At Cult’s Enclave in Chile, Guns and Intelligence Files

The authorities in Chile searching for victims of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship who are said to be buried at the enclave of a secretive, apocalyptic religious cult of German emigres have unearthed a large cache of weapons and intelligence files.

“This arsenal is going to end up being the biggest ever found in private hands since the restoration of democracy in 1990 and in the history of Chile,” the deputy interior minister, Jorge Correa Sutil, told reporters on Wednesday. “Believe me, what has been discovered so far is of a dimension that can only be explained in a military context.”

The enclave, Colonia Dignidad, was founded in southern Chile in 1961 by Paul Schaefer, a former Nazi Luftwaffe medic turned fundamentalist preacher. He fled around 1997 after being charged with the sexual abuse of more than two dozen boys in his care. He was convicted in absentia of pedophilia, arrested in Argentina in March and sent back to Chile, where he is now in prison, facing charges of kidnapping, forced labor, fraud and tax evasion.

Colonia Dignidad enjoyed official protection during the 17-year dictatorship of General Pinochet, and had close relationships with the Chilean Army and the state intelligence agency, known as DINA.

According to a 1991 government report on human rights abuses, Mr. Schaefer allowed DINA agents to hide political prisoners in the enclave and may have taken part in torturing detainees.


Human rights advocates in Chile said they hoped the files found at the site would help explain the relationship between Mr. Schaefer and state security forces, as well as the fates of some Pinochet opponents.

The material is being examined by a judge and has not yet been made public, but Chilean news reports said the documents included files on hundreds of people that the government and Colonia Dignidad regarded as enemies. More than 250 people still live at the enclave.

Among the cult’s other victims may have been Boris Weisfeiler, an American mathematics professor who disappeared 20 years ago while hiking near Colonia Dignidad. A Chilean military informant later provided an account, found plausible by the American Embassy, saying Dr. Weisfeiler, a Russian-born Jew, had been killed on Mr. Schaefer’s orders.

The weapons seized include machine guns, rifles, rocket launchers, grenades and mortars. Some were said to be of World War II vintage, and were accompanied by manuals written in German; others were more modern.

The discovery may solve another mystery: From the mid-1970’s, the United States and other countries cut off weapons sales to the Pinochet dictatorship, which nonetheless managed to stay well armed. Diplomats and rights groups have long suggested that Colonia Dignidad acquired weapons for the Chilean military through trading companies that the sect controlled.

Citing military sources, the Chilean daily La Nacion reported Thursday that the arms at Colonia Dignidad were buried there between 1976 and 1978, when Chile nearly went to war with neighboring Argentina in a border dispute.

Government officials said the discovery of the arms would strengthen their case against Mr. Schaefer and associates who are also in jail by giving prosecutors grounds to invoke a racketeering statute. “Colonia Dignidad was an illicit association dedicated to committing sexual, tax and economic crimes and had a paramilitary purpose,” Mr. Correa Sutil said.

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This post was last updated: May. 9, 2012