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,