The Tupamaros, Terrorists of Uruguay – Part 5: Assassination of Daniel A. Mitrione 


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.Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Daniel A. Mitrione
Daniel A. Mitrione

Daniel A. Mitrione (August 4, 1920 – August 10, 1970) was an Italian-born American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent and a United States government advisor for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Latin America.

Dan Mitrione‘s specialty was interrogation. From 1960 to 1967, he worked with the Brazilian police, first in Belo Horizonte then in Rio de Janeiro at a time when political opponents were systematically tortured, imprisoned without trial and killed. Mitrione was one among the US advisers who taught Brazilian police how much electric shock to apply to prisoners at a time without killing them. He is quoted as having once said:

The precise pain, in the precise place, in the precise amount, for the desired effect.”

In 1969, Mitrione was posted as the Chief Public Safety Adviser at the American Embassy in Uruguay by the CIA on a clandestine and secret program, under the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), an organization sometimes used as a front for training foreign police in counterinsurgency methods.

When the Tupamaros learned that he was a riot control specialist advising the Uruguayan police in riot control. They targeted him in retaliation for causing the death of student protesters by his advice, and planned to kidnap him.

Mitrione was a very cold mannered person with no compassion. In truth, Dan Mitrione was in Montevideo to teach the police how to extract information out of suspects by torture. Former Uruguayan police officials and CIA operatives claimed Mitrione had taught torture techniques to the Uruguayan police in the basement of his Montevideo home where he had a sealed sound proof room. The technique included the use of electrical shocks delivered to the mouths and genitals of the victims.

It has also been alleged that he had about 150 detainees, most of them “bichicomes” (beggars) of Montevideo, and they were executed once they had served their purpose.

Torture

Yet, at a later interview, Raúl Sendic said the Tupamaros did not know that Mitrione was an expert in torture.

On July 31, 1970, the Tupamaros kidnapped Dan Mitrione near his home in Montevideo. While being kidnapped, he was shot in one shoulder. The Tupamaros held him in their Cárcel del Pueblo (People’s Prison).

Brazilian Consul Aloysio Dias Gomide was abducted the same day. An attempt to kidnap US Embassy Second Secretary Gordon Jones was foiled.

The specific tactical objective of the Mitrione and Dias Gomide kidnappings and the unsuccessful attempt on Gordon Jones was to liberate about 150 Tupamaros then imprisoned or detained by the government. This was the largest ransom ever demanded for kidnapped diplomats.

Jorge Pacheco-Areco , President of Uruguay from December 6, 1967 to March 1, 1972 (Source: elmuertoquehabla.blogspot.in)
Jorge Pacheco-Areco , President of Uruguay from December 6, 1967 to March 1, 1972 (Source: elmuertoquehabla.blogspot.in)

At that time, the liberal democratic Government of Uruguay was in decline. It was headed by Jorge Pacheco Areco, an extremely stubborn and autocratic president. The stupendous demand placed before the president posed an institutional problem due to separation of powers in the country. Most Tupamaro prisoners were held by the Judicial branch and the Executive branch had no jurisdiction over those prisoners, and the President could not unilaterally authorize their freedom. At that time, the liberal democratic Government of Uruguay was in decline. Backed up by the Interior Minister, the president refused to negotiate with the Tupamaros and also declined to communicate with them.

As a police officer Mitrione knew that the US government would not consent to exchange 150 prisoners to save one man’s life, but he had hoped for a possible swap.

As a police officer Mitrione knew that the US government would not consent to exchange 150 prisoners to save one man’s life, but he had hoped for a possible swap.

During the first days of captivity Mitrione was arrogant and confident. However, on the fifth day of his captivity, when Mitrione turned 50 on August 4, he learned that President Richard Nixon did not ask the government of Uruguay, to free 150 detained Tupamaros to save his life. Now, he softened and took part in ideological discussions with his captors.

As the prisoner exchange was not taking place, the Tupamaros sentenced Mitrione on August 8, 1970, to be executed at noon the following day. However, the execution actually took place on August 10, 1970, at 4 am.

Mitrione’s body was found in a car with two bullets in the head. There were no other visible signs of maltreatment, beyond the fact that, during the kidnapping, he had been shot in one shoulder – a wound for which he had evidently been treated while in captivity.

The Nixon Administration through spokesman Ron Ziegler affirmed that Mitrione’s “devoted service to the cause of peaceful progress in an orderly world will remain as an example for free men everywhere.”

Dan Mitrione’s funeral was largely publicized by the US media. Several high-ranking officials from the Nixon administration, including Richard Nixon’s secretary of state William Rogers, attended his funeral. In Richmond, Indiana, Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis held a benefit concert for Dan Mitrione’s family.

This cold-blooded murder proved beyond doubt that the leadership of MLN-T had changed. It was now more radical and violent. Its members were not keen on leading the Uruguayan society towards socialism, but were bent on waging war on the affluent whom they considered as their enemies.

Memorial Plaque for Dan Mitrione
Memorial Plaque for Dan A. Mitrione

On March 21, 1973, The New York Times reported the capture of four of the men involved in the 1970 kidnapping-murder of Dan A. Mitrione by Uruguyan security officials. The man who pulled the trigger was identified as Antonio Mas, 25, a Spanish citizen who joined Tuparnaros when he was a student at the University of Montevideo. The authorities said they arrested Mas and three other participants in the crime, Henry Engler, the leader of the command, Esteban Jorge Pereira and Rodolfo Woolf.  Engler as the leader of the command had ordered the killing of Dan Mitrione.  The authorities said that a fifth member, Armando Blanco Katras was killed in the clash with the police. 

État de Siège (State of Siege), the movie

State of Siege (French title: État de Siège) is a 1972 French film directed by Costa Gavras starring Yves Montand and Renato Salvatori. This film is regarded as one of Costa-Gavras’ finest creations. The story is based on the actual kidnapping and killing of Dan Mitrione.

Many US officials were against the screening of the film. They said it was a hyperbole about US involvement in Latin America and other third world countries. In Washington, DC, it was removed from a special screening at the John F. Kennedy Center, only to be run uncut on a local TV station. In the late 1970s, during the investigations and committee hearings on the CIA and other government groups, many who decried the film as false found themselves admitting involvement in the internal affairs of Latin American countries.

In the film, Philip Michael Santore, an official of the USAID, posted to a fictional South American country in the early 1970s. Santore is kidnapped by a group of urban guerillas.

The film explores the often brutal consequences of the struggle between the repressive government of Montevideo and the leftist Tupamaro guerrillas using interrogation of Santore by his captors as a backdrop.

The government decimates the revolutionary group using death squads. The surviving members vote to execute Santore, who is accused of political manipulation and training the police in torture.

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  Previous –  Part 4: The Kidnappings

Next  Part 6: Operation El Abuso, the Great Escape 

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