aulina and Alexei fell in love at a very young age in Concepción. She was still in high school and Alexei was beginning his studies in Economics at the University of Concepción. They were a strikingly attractive, inseparable and politically active couple. At 16, Paulina was president of her school’s student federation, and already a rising figure in the Socialist Youth. Alexei came to communist militancy as many people adopt their religion: it was an undisputed family tradition. His father, an English teacher and assiduous reader of Russian history, had emigrated from Switzerland as a child, and absorbed politics in the union environment of the coal and shipping industries in the Lota-Schwager-Concepción area. He named his son Alexei Vladimir after the Russian revolutionaries he admired.
But politics was not Alexei’s central concern, even in the face of the heady energy of the Popular Unity government in the 1970s. To supplement the family income, he had started a small farming business. He liked to work with his hands and was a skilled carpenter.
Paulina Veloso liked to comment on how attractive he was. “Many people in Concepción recognized us as a couple, because he was also a very handsome man and stood out. He was tall, six feet three inches, fine features, fair skin–in short, he was a young man of great physical attractiveness.” She did not mention that her own youthful beauty was also notable.
Alexei talked to everyone, he liked people and was liked by those who knew him. In 1977, he would be the target of one of Condor’s largest cross-border operations, involving two European and three Condor member countries, 16 fatalities and a detention center so secret that it was only discovered in 2005. When some of the guards at that Chilean prison testified, they said they grew fond of Alexei Jaccard, and years later one said that he was saddened when he learned he had been executed.
Alexei was one of thousands of communist militants arrested and held in detention camps in the days and weeks after the coup. He was released at the end of December 1973 and decided to leave Chile. His father’s Swiss citizenship allowed him to obtain a Swiss passport. He traveled first to Argentina, and in September 1974, he moved to Lausanne, on the shores of Lake Geneva. Paulina followed him there when he turned 18, and they married in January 1976. He continued his studies in economics at university, and they both participated in solidarity activities to help other South American refugees settle in Switzerland.
Alexei never held a leading position in the Communist Party, neither in Chile nor among the growing number of exiles. But as a militant, he submitted to party discipline and participated in party organizations in exile. It came as a surprise, then, when in mid-1976, he cut ties completely with the local party, telling his comrades that he could not attend meetings because he felt ill. It was a false excuse that was widely criticized by those closest to him in the party. Alexei confided to Paulina that the Moscow-based party leadership had secretly contacted him. He had been asked to volunteer for an important mission, which required him to appear publicly distant from the Communists. A member of the Political Bureau and former minister in the Allende government, Americo Zorrilla, traveled from Moscow to meet with him. Another Chilean communist, whom he knew only as “Sasha,” came from Paris for the meetings, he told Paulina. There were regular meetings in an apartment in Geneva, rented specially to serve as a safe house. He did not tell his wife all the details, but said the party wanted him to travel to Argentina and Chile, using his Swiss passport, as part of an intricate clandestine operation to support the Communist Party in Chile. He agreed.
A Communist Party in Crisis
he party’s clandestine leadership in Chile had suffered a series of major blows and was under enormous pressure by the end of 1976. The top leader in Chile, Victor Diaz, and three consecutive leadership structures had been discovered and destroyed in DINA campaigns in May, August and December of that year. The situation was so serious that after the fall of the third structure in December, there were no new leaders left to take over. The flow of money from the Moscow-based party in exile had virtually stopped because there was no longer any secure means of transferring the money, usually U.S. dollars, from Europe to its recipients in Chile.
Ninety communist militants were detained and “disappeared” in that period. Hundreds more grassroots militants were captured and tortured to extract information from them. The money was running out, and the system of safe houses, financing and communications had been penetrated again and again. It was presumed that the remaining structures were seriously compromised. A weak ad hoc party leadership was formed, but the responsibility for rebuilding party structures and re-establishing financing and communications channels fell to party leaders in Europe.
That was the crucial operation for which the young Alexei Jaccard had been recruited to assume a key role. It was an ambitious plan, developed by the “external leadership” in Moscow, where the party’s secretary general, Luis Corvalán, had recently arrived after being released from prison in Chile and exchanged for a Soviet dissident. Under Corvalán’s leadership, the party had followed a consistent path of non-violent resistance, a continuation of its role in the Allende period, when it advocated negotiations and agreements with the opposition Christian Democrats. The DINA repression of the Communists in 1974 and 1975 had been much less intense than the persecution unleashed against the MIR and the Socialist Party, and party activities had focused on supporting the once powerful trade union movement, whose leadership had been decimated by the executions and mass arrests since the coup. The party’s strategy was to maintain a low profile; its leadership settled into a stable and unthreatening clandestine existence.
Jaccard was recruited to assume the role of secret agent in a major party operation launched from Europe to establish a base in Argentina to support the weakened party structures inside Chile. With the relative protection offered by his Swiss passport, it was thought that Alexei would be able to cross the border to and from Chile safely. He would be a field agent, a “courier”, a link connecting the new base in Argentina with the new address in Chile.
The leader of the operation was Ricardo Ramírez, one of the party’s most experienced operatives. Ramirez had been head of the party’s intelligence apparatus and had been involved in the party’s clandestine work in Chile for two years. In early 1976 the party ordered him to leave Chile for exile in Hungary and he spent much of the year preparing for his new mission in Argentina. His lieutenant was Héctor Velásquez, also exiled in Hungary. Both were already in Buenos Aires.
The new reinforced base in Argentina was to be kept strictly compartmentalized from Chilean exile activities in that country. Ramirez and Velasquez traveled on Hungarian passports with false identities. The men had two objectives: they were to reinstall a top leadership composed of experienced communist militants from Europe. Four other party leaders, members of the Central Committee, were to arrive later. The idea was that the new leadership would operate in Argentina and Chile, transmitting instructions–and more significantly, funds –to the party in Chile. They were also to implement the party’s plan to restore the flow of money once the leadership in Europe had worked out the details.
The financial mission was much more complex than the project of rebuilding the party leadership.
The key figure in this mission was a prosperous Chilean banker and financier, 43-year-old Jacobo Stoulman. Stoulman had worked for the Banco Israelita in Chile, had lived in Israel for several years, and had close relatives in New York. Apparently disinterested in politics, Stoulman dabbled in the black dollar market during the Allende government, and after the coup he made his mark on the international finance circuit. With several Chilean partners, he founded Cambios Andes, an investment and currency exchange business with branches in Santiago and Buenos Aires. Among his friends in the Jewish community were businessmen who supported the military coup in Chile and participated in the Pinochet regime, but he also had friends who sympathized with the Popular Unity government. In this second group was a former colleague of the Banco Israelita, Jacobo “Yasha” Rosenblum, a Communist Party militant exiled in Paris.
The party’s problem at the end of 1976 was not lack of funding, but the breakdown of channels for getting money into Chile. The source of the funds was not a mystery. It was money raised by the party in exile from its wealthy supporters in Europe and the socialist countries, mainly in the Soviet Union and East Germany. Sending the funds via diplomatic pouch or personal courier was no longer feasible. Zorrilla devised a plan to open a new and secure channel for moving large amounts of dollars from Europe to Chile. He enlisted Rosenblum, who told him he knew the perfect person to help set up and operate the financial network, his old friend Jacobo Stoulman. David Canales, a member of Zorrilla’s team, testified about this operation many years later:
Yasha incorporated Jacobo Stoulman into this scheme after the coup d’état, taking advantage of the fact that Stoulman had a solid and real cover as a financial operator, in addition to having his own assets and proven banking relationships. He had met him at the Banco Israelita before the Allende government and Yasha was captivated by Stoulman’s strong personality, independent and enterprising character, coupled with his proven spirit of solidarity and progressiveness. In the preparation stage of this mechanism, Jacobo Stoulman met personally and alone with Yasha in November 1976, when Stoulman traveled to Europe, passing through Switzerland.
Stoulman agreed. At that meeting in Geneva, Rosenblum and Stoulman created a system of financial transfers that would be secure and legal. For Stoulman, it was a potentially lucrative proposition, for which he had the necessary connections in the financial world. According to Canales, it violated no laws or banking regulations – it was perfectly legal, except, of course, for the last phase of transferring the money to a persecuted underground party fighting against the dictatorship in Chile.
They opened accounts in international banks in Europe to receive the money, which would be transferred to accounts controlled by Stoulman in Argentina. According to court records, the financial institutions involved in the new network included the Banque pour l’Industrie et le Commerce in Geneva, Israel Discount Bank and Bank Julius Baer in New York, and branches of Cambios Andes in Chile and Argentina, as well as other unidentified banks in Luxembourg and Argentina. The most complicated part was the final stage: transferring the money in dollars to Chile and exchanging it into local currency. Stoulman’s company would then have to disburse funds periodically to clandestine party operatives–far and away the most dangerous and risky aspect of the operation, which was made even more precarious by the weakened state of the party structure in Chile.
Canales said part of the system was operational by the end of 1976 and funds were being accumulated in Argentina. But repression directed at the party leadership had broken the links with the party’s internal structure, and money could not be sent securely from Argentina to Chile. Nonetheless, money continued to flow into accounts in Argentina, resulting in large balances. Canales described the money problem in an interview:
Since May 1976, as a result of the debacle of the clandestine leadership of the CP, the flow of aid money from abroad to Chile stopped, at least in its regular form. At that time, as every year, from 1974 onwards, the CP made a financial campaign and gathered on that occasion among the emigrants a sum close to US$500,000, which should have flowed in installments to Chile, although this was not possible. On the other hand, the Chilean communists received a similar amount of solidarity from two or three counterpart parties in that period. The sum of everything was ready to be delivered fractionally to our people in Chile from the last part of 1976. So at the beginning of 1977 we began to deposit in commercial banks in Argentina these sums of money at the disposal of different people. One of those people was Jacobo Stoulman.
With Ricardo Ramirez recently installed in Buenos Aires, Zorrilla gave the order to send Alexei Jaccard on his mission to Buenos Aires and Santiago with the necessary information and instructions to restore the flow of money. Canales states:
Once the project was underway, in order to set up the final device it was necessary to incorporate a different person, who was neither known nor linked to the security apparatus nor to communist finances. The person assigned was Alexei Jaccard Siegler, a young communist from Concepción… He was a young man full of energy and confident in his own strength of character, in his ability to overcome the risks of political work.
Jaccard, in meetings with Rosenblum and other operatives sent from Moscow, received basic instruction in clandestine activities. He was to travel under his real name, using his Swiss passport. He replaced his student jeans and T-shirts with suits befitting a young, prosperous businessman, and trimmed his previously unkempt beard.
Although his mother and sister were temporarily living in Argentina, trying to gather money and documentation to go into exile in Europe, Alexei was instructed not to make contact with them.
His mission, according to Canales and other sources, was to meet in Buenos Aires with Ricardo Ramírez and, in Santiago, with Jacobo Stoulman. He did not know either of them personally, nor did they know of each other’s existence. Alexei carried the detailed information the two men needed to work together. He was told that this would be the first of a series of regular trips he would be making:
Alexei was not a courier who transported money at all. In that sense one can understand the value of Jacobo Stoulman, who was in a position to make foreign exchange remittances from Chile to Argentina and vice versa. Alexei’s task involved letting Jacobo know the frequency, amounts and recipients of remittances to be deposited in Argentina.
On May 14, 1977, Alexei said goodbye to Paulina. For his meeting with Ramirez, Jaccard brought with him the eagerly awaited information about the new financing scheme and how it would work. Jaccard also carried a good deal of cash, about $20,000 for travel and other purposes. Some of it was earmarked for Ramirez’s operation and some was to be taken to Chile. All he told Paulina was that his mission would take him to Buenos Aires and Chile, and that he had a return ticket for May 26. He traveled overnight from Milan to Buenos Aires and arrived in the Argentine capital early on Sunday morning, May 15.
Condor infiltrates the Communist Party
he DINA y Argentina’s Battalion 601, coordinating their actions in Operation Condor, seem to have detected the Communist Party operation practically from its inception. In 1977, both agencies were focusing on Europe and on the financing and anti-dictatorship propaganda activities of exile groups on that continent. At about that time, Argentina was carrying out an operation to confiscate $60 million from Montoneros bank accounts in Geneva and other cities. DINA had assigned one of its senior officers from the Foreign Department, Captain Raul Iturriaga Neumann, to take a graduate course in finance and economics, and in late 1976 he was promoted to head DINA’s Economic Directorate–a unit with the same authority as the Department of State.
Trying to understand the debacle years later, Canales surmises that DINA got its first clues about the party’s financial plans from interrogations of dozens of Communists arrested in May 1976, which included several people involved in the distribution of funds. In addition, he speculates that DINA was tracing the steps of the circle of Jewish businessmen who were suspected of sympathizing or having had ties to the Allende government–and that investigation would have led to Stoulman.
In Buenos Aires, Battalion 601 (which also had a financial investigations unit) was able to easily monitor the activities of the still legal Communist Party of Argentina and its contacts with Chilean communists working in the city. Both Ramirez and Hector Velasquez were staying in the homes of Argentine communist militants, and their arrival and movements would have constituted important intelligence to pass on to their Chilean counterparts.
There is an intriguing piece of evidence cited in the Condor trial in Chile that points to the early infiltration of Communist plans: when Jacobo Stoulman traveled to Geneva and Paris to meet with Yasha Rosenblum on November 18, 1976, Iturriaga himself, DINA’s financial investigations man, was on the same flight.
In Buenos Aires, the Condor team was preparing. Captain Cristoph Willeke was at that time the Chilean representative and liaison at Condor headquarters on Billinghurst Street. Another DINA agent, Enrique Arancibia, was also working for Condor. KNowing what happened next, it is clear that DINA had dispatched a special team of at least three agents who were already on the ground in Buenos Aires.
When Alexei Jaccard landed in Buenos Aires on May 15, DINA and Battalion 601 agents were already positioned to disrupt the Communist Party operation and force the detainees to lead them to the money.
The search for the truth
peaking at an event at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago in March 2022, Paulina Veloso described her 45-year search for justice for her husband. Many of the details can be found in “Los Años del Cóndor” where it is described that for many years, the Communist Party kept silent about what happened. At the time, a party official only informed Paulina Veloso that the operation had gone wrong and that Alexei was missing. She was asked to say that Alexei had traveled to Chile for personal reasons and not to comment on what she knew about his mission for the party. Only in the 1990s did she learn from journalists reporting on the case that Stoulman’s disappearance was part of the same operation. It took years to establish the truth. DINA had spread a false version that Stoulman was involved with the Argentine Jewish financier David Graiver, who had been accused of laundering tens of millions of dollars for the Montoneros. Stoulman’s sister Miriam repeated that story to the three Stoulman-Pessa daughters and others.
Veloso wanted to know what had really happened and wanted the real story to be known, that Alexei was on a political mission and that he was involved in one of the historical struggles of the resistance. She spoke with David Canales and he began to tell her the whole story about the party’s frustrated effort to create a financing network. Canales testified four times at the Condor trial, and shared new details about the operation with John Dinges.
“It was necessary to describe what we were doing while we were being persecuted, hunted and annihilated,” Canales said. Maintaining secrecy, he said, would reinforce the dictatorship’s false narrative, assumed to some extent even by judicial investigators, that “the activity of the anti-fascist fighters was obscure, secret, because their ends were horrible, anti-human, terrifying, unconfessable.” He became convinced that the actions of those who perished should be fully transparent: “As for me,” he added, “I was educated at school that the aims and means of the fighters for democracy and socialism are legitimate, open, and should be spread to the whole world.”
Veloso was instrumental in rallying the victims’ families to file a criminal complaint in 2000, which became a key part of the Condor trial in Chile.
With this transparency on the part of the victims, the darkest secrets that remain are those kept by the military, who protect their guilty knowledge of their heinous crimes and how they profited from them. The military officers who gave the orders and designed Condor’s operations have refused to talk openly about the plans and results of their operations. How the Condor partners managed to infiltrate the communist plans and act to nullify them as they unfolded has never been revealed.
Thus, it must be said that the transnational work of the military security forces again dealt a serious defeat to a major force of peaceful anti-dictatorial resistance. In what was perhaps the largest Condor operation ever undertaken, the joint security forces used the full spectrum of their methods: intelligence sharing, multinational teams for surveillance, detention and interrogation, and cross-border transfer of victims. Argentina and Chile were the main actors, but Uruguay also played a role, fabricating the fraudulent flight records of Jaccard and the Stoulmans, which allowed the operation to be covered up and diverted attention from Chile and Argentina.
“The book Los Años del Cóndor is an important addition to the memory of our country,” Veloso said in March. “And it is a vindication of the victims.”