WHEN President Obama meets today with Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet, I hope he will demand an accounting on the fate of my brother, Professor Boris Weisfeiler. He is the one US citizen among 1,100 Chileans who disappeared at the hands of the Pinochet regime. During the past couple of months, I have repeatedly asked US government officials to bring the issue of Boris’s disappearance to the attention of Bachelet - to no avail. The Obama administration has not addressed the critical issue needed to find this US citizen - the FBI’s assistance in the Chilean investigation. Squandering multiple opportunities to make Chilean officials aware of this major human rights case involving the fate of a US citizen is a failure of foreign policy and unacceptable.
My brother was a mathematics professor at the Pennsylvania State University. He was also an avid hiker who loved to travel around the world. He went to Chile during his 1984-’85 school winter break. He disappeared there without a trace.
The declassified US documents I have obtained indicate he was detained by the Chilean military while hiking near the Nuble River on Jan. 4, 1985.
The Pinochet regime said my brother drowned while crossing the river - an explanation that State Department investigators and the Chilean judge currently investigating his disappearance have discounted.
In January 2000, I officially requested a legal investigation by the Chilean courts. To this day, however, I have not been able to find out what happened to Boris; I live in the dark about his fate. Some of the declassified US documents suggested he was tortured and might have survived in captivity for a number of years. There is no confirmation of Boris’s death.
The State Department has claimed that this case is a top human rights priority for the United States, but if it were we would have some answers almost a quarter of century after Boris vanished. US resources should be devoted to finding out what happened to him and when.
The US embassy in Santiago has repeatedly offered the Chilean government FBI assistance; this offer was reiterated in March in a formal diplomatic note. However, there has been no response from the Chilean government.
The Chilean judge has refused to allow the FBI to actively collaborate in the investigation. Bachelet has never requested FBI support for Chilean government agencies that could be involved in investigating this case.
Both Senator Edward Kennedy and Representative Barney Frank recently wrote a letter to Obama urging him to do everything possible during today’s meeting with Bachelet to change the approach of the investigation. “We believe the involvement of the FBI, while being necessarily limited to its extent by both American and Chilean law, can bring additional resources to the effort to determine what happened to Mr. Weisfeiler,’’ they wrote.
My hope is that Obama will ask Bachelet for her full cooperation in advancing the investigation. My hope is that he will say, “A US citizen has been disappeared for 25 years. Please help us, and his family, find him.’’
Olga Weisfeiler lives in Boston.