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Sun Nov 11, 2018, 01:22 AM

The long read: Latin America's Schindler: a forgotten hero of the 20th century

The long read: Latin America’s Schindler: a forgotten hero of the 20th century

Under General Pinochet’s rule of terror in Chile, one man saved thousands of people from the dictator’s brutal secret police. How did Roberto Kozak do it – and escape death?

by Ewen MacAskill and Jonathan Franklin
Wed 14 Dec 2016 01.00 EST

Just before 10am on New Year’s Eve 1986, armed men arrived at the office of a small organisation for the resettlement of migrants, in Santiago, Chile. They immediately began rounding up staff. “They tossed us in the meeting room, on the floor, face down. They cut computer cables and tied us up, wrist to wrist,” recalled Eliana Infante, one of the staff. “After they tied us up, they asked, ‘Which of you is the communist son of a bitch Roberto Kozak?’”

A tall, strikingly handsome and immaculately dressed man stood up. “That’s me,” he said, calmly.

Kozak was marched down a flight of stairs. With a machine gun to his head, he was forced to lie on top of a conference table while he was interrogated by the paramilitaries.

The gunmen were members of a rightwing death squad ultra-loyal to the Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet. They were looking for guns and money that they suspected were stashed in Kozak’s office: the Santiago branch of the Geneva-based Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM). They were also looking for evidence that Kozak was implicated in an assassination attempt on Pinochet a few months earlier, which had left five of the dictator’s bodyguards dead.

. . .

One of the most courageous of the diplomats, who worked alongside Kozak in the immediate aftermath of the coup, was the late Swedish ambassador Harald Edelstam. During the second world war, Edelstam had helped Jews escape from Norway to Sweden. Now, in Chile, he was working to save people from Pinochet’s regime.

In one notable incident, Edelstam came to the rescue of hundreds of Cuban diplomats and Allende supporters trapped inside the Cuban embassy in Santiago, which was under fire from Chilean tanks and troops who were preparing to storm the building. Carrying only a Swedish flag, Edelstam went into the embassy and helped negotiate safe passage for the 147 Cuban diplomats. After having escorted the diplomats from the building, Edelstam then returned to sleep there that night, in order to protect the Chileans wanted by the regime. Before the end of 1973, Edelstam was declared persona non grata and expelled from Chile.


I'm thankful to have discovered this info. by chance this evening.

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