A former agent of Chile’s National Information Office (Central Nacional de Informaciones – CNI) attempted to send a letter to President Sebastián Piñera that offered his help so that former president Michelle Bachelet would not return to the presidency. In May 2011, Álvaro Corbalán, tried to smuggle the ten-page letter out of Punta Peuco, the prison where he is detained for life for human rights crimes committed under the Pinochet dictatorship. It was intercepted by Gendarmerie personnel and made available to the Center for Journalistic Investigation (Centro de Investigación Periodística – CIPER). This letter has recently become available to the public. In the letter, Corbalán attempted to discredit Bachelet, as well as high-ranking officials of the Gendarmerie, and he said that were his help accepted, he would quash dissent in the Araucanía (Mapuche) and other “anarchist” communities. Piñera denies knowing about or having interest in the document.
Corbalán is currently serving a life sentence for the assassination of four leftist militants in the mid-1980s, as well as for his role in Operation Albania in 1987, in which he and other CNI agents detained and assassinated twelve members of the militant leftist group Frente Patriótico Manuel Rodríguez (Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front – FPMR) and staged their bodies to make it appear as though they had died in a shootout with the CNI.
In 1977, The CNI replaced Pinochet’s secret police, the National Intelligence Administration (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional – DINA), mainly because of international pressure to dissolve the DINA and replace it with a more conventional intelligence agency. Yet the CNI continued the horrific work of political violence and repression against leftist militants and their families, union leaders, and the urban poor (whose neighborhoods they considered a hotbed of Marxism).
Now, there are 249 former agents of the dictatorship who perpetrated these acts that are convicted, and 177 of them have received conditional or monitored release. Only 64 remain imprisoned, and 49 of them in the special facility of Punta Peuco. And some of them have reached out to Piñera for favors in return for their services, since they did not have much success with the Concertación. In Punta Peuco, Corbalán coordinated most of his meetings through visits to the infirmary, where he managed to spend a lot of time and was allowed telephone use and visitors every day at unrestricted times . Through information he gathered, he produced the 10-page document to send to Piñera.
The document is on the one hand pathetic and bombastic—clearly the product of what George Bailey would have called a “warped, frustrated old man.” It even includes a hymn to be sung by the pop artist Patricia Maldonada in support of Piñera and the patria. But on the other hand, it is quite disturbing. It implicitly threatens violence against Mapuche communities and any other community Corbalán considers to be anarchist. We could give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant to dialogue with those communities, but this is a man who tortured and murdered for a living, and there was no mention of rational conversation with the communities in the document. In fact, he talked of “disarming” the communities where the police had been unsuccessful.
Corbalán also used his resources to launch a smear campaign against Michelle Bachelet—pouncing on her former activity in the FPMR—and against high-ranking officials. One of the special memoranda attached at the end of the document concerns a chaplain, but it has not been discussed at length in news reports I have seen. Perhaps those who have read the document do not know what to think about it. Corbalán accuses the chaplain of being a homosexual and of “preferring young males.” This particular priest, coincidentally, helped leftists during the dictatorship and had safe houses for people who had been released from political imprisonment. According to Corbalán, he committed homosexual acts with one of the men living there. He also, according to Corbalán, “has absolute aversion for those in uniform in general and especially those who are imprisoned.”
Obviously, Corbalán used the familiar narrative of homosexual and pedophilic priests (which are not the same thing, just to be clear) to discredit a chaplain working for the state who had helped political prisoners under the dictatorship. The military dictatorship persecuted homosexuals on the basis that they were “antisocials,” along with leftists, beggars, alcoholics, drug addicts, street vendors, “delinquents,” and the jobless. So although any sort of homophobia is certainly dangerous, it is even more so when considered in this context. It seems to be more that just your average smear campaign.
It remains to be seen what will happen now that the letter is public knowledge. Will it seriously affect the right’s success come election time? I suppose it depends on how much Piñera distances himself from the pinochetistas. But at the same time, his popularity is so low right now that hopefully Álvaro Corbalán’s worst nightmare will come true and Piñera won’t be re-elected in any case.