Orbis Books publishes firsthand account of two years in the repressive dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet for the fiftieth anniversary of Chile’s coup. The following article was published in the November-December 2023 issue of NewsNotes.
Kathleen M. Osberger’s book, I Surrender: A Memoir of Chile’s Dictatorship, 1975 tells of her time as a lay volunteer in Chile immediately following the military coup of General Augusto Pinochet. As a recent college graduate, she volunteered to work as a teacher in a Maryknoll Sister’s elementary school. By her account, it was immediately apparent to her that Chiles’ political situation was not normal. On her first day in the country she learned that the Catholic sisters in her community were hiding political targets of the Chilean secret police.
Many thousands of people were killed under Pinochet’s regime. According to the Rettig Commission, 2,279 were executed, most of them disappearing without explanation. The number of tortured is much higher, standing at 40,000. Many of these operations would be carried out by the Directorate of National Intelligence (DINA), General Pinochet’s secret police.
Osberger’s time among Catholic priests and sisters who would protect the lives of those targeted by the Pinochet regime would bring her face to face and interrogated by one Michael Townley, an American citizen and Chilean agent who ran the DINA’s operations. Townley would later be convicted by U.S. Courts for the murders of Orlando Letelier, former Chilean ambassador to the United States, and Ronni Karpen Moffitt, a Washington intern, who were bombed in a car on the streets of Washinton, DC. Townley evaded sentences for an assassination in Argentina and an assassination attempt in Rome, and for all the deaths perpetrated under his direction in Chile.
Osberger was able to receive personal protection from the U.S. Embassy, but then-president Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger’s policy toward General Pinochet was friendly. One measure of the hand that United States policy had in the dictatorship was the education of secret police. One out of every seven higher-level DINA officials was a graduate of the School of the Americas, the U.S. combat training school for Latin American soldiers and police. Victims of Pinochet’s regime would be tortured in methods outlined in manuals and teaching material originating from the United States.
The title of Osberger’s book comes from the moment of her encounter with Townley when she did not believe she would make it out alive. In that moment, she describes a peace that overcame her, knowing that her surrender to the will of God made any outcome bearable.
Faith in action
Order a copy from Orbis Books at https://mogc.info/i-surrender
Image of book cover for "I Surrender" from Orbis Books.