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Previously "a state within a state," Colonia Dignidad now "belongs to Chile"


Courts Takes Control of German Colony Enclave

(August 29, 2005) Chilean court officials, backed by a strong show of police force, took control Friday morning of Colonia Dignidad, a German community near the southern Chile community of Parral that had flouted Chilean law for more than 40 years and which is believed to have been an important torture center during the 17-year Pinochet dictatorship.

There was no resistance to the takeover, and the court-appointed attorney Hernán Chadwick will now administer all the organization’s possessions.

“Before, it was a state within a state,” said Clara Szczaranski, president of the State Defense Council (CDC), who was on hand Friday to personally advance the proceedings ordered by Parral Judge Jimena Pérez. “Today it belongs to Chile.”

Chadwick will administer not only the agricultural lands encompassed by the 15,000 hectare estate, but also a restaurant, a school, a hospital and five different businesses controlled by the organization’s holding company: Cerro Florida Ltda., Abratec S.A., Agripalma S.A., Bardana S.A., and Cinoglosa S.A.

The companies owned by the holding will now have to comply with all Chilean labor and tax laws and, for the first time ever, there will be a census taken at the community to determine the number of Chilean and German residents living there.

Friday’s legal intervention of Colonia Dignidad appears to mark the beginning of the final chapter of a drawn-out and surreal story that goes back to the early 1960s, when the organization’s founder, Paul Schäfer, first came to Chile. Schäfer, a German evangelical with a Nazi background, said his intention was to start a charitable foundation to provide hospital and health services as well as schooling to the local Chilean peasantry.

In fact, he was wanted on pedophilia charges back in Germany and used his Chilean foundation as a cover for serial child abuse that went on for decades.

Making optimal use of his German roots, hard work, a strong alliance with conservative rural Chilean oligarchs and the free labor provided by community members, Schäfer eventually secured vast land holdings and a considerable fortune for himself and the small group of hierarchs who helped him control the community.

Following the 1973 military coup, Schäfer was quick to offer his community’s services to Chile’s secret police, and an unknown number of political prisoners were transferred to Colonia Dignidad for torture and, it is suspected, extermination.

In 1985, a vacationing U.S. academic, Boris Weisfeiler, is believed to have been turned over to the German compound after being picked up by a Chilean Army squad while camping at a nearby river. Weisfeiler’s fate is still unknown.

When democracy was restored to Chile in 1990, newly elected president Patricio Aylwin immediately stripped Colonia Dignidad of its charitable status and began an investigation into its activities.

Although the German colony immediately reconstituted itself under the name Villa Baviera, the countdown to its death knell had begun. Schäfer was ultimately indicted for child abuse and the center-left Concertación government led a series of raids on the German colony in an unsuccessful effort to locate its leader.

Schäfer was believed to be hiding out in one of the compound’s many hidden, underground chambers, but he had apparently fled the community to Argentina. The raids on the German compound were protested by Chile’s most important rightist political party, the Independent Democratic Union (UDI).

In November, 2004, Paul Schäfer was convicted in absentia by a Chilean court for sexually abusing 26 minors. An attorney working on the case averred that during the four decades that Schäfer led the colony at least 10,000 young boys were abused by the patriarch. .

On March 10, 2005, Schäfer, 83, was captured in Argentina and two days later deported to Chile, where he remains jailed to this day (ST, March 11). His top lieutenants, including hospital director Dr. Hartmut Hopp, were arrested last May and charged with human rights crimes.

The Colonia Dignidad saga continues, with various legal proceedings now under way.

The investigation into past human rights abuses is led by Judge Jorge Zepeda, who is now analyzing a stash of some 43,000 files recently uncovered at the German colony, together with the remains of buried automobiles that had once belonged to disappeared leftist opponents to the Pinochet regime.

The files are written in various languages – English, German, and Spanish – and some are in various stages of decay (caused by humidity), meaning that the effort to decipher their content has been painstaking and slow. Still, all indications suggest that the files will shed light on the fate of Chilean leftists who were sent to the German colony in the 1970s, and the fate of U.S. mathematician Boris Weisfeiler.

By Steve Anderson (

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