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 (http://ciperchile.cl/2011/10/20/cables-de-wikileaks-mencionan-polemicos-%E2%80%9Ctestigos-reservados%E2%80%9D-en-procesos-de-colonia-dignidad/) 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.

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