order to move forward. The Weisfeiler case has lots of unexplained connections and facts,” she said. “They are going to investigate all of them until they have an answer to what really happened.” She left Santiago with a hopeful feeling.

“I do not know and was not able to find out if President Obama did include the Weisfeiler case in his conversations with President Pinera,” she told me. “But apparently there was some conversation in regard to human rights.”  Pinera told the Associated Press that he would accept Obama’s invitation to formally request any classified U.S. documents that might help identify Chilean agents involved in human rights abuses during the Pinochet regime.

The Weisfeiler family’s web page is

Egyptian democrats look to Chile

The Santiago Times reports that two Chilean political leaders recently travelled to Cairo to discuss their country’s democratic transition and any lessons it may offer for Egypt. Sergio Bitar held cabinet posts in both Salvador Allende’s socialist government and post-Pinochet administrations, and Genaro Arriagada is a leading Christian Democrat, former ambassador to Washington and chief organizer of the 1988 campaign to defeat the dicator in his one-man presidential plebiscite.

The National Democratic Institute, a non-profit organization that promotes democratic practice around the world, asked the Chileans to make the trip. The NDI was “looking for people who could talk to the Egyptians, to transmit their experiences,” Bitar told the Santiago Times. The Chileans met with all the Egyptian political parties, as well as young people involved in the protests against the Mubarak regime.

Human cargo

Peruvian migrants in Santiago

The Centro de Investigacion Periodistica (CIPER) has published a report based on Wikileaks documents on human trafficking to and from Chile The site has links to the U.S. Embassy cables, which state that “Chile is a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and labor trafficking” and that while the government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for eliminating this activity, “it is making significant efforts to do so.”  These “significant efforts” include increased training for law enforcement and judicial officials and the fact that Chile hosted an Iberian-American summit on the issue in 2009.  Chile holds the rank of a Tier 2 country, with Tier 1 being those countries in full compliance.  Then there is Tier 2 Watch List of countries trying to combat human trafficking but faced with increasing numbers of victims.  Tier 3 refers to countries which fail to make any real effort at improvement.

Much of the same material can be found in the U.S. State Department’s 2010 Trafficking in Persons report, which states that “Women and girls from Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Paraguay and other Latin American countries, in addition to China, are lured to Chile with fraudulent job offers and subsequently coerced into prostitution or involuntary domestic servitude. Foreign victims of labor trafficking, primarily from Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and China, have been identified in Chile’s mining and agricultural sectors. There are also reports that children are recruited against their will as drug mules along the borders with Bolivia and Peru. Some Chinese nationals are consensually smuggled through Chilean routes to Latin American countries and the United States some fall victim to human trafficking.”

Guest post on my publisher’s blog: a missing American in Chile

I have a piece on the UC Press blog about Boris Weisfeiler, an American mathematics professor and experienced outdoorsman who disappeared in Chile in 1985 under suspicious circumstances. His case is under investigation by a Chilean judge, but justice and the truth move very slowly and Weisfeiler’s sister is hoping it will be on Obama’s agenda during his brief visit to Chile this week.

Stay tuned for an updated posting on the case in a few days.

Earthquake reconstruction and its discontents

Still more seismic activity in Chile: an early morning 5.5 earthquake in the same southern areas affected by last year’s quake.  A 5.5 on the Richter scale “can cause major damage to poorly constructed buildings over small regions” and at most “slight damage to well-designed buildings.”

Last June the government appointed a commission to examine the country’s construction codes and to find ways to make future buildings more earthquake-proof. According to a report by a Chilean online investigative journalism group, the Centro de Investigacion Periodistica (CIPER), commission took only two months to come up with a list of recommendations, including more exacting requirements for soil and reinforced concrete. The housing ministry took the recommendations and wrote them up in the form of two decrees, which were sent to President Sebastian Pinera for final approval and publication in the official Gazeta Oficial.

But the decrees were not signed and published until last month, which allowed countless new building projects to commence without the new safety standards. Some commission members believe that lobbying by two private companies caused the delay. A member of the Chilean congressional housing committee observed that it would have been better if authorities did an “autopsy” on buildings damaged during the earthquake and incorporate those findings into any new building codes.

Meanwhile, Chile’s planning and housing ministries have released a report the social and economic effects of last year’s earthquake. Among the findings:

–The number of Chileans living in poverty increased by three percent, to 19.4 percent of the population.

–Among those Chileans living in affected areas, 12 percent are suffering post-traumatic stress, with higher levels among women and the poor.

The Santiago Times recently published the following article by a Yale researcher on the continuing suffering by earthquake victims:

And here’s another article on Chile’s nuclear energy plans and the obvious question of whether an earthquake-prone country should even consider building nuclear power stations: