Luis Hernandez was the first police officer to enter Colonia Dignidad, a German sect in southern Chile where members were sexually abused, right-wing paramilitary groups trained and political opponents of Augusto Pinochet interrogated and tortured, as part of an investigation into the sexual abuse of minors.
Once inside the expansive Colony, he discovered that some residents were treated as modern-day slaves while an extensive array of surveillance equipment ensured that escape was near impossible. He also witnessed the violent lengths that residents would go to to defend the sect's leader, Paul Schaefer, and exposed the influential network that kept him protected for so long.
The first time I heard about the Dignity Colony was when I was a student at the police academy. I had a teacher who ... talked about having gone to investigate a suspicious death at a German colony .... When they got there ... there was a chorus of children awaiting the arrival of the investigators; there was ... a German apple cake and fruit juices for the reception ....
They were investigating the case of a young woman who, according to the information given to the courts, had drowned in the Perquelaulen River. This seemed very strange given the characteristics of the river, which is not very deep, nor does it have strong enough currents for this to have occurred ....
[Our teacher] told us that it was like going into a different world, with people who wore clothes and costumes from another era .... When they tried to communicate with the locals ... no one spoke Spanish ....
That was all I knew [about the Colony and its leader, Paul Schaefer] until ... I was head of internal affairs of the police [and] a young mother of a minor arrived to file sex abuse charges against Schaefer in Santiago.
Defended by a political ideology
The reason that this young mother had come to Santiago to file the charges is because she had belonged to the group of young people who supported the Colony. Often they camped outside the gates, and she was in charge of the door, of the vehicles that arrived. With great astonishment she saw that judges, military personnel, distinguished people, parliamentarians were regular visitors at the Colony. Among them [there were] members of the police, in and out of uniform .... And from the courts ... there were also visitors. This was years after Chile had returned to democracy.
That's why she did not trust that her case would be investigated impartially, and she was right. She was a young woman from the countryside, but with the ability to realise that if she pressed charges in Parral, where the Colony was located, there would be no chance of success ....
Her son had lesions that showed evident signs of sexual aggression and she presumed that if he were examined in Parral nothing would be found. In other words, she was very wise to come to Santiago.
We took her statement, we sent the details to the court. When the case came up I was in charge of internal affairs of the police and I was also put in charge by the courts of investigating cases ....
I had to design a different type of investigation. I asked different departments within the police for help, in order to come up with a plan that would not fall apart, given that the historical data showed that all previous investigations had failed, that they had been virulently crushed by the power of Schaefer, by the influence that he exerted in Chilean society.
For more than a century there has been a great German influence here. At one point in our history up to eight percent of our population was of German origin. It has influence in the armed forces .... They are an example of hard work, discipline, perseverance. In general terms, people of German origin are looked upon with great respect. This phenomenon, which is more or less cultural, helped make it possible for charges to be dropped every time that they were filed against Schaefer.
The Chilean state's control systems failed. I have to say clearly that perhaps some were deceived, others seduced by the services provided at the hospital, or a gift of something produced at the Colony. Something as simple as that, and the person in charge of overseeing education did not oversee it, the one who oversaw health did not oversee it, the one who had to ensure that the labour laws were obeyed didn't do it either, and the police that had to control immigration, those who come and go from the country, also did not do it ....
There was no registry that indicated the number of people in the country .... There was no way of knowing, so it was very easy to assassinate, to make someone disappear and no one would care unless they had a relative who asked about him. They could easily say that the person had died of a heart attack, that they had buried him themselves after obtaining a death certificate. They would bury people themselves in the Villa Baviera [the name later given to Colonia Dignidad] cemetery. And who would know?
After the arrival of Schaefer in our country, socialist President Salvador Allende won the elections. During his election campaign, before, during and afterward, Colonia Dignidad was turned into a military training area for the people who lived in the area, for the farmers, because it was assumed that under Allende all the land will be expropriated and handed over to the state ....
Colonia Dignidad channel[led] all the anxiety of the people who [did] not agree with that political platform. So let's say that people from the political centre and right identified with what Colonia Dignidad was doing.
An extreme right-wing nationalist movement called Fatherland and Liberty was formed, with a commando group called Rolando Matus. These were ultra-right wing organisations that prepared and received military training inside the Colonia.
People who were against Allende would hide out in Colonia Dignidad and nobody could go in. So that influence that Schaefer began to forge, directly influenced the people with economic power in the country.
In other words, Schaefer was a sex abuser but everyone said that it was not happening and they convinced themselves that this was the truth. Because they said: "No, this is a man with a clear anti-Marxist position."
So it's not that he enjoyed the protection of a particular individual or individuals, but rather of a social group that defended him, an entire political ideology that defended him.
When the investigation about the sex abuse charges began we set off to interview the main suspect of the crime ... as we do normally in this country.
When we'd go to Villa Baviera they would tell us that Schaefer was in Santiago in his house in Casa de Deportes. We'd go to Santiago and they'd tell us that Schaefer was in Vila Baviera, and so on. For more than a month we tried to question him, but we never could.
If at that time Schaefer had made himself available to be questioned, it might have been enough for him to deny the charges, and we would not have had much more to go with than the minor's lesions .... And perhaps the investigation would have gone no further ....
Anyway, we informed the court. The judge, Jorge Norambuena, who was a very young, very intelligent and very capable magistrate, sent out more summonses which also were ignored.
In the meantime new victims appeared - boys from the area from poor families who had also been victims of sexual abuse .... Because of this ... the judge in Parral issued a broader order to investigate. That order allowed us to search and enter in order to find Schaefer .... In other words, we could use force to go in ... [But] this judicial order allowed me to break into an ordinary, common house, not into a fortress as was the case in Colonia Dignidad ....
To start with I took with me personnel from different units, including laboratory personnel, in order to analyse the evidence which we presumed we might find in the event that we gained access .... But I also took with me a team from the riot squad, with weapons and all, in case there was armed resistance.
In our preliminary analysis we had discovered that they had the behavior of a sect. And international experience about sects when there is an attempt to detain their leader is quite unique. I remember the story of the Waco case in Texas, in the United States ....
Surprisingly, we entered very easily, because I think that, since they had observation methods, our arrival at Villa Baviera did not take them by surprise ....
We figured that if we acted quickly perhaps we could capture Schaefer .... We forced the gates of the entrance, we cut the locks and we quickly went to the house where, according to the information we had from the victims, it was presumed that we would find Schaefer. To our surprise the windows were armour plated, and the doors were fortified. In other words, I could break down the walls with my vehicles, but I would not be able to open the doors or the windows.
From the moment we arrived at the house ... the residents of the place reacted in an extremely violent way .... It was as though someone had blown a whistle and all at once all of them screamed and raised their arms like lunatics. They placed themselves in front of our vehicles, they'd drive up with their cars and throw a truck at us, a car at us .... They were trying to provoke us to use our fire arms. It was a provocation.
It was as though someone had blown a whistle and all at once all of them screamed and raised their arms like lunatics. They placed themselves in front of our vehicles, they'd drive up with their cars and throw a truck at us, a car at us.
We had expected to meet resistance from the very beginning. But what we did not foresee was the reaction of these people ... who began to arrive in a group, from all over the place .... They all were carrying iron rods, with a threatening attitude, and with zero respect for our mission ....
In hindsight, I think that the outcome if we had captured him on that occasion, would not have produced positive results. There were weapons. The residents of Villa Baviera were pointing them at us from their nearby houses - fire arms, with telescopic ranges. I saw them.
There were two types of colonists: those who had the right to express themselves freely, or relatively freely, and another group who were true slaves, robots .... [It was] a kind of modern slavery.
These were people who were coarsely dressed. In the Chilean countryside the peasants in the old days used to work in very rustic shoes which had soles made out of rubber from tyres tied with leather straps. These are called ojotas. And I said, these are German peasants, and they used that type of shoe, their hands were rough from hard labour. And I would go in early in the morning and leave late at night and they were still working. They had no limits to their working hours. And there were others who enjoyed the privileges that Schaefer gave them.
We found a series of electronic communication devices ... eavesdropping and observation devices. One is used to seeing these things in a police station, in military barracks, in intelligence organisations .... [But] in a charity organisation that is supposed to provide medical care for the community, education, these sophisticated means of detection seemed out of place.
Our personnel at one point tried to enter the Colony from the rear, from the Andes Mountains, in an attempt to gain the element of surprise, but that too, was impossible. They were detected by the motion sensors that were activated when their horses passed through a certain area.
You ask yourself: Why does a Beneficial Society have so many devices to prevent people from leaving, or from entering? But later, after learning of the secrets in Vila Baviera, we were able to understand that it was not only to prevent third parties from entering ... but also to prevent the escape of the people who were inside ....
The trees were like props, trees that you'd expect to see in a spy movie or television studio. Inside they had devices .... A barb wire fence would have a camera that could film anyone who approached Villa Baviera .... At one corner there was a building that was supposed to look like a religious temple, but in fact it had absolutely nothing to do with a temple. In one of our searches we looked inside and saw that instead of a temple it was a storage place for all types of devices used to detect people.
The first time that we went into Villa Baviera we discovered that there was a lagoon with boats .... Then later we found out that the bottom of that lagoon was the hiding place for the weapons. In other words, this lagoon was as an extraordinary diversion, because how would we ever have discovered that there were weapons at the bottom of it? We are talking about a large amount of combat weapons .... We aren't talking about relics or weapons that are put on display .... We're talking about weapons of war ....
Numerous people stated that weapons were made there. And in addition to manufacturing weapons, there were also weapons there that came from the Chilean armed forces. I don't know why they were brought there, I can't establish the motive ....
There was always a cloud surrounding the influence, the power of Villa Baviera in this country .... Schaefer had a stockpile of information that is characteristic of the archives of intelligence organisations. So ... a group of German citizens could move around without generating any type of suspicion, they could spy, observe, tap phones and intercept radio communications. In other words, it was a real intelligence apparatus at his disposal. As simple as that.
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