Villa Baviera, the name now given to Chile’s famous cult colony Colonia Dignidad, may soon be no more than just a memory: the colony’s population has now dropped to only 198 residents. As many as 1,000 (mostly German) colonists once inhabited the colony’s compound.
Colony spokesperson Herman Schwember said that 15 families left the colony last year because of fear that remaining residents may be prosecuted for involvement in crimes committed by colony founder Paul Schaefer. Of the 198 people left in the colony, there are 116 adults, 64 retirees, and 18 small children. No teenagers live in the colony.
Schwebmer said the exodus has created many problems for the colony because the working-age population has decreased to an extremely low level.
Schwebmer called for a reinvention of Villa Baviera, arguing that it was the only way to guarantee the community’s survival. “The residents of Villa Baviera have to integrate themselves more with Chileans and stop being so racist,” he said. “Everything depends on them. I won’t do anything to prevent them from leaving the colony.”
Colonia Dignidad was a right-wing cult-colony settled by German immigrants in 1961 near Parral in southern Chile. Its leader, Paul Schaefer, had fled German justice after being accused of pedophilia. But Schaefer’s close relationship with right -wing Chilean political leaders, especially after Gen. Pinochet’s rise to power in 1973, prevented any further investigation into crimes he allegedly committed in Germany and in Chile (ST, Jan. 11).
Attorneys prosecuting Schaefer allege that he sexually abused as many as 10,000 children over 40 years. He also allegedly turned the colony into a torture center used by Pinochet’s secret police to persecute leftist political activists. It was not until Chile’s return to democracy in the 1990’s that Schaefer was prosecuted for the crimes he committed in Chile.
Many of Schaefer’s co-conspirators fled to Argentina and Germany and have yet to be brought to justice.
Remaining colony residents early this year sent a letter to Chile’s President Bachelet detailing the various crimes that occurred in the colony. The letter explained how the colony was created and how Schaefer rose to power. “In order for him to gain absolute power of the colony, we were forced to remove ourselves from the outside world and to cut all ties from our families who remained in Germany,” the letter said (ST, April 20).
Children born into the colony were separated from their parents at birth, and colony members had no way of knowing if their children were victims of sexual abuse. “Among the children, our own children, Schaefer was the ultimate authority,” the letter explained. “He picked his victims in such a way that none of the adults would ever have known about his sexual abuses.”
The letter also explained Schaefer’s brainwashing techniques.
“Some of us became his slaves, robots who just obeyed his orders and worked without a schedule or any breaks,” the letter said. It explained that if Schaefer’s orders were not obeyed, members were subject to severe punishment, including “electric shock, tranquilizers and isolation treatment, sometimes for long periods of time.”
Schaefer was sentenced last month to seven years in jail for his involvement with a buried cache of arms found in 2005. He had previously been sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison for the sexual crimes he committed while leading the colony (ST, August 29).
Police found the weapons in June of last year (ST, June 17, 2005). They included 85 submachine guns, 60 hand grenades, 14 FAL rifles, 18 antipersonnel mines, 18 cluster grenades, rocket launchers, telescopic sights and large amounts of ammunition. Sources involved in the discovery said mortar bombs and a land-to-air missile were also found.
The government said the weapons confirmed the colony’s “complicity in paramilitary operations” during the military dictatorship.
Sources at the dig said that among the weapons were files containing information on leftist dissidents during the military dictatorship.
The colony is also accused of the disappearance of Russian-born U.S. citizen Boris Weisfeiler. He was last seen Jan. 4, 1985, camping near the boundaries of the German colony. New information found last month shed further light on this disappearance (ST, August 17).
In July, a former Colonia Dignidad member provided evidence that political prisoners had been disappeared and then chemically burned at the compound (ST, July 25).