The ‘Dolphins’ that Exterminated the Communist Party
From the newspaper ‘La Nacion’
Judge Víctor Montiglio’s investigation uncovered the existence of an elite cell of La Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA: National Intelligence Directorate: the Chilean Secret Police), known as ‘Delfín’ (Dolphin) that was created especially by Manuel Contreras and Pinochet to exterminate the leaders of the Communist Party (PC). Fifty accused members described to the judge the most harrowing part of the dictatorship:
By Jorge Escalante and Javier Rebolledo
The 15 year old boy received the Mack-10 submachine gun and the briefcase from the hands of Colonel Manuel Contreras, and then nodded towards him - the chief operative of the DINA. They had taught him that this was what he should do every time ‘el Mamo’ arrived in his house in Pocuro with Antonio Varas, in the Providencia suburb of Santiago.
“Look you idiot, you gotta be more alert when the boss comes and gives you your things. And from now on you bow to him, because here this shit is serious. And it’s ‘Colonel’, none of this ‘Señor Contreras’. This aint no social club, this shit is the DINA”, had shouted subcommander Olmedo, one of Contreras’ bodyguards, while he grabbed the boy’s hair and shoved a pistol against his forehead.
After that episode, “el Mamo” went away to relax and waited for the boy to serve dinner. The kid had arrived at the house one day in 1974, with a recommendation from General Galvarino Mandujano, who had mentioned him to María Teresa Valdebenito, Contreras’ wife.
After that, things happened quickly. After a brief military preparation, the boy joined DINA’s Lautaro Brigade, first in a department on the 19th floor of Tower 5 in the San Borja complex, in the centre of Santiago, and then the Simón Bolívar 8630 jail, in La Reina.
The original purpose of the brigade was to provide protection to Contreras and his family, but from 1976, this objective deviated towards killing communists.
An eager, curious boy, he wanted to get involved in everything. He witnessed tortures, heard the screams of pain, saw the blood spill from members of the PC. Once, he even had to hold his breath so that he didn’t shout when his bosses used a blowtorch to erase the fingerprints and a scar from the body of a militant communist.
Thirty years later, wracked by his conscience, he decided to reveal what he had witnessed. Last January he faced the Brigada de Asuntos Especiales y Derechos Humanos (BAEDH: Taskforce on Special Issues and Human Rights) of the Investigative Police, and then he spoke with Judge Víctor Montiglio, who led the investigation into the abduction and disappearance of the first clandestine directorate of the PC in May 1976, known as ‘calle Conferencia’ (Conference Street).
Following him, other ex-agents began to speak up. And so unknown elements of the years of repression have emerged: the assassination of undercover PC agents in the Simón Bolívar jail, the Lautaro Brigade, and above all, the formation of elite groups such as ‘Dolphin’, commanded by one of the heads of DINA, the army captain Germán Barriga Muñoz.
Sometimes the scenes were as bad as Nazi concentration camps. One agent, who we will identify as Vicente Medina, saw his partner Sergio Escalona Acuña lying on top of an open-mouthed body, with a pair of pliers in one hand. ‘Negro Escalona’, as he had been known since childhood worked industriously, “In the cells, he would take the gold fillings from the dead. I never found out if he kept the gold or handed it over”, told the boy. (Apart from the boy and Medina, the rest of the names that appear are real).
Escalona was a commander and went – with Marina’s other child, Bernardo Daza Navarro, otherwise known as “El Chancho” – one of the first reinforcements that the Navy transfered to DINA in April 1974 to join the Lautaro Brigade. His boss was the great Juan Morales Salgado from the Army. The events that had established Judge Montiglio’s investigation showed Daza and Escalona as two dangerous killers, prepared for anything.
According to the statements of other ex-agents, Daza and Escalona beat up the communists as a method of torture. It was them who, together with Juvenal Piña Garrido, nicknamed “El Elefante” killed the secretary-general of the PC, Víctor Díaz whilst he was in hiding.
Piña had already confessed. It was him who suffocated Díaz with a plastic bag while Daza and Escalona held him down. And the Army Lieutenant Gladys Calderón Carreño, who said she was a nurse, waited until they had finished when she injected cyanide into a vein to make sure he was really dead.
It was the body who had to deal with the body, wrapped in a bag with wire tied around it. “I took Víctor Díaz’s body to the prison carpark and dumped it in the boot of a car” he claimed. From there they took it to Peldehue, to the north of Santiago, and they took it up in a helicopter to drop it into the sea together with the bodies of the other prisoners.
“That night in the prison they gave us roasted turkey and something to drink. As I was alone I took the food to the jail’s social room and then to the cells to find Díaz so we could eat together. He was surprised at my young age and for the things I had to do and see. Then I took him back to the cells”.
But that episode was just a parenthesis in the midst of the horror that surrounded the boy. On another occasion, while they tortured communist leader Reinalda Pereira, Captain Barriga asked him to get a coffee and drinks and take a break. “They tortured this woman brutally, and she cried out for them to stop because she was pregnant. Lietenant Calderón checked to see if it was true but Captain Barriga kept on with the usual torture. She was in a really bad state and began to beg them to kill her. She died about three hours later in the prison gym. Lietenant Calderón injected her with cyanide to make sure she was dead”.
Whilst participating in the “disappearance” of Reinalda Pereira whilst at the Simón Bolívar jail, that afternoon the boy also saw the Navy agent Teresa Navarro Navarro and policeman Ricardo Lawrence Mires, nicknamed “El Cachete Grande”, another DINA star.
Vicente Medina, also a witness to the tragedy of the communist woman claims that “El Elefante” (Piña Garrido) and Claudio Pacheco Fernández, another policeman also participated in her death. “Just after she died, agent Pacheco used a blowtorch to burn off Reinalda Pereira’s fingerprints”, said Medina, who recognised the leader from a set of photographs shown in the tribunal.
In “The House of Stone”
“From the photos I can recognise señor Navarro as one of those that arrived detained with Ortiz. Navarro was killed with an injection by lieutenant Calderón”, said Medina.
“I arrived to the House of Stone and saw that Colonel Manuel Contreras, Major Juan Morales and Captain Barriga, together with eleven leading members of the Communist Party. They were Víctor Díaz, Pizarro and another called Zamorano [Mario]. Then General Pinochet came and spoke with them all, but especially with Díaz, who told the General that attacking the PC was like taking all the water from the sea with a bucket” declared Ricardo Lawrence Mires.
‘Dolphin’ is born
One of many events that have been uncovered is that of how the extermination group ‘Dolphin’ originated, under the authority of the then Captain Barriga. ‘Don Jaime’ as Barriga would call himself, committed suicide on the 17th of January 2005, by throwing himself off a building in the Las Condes neighbourhood.
According to several ex agents, including the boy, Vicente Medina and even Juan Morales, ex-chief of the Lautaro Brigade, Dolphin’s birth was a difficult one. Its constitution was a decision made by Contreras and Pinochet, who formed it with the sole plan of eradicating undercover agents of the PC.
The group came to base itself in the Simón Bolívar jail at the beginning of 1976 and always maintained a direct line to DINA without bypassing the chief of the Lauturo Brigade. This, according to Morales produced internal fractures.
Alongside Barriga, Lawrence was integrated as second in command, as well as police agents Troncoso Vivallos, Heriberto Acevedo Acevedo, Claudio Pacheco Fernández and Rufino Astorga. The few remaining members’ names are still unknown, but several agents of the Lautura Brigade, like Daza, Escalona, Piña and others actively participated in Dolphin’s crimes. In one thing Morales and the boy agree, “Simón Bolívar was an extermination jail, from which no one would leave alive”. La Nación Domingo.
The foreigners poisoned with Sarin
Ex-DINA agents do agree that they were killed by sarin gas inhalation administered by Michael Townley, who had brought the lethal venom to the jail. “Townley proceeded to put on a mask over his mouth and goggles over his eyes took out from a bag a spray, coming slowly nearer. He waited for the people to inhale before applying some of the spray. The first to be affected fell instantaeneously and after a few seconds stopped moving entirely. He then applied the same mechanism to the second person detained, which produced the same effect”, stated an ex-agent.
The testimony adds that the effects of the gas spread to agents Jorge Díaz Radulovich and Emilio Troncoso Vivallos, who kept the foreigners upright and immobile while they were poisoned. After a while, Townely also became affected by the sarin, “He ran out desperately shouting ‘It got me! It got me!’” spoke another ex-agent to Judge Montiglio.
After the incident, the three agents were attended to by Lieutenant Gladys Calderón who injected Townely with an antidote and then, when they were out of danger, applied another injection, but this time of cyanide, to the two foreigners who remained in the prison courtyard. Agent Eduardo Alejandro Oyarce declared that minutes later he saw the Peruvian citizen “notice me with a completely disfigured face and with his mouth forced wide open from the sarin”. Oyarce also said that before the murder he had an opportunity to talk with the Peruvian who had told him his name was Juan Pablo and that the Bolivian was called Rafael. The Peruvian was the driver for the Peruvian Ambassador to Chile at the time - José Carlos Mariátegui, now deceased.
According to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, there is only one report of a Peruvian citizen having been ‘disappeared’ in Chile and this corresponds to the 1980s. When consulted to by La Nación Domingo, the Peruvian Embassy in Chile indicated that it had no records that corresponded to this date. The wife of the late Ambassador also declined responding to the incident, and the Foreign Affairs Minister made no statement in relation to the case.
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