On June 22, about a hundred activists held a nonviolent protest at the gate of the Fuerte Aguayo Chilean Naval Base, in the coastal town of Concón, 90 miles northwest of Santiago. They were demanding the closure of the base built by the U.S. Southern Command inside Fuerte Aguayo which opened in April 2012. The action was a joint effort by several Chilean human rights and peace groups, including School of the Americas Watch and FOR’s sister organization Serpaj Chile.
The U.S. Southern Command built a 30,000-square foot complex of eight buildings designed to simulate an urban environment and to train police and military forces from throughout Latin America on military operations on urban terrain. This happens at a time when the United States is increasingly promoting militarization of crowd control and humanitarian operations — at home and abroad — and has expanded considerably the list of threats armed forces in the hemisphere are called to address. Among those threats are natural disasters. Indeed, the military response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti is used as an example of the type of operation the armies would be trained for.
But the possibility of the army’s involvement in natural disaster responses was not at the top of concerns that brought the more than half dozen groups, mostly from Santiago, to the naval base. Just a few weeks after the Haiti earthquake, Chile experienced a quake even stronger in magnitude (albeit far less catastrophic, due to the country’s preparedness) but declined a U.S. offer to send a military humanitarian mission.
The fact that troops are being trained to combat urban disturbances has much significance for Chileans. Over the past two years, they have seen massive urban mobilizations that demanded education reform and indigenous peoples rights meet with disproportionate force. Therefore, that June Saturday, groups went to protest the training of armed forces for suppressing social protest.
U.S. involvement in the training of Latin American armed forces for urban operations is also significant for Chileans. In addition to the role it played in overthrowing their elected president in 1973, the United States promoted and supported extrajudicial killings, torture, and forced disappearances of civilians, including many human rights defenders, academics, community organizers or anyone perceived to be a sympathizer of the left, under the excuse of fighting communism in the South America. Operation Condor illustrates this tragedy: a multinational military collaboration of six South American countries under military rule — Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, and Bolivia – to exchange prisoners and “wipe out political opposition from their borders.”
Prisoners were exchanged among countries as currency, according to Martin Almada, a Paraguayan human rights defender and recipient of the Alternate Nobel Peace Award, who was tortured and imprisoned under the Strausser military regime. In 1992, Almada uncovered thousands of files in Asunción that show the history of Operation Condor and evidence of the U.S.’s role in its design and implementation. Martin Almada came to Chile to take part of the June 22 protest. Standing at the gate of the Concon base, Almada said, “we are at a place where the National Security doctrine was established. This [doctrine] is for controlling the Chilean people, because the condor — Operation Condor — continues to fly.”