Uruguay: officers extradited to Chile

On April 18, three Uruguayan military officers–one retired–arrived in Chile after being extradited there to face charges relating to the 1991 abduction in Chile and subsequent murder in Uruguay of Chilean chemist Eugenio Berrios. Berrios worked for the National Intelligence Department (DINA) under Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, and had said before his disappearance that sectors allied with Pinochet wanted to kill him.

Uruguayan judge Gustavo Mirabal originally ordered the extradition of Col. Wellington Sarli and Lt. Col. Eduardo Radaelli, both on active duty, and retired colonel Tomas Cassella, on Sept. 17, 2004, but the officers appealed. Uruguay's Supreme Court gave final approval to the extradition on March 22 of this year. Their transfer to Chile was originally scheduled for April 21, but the date was changed to April 18 after judge Mirabal suffered an apparent assassination attempt. Mirabal reported to the Supreme Court that a bullet whizzed by his head on April 16. "In reality we don't know if it was an accident, if it was a stray bullet or if it was an attack," said Supreme Court spokesperson Raul Oxandabarat. Mirabal is now under 24-hour protection, and the incident is under investigation.

The three Uruguayan officers will now face Chilean judge Alejandro Madrid, who has already tried them in absentia for llicit association and kidnapping in the Berrios case. Cassella is detained at the Gendarmeria school and Sarli and Radaelli are being held at separate military barracks outside Santiago. The case marks the first time Uruguay has extradited military officers to face trial for crimes related to Operation Condor, a secret collaboration between South American militaries to torture, exchange and murder opponents.

Berrios developed sarin gas and other biological and chemical weapons for the DINA. He was taken from Chile by Chilean military officers in December 1991 shortly after judge Adolfo Banados called him to testify about the murder of former foreign minister Orlando Letelier, an ally of socialist president Salvador Allende. Letelier and his US aide, Ronni Moffitt, were killed in a car bomb attack in Washington on Sept. 21, 1976. Uruguayan military officers kept Berrios captive in Uruguay until late 1992, when he apparently tried to escape; he is believed to have been murdered shortly afterwards, although his body was not found until April 1995 and was not positively identified until 2002. (La Jornada, April 19, 21)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 23

See our last posts on Chile and the Pinochet case.