Weisfeiler Case Lingers In Background Of Obama’s Chile Visit

March 22, 2011The Santiago Times

Olga Weisfeiler arrived in Chile last week for the tenth time since 2000, returning again to the country where her brother Boris disappeared 26 years ago. He is the only United States citizen among the 1,100 Chileans who disappeared during Pinochet’s 17-year military regime.

Ms. Weisfeiler and her long-time congressional supporter Barney Frank wrote letters to President Obama urging him to discuss her brother’s case with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera.

“I very much expect that my brother’s case will be on Obama’s agenda with President Piñera,” Weisfeiler told The Santiago Times.

Throughout last week Olga met with U.S. Embassy officials to discuss the state of the case and strategies for continued pressure on Chilean authorities to finally close it. Hernán Fernandéz, Olga’s legal council since 2000, says “we hope to resolve the case soon, but it is impossible to say when that will happen.”

A mathematics professor at Penn State University, Boris Weisfeiler emigrated from Russia in 1975 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen six years later. He was last seen in January 1985 at the Los Sauces River near the Chilean border with Argentina. A month later, the local court declared accidental drowning his cause of death, although his body was never found.

In 1991 the United States Embassy submitted Boris’s case to the Rettig Commision, which formed after the fall of the Pinochet dictatorship. As the majority of the evidence on Boris’ disappearance was classified by the U.S. Embassy, the Commission declined the submission and the case was closed for almost a decade.

In 2000, when former U.S. President Bill Clinton declassified documents pertaining to repression under the Pinochet regime, some 400 cables, memoranda and reports on Weisfeiler’s disappearance came to light.

The declassified documents suggested that Weisfeiler had been captured by the Chilean police or army and taken to the nearby German colony of Colonia Dignidad. This mysterious walled community, founded in 1961 by former Nazi and convicted child-molester Paul Shaefer, had deep connections with the Chilean military and was used as a torture center during the dictatorship.

Now, 26 years later, Olga’s questions regarding her brother’s death remain unanswered. “It’s my life, Chile. Sometimes people tell me ‘You need to do something else,’ but I cannot,” she says.

With the case under Chilean jurisdiction, Olga can do little more than exert consistent pressure on Chilean authorities to bring it to its conclusion. Over the years, she has enlisted the support of the U.S. Embassy as well as several senators back home. “I believe now that everyone wants to close the case and just get rid of me,” Olga said.

Though no new information has surfaced in the past year, Ms.Weisfeiler says, “I have been very satisfied by the level of embassy involvement,” and is confident that the end is within reach.

Fernandez, though realistic about the case’s indefinite timeline, confirms, “There have been significant advances in the last year, more so than in the past. This could be a decisive moment.”

In the meantime, Ms. Weisfeiler has continued campaigning for the attention of Chilean and American officials alike. During the summer of 2010, a letter written by Senators Barney Frank (D-Mass) and Glenn Thompson (R-Penn) and signed by representatives from 15 states arrived on the desk of President Piñera shortly after his inauguration. Should Obama do as Olga hopes, this week’s visit by the U.S. Commander-in-Chief will also serve as a reminder for Chile’s head of state.

“I want to know when and how he died and find the rest of the body,” Ms. Weisfeiler told the Santiago Times. “I am not really looking to put someone in prison. I need to know to move forward. Simple as that.”

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