Clinica Santa Lucia

Ingrid Olderock: la mujer de los perros

Ingrid Olderock: la mujer de los perros

Author: Nancy GuzmánPortadaOlderock

Publisher: Ceibo Ediciones, 2014

“In this type of investigation, objectivity is non-existent.” Alejandro Solís Muñoz’s statement in his prologue to “Ingrid Olderock: la mujer de los perros” necessitates reflection. Objectivity, in the wrong hands, is a weapon of normalising violence and human rights violations. The end result would be normalising the dictatorship and its atrocities. It would also be an aberration to normalise the experience of Ingrid Olderock as part of the dictatorship’s intelligence services, elevated to the rank of Captain by former DINA chief Manuel Contreras.

The book is based upon three interviews with Olderock conducted by Nancy Guzmán in July and August of 1996, following a request by the BBC request to work on a documentary about torture. Ingrid Olderock was on the list of names given to the author by Chilean human rights lawyer Nelson Caucoto.

Years after her involvement with DINA, Olderock’s existence was mired in fear. Reprisals not only from the Chileans who she persecuted and tortured, but also from former DINA colleagues, became a reality. Her knowledge of surveillance tactics was not enough to shield her from an assassination attempt on July 15, 1981, when two MIR militants shot her at close range but failed to kill her. In hospital, Olderock refused anesthesia – memories of DINA tactics to coerce information out of detainees or to prepare the detainees for the death flights were prominent. It was not, however, a fragment of belated compassion. Olderock had been going to therapy sessions during which, it was possible, that she had divulged secret DINA information. Mistrust – a component of DINA’s psychological tactics – was well ingrained in Olderock.

Balancing interviews and facts, Guzmán imparts a vivid account of Olderock’s character, as well as her role in DINA. Olderock is most known for her role in training dogs to violate female detainees, according to testimonies from torture survivors. The depravity, however, is not limited to this aberration – from surveillance to torture and disappearances, Olderock formed part of the most feared DINA brigades and collaborated with other torture and extermination centres.

Guzman’s research is meticulous.  Her analysis of Olderock’s childhood, in which racism and Nazism were venerated while exhibiting profound anti-communist sentiment, set the pace for the unfolding information as narrated by the former DINA agent. Olderock moved seamlessly in a realm where Nazism, racism and anti-communist sentiment were normalised and fanatically admired since childhood. During the interviews, Olderock states: “I have been a Nazi since childhood … I was also in agreement with Colonia Dignidad,” with reference to a German colony run by former Nazi Paul Schafer and which also served as part of Pinochet’s surveillance, detention and torture centres.

Despite her crucial role in DINA, Olderock was relatively unknown prior to the assassination attempt. Guzman explains that the previous focus was on male DINA agents. However, through testimony from former detainees, Amnesty International had informed the UN of Ingrid Olderock’s role as DINA torturer. Meanwhile, Guzmán explains, the assassination attempt was an additional worry for the dictatorship, particularly since the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) had managed to organise from exile and returned to Chile to resist the dictatorship through armed struggle. For DINA it was a time of upheaval after Pinochet dismissed Manuel Contreras and dissolved DINA, replacing it with the CNI which, although described as less brutal, was more efficient in surveillance and targeting of individuals, including those in exile, due to its collaboration with governments abroad.

Apart from her interviews with Olderock, Guzmán also sought commentary from other professionals to shed light on issues such as repression and armed struggle, as well as Olderock’s claims of suffering from amnesia as a result of her assassination attempt. The foundations, in both scenarios, lie in the systematic repression practiced by the dictatorship. The militant ideology is a direct protest against dictatorship brutality, thus making armed struggle legitimate. Olderock’s claims of forgetting, on the other hand, are a form of convenient dissociation from themes which she preferred to leave unexplored – a form of self-defence on many levels, particularly from possible retribution by former DINA agents.

The latter is not hard to imagine. Prior to the assassination attempt, there were plans to fly Olderock out of Chile in return for information about DINA and the CNI. During the course of the interviews, Olderock divulges to Guzmán that she is in possession of secret DINA information: “Contreras will kill me if he finds out,” she says.

Gaps in Olderock’s narrative are explored by Guzmán ’s research. While Olderock is keen to speak of her role in DINA as Captain and recruiter of female agents, as well as torture instructor – roles assigned to her by Contreras, it is clear that she maintains a balance between imparting information and incrimination. Indeed, one of the courses she taught to female DINA agents was on the evasion of accountability with regard to torture and disappearances. Her female recruits include Gladys Calderdon, who later moved on to Cuartel Simon Bolivar and was assigned the role of injecting detainees with toxic substances or anaesthetic in preparation for the death flights. The courses taught by DINA fuelled hatred and detachment in order to train recruits in ruthlessness. For target practice, agents were required to fire upon posters of MIR militants. In turn, this generated further hatred of socialism and communism. Recruits were also tested for stealth in infiltration – one of the tests described by Olderock and which almost all failed to accomplish was for recruits to infiltrate Tejas Verdes without being identified.

As a female DINA captain and member of Brigada Purén, Olderock had more access than most to different torture centres. Apart from being assigned by Contreras to administer the DINA archives at the Clinica Santa Lucia – a location that was previously utilised by MAPU and transformed into a detention and torture centre by DINA, she had direct access to Villa Grimaldi and Venda Sexy. At the Clinica Santa Lucia, detainess were held until a decision about their fate was taken – a transfer to other torture centres or extermination and disappearance. Brigada Purén also reported directly to Contreras.

Olderock also denied the use of dogs in sexual violations at the detention and torture centre known as Venda Sexy – a place where music blared 24 hours a day to obliterate the incessant screams of agony from tortured detainees. In her mind, the denial is absolute – she refutes evidence of her being part of the brigade. However, testimony form torture survivors state the opposite. Alejandra Holzapfel Picarte, a former detainee and torture survivor, states that the torture took place in the basement of Venda Sexy, including Olderock’s depravity of using a German Shepherd named Voloida, as part of the sexual torture. The torture took place in the presence of other DINA agents who wished to watch.

Guzmán remarks: “The normal life that had existed in this country on September 10, 1973 was lost in a few hours … Public spaces were transformed into spaces for the destruction of society and humanity.” Venda Sexy was one such manifestation. The torture is said to have been more sophisticated than what occurred in Villa Grimaldi. According to records, the youngest torture victim at Villa Grimaldi was a six month old baby, presumably to coerce the parents into divulging information. In Venda Sexy, there was a time table for torture dictating which torture sessions should take place and when. Women were sexually humiliated and forced to perform obscene acts on male detainees. All the agents at Venda Sexy, including Olderock, were responsible for torture, murder and disappearance. Former DINA agent Manuel Rivas Diaz also shed light on Venda Sexy as being part of the extermination centres, having witnessed the preparation of detainees for the death flights. Other testimony explicitly states that the death flights were also a form of murder – detainees were sometimes alive when tied and thrown into the ocean from helicopters.

Through the three interviews granted by Olderock, Guzmán skilfully portrays Olderock’s commitment to DINA – to the extent that she betrayed her sister to DINA upon her return to Chile from Germany, thus facilitating her detention and torture at Villa Grimaldi. The methodical practices described by Olderock and researched by Guzmán shed light upon one of the most dehumanising experiences inflicted upon a country.

Apart from insights into Olderock’s psychology and the construction of Chilean collective memory, this book stands out in its ability to connect the missing pieces of information to show DINA’s reach at a national and international level. For Olderock, working with DINA was a mere question of obeying the orders given by her superiors, hence the absence of any remorse as regards her role in human rights violations. The collaboration between torture centres makes DINA’s pact of silence even more relevant as regards impunity. A leak from one source could have jeopardised the entire dictatorship structure. Hence, this pact of silence is also a reflection of the measures taken by DINA to silence any form of dissent in Chile and abroad through targeted assassinations and surveillance collaboration. In recognition of this fact, Guzmán ends the book with a warning: “Memory should clearly and completely expose the criminals … to avoid normalisation of barbarism.”

 

El Doble Asesinato de Neruda

El-doble-asesinato-de-Neruda[1]Francisco Marin (Ocho Libros, 2012)

In light of the recent news regarding the investigations into Pablo Neruda’s death, the much maligned testimony of Neruda’s personal assistant and chauffeur Manuel Araya, is of significant importance. Denounced by the Chilean right as a leftist conspiracy, Araya’s declaration in the Mexican publication Proceso accusing the dictatorship of having assassinated Neruda by a lethal substance injected into his stomach created a furore and Chilean courts opened investigations into Neruda’s death, following a petition filed by Partido Comunista.  

El Doble Asesinato de Neruda (Ocho Libros, 2012) presents a compelling case based upon Araya’s testimony and the Fundación Neruda’s insistence upon adhering to the official version, which related the cause of death as happening from advanced and metastatic prostate cancer. The recent forensic investigations, partially completed since laboratories still have to test for toxic substances, have determined that Neruda was indeed suffering from advanced and metastatic prostate cancer, yet the authors Francisco Marín and Mario Casasús insist that medical records were void of such grim diagnosis and radiology reports did not specify the presence of metastatic cancer.

The book is described as ‘a reference to a biological and ideological crime’ – befitting the irregularities and contradictions which evolved through the years, as well as a possible manipulation of Chilean history. Prior to Neruda’s exhumation, the Foundation expressed its objection to the investigation, endorsing the dictatorship’s official statement and reiterating that there was no doubt that Neruda’s death had occurred due to natural causes. Despite the ambiguous statement indicating a lack of interest in constructing a vital segment of chile’s recent history, Marín and Casasús discover a more sinister network of contacts which may shed light upon why Neruda’s wish to bequeath La Isla Negra as a retreat for artists and intellectuals was disregarded. A betrayal of ideals ensued with the foundation became economically aligned with Cristalerías Chile – an enterprise owned by Ricardo Lagos, a torture coordinator as well as a financial supporter of Pinochet’s dicatatorship.

Prior to Neruda’s return to Chile from France where he was serving as ambassador, Araya was summoned to Santiago by leaders of the Communist Party and asked by Victor Díaz and Luis Corvalan whether he would accept the role of personal assistant and chauffeur to Pablo Neruda – a job which entailed a magnitude of commitment and responsibility. Araya describes Neruda as brimming with plans to strengthen the Communist Party in Chile, seeking ways to mobilise further support for Salvador Allende and concerned with establishing a cultural foundation for writers and intellectuals. Far from retiring to his home at La Isla Negra due to consuming illness, Neruda maintained an active political stance and frequently denounced US imperialism and interference in Chile, considering his role ‘a poetic, political and patriotic duty’ to prevent a right wing insurgency in the country. Among the frequent visitors to La Isla Negra were Salvador Allende, Voloida Teitelboim and Cardinal Raul Sílva Henríquez. The latter would attract the ire of the dictatorship and Vatican officials, who instructed the clergy to maintain a perfunctory role restricted to religious duties instead of campaigning against human rights violations and clamouring for investigations into the cases of Chile’s desaparecidos.

Considering Pinochet’s fear of leftist intellectuals destabilising the dictatorship from exile, the assassination scenario fits in perfectly with the later powers allocated to DINA and the deadly targeting of militants. In the aftermath of the coup, Neruda expressed the conviction that Allende had been murdered, despite the dictatorship’s proclamation of alleged suicide. The Tejas Verdes contingent paid their first visit to La Isla Negra on September 12, 1973, while Neruda fretted incessantly about the fate of his compañeros, sentiments fluctuating between the despair of abandonment and futility of defence. Knowing that the military would detain and torture Neruda for his involvement in the Allende government, discussions about the possibility of exile heightened, which would safeguard Neruda’s life and also provide him with the opportunity to initiate a formidable resistance.

Meanwhile La Tercera, a newspaper which was closely affiliated to the dictatorship, had started spreading rumours about Neruda’s allegedly debilitating illness. In an attempt to quell opposition suspicions of assassination, Pinochet issued a statement through Radio Luxemburgo. “Neruda is not dead. He is alive and free to travel wherever he likes, as befits other people of old age and struck with infirmity. We do not kill anyone and, if Neruda dies, it will be of natural causes.” The book translates this ubiquitous statement as proof of constructing Neruda’s imminent annihilation.

Having left La Isla Negra to avoid the possibility of torture, Neruda, accompanied by his wife Matilde, and Araya, sought refuge at the Clínica Santa María. The exile offer by the Mexican government was at first repudiated, with Neruda vehemently declaring he would not assume a traitorous stance and betray his compañeros. After being briefed about the atrocities committed by the military, Neruda assumed a resilient stance, stating that he would lead the struggle against the dictatorship from exile in Mexico. On September 23, the newspaper El Mercurio contributed to the rumours by stating that Neruda had experienced a deterioration of health, coinciding with the injection administered by a doctor at the clinic at a time when the poet was alone, having sent Araya and Matilde on some errands prior to exile. Upon their return to the clinic, having been alerted of the suspicious circumstances by an employee, Araya was sent to buy medicine which, according to the doctor, was not available at the clinic. Upon his departure, Araya was ambushed and detained in Estadio Nacional. “I lost all contact with Neruda forever, I never saw him again. I believe it was a plot to detain me.”

Araya’s version of Neruda’s final hours has been discredited by the Fundación Neruda, despite the fact that all ‘official’ testimonies which have been endorsed by the foundation come from sources who had no access to the poet during his final days. Araya was beaten, subjected to electric shocks and asked to reveal the identities of Communist Party Leaders. He was released 45 days later following intervention by Raul Sílva Henríquez.

Matilde’s reluctance to denounce the alleged assassination was reciprocated by the foundation in later years. A solitary figure searching for ways to open an investigation, Araya’s efforts were shunned and the official version assumed the emblem of truth. The existence of the lethal injection would have been eliminated from collective memory, had it not been for Araya’s determination in maintaining his testimony. The official medical and death certificates obliterated its existence, citing cardiac arrest as the cause of death. Only when El Mercurio reported Neruda having been given ‘a tranquiliser’, did the injection suddenly spring into existence.

The possibility of Araya having invented his testimony in order to create a controversy fades when faced with the various contradictions and reluctance to properly investigate the cause of Neruda’s death. The authors hold Matilde responsible for the ensuing silence – it is reported that she had even tried to reach a compromise with Araya in return for relinquishing the quest for justice. She is also deemed responsible for the foundation’s betrayal of Neruda’s wishes, having entrusted the administration to individuals responsible for maintaining the dictatorship’s atrocities.

As we await the final results regarding the presence of toxic substances in Neruda’s remains, it is evident that, whatever the forensic verdict decrees, Neruda’s death will continue to hover within the confines of Chilean memory. The measures of impunity imposed by Pinochet to protect the network of torturers and murderers has rendered investigation a source of controversy and a means through which truth will remain eternally shrouded with a pervading negotiation of privilege over human rights violations.