Venda Sexy, a former detention, torture and extermination centre during the Pinochet dictatorship, will be recognised as a memory on Wednesday. The centre will be administered by Colectivo de Mujeres Sobrevivientes Siempre Resistentes after a long social media campaign in which various human rights organisations participated. In a statement, the organisers insisted that the Valech Commission’s failure to specify the torture practices against women at Venda Sexy are an omission of memory that needs to be corrected, in order to avoid the generalisation of torture. The memory site will be exclusively run by women.
Ingrid Olderock: la mujer de los perros
Author: Nancy Guzmán
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.”