Perpetrator to Victim
systematic repression exercised as state policy for the objective
of installing fear for psychosocial control of the population
was the scaffolding that sustained 17 years of dictatorship
in Chile. The professional tormentors of the DINA and its
successor, as of 1977, the CNI, state agencies that put that
policy into practice, had no qualms about inflicting extreme
pain or of degrading the dignity of other human beings. And
when one of their ranks softened his hand or threatened to
break the code of loyalty, they had no scruples in converting
their former colleague into victim.
However, that was not the case of Eugenio Berrios, who once
boasted that he could cause death with a single drop of the
substance he developed in the DINA chemical lab. Nor did he
have compassion nor did he show any sign of repentance.
Attorney Fabiola Letelier is emphatic in this regard: there
is no indication that the former DINA ex agent was willing
to cooperate in court.
In Eugenio Berrios, the combination of an arrogant personality
with loquaciousness when under the influence of alcohol made
him become a risk for former repressive operatives who remained
in active military service in the early years of the new transitional
democracy in Chile.
This was a risk factor that exploded like a suicide bomb,
converting Berrios, the perpetrator into victim.
Eugenio Berrios studied chemistry at the University of Concepcion,
where during a brief period of time he joined the Movement
of the Revolutionary Left (MIR), only to abandon it when a
woman rejected his amorous intentions. Humiliated, Berrios
left Concepcion to complete his degree at the University of
Chile in Santiago and turned virulently against MIR. There
he met Michael Townley, a US citizen, and both joined the
ultra right organization Patria y Libertad. After the military
coup, both Townley and Berrios joined the DINA as civilians.
In order to carry out Project Andrea, the grand program of
the DINA to manufacture lethal chemicals, Townley traveled
to the United States, England and Europe to obtain the substances
needed to set up the lab.
Attorney Fabiola Letelier indicates:
Those substances were sent to him from outside
Chile and arrangements had to be made with customs officials
to avoid having to pay taxes. The DINA plans this project
meticulously and Berrios was key to this process. These plans
were carried out with participation of other Chileans who
now live in the United States.
The chemical laboratory was set up in a house the DINA bought
in the wealthy neighborhood of Lo Curro, in which Townley
and his wife lived in the upper story. There, Berrios experimented
with sarin gas that causes death through neurological paralysis.
According to Samuel Blixen, author of the book Crime in
Corruption and Impunity in Latin America, Berrios proposed
that the DINA produce the gas in sufficient quantity so as
to use it in combat, before launching artillery missiles.
It could also be used to cover up executions, concealing the
criminal intent. And the involvement of Eugenio Berrios was
not restricted to manufacturing chemical substances in the
According to Alvaro Varela, attorney for the family of former
president Eduardo Frei Montalva, Berrios personally administered
sarin gas to several victims, such as the case of DINA agent
Manuel Leyton May 29, 1977, who died suddenly of an apparent
heart attack at 20 years of age.
Therefore, he is also a material author of these crimes.
Fabiola Letelier describes Berrios.
He was an impassioned member of Patria y Libertad.
His career clearly shows that he was frankly a fascist. Berrios
made contact with a group of Italian terrorists who came to
Chile. He even formed an association with those Italians who
committed acts of terrorism in different parts of Italy, and
the DINA provided the group with an apartment. It was a shadow
business that had the appearance of a sporting goods store.
Later they participated in the failed assassination attempt
against Bernardo Leighton in Rome. It reveals the connections
the DINA had with ultra rightist groups. Berrios was not only
a chemist; he was an ideologue.
Cases in which
Berrios is implicated
On January 31, 2003 the Full Supreme Court of Chile appointed
Judge Alejandro Madrid to continue the inquest Judge Olga
Perez had begun. The court organized the case as Rol 7981
into three files:
File A investigates the responsibility of Berrios in the assassination
of Orlando Letelier, committed September 21,1976.
File B involves the strange circumstances related to the death
of former president of Chile Eduardo Frei Montalva and the
poisoning of political prisoners, both in 1981.
File C involves the connection between Berrios and Spanish
diplomat Carmelo Soria, murdered in July 1976.
The Poisoning of Political
In December 1981 nine political prisoners in the Santiago
Public Prison (Carcel Publica), all of whom were held in the
same section of the prison and shared a kitchen, became seriously
ill with botulism. Two prisoners Victor Corvalan Castillo
and Enrique Garrido Ceballos died as a result of food poisoning.
The presence of the botulism bacteria was not previously known
In November 2002 attorney Hector Salazar filed a criminal
complaint for the intentional poisoning of the prisoners.
According to Salazar, the inquest found that the bacteria
entered Chile via Brazil in diplomatic pouch and was delivered
first to the Health Ministry Bacteriology Research Institute,
and then to the Army. Salazar speculates that the chemical
laboratory where Berrios worked was probably the final destination
for the bacteria and that "the political prisoners were
used as guinea pigs."
of Eduardo Frei Montalva
The family of Eduardo Frei Montalva had its doubts whether
the former president (1964 to 1970) really died a natural
death in 1982. However they had to wait 20 years for a judicial
inquest to reach the conclusion, beyond a doubt, that he was
The clue that opened the court investigation was found in
a book that Mariana Callejos, the former wife of Michael Townley
and also a DINA agent, published in 1995.
The book Siembra Vientos describes a conversation Callejas
had with Eugenio Berrios in the chemical lab that operated
in the basement of their house in Lo Curro. Berrios showed
her a small vial, and commented, "With a single drop
of this liquid I can make an undesirable disappear."
In a footnote, Callejas says she recalled that comment upon
learning of the death of Eduardo Frei Montalva. Mid 1981 was
a particularly active time for the Lo Curro lab.
Attorney Alvaro Varela explains:
That laboratory was in a pitch of activity,
with the delivery of certain bacteria in the period prior
to the death of President Frei Montalva. We focus our prime
suspicions on the production of substances that may have been
used to cause the death of Frei, that originated from this
In 1980 former President Eduardo Frei Montalva became a forceful
voice of opposition to the military regime. On the occasion
of the 1980 plebiscite to legitimize the Constitution drafted
to institutionalize the military regime, Frei headed a political
rally against the Constitution at the Caupolican Theater,
from which emerged the first organized political activities
in opposition to the dictatorship. Also in 1980 a group of
union leaders was brutally repressed and jailed when they
unveiled their Letter of Chile (El Pliego de Chile), a petition
addressed to the Military Junta, demanding basic rights.
Eduardo Frei and public employees union leader Tucapel Jimenez
led solidarity rallies for the imprisoned leaders. They also
participated in meetings with representatives from different
parties, including the Communist Party, who met together for
the first time. The dictatorship responded by expelling from
Chile four members of the group that had protested the jailing
of union leaders: Jaime Castillo, Carlos Briones, Arnaldo
Cantuarias and Alberto Jerez. Once again former President
Frei reacted, by issuing public statements and was a powerful
public opponent of the regime.
The judicial inquest found evidence that intelligence agents
had Frei under constant surveillance during this time. Both
his office and home telephones were tapped. An infiltrator,
a trusted chauffeur, noted where Frei went, who visited him
and the license plate numbers of their vehicles. The agent
informed his superiors when Frei became ill and was hospitalized
in November 1981 due to a hernia.
He recovered from surgery but a short time later he again
required hospitalization. Frei died January 22,1982. Tucapel
Jimenez was murdered the following month.
The involvement of Berrios in the death of Eduardo Frei Montalva
is still under investigation by Judge Alejandro Madrid. However,
elements of proof suggest that Berrios entered Frei's hospital
room. A former Air Force official testified that a nurse at
Santa Maria Clinic told him he saw someone enter the hospital
room and rub a substance into Frei's wound. However, this
third party testimony is still in the category of hearsay.
Judge Madrid discovered that without either the authorization
or knowledge of the Frei family, an autopsy was performed.
Immediately after Frei died, two doctors and a Catholic University
Hospital official entered the room and locked the door behind
them. Witnesses have testified and the autopsy report has
confirmed that the three individuals remained in the room
three hours. In that span of time they removed the vital organs
with the exception of the brain, and injected a substance
to preserve and embalm the body.
Attorney Alvaro Varela (interviewed by Memoria y Justicia
in July 2005) explained that the embalming fluid prevents
detection of bacteria.
We believe this action by doctors from Catholic
University Hospital was intended to conceal and cover up the
presence of lethally infectious bacteria.The investigation
suggests that material authors of the murder were Army intelligence
agents, specifically chemical lab staff. We know two military
intelligence agents worked undercover as doctors at the hospital.
Elements of proof establish the suspicion that death was caused
by the involvement of third parties who applied some kind
of substance produced by military intelligence.
In late 2004 the court ordered the exhumation of Frei's remains
and forensic specialists took samples from his body. The samples
were sent to a FBI laboratory in the United States. In May
2006 the forensic specialists issued a DNA analysis that failed
to reach a conclusive determination regarding the presence
of bacteria. However, in August 2006 the doctor who supervised
the first hernia operation performed on Frei admitted the
death was unexpected and that a foreign chemical substance
was likely the cause of death.
The Death of Carmelo Soria
Berrios is also believed to have played a role in the death
of Carmelo Soria, a Spaniard with diplomat status at CELADE.
A DINA operative abducted Soria in July 1976, and brought
him to the house in Lo Curro, where Soria was tortured and
murdered. It is thought that Soria was subjected to sarin
gas in the chemical laboratory run by Berrios, before breaking
his back. Soria's body was found in his car submerged in the
San Carlos Canal.
Assassination of Orlando Letelier
Attorney Fabiola Letelier explains that the initial plan to
assassinate her brother Orlando Letelier involved the use
of the sarin gas Berrios produced:
Sarin gas was brought to the United States
but no one knows what happened to it or where it is. The United
States was very interested in sarin gas because it is easily
transported; in fact, it is believed to have entered the United
States in a Channel N 5 perfume vial.
The initial plot to assassinate Orlando Letelier utilizing
sarin gas was discarded. The first act of international terrorism
on US soil was carried out by a car bomb DINA agent Michael
Townley manufactured from parts he purchased in a Washington
DC Sears Roebuck and a Radio Shack store. Letelier and Ronni
Moffit died when Townley activated that bomb, planted under
the car, on September 21, 1976 in Washington, DC.
Letelier was Chilean Ambassador to the United States and also
served as Foreign Relations Secretary as well as Defense Minister
under the government of Salvador Allende. After the coup he
was arrested together with other Popular Unity government
officials at La Moneda presidential palace. He was held over
a year, initially with fellow former government collaborators
at wind swept Dawson Island in far southern Chile and later
in another prison camp, until international pressure compelled
the Pinochet regime to release and expel him from the country.
From Caracas where he reunited with his family, the Institute
for Policy Studies in Washington D.C invited him to form part
of its staff of progressive researchers. His access to the
parliaments of various countries earned him many allies in
his vocal campaign against the dictatorship of Pinochet. The
Military Junta perceived Letelier as a threat and ordered
the DINA to assassinate him.
In October 1991, Santiago Court of Appeals Judge Adolfo Bañados
subpoenaed Berrios to testify in the Letelier assassination
investigation. As a civilian, Berrios was not bound by the
oath of silence and secrecy that military officials maintained
as a code of loyalty among them. According to attorney Letelier,
the proceedings led by Judge Madrid indicate that the probable
motive the Army Intelligence Administration had for removing
Berrios from Chile was to prevent him from responding to the
subpoena to testify in the Letelier case.
The Abduction and Murder of Berrios
Attorney Alvaro Varela describes Berrios as a man "out
of control." He was an alcoholic and when he drank too
much in restaurants, he would shout, "I am Pinochet's
chemist!" In the view of military intelligence, he had
become a liability, in light of the confidential information
he knew and might tell. That is why they decided to take him
out of the country.
Varela adds, "The court proceedings reached a very important
conclusion just two years ago. Not only was he taken out of
Chile; he was kidnapped and kept 10 days in the basement of
a military intelligence unit, the DINE, before being taken
On October 26, 1991 Chilean military in collaboration with
Uruguayan military officers took Berrios to Montevideo, Uruguay,
stopping first in Rio Gallegos, Argentina.
In 1991, the DINE created a unit for the specific mission
of getting Berrios out of Chile. Active duty military officers
who comprised the unit were:
Former Army Intelligence Director, General Hernan Ramirez
General Eugenio Adrian Covarrubias Valenzuela.
Other military personnel who participated in the kidnapping
and murder of Berrios were the following:
Captain Pablo Rodriguez Marquez
Raul Lillo Gutierrez, civilian
Noncommissioned officer Marcelo Sandoval Duran
Noncommissioned officer Nelson Hernandez Franco
Noncommissioned officer Nelson Roman Vargas
Lieutenant Jaime Torres Gacitua
Lieutenant Mario Cisternas Orellana
2006 retired general Hernan Ramirez, former Army Intelligence
director, testified before Judge Madrid that Augusto Pinochet
"knew perfectly well who Berrios was." Ramirez affirmed that
the former dictator ordered him to get Berrios out of Chile
and "to take him to Uruguay and protect him there."
Fabiola Letelier states: "Judge Madrid reached the conclusion
that the motive the Army had for taking Berrios out of Chile
was to prevent him from testifying about the Letelier case
before Judge Banados."
Despite an extradition order Bañados issued through Interpol,
Berrios lived in Montevideo over a year with a false passport
under the alias of Manuel Antonio Morales Jara.
According to Blixen, "high ranking military, police officers,
and diplomats chose to ignore the absence of Berrios that
had the characteristics of the political disappearances that
had been a key element of military government policy guided
by the National Security Doctrine."
During 1992, Berrios lived on Buxareo Street in Montevideo,
constantly guarded by Chilean military. In November 1992 he
was transferred to a property of Captain Jaime Torres Gacitua,
in Parque de Plata, Uruguay. On November 11, 1992, Berrios
made a telephone call to the Chilean Consulate and requested
documents he needed for returning to Chile. The same year
Berrios escaped from the house in Parque de Plata, and sought
help from a local police station. Berrios begged the police
officers to help him, explaining that he had been abducted
and that Augusto Pinochet wanted to kill him.
The Uruguayan police permitted Berrios to be examined by Dr.
Juan Bautista Ferrari Grilli. During the medical exam, Berrios
insisted that he was victim of abduction and that his life
was in danger. Police turned him over to Lieutenant Colonel
Tomas Cassella, Chief of Counter Intelligence Operations.
Berrios continued living like a prisoner another three months.
He was executed on the beach in El Pinar, Uruguay. He was
killed when he openly exposed his intention to return to Chile.
His skeletal remains, discovered more than two years later
in April 1995, showed evidence of skull fractures due to two
bullets. DNA tests confirmed the remains corresponded to Berrios.
The Investigation of the Berrios Case
On January 1, 2003, the Sixth Criminal Court of Santiago requested
the extradition of three Uruguayan military officers. (ROL
7.981-OP). On January 31, 2003, the Chilean Supreme Court
appointed Judge Alejandro Madrid Crohare to the investigation
of the homicide of Eugenio Berrios. Madrid requested authorization
from the Montevideo court the case to question the following
Uruguayan militar personnel:
Soldier Tomas Cassella Santo
Soldier Eduardo Radaelli Coppola
Soldier Wellington Sarli Pose
Police Chief Helvio Hernandez Marrero
Naval Officer Hugo Cabrera Villareal
Police Officer Ramon Rivas
On March 31, 2003 Judge Madrid traveled to Uruguay to interrogate
these individuals. Cassella stated that a Chilean official
called Julio Concha introduced Berrios to him as Tulio Orellana.
Radaelli stated that he had no recollection of the Berrios
abduction, affirming that he was in Brazil during the time
of the episode. Hernandez testified that Berrios told him
he produced biological weapons that were sold abroad. In July
2003 Madrid initiated another stage of the investigation,
related to the possible involvement of Augusto Pinochet Ugarte
in the kidnapping and murder of Berrios. Pablo Rodriguez Grez,
longtime defense lawyer for Pinochet, sustained that Pinochet
was not fit to stand trial on account of health conditions.
Judge Madrid also sought information on the possible participation
of the following individuals in obstruction of justice, illicit
association, falsification of passports and malfeasance:
Former Military Prosecutor General Fernando Torres Silva
Army Colonel Enrique Ibarra
General Hernan Ramirez Rurange
Gladys Schmeisser, widow of Berrios
On April 8, 2006, retired colonel Tomas Casella, Colonel Wellington
Sarli and Capitan Eduardo Radaelli were extradited to Chile,
enabling Alejandro Madrid to indict the three Uruguayan military
officers for illicit association and kidnapping of Berrios.
On May 10, 2006 Judge Madrid deprived Augusto Pinochet of
his prosecutorial immunity, on the basis of probable cause
of participation of the former Army Commander in Chief in
the abduction and murder of Berrios.
On October 12, 2006 the full session of the Santiago Court
of Appeals voted 16 to 3 to approve the removal of immunity.
It was the most decisive vote to for deprival of immunity
that was ever produced in the courts.
Less than two months later, on December 10, 2006 Augusto Pinochet
The death of Berrios is not an isolated case. It is directly
related to the murders of important officials in Chile. It
reveals the persistence of de facto powers and how the governments
of Chile and Uruguay have been complacent even in democracy
in protecting individuals who committed crimes during dictatorship.
In the book, The Transition to Authoritarian Electoral
Regimes in Latin America, James Petras and Steve Vieux
The Berrios episode suggests the persistence
of Operation Condor. It is evident that still now this network
allows the military structure of both countries to ignore
their national governments, evade judicial prosecution and
commit crimes in other countries. It implies that the relations
between military that facilitated the assassination of General
Carlos Prats during his exile in Argentina as well as the
murders of 100 other Chilean exiles persist even today. The
years of electoral democracy have not succeeded in breaking
the military network nor limit the extraordinary discretionary
authority and autonomy the Chilean military enjoys.
The story of the abduction and murder of Berrios indicates
that forced disappearance and political assassination continued
after the emergence of democracies in Chile and Uruguay, when
Augusto Pinochet was still Commander in Chief of the Army.
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