The South American Military and the UFO Phenomenon
by Scott Corrales
The mindset of the military establishment in the southern hemisphere can best be characterized by the response to a request for photographs made by an American writer to the Chilean Naval Mission. The hopeful author is told in no uncertain terms that the requested images of UFOs flying in formation, taken by one Captain Orrego in 1948, cannot exist, since the good captain himself denied having seen the UFOs in question.
Before elaborating about the official perception of the UFO phenomenon by the Latin American armed forces, perhaps it would be proper to look at the armies themselves: American and European readers have long been given the idea that the military establishments of the southern continent are berribboned generalissimos straight out of comic opera, using superannuated equipment acquired as surplus equipment from the great powers. The truth is quite different: the ABC powers (as Argentina, Brazil and Chile are known) have professional, well-trained armies and navies equipped with the best of French and U.S. equipment. Argentina and Brazil even have fledgling space programs; Peru's elite commandos are so efficient that the recent release of hostages from the occupied Japanese embassy in Lima was thought to have been the work of American Delta Forces or British S.A.S. troops; the U.S. Navy holds joint exercises with the Brazilian and Peruvian fleets on a regular basis -- certainly nothing out of Gilbert and Sullivan.
It is true, however, that the South American military establishment is less of a war-fighting machine than a political tool and an instrument of repression, and that coups d'etat by assorted generals and admirals constitute a blemish that all of South America has had to endure until comparatively recent times.
Police armies, which is the term given by political scientists to such military setups, have three simple goals: keep the population in line, suppress any insurgency in the countryside which may lead to a steady guerrilla war, and to keep military governments in power. Such armed forces are usually unable to face an outside invader successfully.
Information of something as sensitive as UFOs has always been kept under wraps and UFO researchers have been regarded with suspicion, since groups of people wandering around at night in search of "Martians" (the catchall term given to alleged ET's in Spanish) could just as easily be terrorists or idealistic revolutionaries.
Saucers in Brazil
Portuguese-speaking Brazil is without a doubt the heavyweight of South American countries, with a total surface just slightly smaller than the continental United States and vast untapped natural resources. When UFOs first began manifesting themselves over Brazil during the globe-spanning 1954 saucer wave, the military was as unprepared to deal with the situation as the Pentagon had been a few years earlier. On October 24, 1954, UFOs buzzed the Porto Alegre air base: witnesses reported silvery objects flying over the facility. A few weeks later, reports of long-haired men in coveralls descending from the landed discs began reaching the attention of the High Command. One case followed another in rapid succession to the extent that in mid-December 1954, the Brazilian Air Force issued a frantic communique‚ requesting the cooperation of other South American governments in solving the distressing UFO riddle, particularly after an enormous washbasin-shaped UFO flew low over the meteorological station at the Santa Maria air force facility in Rio Grande do Sul on November 22, 1954. A number of South American newspapers gave ample coverage to the statements made on the "flap" by a BAF colonel, Joao Oliveira.
In 1959, the famous Trinidade Island case (a saturn-shaped vehicle photographed over an island off the Brazilian coast) caused a sensation in Brazil's O Jornal newspaper and further trepidation among the army brass, which was already seriously considering the notion, proposed by Dr. Olavo Fontes, that the massive Matto Grosso plateau might harbor a base for "unconventional aerial objects". Nor were their concerns assuaged when Dr. Fontes called for military and industrial scientist to develop the weaponry needed to protect the Earth against the aerial intruders.
The Brazilian military had already learned to take UFOs seriously after the "attack" upon the Itaipu Garrison in 1957 -- a UFO the size of a DC-3 had emerged from a cloudless sky over the Atlantic Ocean, emitting a strong orange glow, and firing a searing blast of heat against some of the sentries on duty. The High Command issued orders to forbid any discussion among the soldiers of the event. All matters concerning the phenomenon would be kept in the tightest of secrecy, particularly as the turbulent Sixties began.
By 1969, just as Project Blue Book was winding down in the U.S., the BAF was setting up its Sistema de Investiga‡ao de Objetos Aereos Nao Idenficados, or SIOANI. This operation coincided with the oft-mentioned Opera‡ao Prato (Operation Disk), whose purpose was that of a collecting information on UFOs from the riverine communities of the Amazon Basin as well as investigate and photograph any anomalous phenomena. Researchers of distinction, such as Fernando Cleto Nunes Pereira have argued that the bulk of the information collected by Operaiao Prato was turned over to the U.S. Air Force. Brazil, having neither the resources nor indeed an overwhelming interest in exploring the UFO enigma, would barter its findings for more tangible benefits.
Operaiao Prato most desperate hour, without a doubt, came during the nightmarish siege of the Isle of Colhares in the Lower Amazon between 1977-78. This landmark case of Brazilian ufology dealt with the appearance of the notorious chupas - box-like flying contraptions which fired laser-like beams against the hapless inhabitants of Amazonian communities. These devices, whose depredations have been detailed by both Jacques Vall‚e and Daniel Rebisso Giese, caused Brazil's First Air Regional Command (COMAR) to dispatch its forces not to fight the aliens in some romantic real-life version of Independence Day, but to collect as much information on the unknown quantity and keep the hysterical population of the Amazon Delta under control.
At first, the military scoffed at the exploits of the chupas. But when reports were received from municipal officials, the very real fear of guerrilla activity prompted them to react. While some of COMAR's officers may have eventually believed that they faced an extraterrestrial adversary, the vast majority believed that one of the superpowers was testing advanced weaponry without permission in the Brazilian wilderness.
In his landmark book, Vampiros Extraterrestres Na Amazonia (Extraterrestrial Vampires of the Amazon), ufologist Daniel Rebisso Giese notes that the military personnel involved in the operations at Colhares managed to acquire considerable amounts of information in the form of photographs, video footage and audio recordings, but attempts at pursuing the enigmatic UFOs with helicopters proved fruitless. In an interview with author Pablo Villarubia, Rebisso noted that some of the soldiers involved in Opera‡ao Prato suffered nervous breakdowns while others went completely insane.
On May 19, 1986, the Brazilian military was forced to tangle with the tar baby of ufology once more: in an incident which mirrored the famous 1952 fly-over of Washington, D.C. by a formation of unidentified craft, the capital city of Brasilia was visited by a number of UFOs, described as reddish orange lights flying at an altitude of some 1,200 feet and at great speed. The FAB scrambled an assortment of F-5E and Mirage fighters to meet the intruders, and engaging in a frantic pursuit while the saucer-shaped craft rose and dropped, flying ahead of their pursuers and reappearing behind them. The chase prompted the disruption of all passenger air traffic for hours and saturated radar stations in Santa Cruz, Congonhas, An polis and Brasilia itself.
The sensational nature of this event was such that Brazil's Minister of Aeronautics was forced to appear on television to state, unequivocally, that his country's airspace had been invaded by UFOs. A special commission was formed to investigate the event, and its findings were never made public.
Argentina: A Private Little War
Argentina's military forces have received the most news coverage of any of Latin America's armies. Not only did the brief Falklands War (1982) bring it tragically to the world's attention, but the "Dirty War" waged by the military against its own citizens was eloquently captured in the compelling documentary The Official Story. For decades, a succession of military "juntas" (triumvirates of senior military officers) ran the country prior to the advent of democracy in the mid-1980's.
But if the "Dirty War" prompted a sense of moral outrage around the world, Argentina's secret war against the UFO phenomenon went unnoticed by anyone outside the field. To members of the Argentinean military, it sometimes seemed as if the "enemy" had already established beachheads within the country, particularly the body of water known as Golfo San Matjas on the cold waters of the South Atlantic.
In February 1960, the Argentinean Navy found itself scouring Golfo San Matias in search of a colossal, spindle-shaped object which had reportedly been seen by locals cruising along the surface of the body of water. The Navy's efforts did not go unrewarded: the massive naval dragnet turned up a pair of unknown submarine objects which appeared immune to the depth charges dropped by the surface ships. The task force commander proudly informed the Admiralty in Buenos Aires that the enemy had been penned within the waters of the gulf and that it would be only a matter of time before the two subs were forced to surface. But the USOs had other plans: they disappeared instead.
Only a few years later, in 1966, a Patagonian farmer reported seeing a similar spindle-shaped craft make a violent plunge into the waters of Golfo San Jorge. The UFO reportedly hit the water and caused a tremendous splash, sinking almost immediately.
As cases continued to pile up over the course of decades, no one was surprised that when retired Navy captain Daniel Alberto Periss‚, a career officer involved in ufology since 1965, when he witnessed the UFO incident at Deception Island, discussed the inception of a joint civilian-military UFO "working group" under the auspices of CITEFA. This agency, under the command of Commodore Mascietti, had made a name for itself in Argentinean ufological circles due to its examination of physical evidence left behind at alleged UFO landing sites. The scientists that integrate the working group are experts in their fields and harbor understandable concerns that their involvement in anything having to do with the UFO phenomenon could hinder their professional advancement, in spite of the fact that CITEFA is a branch of the Ministry of Defense and has a staff of over five hundred scientists and personnel in uniform.
According to an article written by Dr. Rafael Lara Palmeros for the SAMIZDAT newsletter (Spring '97), the Argentinean Air Force concentrated its UFO research between 1979 and 1987 within a branch headed by Captains Augusto Lima and Eladio Rodriguez, who worked for the National Commission for Space Exploration (CNIE). In 1988, the executive branch dissolved CNIE and replaced it with the National Commission on Space Activity (CONAE). Official accounts say that there is no agency devoted to studying UFOs. After President Menem came to power, CONAE (and its predecessors archives) came under the control of the Presidency. Therefore, there is a fork in the road to access official UFO information: according to some, the documentation formerly kept by CNIE is filed in the Condor Building; to others, the fate of certain "hot documents" would be the San Miguel Space Center, which is composed of largely civilian personnel. An employee for this facility made confidential inquiries to enable those interested to consult the files, but the facts were quite different: the files compiled by CNIE over the years cannot be viewed by the public at large nor journalists: technical questionnaires, field analysis results, "landing area" samples and remains from alleged UFO "accidents" have all been classified MS (Material Secreto or TOP SECRET).
Chile: A Dagger Pointed At Antarctica
When former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger was told of the rise of a socialist, pro-Soviet government in Chile in 1970, he dismissed the country's importance by saying it was "a dagger pointed at Antarctica". UFOs have shown an equally pointed interest in this narrow country (two hundred miles at its widest) since the 1940s.
The Chilean military was in itself quite different from it neighbors, having fought a succession of wars on land and sea with Per£ for hegemony over its sphere of influence in the South Pacific, and against Argentina for control [of disputed borders, Tierra del Fuego, and even parts of the Antarctic. Until the military coup de etat which brought the dictator Pinochet to power in 1973, the military had kept to its barracks. Researchers heading to the Andean regions in search of UFO landing traces or to interview terrified peasants could have easily found themselves facing a firing squad as potential subversives. But research into the phenomenon continued as a wealth of cases emerged from Chile, and one case in particular would send a shock through the military establishment.
On the frigid predawn hours of April 25, 1977, a detachment of the Rancagua regiment led by Corporal Armando Valdes Garrido, camped in Andean location only a few miles from the city of Putre.
A soldier on sentry duty notified Valdes that a red light was hovering above a nearby peak. Concerned that anti-government activity might be taking place, the corporal ordered his men to ready weapons and extinguish the campfire. The soldiers fanned out toward the purplish-red light, realizing as they did so that it had nothing to do with revolutionaries or indeed any kind of terrestrial activity: The light was gradually moving down the slope, avoiding any contact with the surface.
The Chilean soldiers noticed that the bitterly cold air turned warmer as the light grew closer: they could now see it was a giant oval-shaped object which bathing them in its purplish-red glow.
The unknown object, enshrouded in a violet fog that stood out in stark contrast to the surrounding darkness, landed at a distance from the soldiers. The presence of the unknown overwhelmed the young conscripts, who were riveted to the ground in fear. Corporal Valdes, sidearm in hand, ventured forward alone into the unearthly fog, adding later that he felt compelled by something within the luminosity, and was standing no farther than nine feet away from his men when the purplish light engulfed him. He completely disappeared from view.
The terrified, leaderless platoon was witness the Corporal Valdes' sudden reappearance 15 minutes later, when they heard his voice calling for help. Valdes now had the disheveled appearance was that of a man who had been lost in the wilderness for days. His normally clean-shaven face showed dense beard, and his calendar wristwatch indicated that the time was 6:30 a.m. on the 30th of April, when it was still in fact 4:25 a.m. on the 25th. By all indications, the hapless military man had undergone a five day sojourn in an unguessable region of time and space. Hypnotic regression, which would ordinarily have been the procedure of choice in unlocking the "missing time", was expressly forbidden by the Chilean military. Medical specialists agreed that Valdes's panic at the ordeal, as well as the unknown radiation he had been subjected to, could have accelerated the growth of his facial hair, but no explanation was forthcoming about what had happened to his wristwatch. The corporal stated for the record that his only recollection of the event was a dreamlike vision of falling down a deep well or chasm. He was also left with a feeling that he would meet again with the strange presence.
A number of prestigious Chilean scientists, aeronautical engineer Guillermo Fonck among them, insisted that the "Valdes Case", as it became widely known, was not only true but proof positive of the interaction between the UFO phenomenon and humans. Rodrigo de la Vega, an astrophysicist at the Catholic University of Chile, concurred in that certain worlds may have produced civilizations capable of sending manned missions to Earth. With unaccustomed candor, the Chilean military issued a communiqu‚ stating that Corporal Valdes and his seven-man platoon had witnessed the "landing of an unidentified phenomenon". A second communique‚ manifested that the soldiers had been ordered to refrain from speaking publicly on their experience until military authorities had completed their investigation. When UFO researchers from other countries visited Chile to interview the experiencers, they were given the runaround by army personnel. A public information officer allegedly told Argentinean ufologists Antonio Las Heras: "You won't find them. Nobody knows where they are, except the High Command. Many like yourself are trying to find them, and their questions are bothersome. For safety's sake, they've been scattered around a number of bases. There may be two right here, or none! Perhaps some remain in Putre (where the events occurred) or some may have been sent to the southern garrisons. You won't find them...and if you do, they won't tell you anything."
It was the same stone wall that the nameless American author had run into when requesting Captain Orrego's photos from the Chilean Naval Attache.
On October 18, 1995, numerous eyewitnesses told authorities that a massive, luminous "oval" had flown over the border region of Parinacota and Arica, between Chile and its landlocked neighbor, Bolivia. Jorge Anfruns, Chile's foremost UFO researcher, visited the area and learned that that very same day, a huge "mothership" had been seen flying over the area, escorted by a number of smaller unidentified vehicles. As they flew across the Chilean border, they produced abnormal electrical effects on internal combustion engines.
Anfruns also learned that the Chilean Air Force had launched an investigation into the singular event, involving a number of government ministries ranging from Chile's national weather bureau to its air operations command.
Evidence of a thaw in the icy wall of silence surrounding the Chilean military's position on the subject of UFOs became evident in the spring of 1997, when air traffic controllers at the Chacalluta International Airport, on the outskirts of the city of Arica, reported seeing three UFOs hovering over the Pacific Ocean within plain view from the tower. Uncharacteristically, the unknown vehicles allowed the onlookers to take a good, long look -- they remained in position for over two hours, finally speeding away toward the Andes.
A news story appearing in Arica's La Tercera on April 1, 1997 featured an interview with the airport's director, in which he explained that the UFOs had not been visible to his own radar system, and that the assistance of other airports in Chile and nearby Peru had been requested. The latter were also unable to pick the objects up on their systems.
But the shocker came on April 2, 1997, when Chile's General Directorate of Civil Aeronautics (DGAC, in Spanish), confirmed that the trio of saucers seen in over the water off Arica had been confirmed by the Chilean Air Force, which had recorded the objects moving at speeds in excess of 12,000 kilometers an hour. A spokesman for the directorate went on to add that the UFO phenomenon was decidedly real and was neither "meteoric nor climactic" -- a bold admission we have yet to hear other countries make.