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Rumors, Allegations Swirl Around Secretive Settlement in Chile

January 10, 1988|BRADLEY GRAHAM | The Washington Post

According to witnesses, the settlement has a fleet of heavy trucks, a mechanics' workshop and power plant, as well as facilities for making bricks and slate tiles. It also has a powerful radio communications system, with which it stays in touch with ancillary operations, including an office in a house in Santiago.

It operates a school and provides free medical attention to neighbors, a service that supports the settlement's claim to be a charitable organization.

The colony opened a roadside restaurant near Bulnes two years ago, where its brown bread, honey, cheese, sausages and cakes are sold. The colony also changed its name recently, to Villa Baviera (Bavarian Village), reflecting its affinity for the southern German state of Bavaria and the governing party there, the conservative Christian Social Union, whose chairman, Franz Josef Strauss, is prominently displayed on posters at the colony.

About 250 adults and 100 children live at the settlement, according to colony officials, but no public record of births and deaths there exists.

Tight Security

Invited guests are often treated to banquets and choral singing in a pastoral mountain setting. The uninvited are brusquely turned away.

At a remote-controlled gate some distance from the colony's main entrance, a woman's voice warns visitors through an intercom not to take photos from the road of the colony's property without written permission. The main entrance is 22 miles east of Parral, and the settlement sprawls across 12,000 acres.

The colony first broke into the news in 1966 when Wolfgang Muller, then about 20, escaped and accused Schaefer of a reign of terror. Muller said he had been forced to work long hours in the fields for no pay and was frequently beaten. He also told authorities that he had been sexually abused by Schaefer before they came to Chile and that Schaefer had used memory-altering drugs on him when he became rebellious.

According to Muller's accounts, children were separated from their parents in the settlement and later instructed to address them as aunt and uncle. Muller said a number of former Nazis lived in the settlement, but he denied that Nazi or anti-Semitic ideas were part of the community's ideology.

If Muller's declarations sounded fantastic, those of the second person to flee that year, Wilhelmine Lindeman, were supported by medical evidence. She told of being drugged and was found to have had several injections.

Days later, however, Lindeman denied her statements and agreed to return to the colony. Her decision came after a visit by Schmidt, who informed her that her husband had just arrived from West Germany and was waiting for her at the settlement. Nothing more was heard of the Lindemans.

The outcry caused by the two cases led to questions in the Chilean Senate and the beginning of an official inquiry. A commission entered the colony but said it found nothing. Amid accusations of bribery, the inquiry was dropped.

Three years after the 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power, a U.N. human rights report referred to testimony about dogs at the colony trained to attack intruders' sexual organs, experiments testing torture-tolerance limits and the use of drugs to break detainees.

"It seems," the report said, "that in Colonia Dignidad there is a specially equipped underground torture center with small soundproofed cells, hermetically sealed. The detainees' heads are covered with leather hoods, which are stuck to their faces with substances that are supposedly chemicals. In these cells, interrogations are carried out through electronic equipment, including loudspeakers and microphones, while detainees are tied naked to metal frames to receive electric shocks."

Allegations that the colony had become involved in political repression under the Pinochet government received dramatic support in 1977 from Juan Rene Munoz Alarcon, a former Socialist Party member turned collaborator with Pinochet's secret police, who was later imprisoned by the government for trying to protect a one-time leftist colleague.

Alleged Detention Center

In a taped deposition to the Vicariate of Solidarity, the Catholic Church's human rights group in Santiago, Munoz identified the colony as one of several places where persons who had disappeared after being seized by security forces were held. He later was found stabbed to death.

Also in 1977, the West German magazine Stern and the human rights organization Amnesty International published reports accusing the colony of being a site of secret-police torture of political prisoners. Supporting the allegation were statements from several former prisoners. An ex-agent, Samuel Fuenzalida, testified that he had delivered prisoners to the colony on two occasions in 1974, where he was received by a man known as "the professor," whom he later identified from photographs as Schaefer.

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