Female aide to secret police chief under Pinochet arrested in Australia, faces extradition to Chile

A former aide to the chief of Chile's infamous secret police force was arrested in Australia on Tuesday over her alleged involvement in a kidnapping during the military rule of Gen Augusto Pinochet.

Adriana Rivas, 66, worked as a close aide between 1973 and 1976 to Manuel Contreras, who ran the National Intelligence Directorate under the Pinochet regime.

He died in 2015 while serving more than 500 years for crimes including assassinations, disappearances and kidnappings.

Chile’s authorities say Rivas directly participated in the kidnapping and disappearance of the secretary-general of the Communist Party, Víctor Díaz, who was held in a secret prison before he was suffocated and thrown into the ocean.

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During the military Junta rule in Chile, political enemies – often communists and socialists – were targeted by the regime. About 3,000 people were reportedly killed by the regime throughout the 1970s and 1980s, with tens of thousands of persecuted.

The secret police run by Contreras was the main agency Pinochet used to suppress his political opponents following his usurpation of power.

Yet while the Chilean population was repressed, Rivas told Australian broadcaster SBS in 2013 that her days at the secret police were “the best of my life.”

She said during the interview that she was looked after financially and was given money for clothes, invited to exclusive events and stayed in top-class hotels.

She dismissed the torture and violence committed by the force, saying that “they had to break the people - it has happened all over the world, not only in Chile.”

Although she denied being involved in torture, some witnesses have stepped forward to accuse Rivas of being one of the “most brutal torturers” at the force, as documented by Lissette Orozco, a filmmaker and Rivas' niece, according to the BBC.

Rivas was first arrested in 2006 in Chile for her involvement in the kidnapping of Díaz, but she fled to Australia while under investigation. Chile filed an extradition request in 2013, yet she was arrested just on Tuesday.

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Chilean-born lawyer Adriana Navarro said the extradition process was delayed by a change in Chilean governments.

“There’s been a number of technical obstacles along the way because the Chilean system of law is completely different to the Australian system,” Navarro said. “That’s why it’s taken five years.”

The lawyer said the Chilean diaspora in Australia was ecstatic about Rivas’ arrest. “There’s about 45,000 Chileans here and the majority of us, including myself, came to Australia fleeing the Pinochet dictatorship,” Navarro said.

“It should not be accepted that people who commit these heinous crimes are free,” Navarro added.

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Rivas is set to appear in court in Sydney next month. She was not granted bail.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.