How could a former agent of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s notorious secret police, who is facing charges of kidnapping and forced disappearances and whose bail conditions prohibited them from leaving Chile, now be living in Australia?
This is the question many have asked after the recent broadcast on SBS Radio of an interview with former National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) agent Adriana Rivas.
In the interview, Rivas says she began working at DINA in 1974.
DINA was set up the previous year just two months after a violent coup overthrew leftist president Salvador Allende.
Rivas served with DINA’s Lautaro Brigade, which provided security to former head of DINA Colonel Manuel Contreras.
Contreras is serving 25 consecutive sentences totalling 289 years in prison after being found guilty of kidnappings, forced disappearances and assassinations.
The Lautaro Brigade was later given the mission of wiping out the Chilean Communist Party.
Rivas first came to Australia in 1978 and frequently travelled between the two countries. While visiting Chile in 2006, she was arrested for her alleged involvement in an operation carried out by the Lautaro Brigade against the Communist Party in 1976.
Despite her bail conditions prohibiting her from leaving the country, she came back to Australia in 2010, where she remains today.
While denying all charges against her, and stating she does not approve of torture, Rivas told SBS such actions where necessary at the time. “They had to break the people – it has happened all over the world, not only in Chile.”
The fact she has travelled between the two countries for such an extended period of time, and was able to re-enter Australia despite facing charges in Chile, has led some to ask whether she continued to work for the dictatorship here in Australia, and if the Australian government is providing her safe haven.
There is no evidence to suggest this, but some have noted that past Australian governments have allowed those responsible for acts of state terrorism during Pinochet’s regime to seek refuge here.
Victor Marrillanca, who fled from the Pinochet dictatorship in 1975 and is a long-time broadcaster for Spanish community radio in Canberra, told SBS: “It’s well known that members of the secret police and the secret services of Chile were coming to Australia.
“We stopped two cases, as we found out in time that two members of the secret police in Chile were coming to Australia. They had the tickets, they had everything ready.
“We made enquires in Australia and Chile and we met with [then-minister for immigration under the Hawke/Keating government] Gerry Hand, and he put a stop to the two cases … There are lot of cases that we’d let the authorities and also the Australian press know about — people from the Chilean secret police arriving in Australia, posing as refugees and Australia accepting them.”
Mark Aarons, journalist and author of War Criminals Welcome: Australia, a Sanctuary for War Criminals Since 1945, told SBS he believes it was not by chance that some of these criminals made it into Australia.
“I had relatively good contacts in old spy circles and some of them were absolutely adamant that some of the people with whom ASIS, in particular, had been involved in the early 1970s period — the period between the election of Allende and the coup — had been resettled here in quite a deliberate way and had been utilised for intelligence purposes, mostly gathering information on the local Chilean community.”
It’s time for the Australian government to come clean, not only on its role in the coup against Allende, but the possible role of successive Australian governments and its intelligence services in providing safe haven for those responsible for carrying out state terrorism in Chile.