By Charlotte Karrlsson-Willis
Santiago Times, May 20, 2014
President Michelle Bachelet announced the appointment of Sinclair last week, listing his education at the Universidad de Santiago and the Universidad de Belgrano in Argentina as well as his previous posts as Chile’s ambassador to Indonesia and as a staff member at the embassies in the United States and Argentina as his credentials for the job. Excluded from that background information, however, is the role he played during Chile’s darkest years.
Activists and organizations including the Group for Relatives of the Disappeared (AFDD), the Group for Relatives of Politically Executed (AFEP), the Villa Grimaldi Park for Peace Cooperation, and even members of the Chilean congressional commission on human rights have spoken out against the appointment citing Sinclair’s past as a member of the CNI, an intelligence agency created by Gen. Pinochet during his reign as dictator in Chile.
Sinclair, who is the son of Gen. Santiago Sinclair Oyaneder, is accused of destroying key documents linking the Pinochet regime to atrocities carried out as part of Operation Colombo and Operation Condor, both of which help facilitate the targeting of leftists militants and believed threats against the military regime. Activists also believe the documents included evidence from the assassination of Orlando Letelier in the United States and the former commander-in-chief of the Chilean Army, Carlos Prats, in Argentina.
The dozens of documents were destroyed by the CNI at the request of the Chilean Foreign Ministry. Sinclair’s signature is on the paperwork for carrying out the destruction. Activists fear those documents could have been the crucial evidence needed to close the hundreds of still pending human rights cases from the dictatorship.
There is also concern that Sinclair’s personal past might influence his work as ambassador in Australia, as Chile seeks the extradition of Adriana Rivas González, the former secretary of Manuel Contreras Sepúlveda, once the head of DINA, Pinochet’s secret police. González is wanted in connection to the abduction and disappearance of members of the Communist Party from 1976-1977.
Communist Party (PC) Dep. Hugo Gutiérrez, who currently serves as president of the chamber’s Commission on Human Rights, also spoke out against the appointment of Sinclair, saying he trusts the poor choice will be corrected.
“I believe what has happened here is a mistake,” Gutiérrez said. “The case will be reevaluated and eventually, if everything that has been done by the human rights organizations is effective, I believe that this gentleman can not be the representative of Chile in a friendly country.”
For their part, Chileans in Australia have voiced the same concerns. Australia is home to one of the largest communities of Chileans abroad, many of whom moved there following the 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power. Approximately 25,000 Chilean-born individuals currently live in Australia.
The Australia Chile Friendship Society wrote an open letter to President Bachelet on Friday calling on her to reconsider the appointment. They cite the same issues — Sinclair’s past involvement in the Pinochet regime and the complications for the extradition of González.
The Chilean government has yet to respond to these concerns or to the call to reconsider the appointment of Sinclair. In recent weeks Bachelet has named numerous new postings, including the ambassadors to Colombia, Italy, Spain, Canada, China and several others amounting to more than a dozen new appointments to diplomatic posts in the past month.
Further Reading: The Condor Years, by John Dinges