As part of his Europe trip, President Sebastián Piñera met today with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. They discussed not only economic matters, but also a dark chapter of Chilean-German relations: Colonia Dignidad. Especially German politicians like Renate Künast of the Green Party have pushed for thorough processing of what transpired at that place.
During a press conference with Germany’s Chancellor Merkel, President Piñera unequivocally defended global trade. According to German news outlet n-tv, he said that “in our view [multilateral trade] is the most intelligent way to create economic growth.” Since this view is in sync with the policies of export giant Germany, Merkel won’t run into trouble promoting – as she promised – the upgrade of the EU-Chile free trade agreement, also eyeing Chile’s abundant natural resources. Although Chile has much less influence than the EU, it can leverage these resources in trade talks to gain advantages other countries of similar size couldn’t.
While both countries hold each other generally in very high regard, some dark spots exist. Colonia Dignidad, the hermetic colony founded by former Nazi Paul Schäfer is such a spot. This place also served the Pinochet dictatorship as torture center, labor camp and child brothel. But not only the dictatorship enabled the colony; West-German diplomats in Chile turned a blind eye, too.
At today’s press conference, Piñera said Germany and Chile agree on two vital matters regarding Colonia Dignidad. First, both countries “condemn the human rights violations that have been perpetrated” there. Second, they seek to build a “documentation center or even a memorial in the place where these attacks on human rights were perpetrated,” n-tv quoted Piñera as saying.
In August, member of German parliament Renate Künast, demanded Germany compensate Paul Schäfer’s victims, given the role the West German state played in obscuring his crimes. In September, however, a German court ruled that former Colonia doctor Hartmut Hopp can live freely in Germany. Hopp fled Chile because he faced a five-year prison sentence for his complicity in Paul Schäfer’s crimes. The court found that his actions aren’t punishable in Germany.
This verdict represents a denial of justice to the Chilean victims. If Piñera is serious about the matter, Chilean and German diplomats will have much work to do to find a solution.
Christian is Managing Editor at Chile Today, where he curates the foreign policy blog Teatinos One/Eighty. Christian is also Lead Editor of E-International Relations, co-editor of an open access textbook on International Relations Theory and Director at the Chilean Association of International Specialists (ACHEI).