Door May Open Revealing Dictator’s Complicity In Other Human Rights Violations, Including The Death Of President Frei Montalva

(May 12, 2006) The investigation into the death of former secret police chemist Eugenio Berríos has allegedly linked Chile’s former dictator General Augusto Pinochet to the murder as well as the mysterious death of former President Eduardo Frei Montalva in 1982. Prosecutors believe that the new findings may open a Pandora’s box of information into these and other related human rights investigations.

Alejandro Madrid, the investigating judge in the case, submitted a request to the Santiago Court of Appeals Wednesday requesting that Pinochet be stripped of his legal immunity so that he may be questioned and ultimately tried for any part he may have had in the murder.

“There are more than enough clues linking (Pinochet) to the kidnapping and homicide of Eugenio Berrios to justify stripping him of his legal immunity,” said Thomás Ehrenfeld, lawyer for the Berríos family.

Berríos is believed to have developed a lethal sarin gas for that was used to murder opponents of the military regime. Shortly before his death he had agreed to testify about his activities while working for the Directorate of National Intelligence (DINA).

According to Gen. Hernán Ramírez Rurange, former Chief of the Directorate of Army Intelligence (DINE), Pinochet ordered him to take Berríos out of the country in 1991 to prevent him from testifying in the investigation of the 1976 car-bomb murder of Orlando Letelier in Washington D.C. (ST, April 21).

Following Pinochet’s orders, Berríos was first taken to Argentina and later fled to Uruguay where he tried to turn himself in to authorities requesting to be returned to Chile. Instead, Berríos was given to the Uruguay military, shot twice in the head and buried in the sands of El Pinar beach near Montevideo, Uruguay. Three former DINA members were convicted of the kidnapping and murder of Berríos’ (ST, Feb 16) and three former Uruguayan military officials were extradited to Chile in April to testify in the case.

The new accusations are generating widespread publicity in Chile because of Berríos’ connection to the death of former President Frei Montalva. Frei Montalva was the president of Chile between 1964 -1970 and father of Chilean President Eduardo Frei Riuz-Tagle, who governed the nation between 1994 and 2000 and who is now an elected senator and the President of Chile’s Senate.

President Frei Montalva checked into a health clinic in 1982 for a simple hernia operation and died shortly after from surgical complications. The Frei family has long maintained that he was poisoned with the sarin gas developed by Berríos.

Álvaro Varela, the Frei family attorney, alleged Thursday that Chile’s high Army command was fully informed of the role Pinochet played in the kidnapping and death of secret police chemist Eugenio Berríos in the early 1990s and that “there is a sequence of events…that indicates that Pinochet gave the order to kill Frei using products manufactured by Berríos and the next obvious and logical step in this sequence of criminal events was to eliminate Berríos.”

“The Army high command knows exactly what happened to Berrios, and most especially, the order that was given by Pinochet (for his death),” said Varela in an interview on Radio Cooperativa.

Chile’s Interior Minister Andrés Zaldívar indicated that the government and military were cooperating fully with the investigation and that any relevant information would be turned over to the appropriate authorities.

Because the crime was committed in the 1990s, after Chile’s transition to democracy, Gen. Pinochet would not be protected by the 1978 Amnesty law traditionally used to protect those accused of human rights violations. Authorities hope that by questioning Gen. Pinochet they can clear up charges relating to three men already convicted for the murder as well as what, if any, role the Uruguayan officials may have had in the crime.


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