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/

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