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on 9 December 2016
This is an interesting book and well worth the effort required to read it. The effort is required by English language readers to cope with all the Spanish and Portuguese names, and also to become familiar with the many acronyms for the intelligence services of the different South American countries and their Marxist rebel opponents. That being said, the author John Dinges of ‘The Washington Post’ and ‘Time’ magazine, has done an excellent job in unearthing the story of the ‘Condor’ agreement between the South American dictatorships. The dictatorships concerned were those of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and to some lesser extent Bolivia and Brazil. The Condor agreement, initially sponsored by the intelligence service of Chile under the Pinochet Government of the early 1970s, proposed and set-up a joint intelligence gathering and sharing network between these states. The Condor agreement went further and initiated the practice of states arresting and interrogating rebels and fugitives from neighbouring states, and facilitating the repatriation of these prisoners, this usually resulting in their death. This extremely effective system overreached itself and finally brought about its own downfall when it embarked upon the assassination of fugitives in Europe and the USA, the latter being a step too far for the normally tolerant and sympathetic American administration at the time of Secretary of State Kissinger.
The evidence and detail assembled by Dinges has a gruesome fascination of its own and is the result of many years of research. It is all referenced and entirely convincing in its authenticity.
I have a few reservations, however, about the tone and content of the book. The first is the use of acronyms mentioned previously and the second is the slight tendency toward repetition at times, but given the complicated nature of the story this is, perhaps, no bad thing. I am a little disturbed by the partisan nature of the book. The actions of the various right-wing dictators, especially Pinochet, Stroessner of Paraguay and Videla of Argentina come in correctly for sustained criticism for the extra-judicial killings and torture that they inflicted on their citizens. Some of the victims were not violent or terrorists but simply political activists. This is well and good, but I do not see a single word of censure for the Marxist terrorists and plotters who killed many innocent people. In the case of Argentina, under Isabelita Peron, the actions of terrorists make the country virtually ungovernable. I guess we are used to the ‘Right’ receiving a worse press than the ‘Left’, after all Castro of Cuba killed and tortured just about the same number of people as Pinochet but how many wear tee-shirts with pictures of Pinochet on them. Nevertheless, an excellent book and well worth reading.
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on 23 August 2017
one of the best books written on this subject
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on 22 October 2010
Dinges is an American journalist who covered Latin America in the era of hope,fear,resistance and repression of the late 1960s-early 70s.He lived in Chile for a while and was arrested in the aftermath of the overthrow of Allende and his Popular Unity government.He survived-many others did not.
He traces the internationalisation of the repression in Latin America's Southern Cone after 1973,with Project Condor reaching out from Chile into Argentina,Uruguay,Paraguay and,for a time Brazil and even Peru."Subversives" were traded across borders-few survived.Then Condor went global,with the 1976 killing of Letelier in Washington,and plans for actions in Europe(called off after they were leaked) and even an abortive attempt to kill Ed Koch,later mayor of New York.
After the return to democracy in the 1980s,the new civilian givernments were hampered by laws that gave retrospective amnesties to many-not all-human rights violators.Bits and bobs of information dribbled out.
And then came the arrest of Pinochet in London.As a result the Clinton Administration released extensive archival material from the CIA and State Department describing the structure and activities of the Condor nations.Much of this material ended up being used in fresh trials of the opressors of the 1970s-80s.Because of the transnational structure of Condor,many of these repressors could now be charged with crimes against humanity using the principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal of 1946-47.Many of those killers and torturers had to call off their hopes for a relaxing retirement and more than a few have been tried and convicted for their part in the brutalities of the 1970s-80s.
Well worth reading if you're interested in international or human rights law,or Latin American history.
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on 1 December 2014
The truth is all coming out !
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on 13 July 2015

In 1970, a socialist called Salvador Allende became the president of Chile. He came to power by democratic and constitutional means, but was overthrown in a military coup in 1973. This marked the beginning of a long period of right-wing dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet. Allende is believed to have committed suicide during the coup. The United States administration had tried to undermine the Allende government. Whether or not it played a direct role in the coup, it certainly didn’t oppose it. Pinochet was seen by Washington as an anti-communist ally. Democracy was restored in Chile in 1990, but Pinochet retained some power, by holding the position of commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces until 1998.

From the outset, the Pinochet regime initiated a crackdown on leftist elements and others who were perceived to be a threat to the new government. It’s estimated that this cost the lives of over 3,000 people in Chile during the Pinochet years. In March 1976, there was a military coup in neighbouring Argentina, which meant that all six countries of the 'Southern Cone' of South America (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay) had right-wing, military dictatorships. In Chile, the crackdown on opponents had been conducted quite openly – at first, at least. But the new Argentine regime relied almost exclusively on secret detention centres and 'disappearances'. According to John Dinges’s book, the death toll in Argentina was, at a minimum, 22,000 (p. 262), with the 'disappearances' actually beginning before the 1976 military coup (p. 138).

In August 1973, leftist revolutionary groups in the Southern Cone set up a body to co-ordinate their activities, the Junta Coordinadora Revolutionaria (JCR). In 1975, Manuel Contreras, the head of Chile’s Dirección de Intelligencia Nacional (DINA), instigated 'Operation Condor', a secret alliance of the military and intelligence services of the Southern Cone regimes. It aimed at destroying the JCR and associated revolutionary movements, and neutralizing other perceived threats. It came into being in November 1975, although Brazil didn’t formally join until the following year. In 1978, Ecuador and Peru also joined. The 'war on terrorism' was accompanied by assassinations of pro-democracy campaigners who had little or no association with the JCR.

Dinges’s well-researched book provides a detailed history of Operation Condor. Its activities fell into three categories: (1) the gathering and exchange of information (for which computer technology was provided by the CIA); (2) 'operations' within the member countries (e.g. the elimination of terrorists); (3) surveillance and assassinations outside Latin America. Regarding the second element, the Condor alliance permitted intelligence and security personnel from member countries to operate in one another’s territory. But not all of the member countries participated in assassinations conducted outside Latin America.

Operation Condor had success in breaking up the JCR and capturing and killing members of the associated leftist revolutionary movements in the Southern Cone. Its methods were brutal and included the use of torture to extract information from prisoners. However, it was responsible for a relatively small proportion of the total deaths and violence in the region during the time of the military dictatorships. The CIA generally had good access to information about Condor activity. Overall, the Nixon and Ford administrations in the USA were happy to give Condor a green light, despite some qualms on the American side about human rights violations. But the third element of Condor activity – operations conducted outside Latin America – aroused concern. A notable instance was the assassination of Orlando Letelier in Washington, DC, in 1976. Letelier had been a member of Allende’s government, and had served as the Chilean ambassador to the USA. He was targeted by Condor because he was a prominent critic of the Pinochet regime. A remotely-controlled bomb was attached to the underside of Letelier’s car. It killed him and another person, with a third occupant of the car being injured. Dinges (Chapter 11) argues that the assassination could have been prevented if the US had been more forcible in expressing its disapproval of such operations by its South American allies. Operation Condor seems to have continued into the early 1980s, although Condor-linked assassinations or attempted assassinations outside Latin America ceased by the end of 1976.

With the passing of the military dictatorships, there were moves, at both a national and an international level, to bring to justice people who had been involved in human rights violations in the Southern Cone. For example, Manuel Contreras, the former head of DINA, who had been instrumental in setting up Operation Condor, was imprisoned in Chile. However, Dinges’s book is inconsistent regarding the number of times that Contreras was jailed there. At the time of his death, in December 2006, Pinochet himself was facing charges.


The book contains a substantial number of endnotes, but there are no linking superscript numbers (or numbers in brackets) in the main text. This is a major fault, because it renders the endnotes more or less useless. Another oddity is that the endnotes start with the number 12 rather than 1! I don’t know whether these problems were present in Dinges’s submitted manuscript, or whether they arose at the publishers.

I think that the book would have benefited from an appendix giving a concise timeline of the principal events. It might also have helped if there’d been a glossary, giving the meanings of the various abbreviations used throughout the book.

The index is incomplete. There are two entries pertaining to a woman called Luz Arce (pp. 108-9, 164), but she’s also mentioned on p. 142. In a couple of places, at least, I noticed slight inconsistencies in the book.
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on 1 August 2006
I bought this book in order to use as a source for my A level coursework, and after reading it have decided to pretty much solely focus my attention on the information derived from Dinges account. He provides a maintained unbiased account of Latin American political repression, American involvement, and the terror inflicted on the people of South America. It is a logical and comprehensive progression through the events that took place before, during and after Condor, often providing personal experiences including a time when the author himself was arrested. I most liked the balance achieved between factual interpretation and pure action such as the gun battle involving Miguel Enriquez.

A unique book in that the author was living in Chile at the time and has obtained an immense amount of factual sources, its written in an appropriate style and I reiterate is of invaluable help to my coursework.
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