(Q24N) A Chilean newspaper has suggested nearly 3,000 classified US documents contain information linking former dictator Augusto Pinochet to drug trafficking, a somewhat questionable claim given the legacy of his iron rule.
Chilean news outlet El Ciudadano reports it solicited 2,984 pages of documents in 2015 from the US Department of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Of these documents, which are part of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) archives, only one was declassified and released.
According to El Ciudadano, US authorities cited several reasons for keeping the files classified, including their potential to jeopardize ongoing cases, affect the privacy of third parties, and identify sources of intelligence for government agencies.
Nonetheless, El Ciudadano implies the censored DEA files contain information pertaining to Pinochet’s involvement in the drug trade.
A key piece of evidence linking Pinochet and drug trafficking are statements made in 2006 by Manuel Contreras, the former head of Chile’s National Directorate of Intelligence (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional – DINA), the secret police during Pinochet’s dictatorship. That year, Contreras alleged the Pinochet family became rich from drug trafficking. Contreras also claimed Pinochet sent his son to work with head DINA chemist Eugenio Berríos to learn how to make “black cocaine,” which is supposedly undetectable by drug dogs.
Additionally, El Ciudadano cites testimony from a former Central Intelligence Agency employee, Ivan Baramdyka, who said that during Pinochet’s dictatorship Chile sold precursor chemicals to drug cartels and exported cocaine to Europe and the United States.
El Ciudadano plans to appeal the denial of the FOIA request.
Pinochet’s hold on power from 1973 to 1990 was one of the single longest dictatorships in the Americas. During his reign, reprehensible acts of government repression and human rights violations occurred, with thousands tortured, killed, or disappeared.
Nonetheless, the DEA’s withholding of files does not necessarily imply he was involved in drug trafficking. While this is not a declaration of his innocence, any details of US support for the Pinochet regime as part of broader Cold War policy — even if unrelated to drug trafficking — may have been deemed too diplomatically sensitive to release, especially given the atrocities committed during his rule.
Accusing Pinochet of drug trafficking also carries a hint of irony. Despite his dark legacy, since Pinochet’s iron fist rule Chile has been considered one of the safest countries in Latin America.
Chile certainly did not emerge from the Pinochet-era on a trajectory towards greater involvement in the drug trade. While Chile does serve as a drug transshipment point and consumer nation, it has managed to avoid the rampant drug violence that plagues other parts of the region.
Whether or not Pinochet is to thank for that, however, is up for debate.
InSight Crime Analysis