Operation Condor was a covert, multinational “black operations” program organized by six Latin American states (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay, later joined by Ecuador and Peru), with logistical, financial, and intelligence support from Washington.
In the Cold War climate of the 1960s and ’70s, when U.S. leaders and Latin American militaries regarded popular movements and political dissidents as “internal enemies,” any methods were considered legitimate in the “war against subversion.” In fact, many of these new social movements were indigenous nationalist, leftist, socialist, or radically democratic forces fighting to represent the voiceless and the marginalized.
As leftist and nationalist leaders won elections throughout Latin America in the 1960s and early 1970s, and new revolutionary and progressive movements gained strength, U.S. security strategists feared a communist-inspired threat to U.S. economic and political interests in the hemisphere. Local elites similarly feared that their traditional political dominance and wealth were at risk. Washington poured enormous resources into the inter-American security system, of which Condor was a top-secret part, to mobilize and unify the militaries in order to prevent leftist leaders from taking power and to control and destroy leftist and popular movements in Latin America. Anticommunism and “preventing another Cuba” were the national security priorities of the U.S. in Latin America.
The reigning national security doctrine incorporated counterinsurgency strategies and concepts such as “hunter-killer” programs and secret, “unconventional” techniques such as subversion, sabotage, and terrorism to defeat foes. Much of counterinsurgency doctrine is classified, but scholars have documented many of its key components. Michael McClintock, for example, analyzed a classified U.S. Army Special Forces manual of December 1960 Counter-Insurgency Operations, one of the earliest to mention explicitly, in its section “Terror Operations,” the use of counterinsurgent terror as a legitimate tactic. He cites other secret U.S. army special operations handbooks from the 1960s that endorsed “counterterror,” including assassination and abduction, in certain situations. One March 1961 article in Military Review stated, “Political warfare, in short, is warfare…[that] embraces diverse forms of coercion and violence including strikes and riots, economic sanctions, subsidies for guerrilla or proxy warfare and, when necessary, kidnapping or assassination of enemy elites.” In short, “disappearance” was a key element of counterinsurgency doctrine.
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