A Chile roundup

Olga Weisfeiler, whose brother disappeared on a hiking trip to Chile in 1985, is making her 13th trip to the country to press for a resolution in the case.  In August of last year an investigating judge ordered the arrest of eight retired police and military officials in connection with the kidnapping and disappearance of Boris Weisfeiler, a mathematics professor at Penn State University and experienced backcountry trekker.  But since then there have been no significant developments in the investigation, and Olga Weisfeiler is meeting with the U.S. ambassador in Santiago as well as Chilean officials to discuss the case. A story in the Boston Globe reports that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has taken an interest in the Weisfeiler disappearance:  http://bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2013/03/31/for-newton-woman-quest-for-closure-continues-brother-disappearance-chile-three-decades-ago/M20LMeXq9Z24sodZnNDMSP/story.html

The New York Times book review has an article on Chilean novelist Alejandro Zamba’s  three short works, “Bonsai,” “The Private Lives of Trees” and “Ways of Going Home.”http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/books/review/ways-of-going-home-by-alejandro-zambra.html?ref=books

The Centro de Investigacion Periodistica (CIPER) has a story http://ciperchile.cl/2013/03/06/empresa-de-la-universidad-de-harvard-es-procesada-por-tala-ilegal-de-bosque-nativo-en-chiloe/ on companies owned by Harvard University accused of illegal logging in southern Chile.   The I Love Chile news web site has the English version of the story: http://www.ilovechile.cl/2013/03/20/harvard-university-companies-accused-illegal-logging-chilo/83237

The New York Daily News has an article on harvesting water from fog in the Atacama desert, noting that “fog catchers” made of giant mesh nettings held by pipes are revolutionizing life in the world’s driest desert, “to the point where small-scale agriculture has become possible.” http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/world-driest-desert-chile-harvests-water-fog-article-1.1304082

Slow justice

At long last a breakthrough in the case of Boris Weisfeiler, the Penn State mathematics professor who disappeared while hiking in southern Chile in 1985: Judge Jorge Zepeda has ordered the arrests of eight police and army officials.

According to the indictment, a police patrol arrested Weisfeiler and tried to disguise the fact by claiming he had drowned while crossing a river. Three police officers, along with four members of the Chilean army patrolling the area, have been charged with kidnapping and concealment and a fourth police officer has been named as an accomplice.

The case has meant “many, many years of frustration,” according to Weisfeiler’s sister Olga, who has visited Chile almost every year since the investigation was reopened in 2000.  That was the year the Clinton administration declassified hundreds of documents dealing with Chile, including several cables in which the mathematician’s disappearance is discussed http://boris.weisfeiler.com/docs/US_declassified_documents.html . In one document, an informant tells U.S. Embassy officials in Santiago that Weisfeiler had been held captive in Colonia Dignidad, a German cult whose facilities were frequently used by the Pinochet regime’s secret police.

The indictments were announced just as a delegation from the United Nations Working Group on Forced Disappearances completed a visit to Chile to study how the government has handled such investigations.  A full report will be presented to the U.N. human rights council early next year, but a preliminary statement on their findings was released on Tuesday, August 21.

The statement cited “the slowness of judicial proceedings, the application of military justice to current cases of human rights violations, the absence of an autonomous crime of enforced disappearance and the lack of a national plan to search for disappeared persons.”  Of those cases in which former Pinochet officials had been found guilty, “very few of the convicted perpetrators are effectively serving a sentence, due to the low penalties imposed or other benefits granted.”  The U.N. experts were impressed by the work of Chile’s Servicio Medico Legal, but urged the government to strengthen its role in investigating these cases, noting that most initiatives were led by victims’ relatives.

The full text of the statement in Spanish: http://www.ohchr.org/SP/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12450&LangID=S




An extradition request

Last November Chilean judge Jorge Zepeda, who has been investigating the case of two American citizens killed during the country’s 1973 military coup, said he was seeking the extradition of former U.S. naval attache Captain Ray E. Davis in the case. The Americans, graduate student Frank Teruggi and filmmaker Charles Horman, were arrested and taken to the National Stadium in Santiago where they were both executed. Horman’s case became the basis for the 1982 film Missing, directed by Costa-Gavras.

Davis, now in his mid-80s, is known to have met Horman and his wife in the days following the coup. But Davis’s wife, when contacted at their home in Florida, said he was suffering Alzheimer’s and living in a U.S. nursing home.  She would not say which one.

Then everything seemed to go quiet. Zepeda has a considerable backlog of unsolved human rights cases in his files, including that of missing Penn State mathematics professor Boris Weisfeiler.  But this past week Zepeda asked Chile’s Supreme Court to approve the extradition request for Davis, who is known to have been in contact with one of the dead Americans, filmmaker Charles Horman.  The judge said that Horman’s killing “happened during secret operations against American citizens and was part of Ray E. Davis’s intelligence activities.”  According to the Chilean Supreme Court web site (www.poderjudicial.cl), the extradition request will be considered within the next few days.

For more on the Charles Horman case:  http://www.hormantruth.org/

For more on the Boris Weisfeiler case: http://www.weisfeiler.com/boris/

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.

Still no justice for Boris Weisfeiler

On Friday the Valech Commission, the panel undertaking a further investigation into human rights abuses under the 1973-1990 Pinochet regime, published its final report online, listing additional killings and abuses committed during this period. http://www.comisionvalech.gov.cl/InformeValech.html An additional 30 deaths were added, raising the death toll to 3,095 and the total number of victims at just over 40,000.

Missing from this revised list is Boris Weisfeiler, the Penn State mathematics professor who disappeared while hiking in southern Chile in 1985 and the only American desaparecido. He was an experienced outdoorsman who had hiked alone in remote parts of Peru, Uzbekistan, Russia and Canada, but his trail in the Andean foothills brought him near Colonia Dignidad,  a secretive German colony used as a detention center by the regime’s secret police (see earlier posts on March 21 and 30). According to declassified U.S. State Department documents, Chilean witnesses reported seeing Weisfeiler at the compound.  His case has been under judicial investigation for years, but no indictments have been made, and the Valech Commission appears not to have found enough evidence to include the case in its report.

Olga Weisfeiler, who submitted her brother’s case to the Valech Commission in March of last year, posted a statement on her family’s web site expressing her extreme disappointment with the decision. http://www.weisfeiler.com/boris/ “My brother is a victim of the political repression of the Pinochet regime, even if the Commission did not have the proof at its disposal to formally accept his case as a human rights atrocity,” she wrote. “I have waited over 25 years for both truth and justice in his case, and I will continue to wait for the government of Chile, and the Courts, to do what must be done to find him, and punish those who are responsible for depriving him of his life and liberty, and taking him from his family. It is also time for the U.S. government to make clear to Chile that the case of Boris Weisfeiler must be resolved and to provide all necessary investigative assistance toward that long overdue goal.”

The Weisfeiler case is still in the hands of a Chilean prosecutor, but it is unclear how the country’s judicial system will proceed. Earlier this year Olga made her tenth visit to Chile to meet with authorities in Santiago and U.S. Embassy officials, and came away with a somewhat more optimistic feeling that the case was being taken seriously. But now she told me in an e mail that she has “no idea what if anything will happen with the investigation now.”

More on the Boris Weisfeiler case

In an earlier post there was a link to my article on the University of California Press website,  http://www.ucpress.edu/blog/12988/chile%E2%80%99s-american-desaparecido/about 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 http://www.weisfeiler.com/boris/docs/US_declassified_documents.html 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 http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/L/LT_CHILE_PINERA?SITE=MIBAX&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT 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 http://www.weisfeiler.com/boris/

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.