24 May 2006

OPERATION COLOMBO: CONTRERAS RESPONDS TO ALLEGATIONS

(May 24, 2006) Gen. Manuel Contreras, former director of Chile’s secret police, will appear before Santiago’s Constitutional Tribunal Thursday to appeal the 258 human rights violations currently filed against him. Gen. Contreras’ lawyer, Fidel Reyes, is expected to argue that the charges against his client are inapplicable because of due process violations arising from the use of both Chile’s old (1980) and new (2005) constitutions.

“We cannot have uniformed citizens indicted under a system that does not guarantee due process,” said Reyes.

While ironic given the accusations that Gen. Contreras took part in the summary executions of left-wing dissidents during his tenure as chief of the Directorate of National Intelligence (DINA), the court is expected to hear the new appeal before taking action on the charges against the retired general.

Contreras is currently serving 12 years and one day in prison for the “disappearance” of Miguel Ángel Sandoval, a left-wing activist of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR) who disappeared in 1975. He is also being investigated for his role in Operation Colombo, a joint operation between southern hemisphere military regimes to execute left-wing activist in exile.

Operation Colombo was one part of the larger Operation Condor that carried out a number of assassinations around the world, including the 1976 car bombing in Washington, D.C. that killed Orlando Letelier. Gen. Contreras was dismissed as chief of DINA in 1977 after U.S. investigations in Letelier’s murder implicated the general. The DINA was dissolved in 1977 and replaced by the National Intelligence Center (CNI) after repeated criticisms of its human rights record forced Gen. Pinochet to close the agency down.

Judge Víctor Montiglio, lead investigator in the Operation Colombo case, interviewed Gen. Pinochet last week to help determine what role he might have played in the operation that led to the deaths of 119 MIR activists in 1975.

“I think that Gen. Contreras is a liar,” said Gen. Pinochet. “He changed around everyone’s roles, his, mine, everyone’s, so that it looks like he’s innocent.”

Contreras attributes Pinochet’s claims to his advanced age (90) and has told members of Pinochet’s family that he does not resent the accusations.

SOURCE: LA NACIÓN, EL MERCURIO