Published with the generous permission of Ruth Ben-Ghiat. Read all of her outstanding writing in her Lucid newsletter.
By Ruth Ben-Ghiat
What happened to Fascist ideologies and terror tactics after the end of the National Socialist and Italian Fascist regimes in 1945? Where did Fascists on the run from justice take refuge? Argentina may come to mind, given it was a destination for Final Solution planner Adolf Eichmann and doctor Josef Mengele. The Spanish dictatorship of Francisco Franco (1939-1975) also harbored neo-Nazis and neo-Fascists: some of them worked for the Spanish secret police. The Italian Social Movement party (MSI), which was founded in Italy in 1946 to keep Fascism alive as a political force, had an office in Madrid.
When Franco died in 1975, the U.S.-backed Chilean dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) became the next haven for individuals such as Nazi Walter Rauff (a former SS official who supervised the development of vans that gassed Jews) and Italian neo-Fascist terrorist Stefano Delle Chiaie. The regime's culture of violence and Chile’s prominence in transnational networks of terror designed to defeat Marxism make it a case study of the continuance of Fascist causes and methods during the Cold War.
Pinochet justified the right-wing counter-revolution unleashed by the Sept. 11, 1973 coup as a moral as well as political necessity. At his first press conference, held ten days after the coup, he used language that recalled Fascist biopolitics to justify the prolongation of the state of emergency his junta had declared. “Our aim is to normalize and heal the country. It’s like when you amputate the arm of a sick person, it’s hard to predict how long they will take to recover.”
This "healing" of Chilean society would lead to the torture of thousands of people, and soon torture became state policy. As in the Fascist regimes that preceded it, violence fueled the actions of the government and took on a logic and rationale of its own.
Cold War national security doctrines saw fighting Communism as a transnational endeavor. Operation Condor, the U.S.-assisted intelligence, policing, and terror consortium set up by Pinochet among Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile in the mid-1970s, put this credo into practice (Ecuador and Peru joined later). Victims of torture reported that Brazilians were often present to train Chilean officials, Brazil's right-wing junta having come to power by coup in 1964.
The School of the Americas also instructed military from right-wing juntas in torture and psychological warfare tactics, among them Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko, a Chilean military official and agent of the Chilean secret police (DINA). In 1973, he tortured S., a 23-year-old leftist student. As S. told me when I interviewed him in Santiago in 2018, Krassnoff showed S. how “states of exception can be normalized in people,” creating individuals who see the violence they inflict as righteous and purifying.
The neo-Nazis and neo-Fascists who found a safe space in Pinochet's Chile made their own contributions to the culture of counterinsurgency violence. Pinochet hired the Italian terrorist Delle Chiaie when he came to Spain for Franco's funeral. Delle Chiaie was a member of the MSI and then founded the neo-Fascist organization Avanguardia Nazionale. He had fled to Spain to avoid arrest for bombings and other terrorist operations in Italy. In Chile, he worked on psychological warfare projects and participated in operations abroad, including the 1975 attempt to murder the exiled Chilean Christian Democrat politician and regime critic Bernardo Leighton.
Neo-Nazis supported by Pinochet integrated easily into Chile due to its long-established German community. The neo-Nazi compound Colonia Dignidad, founded in 1961 by Paul Schäfer, who collaborated with DINA, became a torture site during the Pinochet years and also hosted an Army chemical weapons laboratory. The long relationship between the German and Chilean militaries also helped with recruiting Germans for terror and torture activities in Chile.
So did the presences of Rauff, who moved to Chile in 1958 and became a DINA agent, and former SS officer Otto Skorzeny. These Nazi luminaries connected with sympathizers within the German Chilean community, passing on their wisdom about repression to a new generation of democracy’s enemies. Those included Ingrid Olderock, a DINA torturer born in Chile to German immigrants and an admirer of sadistic Auschwitz-Birkenau guard Irma Grese. Olderock, a Carabinera, headed DINA’s female agent division. Her victims remember her German shepherd vividly.
Today there are many with links to some aspect of this terrible history who hold up the Pinochet regime as a positive force. The German-born father of far-right Chilean presidential contender José Antonio Kast, who narrowly lost the 2021 election to progressive Gabriel Boric, was a member of the Nazi Party. Kast is an open supporter of the Pinochet regime, and his brother served as its central bank president.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who served in the Army, also admires Pinochet and supports the Brazilian dictatorship. And it is alarming that individuals formed by the same MSI that originally produced Delle Chiaie now govern Italy: Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni was a hard-core MSI militant for many years and head of its youth organization.