The Assassin Next Door, Part 2

Chile demands that former secret police agent Armando Fernandez Larios face justice for his role in the murderous Caravan of Death. But he seems to be safe in Miami -- thanks to the U.S. government.

Encouraged by the efforts of Judge Guzman and the Chilean Supreme Court, Morel said she wants the caravana case fully prosecuted. “I am on the side of the victims. The dead are not silent,” she vowed. “My friends are looking for justice, and I've always held out the hope that justice will be done.”


The haven provided by the United States for an accused killer, kidnapper, and torturer seems to jibe poorly with sentiments expressed by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during a visit to Chile this past August. She hailed the revocation of Pinochet's immunity and promised that Washington would declassify thousands of U.S. intelligence documents that might shed light on crimes committed in Chile in the 1970s.

Gen. Augusto Pinochet could soon stand trial for crimes committed during his ruthless and bloody reign
Gen. Augusto Pinochet could soon stand trial for crimes committed during his ruthless and bloody reign
Gen. Augusto Pinochet could soon stand trial for crimes committed during his ruthless and bloody reign
AP/Wide World Photo
Gen. Augusto Pinochet could soon stand trial for crimes committed during his ruthless and bloody reign

“The decision that was taken by Chile's Supreme Court was clearly historic for the rule of law and for promotion and protection of human rights in Chile,” Albright said. “It has reaffirmed that it is possible for a country to have a stable democratic transition without sacrificing the principles of accountability and justice.”

The CIA is making good, if only in part, on Albright's declassification pledge. On September 20 it posted on its Website a report that, for the first time, acknowledges that the agency worked hand-in-hand in Chile with killers and coup-plotters. (The Website address is http://www.cia.gov/cia
/publications/chile/index.html.
) Perhaps the most sensational of the new revelations was the disclosure that Fernandez's erstwhile boss, then-chief of DINA Gen. Manuel Contreras, was a paid informant of the CIA at the very time he was carrying out terrorism on U.S. soil. Contreras, who is in a Chilean prison serving the final year of his seven-year sentence for the assassination of Letelier, received at least one payment from the agency, which admitted it had contacts with him even after the bombing in Washington.

Though it has made some admissions, the U.S. spy agency is holding back. Shortly after Albright returned from South America, CIA Dir. George J. Tenet drastically pared the number of documents expected to have figured in the new declassification batch. Albright had mentioned “thousands of documents,” but the agency has decided to cough up only 700, claiming that if declassification were more extensive, methods still in use by CIA officers in other parts of the world would be disclosed.

There was no mention of Armando Fernandez Larios in the just-released material. But there were a few lines bearing directly on la Caravana de la Muerte. “On 25 October [1973], the CIA reported that Gen. Sergio Arellano Stark had given instructions resulting in the summary execution of 21 political prisoners,” reads page twenty of the posted documents. Arellano Stark was the commanding officer of la caravana -- he is indicted in Chile -- and Lt. Armando Fernandez's official job on the mission was that of his bodyguard.

Since la caravana comprised only six officers sent from Santiago, the CIA was likely to have ascertained the names of every one of them shortly after the mission's completion. Some indication of Fernandez's immediate postcoup activities probably existed in U.S. intelligence files long before he showed up in Washington.


Fernandez wants to close our exchange in the auto-body shop with a deal. He has said during the ten-minute talk that indeed he would like to tell his story but that, unfortunately for me -- “because I know you have a job to do” -- it could only be at some unforeseeable point in the future, when all these damn legal matters are finally resolved. He asks for my card and, taking it, holds out his hand in an invitation to shake.

Hagamos un pacto de caballeros, he says. Let's make a gentlemen's pact. “Even though it be ten years from now, when I'm in a position to do so, you, Douglas, will be the one I call. And I will gladly answer any and all questions, maybe over a nice bottle of red wine.”

He grasps my hand firmly, drawing out the clasp, and looks steadily into my eyes, perhaps imagining that we agree.

As he loosens his grip I say, “Thanks, but I can't wait ten years.”

He smiles slightly, turns, and walks away.

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