Operation Condor: Background information when reading Hades, Argentina

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Hades, Argentina

by Daniel Loedel

Hades, Argentina by Daniel Loedel X
Hades, Argentina by Daniel Loedel
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2021, 304 pages

    Jan 2022, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Operation Condor

This article relates to Hades, Argentina

Print Review

Black and white photo of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in military regaliaThe action in Daniel Loedel's debut novel, Hades, Argentina, is propelled by a clandestine South American military campaign known as Operation Condor.

Operation Condor's roots can be traced back to the mid-1960s, when Che Guevara left Cuba to spread socialist doctrine throughout South America, advocating the violent overthrow of the continent's corrupt, U.S.-backed anti-communist dictatorships. Although Guevara was killed in Bolivia in 1967, his ideas had gained a foothold, resulting in a period of unrest. Across the continent, dictators were replaced by socialist-leaning leaders, some via coup, some through democratic election. The U.S. government wished to prevent the spread of communism (and was not scrupulous about differentiating between communism and socialism — both were considered threats to the American way of life), and responded by funneling money, weapons and other support to anti-communist forces within the South American countries. In the 1970s, there were multiple U.S.-backed military coups in the region, in which power was seized and maintained through a program of state-sponsored terror targeting anyone perceived as having socialist ties. These military dictatorships began collaborating across national boundaries, creating agreements that would allow officials to pursue suspects on foreign soil.

Operation Condor was formally established in November 1975, when Argentinian officials invited other South American military leaders to a conference. They insisted that the socialists had developed organizational and operational structures that ignored national borders, and that to combat them the military should do the same. Officials from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay signed on right away, with Brazil joining the effort the following year; Peru and Ecuador followed suit in 1978.

Under Operation Condor, those believed to be socialist operatives were hunted down across the continent, imprisoned, tortured and "disappeared" — kidnapped and often killed — all without trial. Some individuals were even assassinated in other countries; former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier was assassinated with a car bomb in downtown Washington, D.C. in 1976, for example. Argentina became a hub for this sort of activity, since it had been the last haven for many of the socialists fleeing their own dictatorships before Argentina's military took over in 1976. It's widely disputed how many people were killed during this time period (unsurprisingly, the militaries kept spotty records of their misdeeds), but many estimates put the figure at a minimum of 60,000. Most of South America's repressive regimes were overthrown during the 1980s, putting a halt to the operation.

Not much was known publicly about Operation Condor until U.S. President Bill Clinton ordered the declassification of some of the documents related to it in June 1999. More classified files were released under the Obama administration. It's doubtful U.S. personnel participated in the operation itself, but there's evidence to support the country's involvement as advisors and financiers. It's known that many of the South Americans taking part in Operation Condor were trained in guerilla warfare, torture techniques and assassination methods at the United States' School of the Americas (a controversial U.S. Army facility in Fort Benning, Georgia), and the U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, supported the repressive South American regimes' policies. (Kissinger has eluded requests from multiple countries seeking information about his role in Operation Condor.) In addition, the U.S. military supplied cryptography equipment to these regimes and knew how to crack the resulting code. They were aware of the content of every encrypted message produced by the machines and therefore informed about the atrocities being committed.

Those responsible for actions undertaken during Operation Condor largely escaped conviction for decades under South American amnesty laws passed in the 1980s. As more documentation has come to light some former leaders have been prosecuted for human rights violations and crimes against humanity, but most died before justice could be served. Chile's dictator Augusto Pinochet, for example, was charged with human rights violations in 1998 but died in 2006 without being convicted.

Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet circa 1974

Filed under People, Eras & Events

Article by Kim Kovacs

This "beyond the book article" relates to Hades, Argentina. It originally ran in February 2021 and has been updated for the January 2022 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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