Thursday, November 12, 1998
Behind the lines of Pinochet's Cold War
Documents show the Soviet Union armed and trained Chilean communists. Are the former dictator's accusers overlooking critical evidence?
"Dear comrades!" began Luis Corvalan's letter to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on Oct. 14, 1980.
In the wooden language of the Cold War, the exiled leader of the Chilean Communist Party asked the Soviets to help wage an armed struggle against General Augusto Pinochet, Chile's right-wing leader.
"For the purpose of continuing your assistance in our struggle," Mr. Corvalan implored, "we appeal to you to receive three groups of our comrades, ten from Chile and five from other countries, for special training in handling mines and explosives, and committing diversionary acts, and to pay for their travel expenses to the Soviet Union."
In a scenario that had been played out over and over again throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Mr. Corvalan's wish was swiftly granted.
A secret Soviet document obtained by the National Post shows that less than three weeks after Mr. Corvalan's letter was sent, the Soviet communist party secretariat approved the request for 15 Chilean operatives to visit the U.S.S.R. for as long as six months to "undergo special training."
The document, and dozens like it, confirm what historians and anti-communist activists long suspected but, until now, could not prove: That the Soviet Union provided military training to anti-Pinochet forces.
The documents were discovered in Soviet archives by former dissident Vladimir Bukovsky and have been released while Britain's House of Lords weighs whether Gen. Pinochet is immune from criminal prosecution. Spain yesterday delivered a formal extradition request to the British government. It wants to try Gen. Pinochet on charges of genocide and torture arising from the "disappearance" of Spanish citizens during his 17-year reign.
Gen. Pinochet displaced Marxist leader Salvador Allende as the leader of Chile in a military coup in 1973, and has been blamed for the deaths or disappearances of more than 3,000 people.
Mr. Bukovsky, 55, released the documents now because he believes they should be entered into evidence if Gen. Pinochet is tried.
"These documents give a very extensive picture of the Soviet involvement in Chile," Mr. Bukovsky said this week from his home in Cambridge, England. "Their part in the conflict in Chile should be studied by any court who would take on itself to judge Pinochet.
"You cannot judge the guilt of one side without looking at the actions of the other side," he said. "And the other side was waging underground war."
The documents, spanning from 1976 to 1990, show that the Soviet Union provided weapons, training, and fake documents to Chile's communist and socialist forces to conduct an armed struggle against the dictator. They show that the Soviets shuttled members of Chile's communist and socialist parties in and out of Chile, smuggling them through western Europe, and in and out of the U.S.S.R. They even arranged for Mr. Corvalan's plastic surgery so that he could enter Chile undetected in 1983 and personally organize communist resistance.
In the case of the 1980 letter, for example, reception, training and travel expenses for Chilean comrades was to be provided by the Soviet Defence Ministry, under the approval of the deputy head of the Chief Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces.
All the documents carry the highest degree of top-secret classification, "special file" and "top secret."
"(The Soviets) had their own agenda," said Mr. Bukovsky. "They wanted to establish a totalitarian state in Chile. Is that to be ignored now?
"I am not a friend of Pinochet but I think you have to weigh both sides before you reach any judgment."
The most sensitive details, such as how many people were to be trained, by whom, and in what field, were often added to the typed documents in handwritten script, because even the typists of the Central Committee were not trusted with the information.
"These documents are of the greatest importance," says Claudio Veliz, Chilean sociologist and professor of history at Boston University. "This demolishes the idea that the Soviet Union, and Cuba supported by the Soviet Union, were not interested in stirring up another revolution in Latin America."
A former diplomat who served in Chile at the time agrees.
"That's what a lot of people have always thought," says John Hickman, former British ambassador to Chile and author of a book on Chilean history. "But there has not been any proof that I am aware of."
Mr. Bukovsky discovered the correspondence in 1992 when he was granted special access to Communist Party archives by Boris Yeltsin, the Russian president. Mr. Yeltsin outlawed the Communist Party after seizing power in 1991, and had to defend his decree in Russia's constitutional court. Mr. Bukovsky was called as an expert witness to testify about crimes perpetrated by Soviet communists.
In preparation for his testimony, Mr. Bukovsky entered Communist Party vaults with a hand-held scanner. He emerged with enough evidence of Soviet involvement with guerrilla forces around the world to fill a number of his widely read books.
"I am not against punishing those who have committed crimes against humanity. That is proper and just," says Mr. Bukovsky. "But so far, only those on the right side of the political spectrum have been charged with crimes against humanity. Not a single communist so far was charged with those crimes. And yet they've committed the bulk of them in our century."
Critics of Gen. Pinochet acknowledge that left-wing forces committed acts of violence under his rule. Gen. Pinochet survived an assassination attempt in 1986, and the right-wing senator Jaime Guzman was shot dead in 1991.
But Pinochet critics maintain that the extremist paramilitary organizations were to blame, not the mainstream communist and socialist parties.
"Pinochet was using a hammer to hit a fly," said Judith Teichman, professor of Latin American politics at the University of Toronto, of Gen. Pinochet's repression.
"There was a leftist lunatic fringe, but it was not a communist conspiracy," she said. "There wasn't much (Soviet) involvement so there isn't much to be known."
However, the documents implicate members of both the communist and socialist parties.
A letter dated Aug. 30, 1979, shows that the then-general secretary of the Chilean Socialist Party, Clodomiro Almeida, referred to as Comrade K, requested 11 months of military training for 10 activists of the Socialist Party to be held in the U.S.S.R.
Reception, maintenance, training, including "special equipment", and travel expenses to and from Moscow, were to be provided by the Soviet Ministry of Defence. An accompanying letter from the deputy head of the International Department informs the Central Committee that from 1975 to 1978, several groups of Chilean Socialist Party activists had received military training in the U.S.S.R. The training was "highly regarded by the Socialist Party of Chile because it significantly improved the Party's work in this field," the letter said.
In another letter, Mr. Corvalan asks for Soviet assistance in moving several party operatives, including Gladys Marin, the current head of the Chilean Communist Party, out of Chile and into Europe. The Soviets are asked to pay for the move and to "manufacture the necessary personal documents." The request was approved by the party and the KGB, with the Soviets agreeing to pay the cost of 25,000 rubles.
In a twist of fate conceivable only during the Cold War, Mr. Bukovsky's own freedom was linked with that of the Chilean communist leader whose records he is now releasing.
A political prisoner sentenced to 12 years in a Soviet jail north of Moscow, Mr. Bukovsky was released on Leonid Brezhnev's birthday in 1976 in exchange for Mr. Corvalan, who was being held by Gen. Pinochet in Santiago. "I served six and the other six were left to Comrade Brezhnev as a birthday present," Mr. Bukovsky said, chuckling.
The documents also add another cloak-and-dagger story to Cold War lore. They show that once exiled to Moscow, Mr. Corvalan tried to re-enter Pinochet's Chile to personally organize underground resistance.
Known as "the Eagle" among his comrades because of his distinctive aquiline nose, Mr. Corvalan had plastic surgery to flatten his nose before returning to Chile.
But in 1989, when Gen. Pinochet resigned from power, Mr. Corvalan found himself stranded in the underground with his new face and a false passport.
In order to "legalize" himself in post-Pinochet Chile, he requested Soviet help to return to the U.S.S.R. to obtain a legitimate passport and to have the surgery reversed.
The documents show that the Soviet leadership agreed to cover the costs of the trip.
Secret Central Committee of the Communist Party of the
Soviet Union On the request of the leadership of the
Chilean Communist Party The General Secretary of the
Communist Party of Chile (CPCh), comrade Luis Corvalan
submits to the Central Committee a request (attached) to
receive in the U.S.S.R. for special training (in mines
and explosives, and in committing diversionary actions)
15 activists of the CPCh (three groups of 5 each), and to
cover their travel expenses from Chile and from any other
country of their residence, to Moscow, and from Moscow to
Chile. Comrade L. Corvalan motivated his request by the
developments in the country and demands from the party to
master all forms of struggle and prepare the cadres for
that purpose. We consider it possible to satisfy the
demands of the CPCh leadership, the reception, training,
and travel expenses of Chilean comrades can be entrusted
to the Ministry of Defense of the U.S.S.R. With deputy
head of the Chief Directorate of Intelligence of the
General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces, Comrade A.
Pavlov the question is agreed. The draft decision of the
Central Committee is attached. Head of the International
Department of the Central Committee. K. Brutens.
(signature) October 30, 1980
John Lawrence, National Post /