Pinochet’s Secret Police: The Consolidation of Power in Chile

The CIA-backed Chilean coup of September 11, 1973, brought military leader Augusto Pinochet to power. After this event, Pinochet and his Junta of military leaders took steps forward to consolidate their control. This consolidation was accomplished through violence, oppression, and with the creation of a secret police. The details behind this consolidation of power demonstrated Pinochet’s fears and how the inaction of the American government led to a period of terror in Chile.  

It was clear for Pinochet that he needed to consolidate his control over the nation in order to avoid a counterrevolution. After two months in power, Pinochet established a security group with the name of The Directorate of National Intelligence, or for his initials in Spanish DINA. This organization worked as a secret police for Pinochet. Among its missions was the creation of a series of concentration camps. These camps served primarily as incarceration centers for Pinochet’s political rivals, but they also served as symbols of oppression for the Chilean population.

Estadio Nacional de Chile used as a concentration camp.

Members of DINA used these camps not only as centers of incarceration but as places of massive executions and brutal interrogations. The number of victims reached the thousands and some individuals that came into these camps disappeared up to this day. The interrogations were conducting through several forms of torture, such as the administration of intensive corporal pain and sexual violations. Their primary goal was to extract information that would lead to more political rivals and exiles. Furthermore, these camps served as symbols of oppression for the common citizens in Chile that were not connected to any political affiliation. The message was clear for them, Pinochet and DINA controlled the nation.

Members of DINA organized one of the most infamous events in the history of Pinochet’s dictatorship, the Caravan of Death. This event was a series of raids and assassinations that were carried out around the nation. The victims of this event were Pinochet’s political rivals and some prominent Chilean citizens. Victor Jara, famous Chilean signer was among the victims of the Caravan of Death. After this event, the society was completely terrorized and incapable of organizing a counter-revolution. The number of victims reached almost 100, but that number can be even higher. 

DINA was not only restricted to Chilean territory. Pinochet sent members of DINA to different missions in countries such as Argentina, Spain, and Mexico. The goal for these missions was to assassinate Pinochet’s political rivals that escaped Chile during the military coup and the establishment of centers of control for DINA abroad. The CIA was aware of these missions and their objectives. One of the most significant members of these missions was an American citizen named Michael Vernon Townley. He conducted a series of operations in countries like Spain and Mexico, but perhaps his most infamous operation took place in his native country the United States. In September 1976, Townley executed former Chilean minister Orlando Letelier and his American colleague Ronni Karpen Moffitt with a car bomb in downtown Washington DC. A CIA secret report from May 1977 showed that American authorities had a complete diagram of how DINA was functioning, their goals, the most prominent members, and their operations abroad.

Furthermore, some of the details behind Townley’s operation in America indicated that Pinochet’s government was building a chemical weapon of great power. Townley wanted to use the dangerous Sarin gas to execute his target but he decided to use a car bomb instead,  method that he used before in Argentina. Preparations of big quantities of Sarin gas and information declassified indicate that Pinochet was preparing a chemical weapon with Sarin. The code name for this operation was “Andrea.” They hoped that by building this chemical weapon it would be use in a possible war against Chile’s neighbor countries, Argentina and Peru. A declassified FBI memorandum from 1981 showed that American authorities were aware of project Andrea and Townley’s transportation of gas Sarin to the assassination of Letelier.  

While Townley and DINA accomplished their objectives, Pinochet’s military Junta issued on August 13, 1977 law No. 1878 which abolished DINA. This took place because of the international awareness that the assassination of Letelier produced. However, in the same day, the National Center of Information (CNI) was established. This organization took control over DINA’s members, resources, and researches. A different name but the same organization.

I quoted information in this blog that came out of the book, The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability, by the author Peter Kornbluh.

Pinochet’s consolidation of power was accomplished with DINA’s campaign of terror. DINA carried several operations to eliminate Pinochet rivals. This organization operated in foreign nations which send a clear message to foreign countries, Pinochet was in complete control over Chile. The awareness of American agencies about DINA’s operations and Pinochet’s goals gave the American government a level of blame for the all the victims that lose their lives. 


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