The Latinamerica Press




Head of Colonia Dignidad captured 

Paul Schäfer

Pascale Bonnefoy.  Mar 24, 2005

Paul Schäfer could get long prison sentence for sexual abuse and human rights violations.

After eight years as a fugitive, the former leader of Colonia Dignidad, Paul Schäfer, was arrested March 10 in Argentina. The 83-year-old Schäfer was expelled to Chile by the government of President Néstor Kirchner and will face 26 counts of sexual abuse and rape of minors, kidnapping and disappearance of dozen of prisoners.

Schäfer fled to Argentina in late 1996 with his adopted daughter, his wife, a nurse and three bodyguards

Colonia Dignidad, an apparently peaceful German agricultural community in southern
Chile, was founded by Schäfer in 1961 after he fled Germany, where he was also investigated for sexual abuse of minors in the orphanage he ran.

Schäfer arrived in
Chile as a religious minister responsible for dozens of compatriots but he subjected them to forced labor, punishments, abuses and psychological abuse, completely isolated and barred from leaving the property; women and men lived separately and children were brought up in separate homes, without their families. Schäfer abused all of the male children in the community, witnesses said..

Torture center

Due to its ideological sympathy with local right-wing and nationalist groups and military officials, after the military coup by former president Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), Colonia Dignidad offered its installations to the Directorate of National Intelligence (DINA), the repressive organ of the dictatorship, to train its agents and hold and torture more than 100 political prisoners who were transferred there from different parts of the country. Most of them disappeared but the survivors have succeeded in providing detailed testimonies of what happened in Colonia Dignidad and the torture that they endured.

The former head of security of Colonia Dignidad, Gerhard Mücke, was the first member of the colony charged with a human rights crime: the disappearance in 1974 of Álvaro Vallejos Villagrán, a militant of the Leftist Revolutionary Movement (MIR) - the case cited in issuing the international arrest order against Schäfer. Nevertheless, Mücke and 21 others -12 of them from the top hierarchy of Colonia Dignidad- in November were convicted and sentenced for covering up and being accomplices of the sexual abuses by Schäfer.

In his first appearance in court, Schäfer was interrogated and put face to face with former DINA agents and political prisoners. He denied everything, said he could not remember and blamed the military saying "they asked me to use Colonia Dignidad for their training."

Changes in Colonia Dignidad

No one expected Schäfer to acknowledge his responsibility. However, inside Colonia Dignidad, which is now called Villa Baviera, things have changed: in addition to the new freedoms allowed, there is a new attitude among the Colonia's leadership installed after Schäfer's escape. The day the community learned of his arrest, the news was announced over the loudspeakers.

Michael Müller, provisional president of Colonia Dignidad, came to the entry gate of the community -located 40 kms (24 miles) east of Parral near the Argentine border- and told reporters, without hiding his satisfaction, that the members of the community felt relieved.

"Schäfer's attitude brought innumerable conflicts that have caused our community pain during its existence. I fear that this is the moment of justice," he said.

Days later, Müller went a little further. Dozens of families of Chileans who disappeared during the dictatorship had arrived at the entrance with banners and posters, but this time the members of the colony did not fire tear gas or send dogs after them. They spoke to each other calmly and for the first time the head of the former Colonia Dignidad acknowledged that human rights violations took place inside during the military dictatorship.

"I found out through the Valech Report about the accusations against us," Müller said, referring to a report issued in November named after Monsignor Sergio Valech, who led the Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture. "I am convinced that the things are true," he added. "I am willing to turn the page on everything that happened in the past and to cooperate with you and with the justice system."

Families asking for the truth

In an unprecedented move, Mercedes Fernández, mother of one of the disappeared, shook Müller's hand.

"I told him that we hoped he would tell the truth now, that he would tell us where our family members are. He thought a long time before responding. And he said 'alright'. But so many years have passed one begins to lose faith in people," said Fernández.

Fernández, 75, is the mother of Luis Aguayo Fernández, who was detained in Parral -some 400 km (240 miles) south of
Santiago- on Sept. 12, 1973 and taken a few days later to Colonia Dignidad with four other young men. It is estimated that 48 of the disappeared in the zone of Parral between September and November 1973 ended up in the German enclave.

Schäfer will face a long series of interrogations by eight judges who are investigating him for abuse of minors, kidnapping and disappearance of the Communist Party central committee, socialist deputy Carlos Lorca and MIR militant Vallejos Villagrán. He is also charged with the disappearance of
US tourist Boris Weisfeiler in 1985, arrested by a military patrol and sent to Colonia Dignidad.

On March 17, Judge Joaquin Billard charged him with the kidnapping of Vallejos Villagrán.

"The arrest of Schäfer is a huge step forward, although he will most likely never provide any useful information. But his arrest brought enormous attention to the issues surrounding Colonia Dignidad, and the new leaders, or even resident witnesses, may start talking," said Olga Weisfeiler, sister of Boris Weisfeiler.