- by Miles Fitzsimmons
- The Guardian
- Issue #1957
For the people of Chile 11th September has a different significance than that in the anglophone world, September 11 marks the day on which the attack on the world trade centre took place in the United States. On the 11th of September 1973, the Chilean military, with the backing of the US, crushed the civilian government of Salvador Allende and bought in the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Australia’s involvement in this sordid affair has always been somewhat murky and difficult to understand, but Australia did have involvement in the coup. It is known that ASIO agents in Chile that had been ordered to leave by then recently elected Gough Whitlam were still in the country and did not leave until after the completion of the coup.
Even all these years later and after the return of civilian government in Chile, an ongoing aftershock from 1973 occurs in Australian courts. Adriana Rivas was an agent of DINA, the Pinochet regime’s secret police, that was responsible for the “disappearances” of opponents of the regime like communists and trade unionists, including secretary to the head of the agency Manuel Contreras and his assistant Alejandro Burgos. Rivas has been living in Australia since 1978 and, at the time of her arrest in 2019 was reportedly working as a babysitter and cleaner in Bondi.
Since 2014, the government of Chile has been seeking the extradition of Rivas for the kidnapping of seven people who are among the disappeared, including the Secretary of the Communist Party of Chile, Victor Diaz. Rivas had been arrested in 2006 while visiting Chile, but while on bail in 2010 fled back to Australia. Information on specific victims of the Pinochet regime is often hard to come by, but the general activity of DINA is well documented. Horrific rape and torture of detainees was commonplace, with bodies disfigured and dumped at sea from helicopters. The victims are considered “disappeared” and not confirmed as murdered because the government disposed of the bodies in such a way that they would never be found and there is little record of detainees. Given the widespread and despicable crimes of DINA it seems ludicrous that Rivas’ defence lawyer Frank Santisi would argue that DINA was not a criminal organisation because only some of its members committed crimes and the agency was set up legally. He argues that DINA’s purpose was “to stamp out and to make sure this thing called ‘communism’ didn’t take root in Chile.”
Extradition proceedings are renowned for being lengthy and dense, and this case is no different. While a local court magistrate had ruled that Rivas was extraditable based on the information in the Chilean government’s request, Rivas and her lawyer Santisi are continuing to fight her extradition by appealing up to higher courts. The case is currently in the Federal Court of Australia under Justice Wendy Abraham who is better known for ruling in 2020 that the AFP’s warrant to search the ABC offices after the publication of the Afghan Files was valid.
We join our comrades in the Communist Party of Chile in calling on the Australian government and courts to deliver justice and extradite Rivas to answer for her crimes. Rivas played a role in brow-beating the people of Chile with fascism and her pathetic defence – indistinguishable from those offered by Nazis at Nuremberg – does not pass the most casual scrutiny. Rivas must answer for her crimes, as all fascists should.