collective memory

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.”

 

Reckoning with Pinochet: The memory question in democratic Chile 1989 – 2006.

Steve J. Stern (Duke University Press, 2010)978-0-8223-4729-3_pr

(First published in Upside Down World)

My father had breakfast every day with General Pinochet during four years … I cannot understand that General Pinochet could say today ‘I have no idea’,” stated Manuel Contreras Valdebenito in 1999, whose father was head of DINA, Chile’s intelligence services during Pinochet’s dictatorship. By then, a division in loyalty had started to occur between Pinochet and his secret police DINA (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional).

During Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship, violence was implemented as a means of annihilating all socialist and Marxist support in the country. Death and disappearances, torture and exile were common occurrences. A vital factor aiding the regime’s tenacity was the population’s subsequent silence. Fear and terror had created a long, temporary absence of vociferous socialist support, and the definition of justice had been mangled and manipulated by the absence of a memory made public.

Two particular memory frameworks prevail through the book Reckoning with Pinochet – The Memory Question in Democratic Chile, 1989 – 2006 (Duke University Press, 2010), described by author Steve J. Stern as emblematic memory and loose memory – the social memory and the personal memory. Although they stand in contrast, it is by blending both concepts that the memory becomes national; the memory of Chile. Personal accounts of torture, disappearances, murder and exile sustain the social experience, which in turn creates a framework that is capable of combating the memory oblivion of the right.

Reckoning with Pinochet delves into the memory question and the process through which memory became an essential part of Chilean culture. Drawing on the obvious split of loyalties within Chilean society, Stern vividly portrays the memory of both sides, bringing to light a conclusion which, despite the obvious, has the tendency to remain cloistered in a realm of its own. Despite the propaganda of democracy, Pinochet’s rule was a brutal dictatorship which resorted to extremes to annihilate any evidence of socialist or communist support. Yet, due to the flaws inherent in the subsequent transition to democracy, there still remains a segment of the population which perceives Pinochet as a saviour, and therefore defines atrocities as a method of preserving Chile from ruin. While the socialists perceived the pre-1973 years as the prologue to adversity, supporters of Pinochet drew upon Allende’s presidential term as the disaster prior to deliverance. What the right eliminates from memory is obviously the reality of Pinochet’s brutal massacre of Chileans and other atrocities that render an individual split from his humanity.

In its essence, memory can be elusive – a series of certainties that differs according to the recollections of people. At a distance, the repression of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile may be perceived solely as a fragment of the country’s history, not having been burdened with a legacy of death, torture, disappearances and exile. As the book draws on the memory of people, grassroots organisations, elites, truth commissions and judges, it becomes evident that the memory of Chile is strong enough to be sustained beyond its borders. With the rupture of silence, the atrocities committed during the dictatorship became translated into an experience of that particular era in Chilean history, documented both for Chile and for the rest of the world.

Throughout the years of transition, Pinochet argued in favour of memory oblivion, describing the concept as “mindful silence as a positive good.” Memory had created a conflict on both sides out of the quest for truth and justice. Patricio Aylwin’s Convivencia law was aimed at shattering the silence that shrouded the era of torture and oppression, thus giving an outlet to narrations of brutality. In the wake of evidence starting to seep out, the military and the Right had “adjusted to the documented factual truth of memory as rupture.” By displacing responsibility for the committed atrocities, Pinochet and the right wing had justified their detachment from the process, and even from culpability.

The memory transition at best seemed fragmented. Pinochet sought honour and amnesty. Aylwin was pressing for political stability and ethics, while victim survivors were clamouring for justice. The transition satisfied nobody, yet it was through this period that grassroots activists ascertained the legacy of terror would not be ignored. As testimonies started to emerge from the truth commission’s investigations, the memory oblivion encouraged by Pinochet was relegated to its own irrelevance within the context of the oppressed people’s quest for memory truth.

Stern also presents memory as an experience. Whilst the culture of oblivion shelters the middle class from the moral obligation of affirming state violence, thus clashing with the concept of human rights, the memory framework of the socialists is dependent upon exposing atrocities in order to reach a semblance of salvation. The rupture of silence was essential in order to create a framework that portrays the injustice inflicted on Chilean supporters of Salvador Allende, activists within the Unidad Popular and other people who had a socialist background to bring about a relative consciousness that sustains itself from within the confines of history. In due course, other media and creativity sources sprang up, conveying the social memory of the oppressed to the Chileans as a nation.

The memory quest for justice remained replete with obstacles from the past, as Pinochet’s legacy loomed over any shattered frontier. In a letter addressed to Chileans in 1998, Pinochet stresses that he never sought power and was trapped by a communist conspiracy. The actions of embedding past realities in the present was unacceptable to the right wing which, in its futile efforts to preserve the culture of oblivion, persevered in a wave of disassociation negation, fabricating a reality that diminished the essence of justice.

As the truth emerged, Allende was once again reaffirmed as the leader of marginalised people. A sentiment which had to be sheltered during Pinochet’s reign had once again manifested itself in the loyalty of the people. This was a memory totally independent of justice and its manipulations.

Pinochet was finally deemed unfit to stand trial due to dementia, a relic of another fallacy of justice. Responsibility was never legally acknowledged or declared through a trial. Findings state that the scale of torture during Pinochet’s dictatorship was massive and it was also a ‘policy of the state’. Thus, Chile’s memory remained an inconclusive metaphor, blemished by tragedy and the ambiguous process that was supposed to pave the way through democracy.

Remembering Pinochet’s Chile. On the eve of London, 1998

Steve J Stern (Duke University Press, 2006)41d7LWm-nPL

As Pinochet’s tangible presence receded from the Chilean political structure, a vibrant memory legacy erupted, challenging dictatorial impositions and awakening the struggle for historical memory. The volatile political environment following the disintegration of the dictatorship created a complex memory framework fighting not only the imposed oblivion, but also an ingrained process through which memory became an essential part of the collective experience on both sides of the political spectrum. In “Remembering Pinochet’s Chile. On the eve of London, 1988”, Steve J Stern explores the national experience of the dictatorship, fragmented into several memory camps beyond the usual distinction of memory versus oblivion, depicting the diverse ramifications of collective memory and the induced oblivion in return for complacency and indifference, thus extracting the fight for remembrance promulgated by the marginalised opposition to the dictatorship. 

Right wing rhetoric frames political violence as a necessity, with remembrance based on recollection which do not necessarily represent personal experience. Memory as salvation – the expression of a collective national sentiment as purported by Pinochet’s adherents is detached from historical reality and fails to question the dynamics of Chile’s left, such as whether violent revolution was favoured by Salvador Allende. The remembrance associated with the experiences of other harbouring similar sentiment indulges in a convenient dismissal of torture and disappearances. The fear of violence becomes displaced, projected onto the resistance incorporated by the militant left, in order to justify the violations committed by DINA.

Dissident memory, incorporating memory as rupture, persecution and awakening, involves a transformation of various struggles of the collective. An embodiment of contradictions between life and memory, existence is organised around memory, with different forms of expression contributing to the collective. While memory as rupture manifests itself as an expression of anguish, particularly in honouring the disappeared and executed, memory as persecution is characterised by an inevitable division of society owing to contrasting memory camps, in turn validating social commitment and values to promote solidarity through activism.

Stern also acknowledges a process through which a form of passive oblivion is inadvertently practiced. Using the metaphor of memory as a closed box, Stern describes a process of silence through which atrocities remain unchallenged. A lack of validation of a collective expression in the public sphere becomes prone to a form of idolisation of victims which shifts the focus from the actual issue of dictatorship atrocities and the quest for justice.

Despite the encompassing collective experience, other forms of memory remain obscured due to guilt and unintended complicity. Various leftist supports willingly presented themselves for questioning, others urged to comply by family members. The ensuing permanent disappearance rendered a guarded expression of memory, with remorse being less explicit due to the burden of guilt. Enlisted conscripts, among them former leftists, were also coerced to participate in arrests and torture – an experience which failed to safeguard against DINA retribution, such as in the case of Carlos Alberto Carrasco Matus who, upon confiding in his friend about the horrors perpetrated by the dictatorship, was forced to take part in arresting his friend. Both ended up prisoners in Villa Grimaldi – Carrasco was beaten with chains and murdered by DINA in Villa Grimaldi, while his friend was exiled and in 1990 testified before the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Besides Pinochet’s insistence upon oblivion, Stern discerns another memory framework which negates atrocities through an intentional misinterpretation of history. Memory as indifference is established by recalling the alleged reasons as to why the coup was a necessity, while undeservedly attributing altruistic adjectives to a military which constantly proved its macabre character. According to an interviewee in the book identified as Colonel Juan F, the Chilean military possessed a ‘socialist character’ and was the salvation to Chile’s future through its solutions of problems posed by a welfare system. Any failure was blamed upon the Allende era having produced ‘mentally sick people’, depicting a complete irrelevance to the deterioration of progress which rendered society irrelevant in order to justify political violence.

Measures were also taken to enable the military to distance themselves from the atrocities committed. A particular instance refers to the Calama massacres, where Colonel Eugenio Rivera sought to protect himself and his soldiers by placing the blame solely upon General Sergio Arellano Stark, in charge  of the ‘Caravan of Death’.

The various memory frameworks have created a volatile coexistence shaped by elements in a constant struggle. Different experiences of life under Pinochet’s dictatorship have provided the framework for the ensuing cultural silence battled by a quest for justice, memory and recognition of committed atrocities. Considering the split within Chilean society, the major obstacle to emblematic memory is its displacement due to persistent right-wing hegemonic narratives. Hence the projection of emblematic memory into the public sphere in order for the collective experience to escape fragmentation and isolation, which in turn strengthens the case for historical legitimacy. Chilean society is imbued with ambiguities – certainties mingle with doubt, the struggle for memory resisting certain narrations which, despite the relevance to the struggle, are perhaps perceived as blurring the divide between various forms of rupture, as in the case of conscripts who resisted implementing torture and suffered the same fate as left wing supporters. Stern’s book serves as a compelling reminder of an incomplete sequence in the Chilean struggle, one that is partially dependent upon a dissolution of impunity in order to eliminate the process of selectivity and the peril of descending into various forms of oblivion.