Reporter, author, correspondent for many years in Latin America, John Dinges has written three books on Latin America, the most recent of which is The Condor Years: How Pinochet and his Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents, The New Press 2004, 2005. En español Operación Cóndor: Una Década de Terrorismo Internacional en el Cono Sur (Ediciones B 2004).
He is the Godfrey Lowell Cabot Professor of International Journalism at Columbia University, a position he held from 1996-2016, currently with emeritus status. Previously he worked on the foreign desk of The Washington Post, traveling as a reporter to cover the civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. From 1985 to 1996 he worked at National Public Radio as deputy senior foreign editor, managing editor, and editorial director. His first job in journalism was at the Des Moines Register & Tribune in his native State of Iowa.
I arrived in Chile in October 1972–covering the final year of the country’s failed attempt to forge a “peaceful road to Socialism.” I witnessed the military coup that overthrew the government of President Salvador Allende, and I remained for the first five years of the Pinochet dictatorship. Most of my reporting was for The Washington Post, at first without using my name. Only a few American journalists resided in Chile during that period, which was the most violent of the military government. The Post called me a “special correspondent”, which is a dressed up name for a stringer, a freelance reporter who enjoys a stable “payment by the piece” relationship with the publication. I had a similar arrangement with Time magazine and ABC Radio. A Peru-based newsletter, Latin America Press, actually paid me a small monthly salary. I also filed for a long list of other newspapers, radio (BBC and eventually NPR) and did occasional work for television. It was the beginning of a career-long life-changing engagement with Chile. It was where I met my wife Carolina Kenrick, to whom The Condor Years is dedicated. She was part of it all. A few weeks after we started living together, I did her the dubious favor of getting us both arrested for a day at the notorious Villa Grimaldi. Our son Tomas was born in Santiago in 1977. He is bi-national and currently lives and works in Chile. Sebastián and Camila were born in Washington DC after we returned to the US. They grew up knowing Chile was in our blood and in our hearts.
Over the course of these four decades in Chile, I participated in the creation of three media organizations: APSI/Actualidad Internacional started in 1976, under intense military censorship and became one of the leading investigative news magazines exposing the abuses of the military and helping to open up the road to democracy. In 2007 I had the idea of creating an investigative journalism center that would operate independently of the existing chilean news organizations that had generally stifled vigorous investigative work by their reporters. In Chile for a six-month stint as a visiting professor at Universidad Alberto Hurtado, I proposed the idea to Monica González, one of Chile’s most prominent investigative reporters, whose newpaper Siete Mas Siete had just been closed. We raised the substantial amounts of money needed to pay top salaries to top investigative reporters and brought together the staff that became the Centro de Investigación e Información Periodística (CIPER). More than 10 years later, CIPER which continues its successful run under González’s leadership. More recently, in collaboration with outstanding investigative journalists Jorge Escalante, Pascal Bonnefoy, Maria Olivia Monckeberg and Maria Jose Vilches, I created another investigative center, ArchivosChile, which carried out groundbreaking investigations exploring the secret documentary record of the military government. ArchivosChile was based for several years in the University of Chile’s communications school, ICEI. The non-profit fundraising vehicle for the latter two projects has been the U.S.-based Center for Investigation and Information (CIINFO) of Washington DC. CIINFO continues to support investigative journalism projects in Chile and in several other Latin American countries. It also serves as a base for my own current investigative projects.
John Dinges’s latest book is The Condor Years: How Pinochet and his Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents, The New Press 2003. His other books include: Assassination on Embassy Row (Pantheon 1980), with Saul Landau; Our Man in Panama (Random House 1990, 1991); Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide to Radio Reporting and Production (editor), and Independence and Integrity (editor).
Photo: Marcelo Montesino