Stella Calloni, Argentine journalist
Stella Calloni, a journalist who specialized in international politics, detailed before the Federal Court the origin and functioning of the Condor Plan and Operation Condor, promoted by the United States. The clandestine detention centers of Banfield and Quilmes were part of this repressive plan coordinated by the dictatorships of the region.
“The great plan was the national security dictatorships and Operation Condor was the tactic. The difference is not only semantic”, said journalist Stella Calloni, indicating that the objective of this repressive plan, founded in Chile, was to eliminate political figures and future leaders.
During her testimony before the Federal Court Nº 1 of La Plata, within the framework of the oral and public trial that is being carried out virtually for the crimes against humanity perpetrated in the Investigation Brigades of Banfield, Quilmes and Lanús, the researcher referred in detail to the repressive network that was deployed in several Latin American countries under the name of Plan Condor.
The investigation on Banfield and Quilmes is one of the strongest testimonies on what Operation Condor was in the Southern Cone […] Justice is needed. Justice must act now in this case because too much time has passed”, urged Calloni, who testified as a context witness having investigated the origin and functioning of the Condor Plan, a repressive coordination network that involved the dictatorships of the region in the 70s and 80s: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, later joined by Ecuador and Peru.
“Condor was a typical counterinsurgency operation that served to get rid of political personalities and future political leaders of the left or Peronism in Argentina”, explained Calloni, who at 85 years of age and with a recognized career as a journalist and author, continues to investigate this network where military and intelligence forces and “parapolice” sectors intervened and passed from one country to another as if there were no borders. They functioned as a mafia.
The expert began her presentation by indicating that the “concrete base” of Operation Condor was in Chile during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet after the overthrow of Salvador Allende in September 1973. Plan Condor and Operation Condor were launched by U.S. intelligence services.
Operation Condor included three phases designed by the FBI (U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation) and with input from the CIA (U.S. Central Intelligence Agency). They were aimed at “finishing off all the important exiles abroad in each of the Southern Cone countries”, she explained.
Included in this scheme was the training of Latin American military personnel at the U.S. Southern Command and the meetings of the U.S. Armed Forces. This “ensured the dependence of our region”, she affirmed. Referring to the founding of the Condor Plan, she said that it took place on November 25, 1975 in Chile at the invitation of General Manuel Contreras, head of the Chilean political police DINA (National Intelligence Directorate) with the participation of Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.
“Argentina also attended, although the dictatorship was not yet in place. When Argentina joined, the circle of death was closed”, said the journalist, before indicating that in this way “Operation Condor was institutionalized because all the dictatorships of the Southern Cone agreed on this operation that was aimed at destroying or eliminating important figures, because it was an elitist operation. Condor’s target was the leaders”, she stressed.
Regarding the phases of its operation, she said there were three: location of the targets (leaders), tracking and assassination. Operation Condor agents “had the capacity to locate these leaders and in phase two they would carry out terrorist operations in any of these countries. They created commands in each country that were in charge of a kind of ‘omertá’, that is to say, of jointly supporting each other to assassinate those they decided they had to get out of the way,” she said.
Calloni assured that according to an FBI document, “in each embassy there was a person in charge of deciphering the cables sent through the so-called Condor network, where lists of people sent by the chancelleries of all these countries were transmitted […] who in general were personalities of each country to be located, watched and handed over without going through the judges”.
“The characteristic was the absolute illegality of the operation, without borders and without judges,” she emphasized. Although as early as 1973 the Condor Plan contemplated the delivery of prisoners to Uruguay and Paraguay, the following year it began to acquire a dimension with international repercussions. Calloni then mentioned the assassination of Chilean General Carlos Prats in September 1974 in Argentina.
“He was assassinated by Argentine intelligence personnel. By members of the Triple A (ndlr: Argentine Anticommunist Alliance) and by a group of Chileans who put a bomb under his car that exploded in the neighborhood of Palermo,” she said.
In December of that same year, Colonel Ramón Trabal, military attaché in the Uruguayan embassy in France, was assassinated in Paris, accused of having links with progressive military men in Portugal and with the Frente Amplio and the Tupamaros organization, Calloni recalled.
In September 1975, an attempt was made to assassinate Chilean politician Bernardo Leyton and his wife in the middle of Rome, near the Vatican, she said.
On September 21, 1976, former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier, who “was denouncing Latin American dictatorships abroad,” was assassinated in Washington, DC, she said. The Letelier case, a former Allende minister, had unexpected repercussions. “Pinochet sent a team to the United States with a CIA operative, they strapped a bomb on him,” she recalled.
Calloni specified that in that attack “Cuban-American terrorist groups from Miami participated, as was proven in the trial in 1979 by U.S. prosecutor Eugene Proper, (who) located all those responsible and the documents of FBI agent, Robert Sherrer (ndlr: agent who worked in Latin America), were included”.
According to new documents that were incorporated to the investigation on the Condor Plan, “Pinochet had the help of the secret armies of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and of the Cuban terrorist groups that advised Pinochet in this operation”, said Calloni.
On May 20, 1976, another case of enormous repercussion took place, this time in Buenos Aires: the assassination of Uruguayan senators Zelmar Michelini and Héctor Gutiérrez Ruiz, who were exiled in Argentina and whom she knew.
“That is a case of the Condor Plan. Zelmar Michelini and Gutiérrez Ruiz are symbolic because of the way in which they were kidnapped in the framework of this operation,” said Calloni when questioned by plaintiff lawyer Guadalupe Godoy. Calloni emphasized that it was specifically the political and social importance of the victims of Operation Condor that made it possible to uncover this repressive network.
Throughout her presentation she insisted that Operation Condor “was very closed because they were going to eliminate important people”, and therefore only the high commanders were aware of it. In this context, she also cited the assassination of former Bolivian president Juan José Torres, perpetrated in Argentina in June 1976, and clarified that “to this day” other assassinations of leaders in the region are being investigated, such as former Brazilian president Joao Goulart, leaders of the Chilean MIR and other leaders in Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia.
“Operation Condor was carried out in the midst of this plan of the National Security dictatorships that covered the countries of the Southern Cone framed in the Cold War, where the populations of South America became an internal enemy”, summarized Calloni.
Translation by Internationalist 360°