HIDDEN TERRORS by A. J. Langguth
Kirkus Star


Email this review


When Dan Mitrione, the hometown Indiana boy who became a Police Adviser in Uruguay, was executed by the Tupamaros rebels in Montevideo in 1970, he became an instant symbol of US Latin American policy. Langguth, in this devastating book, characterizes him as a mere ""foot soldier"" in a hidden war of terror waged by others. The war got underway in earnest in 1960, just around the time Mitrione gave up his job as Chief of Police in Richmond, Indiana, learned Portuguese at State Department expense, and left to train cops in Brazil. Mitrione's superiors would four years later succeed in mounting the ""revolution"" that restored military dictatorship to that country. They did so with one nervous eye on Cuba, utilizing the refurbished Brazilian police Mitrione and others like him had sent to Fort Bragg, Panama, and Washington for training in advanced techniques of guerrilla combat. Langguth, a former New York Times Saigon bureau chief, lingers over the Brazilian case history, the model for ""destabilization"" throughout Latin America--notably in Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile. As one of those called to ""the first line of defense"" against the Communists, Mitrione learned to adjust his tactics to the new dictatorship. By the time he went to Uruguay in 1969 the system had progressed to the exquisite tortures once used by the French in Algeria. The US diplomatic pouch brought in electric needles and other instruments and apparatus, some of it described by Philip Agee whose story (Inside the Company, 1975) intersects this one. To decimate whatever opposition was left, the Escadron de la Mort, patterned after Brazil's infamous Death Squads, struck down liberals and other dissidents. When Mitrione was kidnapped, Nixon refused to deal and his fate was sealed. (Langguth depicts him as a decent, naive man at the outset, not the fanatic portrayed by Costa-Gavras in State of Siege.) His death spelled the coup de grace for democracy in Uruguay; his employer, the Office of Public Safety, went out of business not long after. Langguth's storytelling manner of utter reasonableness only underscores the mounting tension and dread.

Pub Date: June 5th, 1978
Publisher: Pantheon