Adriana Rivas, a woman close to the top in the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, is working as a cleaner in Sydney. Chile’s exiles demand she be brought to justice. By Antonio Castillo
Decades have passed since the end of the Chilean military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, but for exiled Chileans still living in Australia there is no forgiving or forgetting – especially when former Pinochet heavies can still call Australia home.
Adriana Rivas González, aka “La Chani”, was the personal secretary of General Manuel Contreras: the former head of the secret police, and the second most powerful man after Pinochet, now serving life in prison.
She has been been living peacefully in Australia since 1978, when she married and settled in Sydney. After recent reports from the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent programme, it is understood that she now works as a nanny and cleaner.
It is also alleged that La Chani was also a member of the Lautaro Brigade, an elite unit charged with exterminating members of the Communist party. She was detained in Chile in 2006 for four years, while an investigation was conducted into her involvement in the disappearance of three Communist leaders .
To return to Australia, she travelled from Chile to Mendoza and Buenos Aires in Argentina, and then by plane to Sydney. Until she wasinterviewed by SBS earlier this year, La Chani had not been approached on the subject of her return.
While she has denied that she was ever involved in murder or torture, she has never denied her participation in the repressive apparatus of Pinochet, and has defended the use of torture as necessary:
[It was] the same as what the Nazis used, do you understand? It was necessary. And do you think that the US does not do the same? The whole world does it. Silent, underground, but they do it. This is the only way to break the people. Because psychologically, there is no method.
There is a standing extradition order on La Chani’s head from the Chilean supreme court. Last May, on the steps of the Victorian parliament, shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus, whose wife is Chilean, made an impassioned call for Rivas to be extradited to Chile to face justice.
La Chani’s extradition request is currently in the hands of the Attorney General George Brandis. “The extradition won’t be easy, but not impossible,” Vlaudin Vega, spokesperson for the Sydney based Chile solidarity committee told me. It is well known that extradition is a complicated process but Australian Chileans aren’t discouraged – they recently had a significant victory against another former Pinochet crony.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, a socialist and a former political exile in Australia, recently nominated James Sinclair as Chile’s new ambassador in Canberra. During the Pinochet regime, Sinclair served in the Central Nacional de Informaciones (CNI) – the Chilean secret police.
Human rights activists in Chile allege that Sinclair was responsible for the destruction of 31 secret documents in March 1987, two years before the dictatorship ended. They say the documents related to criminal actions committed by Pinochet under the so-called Colombo and Condoroperations – a criminal clandestine alliance between the political police of the dictatorships of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
The documents activists allege Sinclair destroyed are said to shed light on some of the most notorious crimes committed by Pinochet’s secret police. Two of these operations were acts of international terrorism: the 1976 assassination of Orlando Letelier, a politician and diplomat during the presidency of socialist president Salvador Allende; and the 1974 car-bombing of General Carlos Prats, Allende’s vice president.
Sinclair’s political career outlasted Pinochet – he was a member of the cabinet of Sebastián Piñera, the wealthy right wing tycoon who governed Chile between 2010-2014. Serving in the establishment is a family tradition; his father, the infamous General Santiago Sinclair Oyaneder, was processed for his involvement in the extrajudicial killing in 1987 of five left wing dissidents, who were thrown from a helicopter into the waters of the Pacific Ocean – one of the Pinochet dictatorship’s favourite methods.
Unfortunately, since 1989, when Chile finally returned to democracy, the country has been largely unable to investigate and punish some of the worst atrocities committed during the Pinochet years. There are still approximately 1,300 cases of unresolved human rights violations, including the assassination on 11 October 1973 of Máximo Neira, my brother-in-law’s father. Most of these cases have been closed due to a lack of evidence – the kind of evidence Sinclair is alleged to have destroyed.
The appointment of James Sinclair was hard to stomach for Australia’s 25,000-strong Chilean community, many of whom arrived as political exiles after the coup of 11 September 1973. Rallies were held in front of the embassy in Canberra over the last month, and also in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. Now Sinclair will never present his credentials to the governor-general, because after an inexcusable delay by Bachelet, his appointment was finally revoked.
Sinclair will never walk Canberra’s manicured gardens. La Chani, in the meantime, walks free in Sydney. While she insists on her innocence, Chilean exiles in Australia fear that her extradition may take years, or forever.
Posted in The Guardian