Chilean police at Colonia Dignidad gate, May 1997.
Chilean national police stand guard at the gates of Colonia Dignidad — now called "Villa Baviera" — in late May 1997.
(source: Washington Post)

by John Dee

On May 19, 1997 a task force of Chilean police reinforced by helicopters and a convoy of vans and trucks converged on the heavily guarded gates of a religious community in the foothills of the Andes mountains. About 200 miles south of Santiago, the vast settlement of ethnic Germans is best known by the name Colonia Dignidad (Dignity Colony).

Wanted by police is Colonia Dignidad's founder and spiritual leader, 76 year old Paul Schaefer. He is accused of sexually abusing at least five Chilean boys who attended a boarding school which operates on colony grounds. The children, aged eight to 12, say they were bathed by Herr Schaefer, drugged, smeared with disinfectant, and then raped. Doctors have confirmed their injuries. Hundreds of children have passed through the school, and the true scale of abuse remains unclear.[1].

Paul Schaefer
Paul Schaefer, 76-year-old German patriarch of Colonia Dignidad.
(source: Chilean police photo)
Colonia Dignidad is one of the most feared and mysterious places in South America. Presenting itself as a religious "model farm" devoted to a puritanical life of hard work, the hidden truth is closer to that of a concentration camp. It is a place where hooded people have been brought to die agonizing deaths by remote control in underground torture chambers; where fugitive Nazis have lived in secluded comfort; where unspeakable experiments are conducted in its private hospital.

Once a virtual extraterritorial power enjoying privileges and immunities usually reserved for diplomats [2]., in more recent years Colonia Dignidad has been beseiged by a series of legal challenges attacking its very right to exist. A senior Chilean judge, Hernan Gonzalez, has been appointed to deal with some 40 new investigations into the colony's affairs, including allegations of kidnapping, illegal adoption and sexual abuse. The residents deny everything, but four members surrendered to police to face charges of illegal detention of a child and obstruction of justice. (All were released on bail.) Chilean President Eduardo Frei himself has publicly called for La Colonia to be shut down [3].

Officially the confrontation is not a raid but a "visual inspection" [4].. After negotiations, police have been permitted to make a few inspections of the grounds but have yet to turn up Schaefer. Residents claim he hasn't been there in seven months, but won't say where he is [5].

When police first arrived, huge bonfires were lit and church bells pealed a frantic alarm. At the remote-controlled gates, La Colonia's black shirted security force attacked a German TV crew, smashing their camera and giving one man a concussion [6].

The stand off, which continues as Lumpen goes to press [June 1997], could spell the end of Colonia Dignidad. But the incident has brought world attention to one of the most bizarre and disturbing stories in the long troubled history of South America.


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Copyright 1997, 1998 John Dee and the Invisible College. All rights reserved.