Eugenio Berríos Sagredo (November 14, 1947 - 1992) was a Chilean biochemist who worked for the DINA intelligence agency. Berríos was charged with carrying out Proyecto Andrea in which Pinochet ordered the production of sarin gas, a chemical weapon used by the DINA. Sarin gas leaves no trace and victims' deaths closely mimic heart attacks. Other biochemical weapons produced by Berríos included anthrax and botulism . Berríos also allegedly produced cocaine for Pinochet, who then sold it to Europe and the United States. Wanted by the Chilean authorities for involvement in the Letelier case, he escaped to Uruguay in 1991, at the beginning of the Chilean transition to democracy, and what has been identified as his corpse was found in 1995 near Montevideo.
Known in the DINA under his alias "Hermes", for which he began to work in 1974, Berríos was connected to the creation of the explosive used for Orlando Letelier's car-bombing assassination in Washington, D.C. in 1976. In April 1976, Berríos synthesized sarin. He was also suspected, along with DINA agent Michael Townley, of the torture and assassination of the Spanish citizen Carmelo Soria.
In 1978, Townley, in a sworn but confidential declaration, stated that sarin gas was produced by the DINA under Berríos' direction. He added that it was used to assassinate the real state archives custodian Renato León Zenteno and the Chilean Army Corporal Manuel Leyton.
Former head of DINA Manuel Contreras declared to Chilean justice officials in 2005 that the CNI, successor of DINA, handed out monthly payments between 1978 and 1990 to the persons who had worked with Townley in Chile, all members of the far-right group Patria y Libertad: Mariana Callejas (Townley's wife), Francisco Oyarzún, Gustavo Etchepare and Berríos. According to La Nación, Berríos also worked with drug traffickers and Drug Enforcement Administration agents.
Questioned in March 2005 by Judge Alejandro Madrid about ex-Chilean Christian Democrat President Eduardo Frei Montalva's death, DINA agent Michael Townley acknowledged links between Colonia Dignidad, led by ex-Nazi Paul Schäfer, and DINA on one hand, and the Laboratorio de Guerra Bacteriológica del Ejército (Army Biological Warfare Laboratory) on the other hand. It is suspected that the toxin that killed Frei Montalva in a Santa Maria clinic in 1982 was created there. This new laboratory in Colonia Dignidad would have been, according to him, the continuation of the laboratory that the DINA had in Via Naranja de lo Curro, where he worked with Eugenio Berríos in the clandestine unit Quetropilla. Townley would also have testified on biological experiments made upon the prisoners in Colonia Dignidad with the help of the two above-mentioned laboratories.
Escape, death and trial
On 26 October 1991, a year before the "terror archives" were found in Paraguay, Eugenio Berríos was escorted from Chile to Uruguay by the Special Unity of the DINE (Army's Intelligence agency), in order to escape testifying before a Chilean court in the Letelier case and in the other case concerning the 1976 assassination of the Spanish diplomat and CEPAL civil servant Carmelo Soria. He had just been indicted by the magistrate Adolfo Bañados in charge of the Letelier case.
This is known as "Operation Silencio", which started in April 1991 in order to impede investigations by Chilean judges concerning crimes committed during Pinochet's dictatorship, with the spiriting away of Arturo Sanhueza Ross, linked to the murder of MIR leader Jecar Neghme in 1989. According to the Rettig Report, Jecar Neghme's death was carried out by Chilean intelligence agents. In September 1991, Carlos Herrera Jiménez, who killed trade-unionist Tucapel Jiménez, flew away, before Berríos who followed in October 1991. Berríos then used four different passports, Argentinian, Uruguayan, Paraguayan and Brazilian, lifting concerns about Operation Condor still being in place. In Uruguay, he was protected by members of the Chilean and Uruguayan military intelligence as part of La cofradia, alleged to be the direct heir of Operation Condor.
In Uruguay, Berrios was hidden in the house of the Uruguayan Colonel Eduardo Radaelli, using the alias of "Tulio Orellana". Berríos, however, escaped from Radaelli's home and presented himself on 15 November 1992 to a local police office in order to claim he had been kidnapped. Uruguayan military officers Tomas Casella and Eduardo Radaelli then went to the police office to request the police to hand over Berríos, which was done. He was then never seen again.
In February 1993, Pinochet travelled to Uruguay, and the Uruguayan Tomas Casella was appointed as his aide-de-camp. Casella, Radaelli and Washington Sarli (another Uruguayan military officer) then travelled, the same year, to Chile, to attend intelligence courses, although the courses were then cancelled (according to Casella, because some countries' intelligence officers could not attend) and they were invited to pass some days, with costs paid, in the Termas de Puyehue. In a 2007 interview, Casella stated that he had first entered into contact with Berríos in March 1992 under the requests of a Chilean intelligence officer, and that he had immediately informed General Mario Aguerrondo, then head of the SID Uruguayan military intelligence agency (now retired), who allegedly ordered him to remain in contact with the Chileans.
In June 1993, an anonymous letter sent to various Uruguayan deputies denounced Berríos' presence in the country, leading them to request of President Luis Alberto Lacalle's government immediate investigations. Lacalle immediately, on June 6, 1993, dismissed the police chief of Canelones, Ramón Rivas, on charges of not having informed him of what had occurred. Three days later official investigations were initiated concerning the Berríos case. On June 9, 1993, 14 Army Generals met with the Minister of Defence Mariano Brito, and two days later, General Mario Aguerrondo was dismissed.
Finally, a corpse, identified by the Uruguayan justice as that of Berrios, was found in April 1995 in a beach of El Pinar, near Montevideo, with two gunshots in the back of the neck, his murderers having tried to make the identification of his body impossible. However, forensic dentistry immediately led to his identification as Berríos. Furthermore, DNA fingerprinting was also done several years later.
According to the daughter of Carmelo Soria, the Spanish diplomat assassinated in 1976, Chilean Eduardo Aldunate Hermann, second-in-command of the MINUSTAH United Nations force in Haiti, was also involved in the assassination of Eugenio Berríos.
Three Uruguayan military officers (Tomas Casella, Washington Sarli and Eduardo Radaelli) have been extradited in April 2006 to Chile and were detained there, before being released on bail in September 2006. In October 2006, the Court of Appeal of Santiago stripped Pinochet's parliamentary immunity (who was, in 1992, head of the Chilean military), opening up the way for his judgment concerning the homicide of Berríos. Furthermore, the former directors of the DINE, Hernán Ramírez Rurange and Eugenio Covarrubias, have been charged of obstruction to justice in this case. Ramírez Rurange, several other Chilean militaries and one civilian, and the three Uruguayan officers have also been charged of sequestration, while Eugenio Covarrubias was charged with sequestration and homicide. Emilio Rojas Gómez, the former Chilean cultural attaché in Montevideo, was also charged with obstruction of justice.
On August 11, 2015, all 14 defendants were found guilty by the Supreme Court and sentenced to between five and twenty years in prison. Hernán Ramírez Rurange, sentenced to twenty years, shot and killed himself two days later.
Allegations concerning Berríos' disappearance
In July 2006, after having denounced Augusto Pinochet's involvement in the cocaine trade, former DINA director Manuel Contreras asserted in a judicial document handed to judge Claudio Pavez, presiding over the investigation concerning the 1992 assassination of Colonel Gerardo Huber, that Berríos was in fact alive and now worked for the DEA. Contreras' lawyer, Fidel Reyes, alleged that the corpse discovered in El Pinar belonged in reality to a foreigner, and that Berríos allegedly had in 2004 attended the funeral, in Chile, of one of his close relative. According to Contreras' deposition, the cocaine (which was "black cocaine" especially made to be undetectable) was produced by Berríos in a military installation in Talagante, and both Pinochet's son, Marco Antonio Pinochet, and the businessman Edgardo Batich were involved in the drug trade. The money from the trade was allegedly directly put in Pinochet's bank accounts abroad.
Manuel Contreras' allegations concerning Berríos' alleged survival have been flatly denied by the Uruguayan judge in charge of investigating his assassination, who claims that she is "99% sure" of the identification of the corpse found in 1995, and added that DNA analysis had been made a few years later.
The Uruguayan film director Esteban Schroeder produced a movie, Matar a todos, loosely based on Berríos' murder. The movie was adapted from the book 99 por ciento asesinado written by the Uruguayan writer Pablo Vierci, and was presented in the San Sebastián International Film Festival.
- Augusto Pinochet's arrest and trial
- Chile under Pinochet
- Chilean transition to democracy
- Enrique Arancibia Clavel
- Los restos son de Berríos, Clarín, 26 May 1995 (Spanish)
- Jonathan Franklin, Pinochet 'sold cocaine to Europe and US', The Guardian, July 11, 2006 (English)
- Samuel Blixen, Pinochet's Mad Scientist, Consortium News, January 13, 1999 (English)
- Townley reveló uso de gas sarín antes de ser expulsado de Chile, El Mercurio, September 19, 2006 (Spanish)
- Contreras dice que Pinochet dio orden "personal, exclusiva y directa" de asesinar a Prats y Letelier, La Tercera, May 13, 2005, mirrored on CC.TT. website (Spanish)
- El coronel que le pena al ejército, La Nación, September 24, 2005 (Spanish)
- Michael Townley fue interrogado por muerte de Frei Montalva, Radio Cooperativa, 30 March 2005 (Spanish)
- Confirman prisión de generales (R) en caso Berríos, La Nación (mirrored by Memoria viva), 12 January 2004 (Spanish)
- Caso Berríos - La guerra secreta entre un espía y un abogado, El Periodista, N°59, 8 April 2004 (Spanish)
- Rechazan libertad para ex uniformados en caso Berríos, La Tercera (mirrored by Memoria viva), 12 January 2004 (Spanish)
- Neghme Jecar Antonio, Memoria Viva, (Spanish)
- Casella involucra al general Aguerrondo en el caso Berríos, La Republica, 5 February 2007 (Spanish)
- Jueza uruguaya descartó que Eugenio Berríos esté vivo, como afirmó Contreras, Radio Cooperativa, 12 July 2006 (Spanish)
- Andrés Capelán, Caso Berríos: la justicia uruguaya entre la espada y la pared., Equipo Nizkor, 20 June 2004 (Spanish)
- Familia de Carmelo Soria pidió que se interrogue a militar a cargo de tropas en Haití, Radio Cooperativa, 11 October 2005 (Spanish)
- General (r) Manuel Contreras: Eugenio Berríos está vivo, Radio Cooperativa, 10 July 2006 (Spanish)
- Levée de l'immunité de Pinochet pour le meurtre d'un chimiste, news agency cable, 12 October 2006 (French)
- "Chile: Condenan a los asesinos del "químico" de Pinochet", El Comercio
- "Former general under Pinochet dies in apparent suicide days after sentencing", The Guardian
- Filme uruguayo "Matar a todos" participará en San Sebastián, La Republica, 28 August 2007 (Spanish)
- New Docs Show Kissinger Rescinded Warning on Assassinations Days Before Letelier Bombing - video report by Democracy Now!