Martin Almada suffered in his flesh from the Paraguayan dictatorship (1954-1989) and the terror of Operation “Condor” which raged in Latin America, and beyond, in the 1970s. discovered the archives in his native country in 1992. Supporting documents, Pablo Daniel Magee brilliantly reveals the incredible fate of this man who, at the age of 83, continues to demand justice. The fictional but non-fictional writing plunges us into the appalling geopolitical and criminal ramifications of the time.
You spent seven years studying the five tons of archives of the “Condor” plan, known as the Terror plan. What motivated your investigation?
Pablo Daniel Magee. I was educated in London, where I had a teacher who had worked for Henry Kissinger during Salvador Allende’s time. She had then attended meetings where the strategy to bring down Allende was discussed. Shocked, she left her post but continued to closely monitor events and Operation “Condor”. I was already passionate about Latin America, and it sparked more interest in me in the history of dictatorships. Years later, on a trip to Paraguay, I was invited to a dinner party attended by Martin Almada. We talked for six hours. I was fascinated by its story.
You mention the meeting between Martin Almada and General Omar Torrijos, who then governs Panama, where the soldier compares the operation “Condor” to the different layers of a cake …
Pablo Daniel Magee.Operation “Condor” was born in 1975, at the initiative of the head of the Dina’s secret service, the Chilean Manuel Contreras. At that time, he summons the heads of the secret services of five other countries: Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil. He offers them a collaboration of their services within the framework of the anti-communist struggle nicknamed “Condor”, a sacred bird in the region. This collaboration is part of an operation of international scope. For that, we have to go back to the end of the Chinese civil war, when Tchang Kaï-shek moved to Taiwan with the support of the United States. Beijing becoming a very important trading partner, the United States then decides to recognize Mao. Officially, the left hand is extended to China; unofficially, the right hand helps Tchang Kaï-shek. An anti-communist international is born. During a trip from Tchang Kaï-shek to Latin America, the Conference of the Armies of America was created. The latter instills the idea of Operation Condor.
We are struck by the extent of the ramifications: largesse from the United States towards Nazi criminals, drug trafficking, links between dictatorships, the French mafia, cartels …
Pablo Daniel Magee.The ramifications are indeed quite incredible. Anti-Communist dictatorships will very quickly become criminalized. The generals get richer on drugs. The Guérini brothers transport the drugs to Paraguay, which then becomes the hub for trafficking to the United States. Before 1959, drugs passed through Cuba, but when Fidel Castro came to power, he put an end to them. The Mafiosi therefore delegated to Auguste André Ricord – a Frenchman who had worked with the Nazis during the Second World War – the mission of finding a country capable of hosting their “small business”. He arrives in Paraguay. Very quickly, he meets Pastor Coronel, who was the chief of the political police force of dictator Alfredo Stroessner. Together, they created a multinational drug company with General Rodriguez, who would later overthrow Stroessner. Supported by the United States, General Cocaine, his nickname, became the lord of drugs in Latin America, and a close friend of Colombian Pablo Escobar.
You have opted for a romantic writing. Is it to reach a wider audience?
Absolutely. My starting postulate is the work of memory, just like the authors of concentration camp literature, after the Second World War. This work still remains to be done in Latin America. In each chapter there is an archive corresponding to the facts told. If the writing is romantic, no information is the fruit of my imagination. All the facts are verifiable.
Including the meeting between Celestina, the wife of Martin Almada, and Che Guevara?
Pablo Daniel Magee.Celestina told about this meeting to Martin Almada, who himself told Fidel Castro. I consulted archives which echoed Che’s visit to Paraguay. And questioned Doctor Joel Filartiga (doctor, artist and human rights activist in Paraguay, and whose son was murdered during the dictatorship – Editor’s note). “Is it possible that Che passed through Paraguay?” “Of course,” he replied. It was I who went to pick him up at the port. He tells me that he transported Che to his mother-in-law’s hotel. He was the one who advised her to have a barbecue at a very popular restaurant in Asuncion, the Rosedal. While he is dining there, a very physiognomic agent recognizes Che. He runs to Army HQ and asks to speak to the Colonel. He informs her that Che is in Paraguay, that he eats a barbecue at Rosedal and smokes a pipe. The colonel laughs in his face, retorting that Che does not smoke a pipe but a cigar. I got this episode from Alcides Molinas, a teaching trade unionist. That night he was at HQ to be tortured. “I was pretending to sleep,” he told me. Captain Furio asked the Colonel to provide him with men to stop Che Guevara. When I heard him talk about a pipe, I knew it was indeed Che Guevara because he was going to Paraguay to look for a herb that the Indians had advised him to take for his asthma. The documents that I found in the archives of the Terror report a message from the Brazilian secret services to their Paraguayan counterparts to warn them that Che Guevara was on board “Los Dos Palmas”, under a false identity, and that he would arrive in Asuncion at midnight. The Paraguayan secret services went to wait for Che Guevara at the port, but the boat had arrived twelve hours early. What allowed him not to be arrested.
Has the study of the archives made it possible to lift the veil on the horrors perpetrated on the continent?
Pablo Daniel Magee.We read the extent of human madness. The methods of torture are unimaginable: we bring together men whom we suspect of communism and, instead of torturing them, we catch a small newspaper salesman who we torture in front of them to talk! These archives also reveal the extent of collaboration between countries. Almada, his country’s first doctor of education, wrote his thesis at the University of La Plata, Argentina. He denounces the educational system which forms non-thinking beings, dependent on the dictatorship. His thesis reaches Asuncion before him. Back in Paraguay, he is questioned by an unofficial court where he recognizes different accents of the region. Martin Almada then becomes aware of what will become his quest for truth.
Almada, victim of the “Condor” plan, is at the origin of the discovery of the archives of the Terror. His fate seems incredible. Is this also what appeals to you?
Pablo Daniel Magee.Its story represents the magical dimension of South American literature. The shaman of the Indian tribe where he grew up urges his mother to protect him because he has a feeling that he will become a very important figure for the continent. The day before discovering the archives, an old lady gives Martin Almada a wooden grasshopper. When he enters the room where the archives are stored – 5 unclassified tons, thrown on the ground – the grasshopper falls from his pocket and lands on a file. He leans over and sees his date of birth: it’s his file! It is simply amazing.
He states that the Condor is still flying. Do you share this point of view?
Pablo Daniel Magee.Yes. Two weeks before the coup in Bolivia, the president’s helicopter had to make an emergency landing. People from the intelligence services told me that the failure was no accident. This incident takes us back to the past: Omar Torrijos, the strongman of Panama (who stood up to the United States by negotiating their exit from the canal – Editor’s note), died in a plane crash. Ecuadorian President Roldos has known the same fate. When you see the witch hunt waged against President Lula in Brazil to elect a madman like Bolsonaro, I can only think that the Condor is still flying. In view of the repression in Chile against the demonstrations which accuse the capitalist and imperialist power, I can only believe that the Condor is still flying. When the United States Army of the United States posts ships facing Venezuela, ready to invade it, I can only think that the Condor is still flying. When Martin Almada says that the Conference of the Armies of America, which meets annually under the guise of humanitarian aid, continues to list political opponents in Latin America, I can only think the Condor is still flying.
Is there any evidence of the destabilizing role of the Conference of American Armies?
Pablo Daniel Magee.In Argentina, near San Martin de los Andes, the United States is opening a military base under cover of humanitarian aid, in case a volcano explodes. They don’t ask permission from anyone. This case of wild construction, there are dozens of them in Latin America but nobody talks about it. “Strangely”, these bases are being built in strategic places with regard to the resources of the countries.
You have been threatened. Is this still the case?
Pablo Daniel Magee.I received death threats when I started working with Dr Almada and the Terror Archives, interviewing victims of Operation Condor and the dictatorship. I was quickly bugged. Where could it come from? From the United States, from the Stroessner family… There was no Nuremberg trials in Paraguay. Even today, residents of Asuncion have Dictator Stickers on their windshields. The current president claims to be Stroessner. On the dictator’s birthday, the cannons are fired. Stroessner’s grandson, who is called “Goli”, changed his name to that of his grandfather. The Colorado Party is still in power. When General Rodriguez, aka General Cocaine, whose family still lives in Paraguay in a replica of Versailles built with drug money, took power, Stroessner, from his golden exile in Brazil, looked at the photo of the new government and said, “It’s fun, all that’s missing is me. As the Argentinian journalist Stella Calloni says: “There had to be a change so that nothing would change. In Paraguay, until today, nothing has changed.