Captain Davis and “el caso Missing”

Charles Horman, a freelance filmmaker, was one of two American arrested and killed in the aftermath of Chile’s 1973 military coup.

In 1980 I was at a lunch hosted by the Chilean-American Chamber of Commerce in Santiago, when a man sitting across the table began talking nervously about a book in which his name appeared.  Lies, he told the man sitting to my left, who nodded sympathetically.  Retired U.S. navy captain Ray Davis, formerly head of the US. Military Mission in Chile, had settled in Santiago and had his own version of what transpired during the country’s 1973 military coup.

I happened to have read the book in question, Thomas Hauser’s The Execution of Charles Horman, which describes the arrest and killing of a young freelance filmmaker, his family’s search for him, and the seriously unhelpful actions of the U.S. Embassy in Chile.  Horman and a friend had been in the coastal resort town of Vina del Mar when the coup occurred, and it was Davis who had given them a ride back to Santiago.  A nice gesture, perhaps, but Davis’s actions over the next several days seem questionable at best.  He went to the hotel where Horman had stayed and confiscated his registration card.  He also invited Horman’s wife Joyce and the Hormans’ friend Terry Simon to his home for dinner, claiming that a Chilean admiral who could help them find Charles would also be there.  The admiral never appeared.

I should have made some attempt to talk to Davis, but was too startled to do more than keep my eyes down and listen.

“And now there’s going to be a movie,” he was saying.  The film based on the book, Costa-Gavras’s Missing, was released two years later,  and won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay as well as Oscar nominations for Jack Lemmon (who played Horman’s father) and Sissy Spacek (who played Horman’s wife).  Missing takes some liberties with real life events, with Joyce Horman renamed Beth and shown being caught by the curfew and taking shelter in a stairwell the night before her husband’s arrest.  But in a 2006 documentary film, Cruel Separation, she said she had in fact gone “to say goodbye to friends” that day and stayed that night before returning to find their house ransacked and her husband missing.  Davis is not mentioned by name in the film—though there is a character clearly based on him—and even Chile is not mentioned.  But Davis, former U.S. ambassador Nathaniel Davis and former U.S. consul Fred Purdy filed a $150 million lawsuit for libel against Costa Gavras and Universal Studios, which was eventually dismissed.

Fast forward nearly two decades and the United States declassifies and releases hundreds of documents on Chile, and some of them contain disturbing information about the case. As one cable states:

“There is some circumstantial evidence to suggest U.S. intelligence may have played an unfortunate part in Horman’s death. At best, it was limited to providing or confirming information that helped motivate his murder by the GOC [government of Chile]. At worst, U.S. intelligence was aware the GOC saw Horman in a rather serious light and U.S. officials did nothing to discourage the logical outcome of GOC paranoia.”

There is a review of the circumstances surrounding Horman’s arrest and killing, and Captain Davis, now back in the United States,  is questioned.  Why had he taken Horman’s hotel registration card?  Davis at first denies having done so, but when shown the incriminating US document changes his story and says, “I don’t see why it’s important.”

This week a Chilean prosecutor, Judge Jorge Zepeda, announced he was seeking Davis’s extradition as part of his investigation into the death of Charles Horman and another young American, Frank Teruggi.  In his ruling Zepeda, who has been investigating the case since 2003 and has made extensive use of the U.S. declassified documents, said that Captain Davis could have prevented the killings of the two Americans “given his coordination with Chilean agents.”  The country’s Supreme Court will have to authorize the extradition request, and the American. Embassy in Santiago  said the United States  “continues to support a thorough investigation into the Horman and Teruggi deaths in order to bring those responsible to justice.”

Chile’s angry copper giant

The Economist’s blog on the Americas has a good summary of the dispute between two titans of the mining world–Chile’s state copper corporation Codelco (the world’s largest copper producer) and Anglo American plc (the world’s largest platinum producer).  Way back in 1978 the two companies signed a contract giving Codelco the option of buying up to 49 percent of Anglo American’s Sur project northeast of Santiago.  Codelco officials now want to exercise this option, using a price formula that Anglo officials says does not take into account the value of new mineral deposits recently discovered at the site.

Anglo American negotiated a deal with Mitsubishi to buy 24.5 percent of the project for almost double the price Codelco wants to pay for its 49 percent share.  Codelco officials are outraged, with one negotiator calling his Anglo American counterparts “English imperialists” who view Chile as something like Africa. The Chilean investigative journalism site CIPER has the following interview with Codelco’s Juan Villarzu:

The Krassnoff aftermath

Between 150-200 people attended Monday evening’s presentation of the updated edition of Miguel Krassnoff: Prisionero por Servir a Chile, a book about a former Pinochet regime security agent now serving a 144-year sentence for multiple human rights abuses. The guests included a veteran columnist for the El Mercurio newspaper and Alfonso Marquez de la Plata, one of the regime’s cabinet ministers, who now heads the Pinochet Foundation, as well as a number of retired military officers.  The event, held at the Club Providencia in eastern Santiago, was delayed by a bomb threat, but resumed after Chile’s carabinero police searched the premises with the use of sniffer dogs. According to news reports, Krassnoff’s wife spoke, demanding to know “where are our human rights?” and  guests sang the Chilean national anthem, including a stanza about valiant soldiers which the Pinochet regime added and which was eliminated when the country returned to democratic rule.

Hundreds of people gathered to protest the event, including some who said they had been tortured by Krassnoff.  Past victims include a British doctor, Sheila Cassidy, whose arrest and torture in 1976 prompted Britain to recall its ambassador, as well as a prizewinning Chilean historian, a director of the country’s national television network and Dr. Patricio Bustos, who heads the Servicio Medico Legal, the Chilean coroner’s office.  Dr. Bustos told El Mostrador that he and his girlfriend had been arrested in 1975 and held at the Villa Grimaldi detention center where they were tortured. Krassnoff, he recalled, was one of two officials at the center who did not bother to use an alias.

And earlier in the day a Chilean judge announced yet another case against Krassnoff, the kidnapping and disappearance in 1974 of an electronics technician who was taken from his home by three security agents and never seen again.

A book, an invitation and ….oops!

invitación Krassnoff

Miguel Krassnoff is an Austrian-born former officer in the Chilean army and one of the more notorious members of the Pinochet regime’s security forces.  He is currently serving a 144-year sentence for 23 separate convictions for homicide and forced disappearances. But he has his supporters, who were planning a gathering on Monday to present a new edition of an admiring book, whose title in English is Miguel Krassnoff: Prisoner for Serving Chile.  The event was to be held at a venue in an eastern Santiago municipality whose mayor, Cristian Labbe is an unreconstructed Pinochetista.   During the former dictator’s detention in London from 1998-2000 Labbe ordered trash collection to be suspended at the British and Spanish Embassies located in Providencia, and made 14 visits to the United Kingdom to express his support for Pinochet.

Those invited include Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, and when the invitation reached his office a presidential staffer sent a response which may have automatically generated, saying the president’s schedule for that time was already full, congratulating the event’s organizers and extending the president’s  “best wishes for success.”  News of this event and the presidential office’s reply have outraged  human rights groups and a day later the government issued a terse statement calling its response “a lamentable error” which had not been authorized by President Pinera and “did not represent his thinking.”  There has been a chorus of disapproval from Chilean political leaders  and even the mayor’s own rightist Union Democratica Independiente (UDI)  has sought to distance itself, saying Labbe was not representative of the UDI just because he was a party member.

Labbe maintained this is a freedom of speech issue, but now says he will not be attending the event, claiming a scheduling conflict. Meanwhile, Krassnoff and his admirers have a blog,

A crime news summary

The Most Recent: The Chilean Foreign Ministry has asked Venezuelan authorities to investigate and punish those responsible for the kidnapping and shooting of Juan Carlos Fernandez, the Chilean consul who was abducted November 11 as he was leaving a hotel. Fernandez was held for two hours, threatened, beaten and shot before his kidnappers dumped him on a Caracas street. He was then taken to a hospital where he was treated and released the following day.  “Our embassy in Venezuela quickly informed the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry of this deed, expressing the concern of the Chilean government over this violent incident and it has requested the complete clarification of the event,” a statement released by the Chilean Foreign Ministry said.

Last week: A judge has ruled that Father Fernando Karadima did sexually abuse three minors but closed the case, citing the statute of limitations on crimes committed in the 1980s and early 1990s. The Vatican found him guilty in January of this year, removing him from the priesthood and sentencing the 81-year old to “prayer and penance.”  The Church has also published a list of 17 priests and one deacon charged with sexual abuse.

A 1979 murder: The body of six-year old Rodrigo Anfruns, who was kidnapped from his home in Santiago, was exhumed from Santiago’s General Cemetery as part of a reopened investigation of his death.   Chilean police searched for 11 days, until a 16-year old confessed to the murder and led authorities to the body in a vacant lot near the family’s home—a site they had already searched previously.  The teenager later recanted, charging that he had been pressured into confessing to the crime by members of the Pinochet regime’s secret police. The case was closed in 1982 when a judge ruled there was no evidence pointing to anyone other than the teenager, reopened in 2004 when a retired policeman contacted the Anfruns family with new information and closed two years later due to “lack of evidence.” And in 2007 Chilean courts reopened and closed the case again.  The judge in charge of this fourth inquiry into Rodrigo Anfruns’s death told the press that all possible leads will be investigated.

A 1973 series of killings: Chile’s Servicio Medico Legal has identified the remains of another five victims of the Caravan of Death, a notorious series of summary executions in Calama and other northern cities in the aftermath of the military coup.  The victims’ bodies were buried in unmarked graves, then removed and dumped into the ocean in an effort to hide the crimes, but bone fragments and other forensic evidence have allowed investigators to identify those killed and return the remains to their families for burial.  To date 12 of the 26 men killed in Calama have been identified.




The Weisfeiler case: still waiting

In late August that Chile’s Valech Commission published an updated list of human rights victims during the Pinochet regime, and conspicuous by his absence was Boris Weisfeiler, the Penn State mathematics professor who disappeared in 1985 while hiking in southern Chile. The omission was deeply upsetting to Weisfeiler’s family and friends, for earlier this year the missing mathematician’s sister Olga had travelled to Santiago and met with Chilean and US Embassy officials involved in the investigation into his disappearance.

It was her tenth visit to Chile, and she left with a cautiously hopeful feeling that the investigation was moving forward. But the Valech Commission’s failure to include Weisfeiler does not mean the end of the inquiry and “does not preclude criminal prosecution in the case,” according to the U.S. State Department. William A. Ostick, the State Department’s press advisor for Western Hemisphere Affairs, told me in an e mail that the U.S government still considers it an open case.

“Representatives from the Embassy in Santiago have been in touch with Chilean officials since the publication of the Valech Commission’s most recent report,” he said. “We will continue to follow the case.”

Last week Chile’s Centro de Investigacion Periodistica (CIPER) published a story ( on the continuing judicial investigation into Colonia Dignidad, the secretive German colony used by the regime’s secret police to detain, interrogate and kill political prisoners. Colonia Dignidad, now renamed Villa Baviera, is located in the same general area of southern Chile where Weisfeiler was hiking, and a few years after his disappearance at least one informant told the U.S. Embassy that he had seen the mathematics professor inside the colony. The CIPER report cites two embassy cables released by Wikileaks—one unclassified, the other marked “confidential”—which describe the U.S. consul’s meetings in 2005 with Chilean judge Jorge Zepeda, who was investigating both Weisfeiler’s disappearance and Colonia Dignidad. Zepeda has come under criticism for offering immunity to some of his informants (“testigos reservados”) who had worked closely with the colony’s leaders, including one German colonist who admitted to helping dispose of the bodies of dead prisoners. Zepeda’s informants have maintained that Weisfeiler had never been at the compound, but how credible are their accounts? An excerpt from the unclassified cable:

Still, Zepeda added that he had reviewed the records of the original 1985 investigation and that he was convinced that a number of significant leads were not properly pursued. For example, he cited an interview in the court records of a local man who was found in possession of Weisfeiler’s drivers license, in which police did not ask elemental questions such as how he had come to be in possession of the document. Zepeda implied that Colonia Dignidad’s political influence in the area at the time might have influenced the course and thoroughness of the investigation. He said he had assigned his two best investigators to focus intensively on the Weisfeiler case, conducting what he described as a complete top-to-bottom review of all the available documentation and evidence, including the records of previous investigations.”

That was six years ago, and there have been no significant breakthroughs in the Weisfeiler inquiry. CIPER contacted Judge Zepeda, who declined comment, saying the investigation into Colonia Dignidad was still underway. Stay tuned.