South America. Chile tormented by the monsters of its past

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Santiago de Chile, special correspondent.

It is a nightmarish scenario: the chilling story of a pedophile preacher, with Hitlerian accents, who arrived in Chile in 1961 to found a German sect that became a real appendage of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Paul Schäfer’s crimes were known. As early as 1977, an Amnesty International report revealed that his Colonia Dignidad in Parral, 300 kilometers south of Santiago, had been used by the Dina, the sinister political police headed by Manuel Contreras, as a torture center for opponents of the dictatorship. The affair had already inspired fictions, including the thriller Colonia, by Florian Gallenberger (2015), and many investigations, written or filmed: grip, child rapes, kidnappings, kidnappings, forced labor, mass graves and evaporated bodies of tortured . But the documentary series Colonia Dignidad, a German sect in Chile, directed by Annette Baumeister and Wilfried Huismann, sheds new light on the role played by this German enclave in the coup d’état against Socialist President Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973. .

The mechanics of a “democratic transition”

Broadcast since October 1 on the Netflix platform, it revives, in a still fractured Chile, still alive wounds, and questions the mechanics of a “democratic transition” which left the way open to the recycling of thurifers, accomplices and nostalgic for the dictatorship. A new fact, the series unearths astonishing film archives of the sect: Schäfer, megalomaniac, liked to immortalize, staged by himself, the events and rituals of which he plotted the life of a closed community, entirely placed under its monstrous hold. These images say everything about the web of compromises that he patiently woven to guarantee his impunity. They bear witness to the parade, at Villa Baviera, of the dignitaries of the dictatorship, starting with Augusto Pinochet himself: the German had even had a private room fitted out for him in this immense and prosperous domain. Even more disturbing, these archives bring back the friendships that bound Schäfer to right-wing figures who still occupy the forefront of the Chilean political scene to this day. The current Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Hernan Larrain, thus appears in the sixth and last chapter of the series, to take up, at the end of the 1990s, the defense of the guru targeted by an investigation, to the continuation of complaints of Chilean children having endured its sexual abuse – “unnecessary violence” against an old man “having the right to live in peace”, in the words chosen, at the time, by Larrain. Which today defends itself painfully, denouncing the “political use” of this sequence: “I was a senator from the region where (the Colonia) Dignidad was located, and my involvement with her was due to the fact that the hospital (opened by Schäfer to secure the sympathies of the populations of the region and to trap children who have come for care – Editor’s note) had been closed. With other parliamentarians and mayors, of all political stripes, it seemed to us that it was absurd that this hospital be closed and we made all the arrangements for its reopening. After that, these complaints appeared and these complaints, consulted by us, were very strange and nobody believed them at that time “, he justifies, admitting lip service that” what happened there is very brutal ”.

The lightness of these arguments raised a stir in Chile, among those who still demand justice for relatives tortured and disappeared at the Colonia Dignidad, after having passed through the hands of the torturers of the Villa Grimaldi. “My uncle Ivan Insunza Bascuñan, first cousin of my father, doctor and communist, was arrested on August 4, 1976, he disappeared in the hands of the Dina. His trail was lost at Villa Grimaldi, and years later his car’s engine was found at Colonia Dignidad. We want the truth, so that Chile never experiences this again ”, testifies Lilia Concha Carreño.

“If he was alive, Pinochet would vote for me”

On the far right of the political spectrum, these obscure pages of contemporary Chilean history arouse, on the contrary, sarcasm and derision. The presidential candidate Jose Antonio Kast, a businessman publicly assuming his nostalgia for the dictatorship, has thus compared these days to the Colonia Dignidad “certain communities” indigenous Mapuche claiming the recovery of their land, to better applaud the state of exception decreed in the region of Araucania, in the south of the country. “If he were alive, Pinochet would vote for me,” he plastered, already a candidate, in 2017. He then won less than 8% of the vote; polls now put Kast at the top of voting intentions.

In Parral, Villa Baviera has never closed its doors. The children of the first German settlers made it, in the shade of the Andes, a bucolic tourist stopover, on the road to the hot springs of Quinamavida and Panimavida. Arrested in 2005 in Argentina, where he had fled, Paul Schäfer, convicted of sexual abuse of twenty children – a tiny part of his crimes -, was sentenced a year later to twenty years in prison. He died in 2010, in detention. Without ever having had to answer for the assassinations of Chilean opponents who disappeared at Colonia Dignidad.

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