The long night of Latin America’s workers

“When I go to work I think of you. I think of you, companion of my days, and of the future” - Víctor Jara.

In April 2015, human rights activists staged various activities once again calling on the US Congress and government to close the School of the Americas, which was re-baptised the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in January 2001. Different name, same mission.

It was at the School of the Americas, founded in 1946 in Panama, that the US Army conducted its anti-communist indoctrination and counter-insurgency training of the Latin American military.

Latin America had military governments for decades. To name but a few, there were military coups in Guatemala and Paraguay in 1954, in Brazil and Bolivia in 1964, in Chile and Uruguay in 1973, and in Argentina in 1976.

These coups were not, as it was later said, the individual acts of crazy, ambitious, murderous military leaders.

They were staged in line with the National Security Doctrine (NSD) promoted by the United States to stop the wave of revolutionary movements hoping to bring change to the continent and social justice for the forgotten people.

Aided militarily by the United States, the mission of Latin America’s armies would no longer be to defend their nations from outside attack but to fight against the “enemy within”, a term coined by the NSD.

It should also be highlighted that the continent’s military leaders worked together, with the support of the US, organising a kind of ’international crime network’ under a coordinated campaign called Operation Condor.

Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay took part in the operation, exchanging information, prisoners and conducting joint interrogations.

The dictatorships not only tortured and murdered, they also limited or suppressed workers’ rights, such as the right to assemble, the right to organise and the right to strike, etc. Trade union leaders were persecuted and killed.


Chile: who were they?

In Chile, the findings of the Report of the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission were released on 4 March 1991 by the president at the time, Patricio Aylwin.

The document reports that 2,298 people were killed or disappeared by the Pinochet regime – 957 of them classed as ’missing prisoners’ – between 1973 and 1990.

More than half of them were married. Most of those killed or disappeared were men; 138 were women. Nine of the women who were pregnant when they were arrested are still missing today.

46 per cent of those arrested were not affiliated to any political party. The vast majority were workers: 207 were professionals, 305 were employees, 686 were labourers and farmhands, and 314 were self-employed workers, amongst others.

Singer-songwriter Víctor Jara was one of the first workers to be killed. On the morning of 11 September 1973, he went to work at the former State Technical University, where he was arrested and taken to the Chile Stadium, where soldiers tortured and then executed him, firing 44 bullets into his body.

On 9 December 1975, Marta Neira, a domestic worker, was arrested. Other detainees saw her at the detention centre known as “La Venda Sexy“ (The Sexy Blindfold). She has been missing since then.

Years later, on 25 February 1982, trade union leader Tucapel Jiménez was murdered. Jiménez left his home on the morning of that day to work in his taxi. Agents of Pinochet’s secret police, pretending they were passengers, entered his car and forced him to drive to a secluded spot, where they killed him, shooting him in the head five times, before slitting his throat.

Tucapel Jiménez was the president of the trade union organisation Asociación Nacional de Empleados Fiscales.

The main agents of Pinochet’s secret police were trained by the US Army.


Training manuals

Decades went by before the content of the training manuals used at the School of the Americas was revealed.

The manuals, finally released by the US government in 1996, advocated the use of “torture, blackmail, extortion and the payment of rewards for enemies killed”.

The Counter Intelligence manual, for example, recommends that armies draw up ’blacklists’ of potential enemies. It also underlines the importance of infiltrating and spying on members of student organisations, trade unions, humanitarian organisations, churches and political parties, among others.

“They were trained to confuse armed insurgencies with legal political opposition; and to disregard or get around any laws regarding due process, arrest and detention,” wrote Lisa Haugaard, executive director of the Latin America Working Group, in an article on the subject.

As writer Eduardo Galeano, who recently passed away, pointed out in the documentary Secreto a Voces, “They did not only torture people involved in alleged crimes of subversion. They tortured anyone. Anyone who might be potentially dangerous. And dangerous are those who think, those who question, those who say no.”


This article has been translated from Spanish.