Reporters Without Borders today urged the Uruguayan government to pledge to shed light on the suspicious theft of important confidential military documents from investigative journalist Eduardo Preve of TV news station Canal 10 in Montevideo on 26 March, three days after he had received them from a source.
The documents are said to have supported claims that Uruguayan and Chilean military intelligence colluded during the 1990s to protect individuals accused of human rights violations under the military dictatorships of the preceding decades.
“One can imagine how compromising these documents were for the military from the short period they remained in Preve's possession,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Is the military split between those who favour transparency and those who favour secrecy? If such is the case, it falls to the government to intervene and shed every possible light on the practices that were current within the army and intelligence agencies during and after the military dictatorship.”
The press freedom organisation added: “The circumstances of the theft are highly suspicious and it goes without saying that Preve's complaint requires a thorough investigation. If recovered, we hope that the documents will be returned to Preve for the sake of the necessary fight for the truth.”
Preve, who also writes for the daily El Observador, has for years been investigating the links between the armies and intelligence agencies of the six military dictatorships in South America that signed the Plan Condor in 1975 whereby they agreed to exchange intelligence and political prisoners. He also revealed that clandestine links continued long after the return to civilian rule in the 1980s and that human rights violators and key witnesses were smuggled from one country to another to escape justice.
A case that Preve has investigated closely is that of Chilean chemist Eugenio Berríos, who collaborated with the 1973-90 Pinochet dictatorship, was evacuate to Uruguay in 1991 thanks to the intervention of the Chilean and Uruguayan intelligence services and was murdered in 1993. The Chilean judicial authorities have requested the extradition of three members of the Uruguayan military for their suspected role in the Berríos murder.
According to Preve, the documents he received on 23 March corroborated the claim that the Uruguayan military gave protection in 1993 and 1994 to individuals who had been tried in absentia by the Chilean courts, not just the three Berríos murder suspects.
“They consisted in part of copies of internal Uruguayan army notes about the coordination of activities with foreign intelligence agencies, especially the Chilean agencies,” Preve told Reporters Without Borders. “There were also the names and addresses of key witnesses who had been in touch with a Chilean civilian - the son of a senior official in the dictatorship - who was hiding out in Uruguay with the complicity of the military in both countries in order to avoid having to appear before the Chilean courts.”
Preve left the documents in his car outside his apartment building when he returned home on the evening of 26 March. The daily newspaper Brecha said he had no reason to worry about their security as there are always two policemen on guard outside the building opposite, where the son of President Tabaré Vásquez lives, and on the night of the theft there were four policemen.
Despite their presence, someone was able to force open the passenger door of Preve's car and to take the time to select the documents for removal.
Preve reported the theft to the police. “It is clear that a group of people involved in these intelligence operations between Uruguay and Chile do not want this information to be published now, especially as the documents included new names,” Preve told Reporters Without Borders.