Below is a blog post from one of our 2023 Human Rights Summer Research Grant awardees, Andrew McCallum, who spent the summer in Paraguay, researching the inner workings of Operation Condor.
To learn more about the Human Rights Summer Research Grant, click here.
During my first day in Asunción – still shaking off the last traces of jet-lag – I drove around the city with my advisor Dr. Folch. She showed me the city’s landmarks, including an ornate train station at the center of Asunción. The building is an impressive work of architecture, arrayed with columns and arches. But in spite of this beautiful appearance, the building is empty – there have not been any trains for decades.
As she oriented me to the general context of Paraguay, Dr. Folch impressed upon me the importance of this building as a metaphor: a train station without trains. So many aspects of life in Paraguay contain this sense of inconsistency. It has only been thirty years since the fall of Alfredo Stroessner’s dictatorship, and the inadequacies and injustices of his reign still reverberate throughout the nation. Often, the contradictions of Paraguay’s past can be seen in physical space – testaments to how memory persists as a wound left by Stroessner’s crimes. I conducted my summer research in one such charged space, the Museum of Human Rights located within the Asunción Palace of Justice. Colloquially termed “The Archives of Terror,” the museum portrays the dictatorship’s atrocities through the regime’s own documents; the records serve as a window into the methods of Stroessner and his intelligence forces.
The story of the Archives is just as dramatic as their actual contents. In 1992, three years after the fall of Paraguay’s dictatorship, a man named Dr. Martín Almada began a legal journey that would have profound implications for human rights throughout the entire continent of South America. Under the new constitution of the Paraguayan Democracy, Dr. Almada was entitled to the right of Habeas Data – access to the documents that referenced the time he spent as a political prisoner under the Stroessner regime. On December 22, Dr. Almada and a battalion of reporters entered the Department of Productions of the Police. Though they initially faced resistance, the police folded before the will of Judge José Agustín Fernández, who firmly stated, “Now that we are in democracy, I am the law.” When the door to the police archive opened, the reporters rushed inside. Immediately, they knew they’d found something well beyond the documents of a single survivor. The police archive was a sea of paper, with stacks of binders and folders that stretched almost to the ceiling. Over the coming months and years, dedicated defenders of human rights such as Drs. Almada and Fernández worked tirelessly to organize and understand this hoard of documents. They formed a comprehensive record of the Stroessner regime’s inner workings: the Archive of Terror.
This summer, I have studied the documents contained in the Archive of Terror to reach a profound understanding of the way the Stroessner regime received outside support from various other nations in the Americas. As Rosa Palau, director of the Archive, explained to me, “Dictatorships cannot exist alone.” Alfredo Stroessner could only maintain his grip on power through close coordination with the other authoritarian regimes of the era. Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil joined with Paraguay to form a system guaranteed to crush any threat to their government’s power: Operation Condor.
Over the past six weeks, I have scanned and analyzed a wealth of documents that outline the inner workings of Operation Condor. The Archive does not solely contain the secret communications between Latin American dictatorships – it also outlines the extent of U.S. support in the region. Through records of CIA training manuals and briefings, the documents I’ve analyzed make a case for how the United States supported Stroessner in his repression of anyone termed “subversive.” I plan to use the resources I’ve found in the Archive as the basis for a senior thesis project. These primary sources reveal the broad structure that permitted Operation Condor to reach such a high level of scope and influence in the region. I am so grateful for this unique opportunity to reckon with the complicated history of Paraguay and the broader region.