Meeting in Buenos Aires of five countries and response to formation of JCR
n early 1974, intelligence reports originating in Argentina reported on the formation of an international alliance of leftist revolutionary groups, the Junta Coordinadora Revolucionaria (JCR). The JCR leaders and representatives of other Latin American leftist groups gathered in Mendoza in January 1974, a meeting detected by the military. Publicly, however, there were also press reports from Lisbon and Buenos Aires in which the JCR formally announced the revolutionary alliance.
Argentine federal police commissioner (comisario) Luis Margaride, in a later briefing to U.S. embassy officers, said the revolutionary alliance was under the leadership of Mario Roberto Santucho, the head of the Argentine ERP (Ejercito Revolutionario del Pueblo) and that he had been chosen “to carry on the role that previously was played by Che Guevara”:
Margaride talked about the conference of terrorists in January 1974 that Santucho attended and stated that the gathering included terrorists from all Latin-American countries. He stated that in February 1974 there was a conference held of the police chiefs of the Latin American countries. The subject of the conference was how to combat terrorists.
- READ MORE: CIA National Intelligence Daily, Top Secret, June 23, 1976 (Chile Collection)
- READ MORE: CIA “Meeting of Intellingence Services of Argentina,” June 25, 1976 (Argentina Project 2019, folder “FBI Operation Condor” 307319/1)
The cooperation intensifies
he countries’ security organizations were about to step up the cooperation that had been to this point bilateral and relatively informal. Argentina, whose government was still civilian and led by perennial strongman Juan Domingo Peron, convened the police and security force representatives from neighboring countries, all with military regimes, to meet in Buenos Aires February 27 to March 4. Argentina’s Federal Police hosted the gathering, which was described as “an international meeting to study and exchange background on subversive groups.” Representatives of Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia and Paraguay were there; Brazil did not attend because the meeting took place during Carnival. Brazilian police, however, had recently been in touch with Argentina about exchanging information on leftist subversion.
The umbrella term “Condor” can be used to describe all these cooperative activities from 1973 to the early 1980s. As a whole they constitute a continuing phenomenon of cross-border coordination, the most intensive and deadly of which was Operation Condor, launched in November 1975. “Condor” has come into usage as a general term to refer to all coordinated activities of the period, whether unilateral, multilateral, or part of the formal Operation Condor alliance.
A few months before, at the time of Chile’s violent military coup, some of the countries had already sent officers to Chile to conduct interrogations among the 800 foreigners rounded up in mass detention sites. Almost all of the foreign prisoners were citizens of the other Southern Cone countries. That kind of cooperation had been ad hoc and informal, but was about to become more organized as the police and some security force officers exchanged ideas in Buenos Aires.
The initiative was clearly intended to enhance police-to-police cooperation; the extent of participation by military intelligence forces is unclear. Police, unlike the military, had a tradition of legal cooperation against international criminals through Interpol (International Criminal Police organization). There were tight legal boundaries for this kind of police activity and Interpol could not be used for political offenses. A handful of cases of delivery of political detainees across borders between Uruguay and Brazil between 1969 and September 1973 seem to have been illegal extensions of these legal Interpol norms.
DINA gets involved
he dates and scope of the Buenos Aires meeting are confirmed in a document of the military junta found in Chilean archives. It is a letter from general Ernesto Baeza, director of Policía de Investigaciones seeking authorization and funding from the Junta for the week-long trip. The document also reveals that Chile’s DINA, in early 1974 still in the organizational and training stage, was represented at a secondary level:
As is known by the US, the chief of the Argentine Federal Police, brigadier general Miguel Angel Iñiguez has invited the chief of the Chilean Police to an international meeting for the study and exchange of background on subversive groups operating on the continent. Considering the magnitude and importance said meeting would have for our country, this superior officer requests authorization from the Honorable Governing Junta to attend the event mentioned, which most of the other countries’ delegations have already committed to attend.
La delegación estará presidida por el suscrito e integrado por el Asesor Juridico don René Navarro Verdugo y por el Coronel de la Fuerza Aerea don Mario Jahn Barrera de DINA.
The delegation will be led by the undersigned and comprised of the legal advisor Rene Navarro Verdugo and by Armed Forces Colonel Mario Jahn Barrera of DINA.
Jahn was, at that moment, number two in DINA, the vice director to Col. Manuel Contreras and head of the “External Subdirectorate.”
- SEE EXCLUSIVE DOCUMENT: Letter from General Ernesto Baeza to the Minister of the Interior [Gen. Raúl Benavides], February 25, 1974. Obtained from the Archivo Nacional de la Administración del Estado, ARNAD, Chile. Thanks to Brad Eidahl for pointing out this document.
Baeza makes an aggressive proposal
leftist Peronist magazine, apparently relying on police sympathetic to their movement, published a near verbatim account of the meeting. Journalist Roger Rodríguez discovered the 1975 article in El Autentico in an archive and provided a pdf copy of the magazine. The article listed other officers who took part, including Victor Castiglioni, chief of intelligence of the Uruguayan police and a Bolivian officer who is not further identified. The article outlines a proposal made by Chile’s Baeza:
The Delegation of Chile submits for your consideration the following proposals:
-First Proposal, to credential in each embassy a Security Attaché, who could be a member of the Armed Forces or the Police (…) whose basic functions would be to coordinate with the Police or the person in charge of Security in each country or the various local agencies….
-Second Proposal, similar to Interpol in Paris, we should also have a Central Information Office, where we could request information on individuals who are Marxists….
-Third Proposal, planned and ad hoc exchanges of personnel: that we can come and go to Bolivia and Bolivia can go to Chile, and that we can come to Argentina again (…) that we can directly approach with complete confidence any of the Security organizations of any of the countries, and explain what we are coming for, that we do not need a formal invitation beforehand…
-Fourth Proposal, the need to establish a communication channel. (…) As an example, I suggest two channels, a formal one, which could be the Security Attaché, and a direct one between the Security Services, for which we could use the ENTEL telephone network with the inverter system…
-Fifth Proposal, the need to establish an exchange of scholarships for on-the-job training without the need of courses….
The unidentified Bolivian wanted more drastic restrictions on the many exiles in Argentina, suggesting that they should be kept under surveillance and prohibited from leaving their place of residence.
Argentina’s Alberto Villar, number two in the Federal Police, said Chile and Bolivia should be authorized to send agents into the critical border areas such as Mendoza and Salta. (Villar would later become infamous as an organizer of the Triple A, the death squads that killed hundreds of leftists during the Peron government.)
A 1976 CIA report referred to the 1974 meeting as an antecedent to the more powerful Operation Condor:
In early 1974, security forces from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia, met in Buenos Aires to prepare coordinated actions against subversive targets. [six lines blacked out] Since then [two lines blacked out] the argentines have conducted joint countersubversive operations with the Chileans and with the Uruguayans. However, until recently, there was no evidence that this cooperation was extensive or very effective.
It is not known how many of the proposals discussed at the meeting were implemented. But there is no doubt police cooperation and joint operations significantly increased over the next year and a half.
General Carlos Prats
he most notorious case, of course, was the assassination in October 1974 of Pinochet’s rival and predecessor as commander in chief of the Chilean Army, General Carlos Prats. The car bomb killing was the work of Chilean agents operating in Buenos Aires, undoubtedly with the at least tacit permission of Argentine security forces.
Then in the following month, Chilean agents kidnapped Chilean exile William Beausire in Buenos Aires Ezeiza airport and transported him to Chile. Beausire, a British citizen, was not an activist but his sister Mary Anne Beausire was the companion of the underground resistance leader Andrés Pascal Allende. Beausire was held in DINA’s Villa Grimaldi torture camp for months and then was disappeared.
In all, according to the database compiled by the author, 119 persons were kidnapped in coordinated cross border actions in the period between the meeting and the formal creation of Operation Condor (March 1974-Novembe 1975). Of these victims, 48 were killed and 71 survived. The vast majority took place in Argentina, and the vast majority of the victims were Uruguayan (66) and Chilean (48).