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(April 20, 2006) Former members of Colonia Dignidad left a letter Tuesday at La Moneda Palace addressed to President Michelle Bachelet, acknowledging human rights crimes that occurred in the colony before, during, and after the Pinochet era.

The three-and-a-half-page letter was delivered by Susanne Schreiber and Martin Matthusen and gave a detailed explanation about events in the German settlement in southern Chile. It said that colony leader Paul Schäfer was responsible for carrying out the human rights violations that occurred at Colonia Dignidad for over 40 years, and for serial child abuse.

Colonia Dignidad was a right-wing religious compound settled by German immigrants in 1961 near Parral, in southern Chile. Its leader, Schäfer, had fled German justice, accused of pedophilia. But Schäfer’s close relationship with right wing Chilean political leaders, especially after Pinochet’s rise to power, prevented any further investigation into these crimes (ST Jan. 11, 2006).

Former members who still live in the colony wanted to clear the air about their behavior, especially since Schäfer was finally brought to justice and imprisoned in Argentina more than a year ago on March 10, 2005 after seven years on the run from Chilean courts (ST Mar. 11, 2005).

The letter explained how the colony was created and how Schäfer rose to power. “In order for him to gain absolute power of the colony, we were forced to remove ourselves from the outside world and to cut all ties from our families who remained in Germany,” the letter said.

Children born into the colony were separated from their parents at birth, and so colony members had no way of knowing if their children were victims of sexual abuse. “Among the children, our own children, Schäfer was the ultimate authority,” the letter explained. “He picked his victims in such a way that none of the adults would ever have known about his sexual abuses.”

The letter also explained Schäfer’s brainwashing techniques.

“Some of us became his slaves, robots who just obeyed his orders and worked without a schedule or any breaks,” read the letter. It further explained that if Schäfer’s orders were not obeyed, members were subject to severe punishment, including “electric shock, tranquilizers and isolation treatment, sometimes for long periods of time.”

The former colonists said they now understand the seriousness of the crimes committed in Colonia Dignidad and are ready to collaborate with the judicial system and to be pardoned for their mistakes: “We realized that we had committed serious crimes. We want to make the effort to say how sorry we are and to reintegrate into society.”

The former colony members may find forgiveness difficult to come by. Attorney Hernán Fernández, who represents the victims sexually abused by Schäfer, has his doubts. “There is a risk that those that carried out the crimes might be confused with the real victims,” he said. “People won’t forget that the crimes continued at Colonia Dignidad even after Schäfer escaped to Argentina.”

Others who will be a long time forgiving include the family members of opponents to the Pinochet military regime who were last seen alive in Colonia Dignidad, and the family of Boris Weisfeiler, the U.S. mathematics professor taken there in 1985 and not seen since.

By Jen Sotolongo (

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