Once more, Colonia Dignidad

Entrance to the colony, now renamed Villa Baviera. Photo by Anna Weisfeiler

The colony’s founder is dead, its massive weapons caches from the Pinochet era seized and most of its elderly surviving residents eke out a quiet life working in agriculture and ecotourism.  But the story of Colonia Dignidad, the sect founded in southern Chile where the military regime’s security forces held political prisoners and its leader Paul Schafer presided over a terrifying state within a state, is far from over.

Last week Dr. Hartmutt Hopp, who had been Schafer’s right hand man, disappeared while under investigation for conspiracy.  Last year a Chilean court convicted him of child sex abuse, and he was under a kind of house arrest while judicial authorities opened a new case against him and other former Colonia Dignidad members this year. According to a Chilean investigative journalism web site, the Centro de Investigacion Periodistica (CIPER), Hopp’s wife and another woman who had been the sect’s accountant smuggled themselves out of the country and made their way to Germany a week before Hopp left.  Hopp’s daughter-in-law, speaking from Germany, told CIPER that he had already arrived there. http://ciperchile.cl/2011/05/23/la-fuga-de-hopp-a-alemania-enciende-alerta-sobre-los-millones-que-oculto-schafer/ Chile’s interior ministry now faces embarrassing questions about how the three Colonia Dignidad cultists eluded border controls and house arrest.

Officials have arrested eight other Colonia Dignidad members and are holding the daughter of the sect’s founder and another resident who turned themselves over to police. The sect had extensive business holdings in southern Chile, as well as a network of local sympathizers.

Villa Baviera posted a statement on its web site (www.villabaviera.cl) indicating that Hopp no longer lived in the community, but did visit residents who were still his medical patients. His escape from Chile, “in no way represents the spirit of the community,” the statement said. Villa Baviera is “a community open to the world and its residents enjoy the most complete freedom.”

Stay tuned. And for some good background reading on Colonia Dignidad, Bruce Falconer’s piece in The American Scholar is one of the best:  http://www.theamericanscholar.org/the-torture-colony/

Nathaniel Davis, 1925-2011

The former ambassador with his students

Henry Kissinger called him “a brilliant career officer.” Ed Horman, the father of one of two Americans killed in the aftermath of Chile’s 1973 coup, called him “a very polished liar.”  He had a long career in the Peace Corps and the U.S. State Department as well as teaching posts at the U.S. Naval War College and Harvey Mudd College. But he was also the American ambassador whose embassy did not do enough to protect U.S. citizens swept up in the wave of arrests in the coup’s aftermath. Nathaniel Davis, professor emeritis of political science, died of heart failure on May 16 in Claremont, California.

In his book The Last Two Years of Salvador Allende Davis wrote that U.S. Embassy staff “toured carabinero and military stations, the Santiago stadiums, the hospitals, the morgue and other points in the city to locate and obtain the release of any U.S. citizens who had been detained.”  But a subsequent report by the U. S. General Accounting Office unfavorably compares these efforts with those of other foreign embassies on behalf of their citizens during this period. While U.S. officials indicated they were not allowed access to Americans being held in the national stadium, Dutch and Belgian diplomats managed to visit their nationals held in the same site. Other embassies offered shelter to their citizens who feared arrest; the U.S. Embassy did not. The report said “there was clear inference from the Ambassador [Davis] and the Deputy Chief of Mission that sheltering them would not be looked upon with favor.”An American woman seeking protection on September 19 was not permitted to stay in the Embassy but found shelter in the Panamanian Embassy, while three other Americans were allowed to stay at other foreign embassies.

Davis, who left the State Department in 1975, was the model for the ambassador in Constantin Costa-Gavras’ 1982 film “Missing,” which implied that officials from the U.S. mission were complicit in the arrest and killing of Charles Horman. He and two other officials attempted to sue Costa-Gavras and the film studio for libel but their suit was thrown out of court. In 1983 he joined the faculty of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, where he taught for 19 years. According to the dean, “his classes were highly sought after by students and they benefited both from his knowledge and kindness.”  But a graduate student who knew Davis at the college during this period told me that if anyone brought up the subject of Chile and Charles Horman, “he would walk out of the room.”

“An Assessment of Selected U.S. Embassy-Consular Efforts to Assist and Protect Americans Overseas During Crises and Emergencies” Report of the Comptroller General of the United States, December 4, 1975. http://archive.gao.gov/f0202/087840.pdf

Davis’s obituary on the Harvey Mudd College web site: http://www.hmc.edu/newsandevents/nathaniel-davis.html

Publication day!

My book is being published in the United States today, by the University of California Press, with the overseas publication scheduled for next month :http://www.ucpress.edu/ebook.php?isbn=9780520948761.

And thanks again to Marcelo Montecino, one of Chile’s best photographers, for providing the cover photo and several others. To see more of his work, go to http://www.flickr.com/people/marcelo_montecino/.

The Strange Career of Max Marambio

Once a revolutionary, then a businessman, now wanted by Cuban authorities

“The revolutionaries of my generation had taken on death as something without great transcendence. This certainty gave us the strength to overcome our fears.”

So begins Las Armas de Ayer, or in English, Yesterday’s Weapons, the autobiography of Max Marambio, a Chilean guerrilla-turned-businessman whom a Cuban court this week sentenced in absentia to 20 years imprisonment for fraud, bribery and “falsification of banking or commercial documents, all of a continuing nature.”  Marambio had been a close friend of Fidel Castro, a bodyguard to socialist president Salvador Allende and co-owner of Rio Zaza, a food company he ran with the Cuban government since the early 1990s.  The court also sentenced a former Cuban food industry minister to 15 years for “bribery and acts detrimental to economic activity.”

In 1966 a 17-year old Marambio accompanied his father, Allende and other Chilean socialists on a trip to Cuba, where he was dazzled by Fidel Castro. The Cuban leader, he wrote, “was far from the Cuban stereotype” and appeared to be “a solemn man, with good manners, evoking the image of a Spanish gentleman who has had the best education.”  He underwent guerrilla training in Cuba, returned to Chile and joined a rather bumbling attempt at armed insurrection, became one of Allende’s paramilitary bodyguards and fled into exile after the 1973 military coup.

Marambio did not let his political background stand in the way of business opportunities, and over the years he built up sizeable holdings in real estate and construction. Rio Zaza was one of the first joint ventures the Cuban government set up with foreign companies, producing packaged juice and milk. He kept a large house in Havana where Fidel Castro was a frequent guest and in Santiago directed the 2009 presidential campaign of Marco Enriquez-Ominami, a filmmaker and son of a dead Chilean guerrilla.

About that time Cuban authorities began imposing stricter controls on the amount of money foreign businesses could withdraw from local banks. According to some accounts, Marambio had an angry confrontation with Cuban Central Bank officials, who responded by launching an investigation. With Raul Castro now in his brother’s place, Marambio had no strings to pull. In February of last year Cuban authorities closed two plants operated by Rio Zaza and froze $23 million in assets. Two months later a Chilean who had been the company’s manager and was interrogated three times during the investigation was found dead in his apartment; his body was flown to Chile and cremated without a complete autopsy. Cuban officials ordered Marambio, who had fled the island, to return to Havana by August 23 and when he refused, issued an international arrest warrant.

Marambio has filed an appeal with an international business tribunal in Paris and called the ruling “political persecution,” and said there was no legal basis for the Cuban authorities’ case against him. “I was never a saint of Raul Castro’s devotion, nor of his followers and the people around him,” he told Chile’s Radio Bio Bio. He suggested the younger Castro resented his youthful activities with the Cuban military, and was now carrying out a longstanding grudge against him.

The Cuban media have offered few details of the case, with Granma publishing the official court ruling and the English-language Havana Times commenting that Rio Zaza had enjoyed a virtual monopoly in the packaged fruit juice market and that the country has been hit by several high level corruption scandals in recent years. Blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote an interesting piece several months ago on the effect Rio Zaza’s closing has had on Cuban consumers.