|COLONIA DIGNIDAD: CHILE'S COLONY OF TERROR by John Dee|
Despite such damning international attention, Colonia Dignidad continued to operate largely unmolested, thanks to friends like Pinochet and the Catholic Church in Chile. In 1984 it used its influence to successfully bury the case of Boris Weisfeiler, a Moscow-born US citizen whose disappearance while hiking near La Colonia became an international incident .
Even though the fascist international thrived throughout South America, by the late '80s, as Pinochet's iron grip on Chile began to falter, so too did things begin to sour for La Colonia. In November 1987 public outcry prompted the West German ambassador and the the chief consular officer to visit the colony. They reported the members did not seem "able to speak to them freely." A follow-up inspection a month later was blocked from visiting by a Chilean court order hastily obtained by Schaefer .
In 1988 Stern published the previously repressed testimony of Hugo Baar and the Packmoors. Then La Colonia's own suit against Amnesty International came back to haunt it when the German judge got the Chilean courts to order they be allowed an inspection. A commission of German officials, members of Amnesty and lawyers identified four underground rooms described by DINA torture victims, but was unable to locate a 24 year old man who had been returned to the colony after escaping a month prior .
In 1990 Patricio Alwyn became the first civilian president of Chile in 17 years. Within months he ordered an investigation of Colonia Dignidad or "Villa Baviera" as it now called itself. This led to a 1991 decree revoking its status as a charitable organization. La Colonia was also charged with violating labor, tax and customs laws . Colonia Dignidad was ordered closed.
Schaefer countered with an impressive propaganda effort. The right wing newspaper La Mercuria published a lavish spread, describing an idyllic mountain farm where guests are serenaded with Bavarian folk singing . In an unprecedented move, the cameras of the (very sympathetic) Catholic University TV news program were even allowed in, broadcasting bucolic scenes of children playing and smiling industrious members working in the colony's dairy and bakery .
A long legal battle culminated in 1994 when the Supreme Court upheld the decree closing La Colonia. This prompted a hunger strike by 53 members, which ended only after right wing legislators met with them and promised to do all they could to keep the school and hospital open. (Coincidentally, these are the experimental and indoctrinational wings of the Society.) But new calls for action against La Colonia kept coming from an increasing international chorus .
Finally, the five rape and sexual abuse charges were filed against Schaefer. For many years young victims and their parents had been too scared to testify, but things were definitely changing. Following a series of unprecedented legal moves, in May 1995 Chilean riot police fought with members when they moved in to padlock the doors of the now illegal hospital. But La Colonia still held enough cards to get it reopened a month later .
In May of this year , Schaefer issued a blistering statement from hiding saying he feared for his life if he surrendered and that he believed he could not get a fair trial in Chile. His team of lawyers quit after he issued the statement, telling reporters they had tried to persuade him to surrender peacefully .
As June 1997 begins, the inhabitants of "Villa Baviera " are conducting candlelit vigils while the police stand literally at the gate .
According to Interior Minister Carlos Figueroa, the arrest order for Schaefer "calls for the possibility of proceeding to raiding the place and forcing open its locks in case that's necessary." All he has to do is give the command though whether he will remains a matter of speculation. Santiago news reports have just revealed that La Colonia has been buying land in Paraguay and Brazil, where it can reestablish itself if things finally come apart in Chile ..
Early in the stand off a group of old women were sent to the gates to talk to reporters. "We came to Chile for peace, and we don't know why we are being subjected to this," said one in thick German. "It is so unfair." Meanwhile, winter is advancing in the Andean foothills of Parral.
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