Despite evidence that Weisfeiler - a University of
Pennsylvania mathematics professor vacationing in Chile - was arrested
by Augusto Pinochet’s military and brought to a torture center, his
case has yet to be declared a human rights violation by Chile’s courts
Ms. Weisfeiler told The Santiago Times over the
weekend that within the past four months each of the United States’
foremost three executives – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice
President Joe Biden, and President Barack Obama – has met with Chilean
President Michelle Bachelet, yet none expressed concern about the
Weisfeiler case to Bachelet.
Ms. Weisfeiler attributed the
investigation’s lack of progress to a failure in Chile’s judicial
system and has been counting on U.S. aid to discover what happened to
her brother, the sole U.S. citizen to disappear in Chile during the
Pinochet era. During the 17-year Pinochet regime more than 1,100
individuals were “disappeared” by state security forces fighting
“I want the United States to push Chile’s
government to authorize FBI participation in the investigation, and to
reclassify her brother’s case as an acknowledged human rights
violation,” said Ms. Weisfeiler.
Ms. Weisfeiler said, however,
that the new U.S. administration has let her down. She, with the help
of U.S. Congressman Barney Frank and U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy,
repeatedly asked the U.S. executives to press Bachelet into concrete
action in the investigation of her brother’s disappearance – all to no
“Mr. President Obama, I am pleading to you to do
everything possible during your upcoming June meeting with President
Bachelet to change the approach to the investigation of the Weisfeiler
case,” wrote Ms. Weisfeiler in her June 2 letter to Obama. “Just a few
words from you could lead to the discovery of my brother’s fate.”
Weisfeiler learned from Chilean press members at Obama’s June 23
meeting with Bachelet in Washington D.C., however, that the U.S.
president did not bring up the subject of her brother’s investigation.
did Vice-President Biden during his meeting with Bachelet at the April
27 Progressive Governance Conference in Chile, despite his access to a
full brief on the Weisfeiler case prepared for him by the U.S. embassy
Ms. Weisfeiler worries that as more time passes,
the investigation into her brother’s disappearance will become
increasingly more difficult. This January will mark the 25th
anniversary of the avid outdoorsman’s disappearance while on a hiking
trip near the Argentine border in southern Chile. Pinochet-era
authorities concluded in a cursory investigation that the 43-year-old
U.S. citizen had drowned in the Ñuble River, Region XIII.
But U.S. documents, held as classified until 2000, told a different story.
years after Weisfeiler’s disappearance, an informant known only as
“Daniel” told U.S. embassy officials that he had been a member of a
military patrol that arrested Weisfeiler in 1985 and brought him to
Colonia Dignidad, a secretive German colony founded in the 1960s by
former Nazi Paul Schafer and used as a torture center during the
The U.S. government, however, withheld that
information from Chile’s 1990-1993 Truth and Reconciliation Commission,
created to investigate the human rights crimes committed during the
military dictatorship. Because of the U.S. government’s refusal to
disclose the documents, Boris Weisfeiler was the only one of Chile’s
more than 1,100 disappeared not classified as a human rights victim by
Seventeen years later, and nine years after the
U.S. government declassified the documents alleging Weisfeiler’s arrest
and internment in Colonia Dignidad, Chile’s courts have still not
reclassified his case as a human right’s violation.
Weisfeiler had hope for forward movement in 2008, when a bill to
establish a Human Rights Institute, which would accept new applications
for human rights cases, passed Chile’s Chamber of Deputies. But after
local human rights groups rejected the proposed Institute because it
would not have the power to press legal charges against human rights
violators, President Bachelet withdrew the bill from Chile’s
legislature (ST, Sept. 1, 2008). Despite Bachelet’s stated commitment
to amending the bill and creating the Human Rights Institute, no
further progress has been made.
Now, Ms. Weisfeiler sees
the involvement of the FBI as her only hope in finding justice in her
brother’s case, which she had reopened to judicial investigation in
Chile in 2000. Presiding Judge Jorge Zepeda, however, has so far
refused to give the FBI legal authority in the investigation and
Bachelet’s government has neglected to request FBI assistance in the
case, despite Ms. Weisfeiler’s repeated appeals.
will not progress until the U.S. government comes forward with a strong
statement requesting immediate action,” Ms. Weisfeiler told The
Santiago Times in April 2009. Yet each of the United States’ top three
executives failed to even mention the Weisfeiler case to Bachelet – a
worrisome lack of commitment from the new administration, said Ms.
Ms. Weisfeiler said she does not put any hope in
Paul Schafer ever revealing information on her brother’s case. The
87-years-old founder of Colonia Dignidad was hospitalized in critical
condition at the beginning of July. He was sentenced to 20 years in
jail in 2006 for the sexual abuse of minors, arms trafficking, and
human rights crimes.
“Paul Schafer has all the comforts
he needs,” said Ms. Weisfeiler. “He has food, a comfortable prison
room, and constant medical attention. He is not going to reveal
Prison for human rights violators does not compare to
the prison experienced by those awaiting justice for the crimes
committed against their loved ones, said Ms. Weisfeiler.
been nearly 25 years of torture for me and my family,” she said. “I
come back to Chile every year, but I can’t enjoy it. I know how
beautiful this country is, but until justice comes in the case of my
brother, I am a prisoner here.” By Samuel Crihfield