Recently declassified documents confirm Pinochet ordered assassination in Washington D.C.
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Recently declassified documents confirm Pinochet ordered assassination in Washington D.C.

This September marked the 39th anniversary of Chilean Orlando Letelier and his American Colleague Ronni Moffit’s assassination in Washington D.C. The pair died after a bomb affixed to the undercarriage of their car exploded less than a mile from the White House.

Letelier had been exiled in the U.S. following General Augusto Pincohet’s violent coup against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973. Letelier, a politician and diplomat, was one of Allende’s closest advisors and served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of the Interior and Minister of Defense, making him one of Pinochet’s main targets.

Among the first to be arrested during the coup, Letelier spent a year imprisoned in a series of detention camps until diplomatic pressure from Venezuela obtained his release.

Chile’s secret police chief

Letelier was targeted for his dissent against a government that had already suppressed 3,000 opponents, through executions or ‘disappearances’ as well as detaining and tortured 40,000 others.

The exiled Chilean had become the de facto international voice of resistance to Pinochet’s junta and his lobbying efforts proved instrumental in ending U.S. military aid to Chile and pushing other countries to stop economic cooperation with the regime.

The assassination was met with outrage across the U.S. and public demand to uncover the perpetrators was overwhelming. A subsequent CIA and FBI investigation found the attack had been ordered by Chile’s much feared secret police, DINA (National Intelligence Directorate), and carried out by one of their American agents, Michael Townley.

The then head of DINA, Miguel Contreas, was sentenced in 1993 for his role and subsequently testified that Pinochet was aware of the assassination. Pinochet, however, who was widely suspected as the assassination’s architect was never brought to trial and died in 2006, never facing justice for the crimes committed in his 23 year rule.

Pinochet connection

However, newly declassified documents tie Pinochet directly to the assassination. United States Secretary of State John Kerry passed on documents to Chilean President Michelle Bachelet during a visit to the Latin nation last week.

Chilean Senator and Orlando Letelier’s son, Juan Pablo Letelier said last Wednesday the information provided, including a CIA report, offers ‘conclusive’ proof Pinochet ordered the assassination, Reuters reports: “There’s a document from the secretary of state at that time that has a CIA report with conclusive, convincing evidence that Pinochet was the one who gave Manuel Contreras the order to execute the act of terrorism in which Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt died.”

“There’s also proof in that document of how Pinochet sought to block the investigations and cover up his name and responsibility,” Letelier continued.

Indeed, according to the Chilean senator, Pinochet had planned to assassinate Contreas to cover up his involvement. Speaking to Tele13 Radio, in Chile, he said, “In his (Pinochet’s) predisposition to defend his position he planned to eliminate Manuel Contreras to keep him from talking.”

Contreas had also accused the CIA of being involvement in the assassination before his death in August. Contreas, according to previously declassified documents, had received payments from the CIA prior to the assassination and had regular contact with senior agency officials.

With growing speculation, the Guardian reports, investigators in the U.S. and Chile are assessing the records in search of evidence the CIA were aware of the assassination and did not prevent it.

See also:

The assassination of Orlando Letelier Part One: The exiled voice of resistance to Chile’s dictatorship

Pinochet’s legacy 42 years on