Operation Condor, which began in the 1970s and officially implemented in 1975 was a military terror campaign against political dissidents and included cross-border assassinations. The victims included dissidents and leftists, union and peasant leaders, priests and nuns, students and teachers, intellectuals and suspected guerrillas - practically anyone who stood against the right-wing dictatorship regimes.
The purge began from Chile, where thousands of people were imprisoned and killed after Augusto Pinochet’s 1973 military coup against democratically-elected socialist President Salvador Allende.
A wave of resistance had begun engulfing the Latin American countries against the American imperialism in the region. At the height of Cold War and worried over the rising communist influence in its ‘backyard’, the US began toppling the democratic regimes. The Americans wanted no more ‘Cubas’ in their backyard.
South America plunged into one of its darkest periods that witnessed enforced disappearance, illegal arrests, torture and killings of millions of political dissidents.
The period witnessed numerous US-backed dictatorship regimes taking over the democratically elected government, including the 1973 overthrow of President Allende in Chile. Edward Rhymes, a columnist and author writes:
“In 1973 General Alfredo Stroessner took control of Paraguay in 1954; the Brazilian military overthrew the democratic and popular government of Joao Goulart in 1964; General Hugo Banzer took power in Bolivia in 1971 through a series of coups; a military junta headed by General Jorge Rafael Videla seized power in Argentina in 1976. …. Military dictatorships in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay worked together to track down, kidnap and kill people they labelled as subversives. ”
The Condor was a multi-stage operation involving international cooperation. The first phase included mutual cooperation among military intelligence services, including coordination of political surveillance and exchange of intelligence information. The second stage was to organise cross-border operations to detain/disappear dissidents. The third and most secret, "Phase III," was the formation of special teams of assassins from member countries to travel anywhere in the world to carry out assassinations of "subversive enemies."
The declassified reports, released in 2016 by the Obama administration, describes the extensive ties between a Nazi “colony” based in Southern Chile and the notorious Chilean secret service DINA, which helped create and operate the deadly multi-state Operation Condor intelligence operation.
The documents also reveal that the U.S. knew and assisted the Argentine dictatorship as it threw sedated political prisoners to their death from notorious death flights part of the ‘dirty war’.
The extent of American operational support to the anti-communist campaigns in South America is not clear. John Dinges, the author of "The Condor Years," stated:
"The U.S.’ involvement is described as the green light, red light policy. Kissinger was in Santiago talking to Pinochet and the other leaders talking about human rights publicly — that’s the red light but privately giving them the green light by saying ‘Don’t worry too much about this, we support you’.
According to reports, the Operation Condor received support from the US, especially in the form of its communications system, which they say operated through Condortel, a US telex system based in Panama.
One of the most audacious assassination parts of the operation Condor happened in the US. Orlando Letelier, a former Chilean government minister, was murdered when his car exploded in Washington DC's embassy district.
Because of the covert nature of Operation Condor, its full extent may never be known, but researchers estimate that 50,000 were killed, 30,000 were made “disappear” and presumed killed, and 400,000 were jailed and/or tortured, according to the Center for Justice and Accountability.