• Chilean diplomacy may be Santiago’s sore point, rather than its triumph, in getting its general to be appointed the head of the U.N. peace force in Haiti
• MINUSTAH: A troubled institution
• Both controversial Chilean general and U.N. peace force deserve close scrutiny
• Incompetent and dysfunctional Latortue government hardly deserves being propped up
• Even though he may have been involved in the murder of a former Spanish diplomat, Aldunate gets a pass without any effort made to trace his background
• UPDATE: Brazilian General Jose Elito Carvalho de Siqueira has just been selected as the new commander of MINUSTAH. Aldunate will remain as vice commander. No U.N. investigation into the Chilean general’s background is in sight.
Chilean Brigadier General Eduardo Aldunate Herman is the vice commander of the United Nations’ (UN) peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Initially, the appointment brought great pride to the Chilean armed forces, as well as to the nation, and was a source of known satisfaction for the outgoing Ricardo Lagos administration, marking another victory for Chilean diplomacy. With José Miguel Insulza as the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States, Juan Gabriel Valdés as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special representative to Haiti, and now General Aldunate as MINUSTAH’s vice commander, Santiago had good reason to swell with pride over the unusually large representation of its senior personnel in high regional positions.
However, such satisfaction may be premature (in fact, the opposite may now be transpiring), with the increasing disappointment over Valdés’ failure to establish strong human rights standards regarding the excesses of the U.S.- imposed interim regime of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue in Haiti, and his sanctioning by silence of unwarranted violent acts against Haitian civilians by MINUSTAH. Worse, explosive charges have been made against Aldunate over his role in the high profile murder of a former Spanish diplomat, as alleged by the victim’s daughter. As a result, outgoing President Lagos may soon have less reason to crow about his administration’s putative accomplishments, with the Aldunate affair possibly being the first foreign policy crisis that incoming president Michelle Bachelet will have to face.
Aldunate’s selection for the high U.N. post, and Lagos’ presumed signing off on him, has sparked heated debate over the official’s highly questionable past under the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990), during which time he was periodically promoted. The trend was replicated under civilian rule, as he was made a general by then defense minister Bachelet. Last September, after Aldunate’s appointment to the U.N.-post as second in command of MINUSTAH, he was accused of being a member of the dreaded Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA – the Chilean secret service), where he allegedly participated (although the proof has been far from definitive) in the 1976 murder of Carmelo Soria. At the time of his death, Soria was a former Spanish diplomat who was working for the U.N.’s Comisión Económica para América Latina (CEPAL).
The question then is: how could this Chilean official, with a record that purportedly includes serving the Pinochet dictatorship in an assignment to its heinous intelligence forces, have been awarded such a high-level position in MINUSTAH? The U.N. mission supposedly would be the antithesis of the bestial practices of torture and murder directly attributable to Chile’s intelligence services. Furthermore, how could Lagos have not been informed of the questions hanging over Aldunate’s controversial background, at the time when he was appointed to the MINUSTAH post to serve under the mission commander, the late Brazilian general, Urano Teixera da Matta Bacellar.
Eduardo Aldunate entered the Chilean military academy in 1971, graduating as an infantry officer in 1973, the year of the Pinochet coup. In an interview with Radio Cooperativa, Aldunate later acknowledged participating in the assault on the presidential palace on September 11, the day of the overthrow of the constitutional government, but said that since he had been granted his army commission only two months previous to that event, he therefore did not feel particularly culpable for the coup and the death of President Salvador Allende.
Aldunate’s early career was marked by his attendance at the controversial School of the Americas, best known for serving as a U.S.-run training and indoctrination center where military officers from throughout Latin America were schooled in anti-insurgency tactic and civic action and low intensity warfare initiatives by U.S. military instructors. According to the monitoring group, School of the Americas Watch, Aldunate attended a “basic officer orientation” course as a sub-lieutenant in 1974. He went on to become the commander of the infantry regiment N° 17 “Los Angeles,” director of the school of paratroopers and special forces, and an advisor at the Inter-American Defense College in Washington D.C. from 2001-2002.
At the time of his deployment to Haiti, he was serving as a professor at the Chilean Academy of War, where he taught strategy and military history. At MINUSTAH, he has served as vice commander since September of last year, after replacing Argentine General Eduardo Alfredo Lugani. On January 8 of this year, General Bacellar was found dead in his hotel room with a bullet to the head. A military source with the U.N. mission told the Agence France Presse (AFP), on the condition of anonymity, that the general had shot himself through the mouth. General Aldunate Herman shortly afterward took over as interim military commander of MINUSTAH.
MINUSTAH’s Wayward History
The U.N.’s troubled peacekeeping mission in Haiti has been plagued with profound difficulties regarding its mandate and level of professionalism. This has been the case ever since it was commissioned in April 2004. A small number of former members of Haiti’s discredited armed forces, allegedly tacitly backed by the State Department, was poised in Port-au-Prince for the ouster of then-president Jean Bertrand Aristide in February, 2004. Then Secretary of State Powell, with the harmonization of diplomatic support from the Canadians, French and the U.N.’s Kofi Annan, bought into Washington’s plan which ostensibly provided then-President Aristide a way to negotiate a settlement with the country’s political opposition. In fact this strategy was meant to guarantee Aristide’s forced departure from Haiti. The subsequent U.S.-installed, interim government of Gerard Latortue is widely regarded by both an overwhelming majority of Haitians, as well as virtually everyone connected with the island, as grossly incompetent, illegitimate, and wantonly abusive – representing a grotesque failure at governance. This made MINUSTAH, almost by default, a force that would be upholding an unconstitutional, quasi-authoritarian status quo in the country.
It hasn’t helped MINUSTAH’s credibility that the U.N. force has been accused of repeated human rights abuses and outright oppression against the civilian population in its efforts to put down civic violence. Cite de Soleil is the site where many of these alleged unjustified crimes by MINUSTAH have been committed. In general, it would seem that MINUSTAH, when Brazilian General Bacellar was at its head, and with a total force of 7,000 “blue helmets” (coming from 21 different nations, including China), had largely failed to bring either security or stability to Haiti. Nor has there been any effort by the U.N. civilian leadership on the island to do anything more than come out with the occasional statement condemning violence, while utterly failing to investigate MINUSTAH’s role in the violence or have much impact on the daily catastrophic events happening there.
Adunate: Crime and Reward?
Aldunate is accused of having been involved in the 1976 murder of Carmelo Soria, a former Spanish diplomat. Soria was kidnapped on July 14, and two days later his body was discovered floating in a Santiago canal showing clear signs of torture. Soria’s daughter, Carmen, has accused Aldunate of complicity in her father’s murder, suggesting that at the very least, he has been a participant in “covering up” the circumstances surrounding the crime. She has declared that “a person that worked in the CNI absolutely [had] to be involved with human rights crimes.” The CNI was the Central Nacional de Información (National Information Center), the successor to DINA. When the latter’s reputation became so notorious that it became synonymous with the moral outrages of the military regime, General Pinochet decided a name change was in order.
Pinochet used the DINA to silence his opposition, namely leftists, trade union officials, courageous journalists and human rights activists. The CNI was no less brutal than the DINA. An example of this is the infamous “Operation Albania” of June 1987, where CNI officers shot twelve members of the leftist Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front, FPMR, at different localities in Santiago),. after its members had taken up arms against the dictatorship. The government promptly accused all leftist dissidents as being terrorists. In January 2005, General Salas Wenzel, the CNI head at the time, was sentenced to life in prison for giving the order to carry out these murders.
A component of the dreaded DINA was the infamous Munchen Brigade which has been accused of Soria’s murder, and with which Aldunate was purportedly affiliated. Retired official Carlos Labarca lent prime support to Carmen Soria’s accusation in his 1993 extrajudicial declaration which identified Aldunate as a member of Pinochet’s repressive elite force. On October 11 of last year, Soria, and her lawyer Alfonso Insunza, filed a suit against Aldunate in Judge Alejandro Madrid’s court, which is also investigating a number of other cases of human rights violations. Confoundingly, Labarca has since retracted his declarations, no longer accusing Aldunate of the Soria murder. It is unknown why he changed his mind; however one can deduce that he may have been under heavy pressure from Chilean military operatives to do so.
On October 20, the Chilean daily La Nación, published an article in which Aldunate denied that he was a member of any state security apparatus. At this late point, it hasn’t been established that he belonged to the DINA, but it is known that without a doubt he spent a period of time in the CNI, “doing an intelligence course for a few months,” according to Chilean parliamentarian Sergio Aguiló. In fact, the period in question was at least ten months.
It is important to note that Chilean authorities reiterate that Aldunate was never part of the DINA, however, they are silent regarding his relationship with the CNI. It was only after a journalistic investigation proved that Aldunate had been, in fact, in the CNI, that the government admitted to the general’s membership there for 10 months in 1978, while doing an intelligence course. The question then is: what kind of an “intelligence course” could a young military officer have been taking in 1978 within the most notorious branch of the Pinochet dictatorship?
Aldunate goes to Haiti
In his farewell speech before leaving Haiti, outgoing Argentine General Lugani, the deputy commander of MINUSTAH, said of General Aldunate: “I can imagine […] the success that [he] will have while here, in benefit of MINUSTAH and Haiti.” Considering what the U.N. and its peacekeeping missions are, or at least in theory are supposed to be, it is at the very least somewhat disconcerting, if not shocking, that someone with Aldunate’s allegedly compromised past would have been chosen for such an important position without being closely vetted. But given the undistinguished record racked up by MINUSTAH and the U.N. support group in the country, perhaps it shouldn’t be that surprising that neither the U.N. or the Lagos government submitted the appointment to any such scrutiny.
Aldunate’s selection raises the question, among others, of exactly what process is used by the U.N. when it approves ranking military officers to command its peacekeeping missions. The complicating factor here is that any basic query, via one of the major internet search engines, into Aldunate’s background, reveals dozens of articles about the crime of which he is accused. Did fellow Chilean national, Juan Gabriel Valdés, the chief of MINUSTAH on the civilian side, use his influence and personal connections so that his countryman was selected to the high MINUSTAH post? Could fellow Chilean and newly anointed Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, also have been involved in the appointment process, at least informally? The inter-American community deserves some indication from both Valdés and Insulza regarding the appropriateness of Aldunate’s appointment. It should be recalled that when Insulza was fighting for the OAS post, against Washington’s opposition because he was a Socialist and was opposed to the Iraq war, both he and President Lagos traveled to Haiti to cravenly solicit interim Prime Minister Latortue’s tainted vote for Insulza in the OAS race. This, in spite of the fact that because of Latortue’s presence on the island, Haiti’s membership in CARICOM had been suspended. And for that matter, why have both Valdés and Insulza, as well as Heraldo Muñoz (another Chilean Socialist and Santiago’s highly regarded ambassador to the U.N.), at the U.N. office play such a low key role regarding the jailing, based on no evidence whatsoever, of Father Jean-Juste, Yvonne Neptune and a number of other highly regarded officials by the Latortue regime, whose only crime was that they were close to the Aristide government, for which they were summarily hauled off to jail without any legal writ, by Latortue’s verminous minister of justice, Bernard Gousse.
How much did the Chilean government know about Aldunate’s past?
Santiago’s backing of Aldunate, whose career advanced even after the return of civilian rule in 1990, is even more shocking than the U.N.’s acceptance of him. How could Lagos and his aforementioned colleagues ( Insulza had served as an interior minister under Lagos) not be aware of Aldunate’s possible shady record, given Chile’s small population and the fact that almost everyone of a certain class is familiar with each other. And if Lagos was aware of any unsavory aspects of Aldunate’s background, why not conduct a duly diligent search of that record before considering him for the U.N. position?
A great deal has been written about the role of Chile’s armed forces in the post-Pinochet period. Unlike the military institutions of Argentina and Uruguay, the Chilean armed forces have remained relatively unscathed by the revelations of its unabated cruelty during the military regime. In the last few years, Chile has embarked on an unilateral arms race, acquiring state of the art weaponry from around the world, at a cost of many hundreds of million dollars, including the price of a squadron of U.S.-supplied F-16’s, essentially making the country the new Southern Cone military superpower. Within this milieu it is understandable why Lagos’ critics see him as a lapdog of the armed forces, routinely responding to the requests their commanders make of him. On top of this comes Aldunate’s nomination to be vice commander for which Lagos must be held personally complicit, if the charges against Aldunate stand up.
The incoming government led by Concertación president-elect Michelle Bachelet, is not likely to bring the Chilean military fully under the control of the civilian government, in spite of her experience as defense minister. German Westphal explains that: “the Chilean armed forces are still Pinochetistas.” Westphal gives as an example, how of the 36 generals that are currently part of the military’s high command, 13 were CNI members. Also, Bachelet, as defense minister, was the one who pushed for the “Mesa de Diálogo” (dialogue forum) between the military and the civilian government, so the former would provide information about the victims who disappeared during the Pinochet regime. The forum was close to being a fiasco since the information provided by the military was mostly false or useless, even though Bachelet and the government still insist that the intercambio was a success.
Finally, it was during Bachelet’s time as minister of defense that Aldunate was promoted to brigadier general. It is mind-numbing to think why Bachelet, whose father was tortured and eventually murdered by the Pinochet dictatorship, would favor promoting a tainted Pinochet-era official, if the charges against him are true. What can Chile and Latin America expect from President-elect Bachelet if she, like the rest of Concertación, has failed to grow a sufficient spine to stand up to the Chilean military, who have an inordinate amount of influence over the country’s decision-making process when it comes to security-related issues.
The U.N.’s Shame
As early as November 8 of last year, human rights movements like the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), its Chilean member Human Rights Defense Committee (CODEPU), and its partner organization in Haiti, the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), have demanded the suspension, pending an investigation, of Aldunate from MINUSTAH. On October 20 of last year, the U.N. Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, declared that the U.N. would investigate the accusations against Aldunate. The proclamation was widely reported by the Spanish news agency EFE and the Chilean daily La Nación. However, this revelation was short lived, as on October 22 the U.N. reversed itself, saying that, in fact, it would not conduct such an investigation. Muñoz declared that the U.N. never intended to launch an investigation regarding Aldunate, and that it was all a misunderstanding. According to Muñoz, Guéhenno was asked a question about Aldunate in a press conference and his answer was misinterpreted to say that the U.N. would investigate the Chilean general, when in reality, this was not the case.
However, Fernando Ruiz, the International Association against Torture’s representative to the U.N., pointed out in a recent interview with Chile’s El Clarín, how it has become common practice for the U.N. to be involved in such scandals like the one possibly involving Aldunate, as an act of accommodation of a member country. The embarrassments have significantly contributed to the body’s loss of credibility in the international community, particularly when it comes to Haiti. In the interview, Ruiz talked about how the U.N. twice elected Austrian Kurt Waldheim to be its secretary general (1971-81), even though it was proven that he had served as an officer of a German unit during World War II that committed atrocities in Yugoslavia. Regarding Chile, Ruiz explains how the U.N. passed over twenty resolutions condemning the military dictatorship. But it is an open question if the U.N. even bothered doing an elementary background check on Aldunate’s career before selecting him to the MINUSTAH post, even if Guéhenno claimed on October 20 that the U.N. carries out an “exhaustive revision” of the curriculums of all U.N. peacekeepers. According to Ruiz, after all the condemnations of cruelty directed against the Chilean military for almost two decades, the U.N. elected a Pinochet-era intelligence officer to “defend humanity’s purest values” in Haiti.
The current controversy has cast a further dark cloud over outgoing Ricardo Lagos’ already questionable foreign policy, which includes a costly setback in his country’s relationship with Bolivia, considerable hostility from Peru, and no love lost with Argentina. Chile’s general unpopularity throughout much of Latin America stems from it being considered a smug nation of merchants who pursue trade advantages as their ultimate foreign policy goal, rather than social justice at home and international comity abroad. Meanwhile, Chile docilely pursues, at all costs, cordial ties with the U.S., no matter how insulting Washington is in return (c. eg., forcing the ouster of Juan Gabriel Valdés from Chile’s then seat on the U.N. Security Council, because of his opposition to the war in Iraq, and then delaying a bilateral agreement with Santiago for the same reason).
Aldunate is only the latest in a series of Chileans winning high-profile positions in regional and international missions. First, Chile saw its former ambassador to the U.N., Juan Gabriel Valdés chosen in 2004 as Kofi Annan’s special envoy to oversee the peacekeeping mission in Haiti. After a hard-fought battle last year, José Miguel Insulza was elected as Secretary-General of the Organization of American States. While these appointments may have further swelled Chile’s ego, they have not been particularly beneficial to Haiti. Valdés’ record in that country so far has been gravely disappointing at best, allowing human rights abuses to go unpunished and rarely commented upon; as well as demonstrating the general acquiescence on the part of the U.N. to indecent and outrageous excesses by the interim government.
The U.N.’s allowance of such a controversial individual as General Aldunate to assume a high position without at least even perfunctorily examining the serious charges against him, makes MINUSTAH’s future appear grim, or at least irrelevant, and the U.N.’s present stature resulting from the affair, somewhat pathetic.
For more information, read a recent article by German Westphal: “El General Aldunate, la CNI y la Credibilidad del Gobierno y el Ejercito Chileno.”