Operation Condor and Political Repression

A brief history behind the United States supporting reigns of terror against South American leftists for over 20 years.


The active targeting of left-wing individuals, including but not limited to socialists, communists, and some Peronists (in the case of Argentina) was an active theme during the Cold War across the entirety of South America. In addition to broad leftists, any other variant of opposition to the US-backed military juntas and dictatorships in the region was also heavily criticized and punished.

Since the beginning of the Cold War, countries across the whole of South America began experiencing political unrest, turmoil, and governmental overhauls, usually in the form of coup d’etats. The most important events are presented as follows and in order:

  • General Alfredo Stroessner conducted a coup in Paraguay in 1954
  • The military in Brazil overthrew President João Goulart in 1964
  • Hugo Banzer conducted a military uprising against Juan José Torres in 1971
  • Juan María Bordaberry, with the assistance of the military, conducted a coup that led to the creation of the civic-military dictatorship of Uruguay in June 1973
  • General Augusto Pinochet and loyal forces overthrew democratically elected Marxist, President Salvador Allende in Chile in September 1973
  • General Jorge Rafael Videla and the military took power in Argentina in 1976

The following is a description of what Operation Condor was according to a research paper published in 2002 by J. Patrice McSherry, a professor of political science at Long Island University:

“Operation Condor was a secret intelligence and operations system created in the 1970s through which the South American military regimes coordinated intelligence information and seized, tortured, and executed political opponents in combined cross-border operations.”

Similarly, McSherry also stated in the same paper that the efforts against the perceived threat of communism was helped by what some historians view as the tracing of “methods of terror and psychological warfare to the incorporation of Nazis into Latin American militaries (and, in several cases, U.S. counterintelligence units) after World War II”.

Characterized by some, the first major catastrophe to take place on September 11 was not the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in the United States, but rather the coup in Chile that ousted Allende. Out of the many coups that occurred, the one against Allende was a catastrophic blow to leftists around the world, especially considering the fact that he was the world’s first democratically elected self-proclaimed Marxist. In addition, the complicity of the United States did not ease the discussion surrounding imperialism either.

Pinochet and Henry Kissinger meeting in 1976. (Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Chile. / CC BY 2.0 CL)

The aforementioned nations under their respective military juntas collaborated with each other via their “intelligence services in the 1970s and ’80s”. They “shared information, traded prisoners and orchestrated assassinations abroad” according to an article by The New York Times.

The particularly shocking element of this story is not the collaboratory attitudes between the right-wing dictatorships, but rather the active support given to said dictatorships by the various administrations of the United States during the Cold War. The way in which the military juntas proceeded with the sharing of information was through an “American communications installation” according to declassified State Department texts from the early 2000s.

The implementation of Condor was justified through the concept of defense against communist threats — a theme that is, understandably, beyond absurdity. Any individual, socialist or not, who prompted any opposition to the military regimes of the time, were to be repressed. As mentioned earlier, this indeed included socialists and communists, but it also featured “government officials ousted in United States-supported military coups, trade unionists” and “rights advocates”.

An image featuring victims of Pinochet’s regime. (Carlos Teixidor Cadenas / CC BY-SA)

The path for making individuals “disappear” ranged from country to country, although it was common to have the work done by having suspects “usually…being cremated” and having them “thrown drugged but still alive from military planes into the Atlantic Ocean” according to The Guardian.

Condor concluded with the end of the Cold War as communism was no longer deemed to be the most extreme threat by the United States alongside the steady crumbling of the military dictatorships in question.

An estimated death count that can be attributed to the collaboration between the military dictatorships of the time is rather difficult to state, although journalist Ben Norton expresses the view that experts say that “the most reliable calculations put it between 60,000 and 80,000”.

South Slavic writer focusing on anti-imperialism, Marxism, and the international working class.

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