The intelligence services of Peru and Argentina kept Washington informed in real time about a 1980 joint clandestine operation in which four alleged members of Argentina’s Montoneros guerrilla movement were “disappeared,” according to documents declassified in the United States.
The incident forms part of the case opened in December by Italian Judge Luisianna Figliola, who issued arrest warrants for those responsible for this and other actions carried out in the framework of Operation Condor, a coordinated plan among the military governments that ruled Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay in the 1970s and 1980s, aimed at tracking down, capturing, torturing and eliminating left-wing opponents.
Townsend B. Friedman, political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, revealed in a secret Aug. 19, 1980 memo to Claus Ruser, the ambassador’s number two man, details about the operation involving the supposed Montoneros in Lima, and the fatal outcome.
In that memo, which has now been declassified thanks to the efforts of the National Security Archive, an independent Washington-based non-governmental research institute, Friedman told his superior that an Argentine intelligence official had provided them with details of the Lima operation on Jun. 16, 1980.
The date is key: the joint action by the Batallón 601, a special Argentine army intelligence unit, and Peru’s Army Intelligence Service (SIE) was recorded four days earlier, and the purported Montoneros were turned over by Peruvian agents on Jun. 17 to Bolivian military personnel, in the presence of agents from Argentina.
The documents show that the U.S. government was fully aware of what was happening, at the time it was occurring, and that it knew ahead of time that the alleged Montoneros would be killed.
“A member of an Argentine intelligence service who has been quite reliable in these matters told the (U.S.) Embassy that the four individuals were apprehended in Peru, that they were still being held there but that they would be expelled to Bolivia from where they would be handed over to Argentina; once in Argentina they would be interrogated and then disappeared,” Friedman reported to Ruser.
The capture in Lima and forced disappearance of Noemí Gianetti de Molfino, a member of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo Argentine human rights group, María Inés Raverta and Julio César Ramírez was planned by Batallón 601 after the seizure in Argentina of Federico Frías, who was going to take part in Lima in a meeting with high-level members of the Montoneros, the armed branch of the leftist wing of Argentina’s Peronist party.
After he was brutally tortured, Frías was taken by his captors to Peru, where he had agreed to tell them the names and addresses of supposed guerrillas, according to the testimony of a former Peruvian agent who took part in the operation, which appears in the book “Muerte en el Pentagonito” (Death in the Little Pentagon: The Secret Killing Fields of the Peruvian Army) by journalist Ricardo Uceda.
According to the declassified Aug. 19, 1980 memo, the U.S. ambassador to Argentina at the time, Harry W. Shlaudeman, spoke of the case of the supposed “Montoneros” with General Pedro Richter, at the time prime minister, minister of war and commander of the Peruvian army.
“Peruvian Prime Minister Richter Prada told Ambassador Shlaudeman in July (1980, a month after the kidnappings) that the Argentines had been expelled to Bolivia and that he believed the Bolivians had probably handed them over to the Argentines,” Friedman told Ruser.
“In addition, (Richter) revealed to Ambassador Shlaudeman that he had been in personal touch with Argentine Army Commander (Leopoldo Fortunato) Galtieri on the matter.
“Galtieri had informed Richter that there could be ‘an interesting development’ in the case early the week of July 14. Richter suggested to Ambassador Shlaudeman that Galtieri’s comment might foreshadow a live appearance of the three Montoneros who the Peruvians claimed they handed over to the Bolivians,” the memo adds.
The “interesting development” came to light on Jul. 21, 1980, when the murdered body of Gianetti de Molfino, one of the women kidnapped in Lima, was found in a hotel in Madrid. Nothing was ever heard of again about Raverta, Ramírez or Frías. The general, who is now dead, became the head of Argentina’s military junta in November of the following year.
Shlaudeman had close ties with the Peruvian dictatorship of General Francisco Morales Bermúdez (1975-1980), as confirmed by the declassified documents. When the alleged Montoneros were abducted in Lima, he was already in Buenos Aires.
The path followed by Shlaudeman’s career is particularly interesting. He was U.S. State Department Deputy Chief of Mission in Chile from 1969 to 1973, during which time the coup d’etat that overthrew socialist president Salvador Allende (1970-1973), ushering in a 17-year dictatorship, was being planned.
He then served as State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs, from 1973 to 1975, under President Richard Nixon; in 1977 he was appointed ambassador to Peru; and in 1980 he became ambassador to Argentina, a post he held until 1983, when democracy was restored in that country.
In 1992, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George Bush, the current U.S. president’s father.
The June 1980 operation in Lima was neither the first nor the only one carried out as the result of coordination between the de facto military regimes of Peru and Argentina — something that Shlaudeman was clearly aware of.
According to another declassified secret document, dated Jul. 11, 1977, Shlaudeman reported the Apr. 12, 1977 kidnapping of Argentine citizen Carlos Alberto Maguid, who had been granted political asylum in Peru, to then U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance.
Shlaudeman told Vance that a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) official, Lone Hogel, had informed him that Maguid had been seized by members of the Peruvian military in coordination with agents from Argentina.
The Peruvian government, “in the persons of the minister of the Interior (General Luis Cisneros Vizquerra) and the son of president Morales Bermúdez, has denied that any agency of the (government) was responsible for his disappearance,” Shlaudeman wrote, before stating that Hogel had accurate information on the case.
“Hogel said that it was her personal opinion, based on anonymous but apparently well-documented letters, that Maguid was arrested by the Servicio de Inteligencia Nacional (SIN),” perhaps at the urging of the Argentine government, and that he was being held somewhere in Peru, Shlaudeman wrote to Vance.
The cases of Maguid, as well as those of Gianetti de Molfino, Raverta, Ramírez and Frías, were not isolated ones, but formed part of a coordinated strategy by the military intelligence services of the South American dictatorships. This is made clear by a joint Jun. 25, 1980 report by the U.S. embassies in Argentina and Peru, drafted a week after the kidnapping of Gianetti de Molfino and the others in Lima.
“This incident is not unique. In recent years there have been several similar cases that attest to a high degree of cooperation among the intelligence and security agencies of the southern South American countries and to their tendency to resort to illegal means in treating suspected subversives,” says the document.
Nevertheless, U.S. authorities continue to deny that they were aware of the coordinated criminal activities committed under Operation Condor.
In 2005, J. Patrice McSherry, a political science professor at Long Island University in New York, published a revealing document in her book “Predatory States: Operation Condor and Covert War in Latin America”.
The document was a declassified memo by James Blystone, a former regional security officer (RSO) in the U.S. embassy in Argentina, in which he reported to his superiors that an Argentine intelligence source had informed him of the kidnapping of four “Montoneros” in Lima, and had told him that they would be “disappeared.”
“Clearly, the RSO (Blystone) had been briefed on a top-secret Condor operation involving the intelligence services of three separate countries (Argentina, Bolivia and Peru); he was accepted as a trusted member of Condor’s inner circle,” wrote McSherry.
Blystone wasted no time responding. In January 2006, he published his version of the events in the “Foreign Service Journal”, in an article titled “The Domino Effect of Improper Declassification”.
“During the time that I was in Argentina (1978-1980)…I stumbled onto the fact that the Argentine security services were carrying out some operations in neighbouring countries. But I do not recall ever hearing the term ‘Operation Condor’ used, either there (Buenos Aires) or in Santiago, by any of my contacts or embassy colleagues,” the former foreign service officer wrote.
But Blystone could have asked Shlaudeman, who was perfectly well informed of Operation Condor, as shown, for example, by an Aug. 30, 1976 report he sent from Chile to then secretary of state Henry Kissinger on the characteristics and scope of the coordination between intelligence and security agencies in the Southern Cone region.
There is also the Oct. 8, 1976 declassified briefing from Shlaudeman to Kissinger in which he reports on a meeting with Colonel Manuel Contreras, the powerful chief of the now dissolved National Directorate of Intelligence (DINA) — the Chilean dictatorship’s secret police — and the true head of Operation Condor.
“As expected, Contreras denied that Operation Condor has any other purpose than the exchange of intelligence,” says the cable.
But the U.S. government knew that Contreras was lying. “Operation Condor” had already taken off on its death flight. IPS – Inter Press Service