Sunday, October 1, 2023

Pinochet, the big brother: espionage and the intervention of DINA and CNI in high schools, companies, courts and public services

Reserved documents, forgotten for decades in the 30-kilometer-long shelves of the National Administrative Archives (ARNAD), show how the regime intervened with agents and informants from DINA and CNI in schools, high schools, companies, public services and courts. A formula based on espionage and denunciation that aimed to convey the fear of being identified as an enemy and facing sanctions that could range from job loss to torture and enforced disappearance. CIPER presents this series of four reports by journalist Mauricio Weibel, who spent years reviewing ARNAD documents, showing the daily fear with which the dictatorship controlled the country.

I first came across secret offices in 2012. Hundreds of secret documents from the Chilean civil-military dictatorship (1973-1990) unexpectedly found their way to my desk from the State Department. The documents revealed how politically repressive decisions were made at the highest levels, from what age children should be allowed to return from exile to who should be spied on, inside and outside Chile. These thousands of pages showed active collaboration between civilians and the military: whistleblowers, whistleblowers and authorities demanding the intervention of DINA and CNI agents to arrest and punish suspected opponents.

That year – 2012 – I wrote a handful of reports using this material and thought everything would be forgotten. But and as some people had correctly warned me, the consequences began to appear after just a few months. In December 2012, my house was broken into three days in a row. My computers and electronic storage devices were the only targets the thieves were looking for. The operation coincided with similar thefts from two other colleagues: Juan Cristóbal Peña and Javier Rebolledo, who were also investigating issues of memory and human rights.

In this scenario, I realized that it was my job to continue the investigation of these documents. What sensitive information might these letters contain? What secrets caused such concern among computer thieves?

For decades in Chile there was a belief, both reasonable and unevidenced, that those responsible for the dictatorship had burned all papers containing information about their crimes. That it was impossible to find any documentary remains. But the papers I held were irrefutable proof that that wasn’t true.

Then I went back to look at the materials I had stored at a friend’s house and focused on a detail that I hadn’t initially given due importance to: almost all offices had a tiny one at the bottom of the page Detail A distribution guide was typed which normally stated that a copy of the document would be sent to the National Administrative Archives (ARNAD).

I went to ARNAD and was surprised to find that the secret offices of the civil-military dictatorship were stored in the 30 kilometers of shelves of this building. Simply put, no one had looked for them for more than two decades, since the end of the regime.

This forgetfulness was incomprehensible. Almost irresponsible.

For years I have been visiting ARNAD regularly, sometimes even daily, with the firm intention of checking, above all, all classified documents from the Ministries of Education, Interior and Justice. Of course, these materials are kept in about a hundred large volumes, organized only by year and containing no further details.

And within them, line by line, is the hidden story of how the regime intervened in schools, secondary schools, companies, public services and courts, with agents and informants, first from the DINA and then from the CNI. Based on espionage and denunciation, the regime imposed on Chile’s men and women the fear of being identified as an enemy and facing sanctions ranging from job loss to torture and enforced disappearances.

In these forgotten letters, memos and reports can be found the signatures of school principals, ministers or judges calling on the DINA to arrest one of their subordinates because he appears to have left-wing tendencies. These records, saved from burning in the regime’s final hours, show how the dictatorship imposed Orwellian control through the eyes and ears of “big brother.”

This created a life dominated by a fear that is difficult for new generations to fully understand. You can describe it, even more so now with these documents, but it’s hard to understand what that fear was like if you didn’t experience it. But these reserved records allow us to better understand. It is enough to look at documents such as the document in which the authorities coordinate the removal of bodies from the streets of Santiago (see this document).

This series of reports, presented by CIPER on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the coup, consists of four chapters. All the documents presented therein can now be viewed in the online document search engine “Papers of the Dictatorship”, an initiative developed by CIPER in collaboration with the Center for Journalism Research and Projects (CIP) of Diego Portales University.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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