Orlando Letelier

Letelier in 1975
Born April 13, 1932(1932-04-13)
Temuco, Chile
Died September 21, 1976(1976-09-21) (aged 44)
Sheridan Circle, Washington, DC
Cause of death Car bomb
Nationality Chilean
Known for Letelier case
Spouse Isabel Margarita Morel
Children Cristián, José, Francisco, and Juan Pablo Letelier
Parents Orlando Letelier Ruiz
Inés del Solar

Marcos Orlando Letelier del Solar (April 13, 1932 – September 21, 1976) was a Chilean economist, Socialist politician and diplomat during the presidency of Socialist President Salvador Allende. As a refugee from the military dictatorship of US-backed General Augusto Pinochet, Letelier accepted several academic positions in Washington, D.C., where he was assassinated by Pinochet's DINA agents in 1976.



Letelier was born in Temuco, Chile, the youngest child of Orlando Letelier Ruiz and Inés del Solar. He studied at the Instituto Nacional and, at the age of sixteen, he was accepted as a cadet of the Chilean Military Academy, where he completed his secondary studies. Later he abandoned the military life to attend the University of Chile, where he graduated as a lawyer in 1954. In 1955, he joined the recently formed Copper Office (Departamento del Cobre, now CODELCO), where he worked until 1959 as a research analyst in the copper industry. In that year, Orlando Letelier was fired for supporting Salvador Allende's unsuccessful second presidential campaign. The Letelier family had to leave for Venezuela, where he became a copper consultant for the Finance Ministry. From there, Letelier made his way to then recently created Inter-American Development Bank, where he eventually became senior economist and director of the loan division. He was also one of the UN consultants responsible for the establishment of the Asian Development Bank.

He married Isabel Margarita Morel Gumucio on December 17, 1955, with whom had four children: Cristián, José, Francisco, and Juan Pablo Letelier.

Political career

His first political participations were as a university student, when he became a student representative at the University of Chile's Student Union. In 1959 Letelier joined the Chilean Socialist Party (PS). In 1971 President Allende appointed him ambassador to the United States because he had some unique leadership qualities rare among Latin American socialists of the time: chiefly among them a sophisticated grasp of the complexities of US politics and an in-depth knowledge of the copper industry. His specific mission was to try to defend the Chilean nationalization of copper against the privatization favored by the US government.

During 1973, Letelier was recalled to Chile and served successively as minister of Foreign Affairs, Interior and Defense. In the coup d'état of September 11, 1973, he was the first high-ranking member of the Allende administration seized and arrested, when he arrived at his office at the Ministry of Defense. He was held for twelve months in different concentration camps suffering severe torture: first at the Tacna Regiment, then at the Military Academy; later he was sent for eight months to a political prison on Dawson Island and from there he was transferred to the basement of the Air Force War Academy, and finally to the concentration camp of Ritoque, until international diplomatic pressure, especially from Diego Arria, then Governor of the city of Caracas in Venezuela, resulted in the sudden release of Letelier on the condition that he immediately leave Chile.

After his release in September 1974, he and his family resettled in Caracas, but then Letelier decided to head for Washington D.C., at the proposal of American writer Saul Landau. In 1975 Letelier moved to Washington where he became senior fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS is an independent research institute based in Washington, D.C., devoted to international policy studies), where Landau worked at the time. He also became director of the Transnational Institute (TNI is an independent research institute based in Amsterdam), and taught at the School of International Service of the American University, in Washington, D.C. He plunged into writing, speaking and lobbying the US Congress and European governments against Augusto Pinochet's regime, and soon became the leading voice of the Chilean resistance, preventing several loans (especially from Europe) from being awarded to the military government. On September 10, 1976, he was deprived of his Chilean nationality by decree.


Memorial on Sheridan Circle, Washington DC

Letelier was killed by a car bomb explosion on September 21, 1976, in Sheridan Circle, along with his US assistant, Ronni Moffitt.[1][dead link][2] Her husband Michael Moffitt was injured but survived. Several people were prosecuted and convicted for the murder. Among them were Michael Townley, a DINA U.S. expatriate who had once worked for the CIA; General Manuel Contreras, former head of the DINA; and Brigadier Pedro Espinoza, also formerly of DINA. Townley was convicted in the United States in 1978 and served 62 months in prison for the murder;[3] he is now free as a participant in the United States Federal Witness Protection Program. Contreras and Espinoza were convicted in Chile in 1993. General Augusto Pinochet, who died on December 10, 2006, was never brought to trial for the murders, although Townley implicated him as being responsible for them.


Following the death of Pinochet in December 2006, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), for which both Letelier and Moffitt worked, called for the release of all the classified documents related to the Letelier–Moffitt assassination.

According the IPS, the Clinton administration de-classified more than 16,000 documents related to Chile, but withheld documents related to the Letelier-Moffitt assassination in Washington on the grounds that they were associated with an ongoing investigation. The IPS says that the Clinton administration did re-activate the investigation into the Letelier-Moffitt murders and sent agents to Chile to gather additional evidence that Pinochet had authorized the crime. The former Chilean Secret Police Chief, Manuel Contreras, who, as previously mentioned, was convicted for his role in the crime in 1993 and later pointed the finger at his boss, claimed that all his orders came from Pinochet.

There are rumors that a draft indictment of Pinochet was prepared, but they were not confirmed by the George W. Bush administration.

Recent Disclosure

A State Department document made available by the National Security Archive on 10 April 2010 reveals that a démarche protesting Pinochet's Operation: Condor assassination program was proposed and sent on 23 August 1976 to US diplomatic missions in Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile to be delivered to their host governments but later rescinded on 16 September 1976 by Henry Kissinger following concerns raised by US ambassadors assigned there of both personal safety and a likely diplomatic contretemps. Five days later the assassination took place.[4]

See also


  1. ^ "Cable Ties Kissinger to Chile Scandal". Associated Press in the New York Times. April 10, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/04/10/us/AP-US-Kissinger-Chile.html?_r=1&hp. Retrieved 2010-04-10. "The next day, on Sept. 21, 1976, agents of Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet planted a car bomb and exploded it on a Washington, D.C., street, killing both former Ambassador Orlando Letelier, and an American colleague, Ronni Karpen Moffitt. Letelier was one of the most outspoken critics of the Pinochet government." [dead link]
  2. ^ Associated Press "Cable Ties Kissinger to Chile Scandal", Blog Cella, 10 de abril de 2010. Retrieved 2011-09-21.
  3. ^ Freudenheim, Milt and Roberts, Katherine "Chilean Admits Role in '76 Murder" The New York Times, February 8, 1987. Retrieved 2011-09-20.
  4. ^ "A senior analyst at the National Security Archive, Peter Kornbluh, notes:". http://www.democracynow.org/2010/4/12/new_docs_show_kissinger_rescinded_warning. "Then you have the US ambassador in Chile saying, basically, well, Pinochet's feelings will be hurt and he'll be insulted if I tell him...that we think that he's involved in international assassinations. I think that that's not a very good idea...give me further instructions. And you had our ambassador--these are some other documents that we've recently obtained through the FOIA--our ambassador in Uruguay, Ernest Siracusa, writes back and says: I'm worried that my life will be in danger if I actually raise this subject here. Why don't you take the security risk in Washington."  On 16 September 1976 Kissinger rescinded the démarche order to his staff, and on 20 September 1976 US diplomats were duly informed of the revised directive. The next day, 21 September 1976, Letelier and Moffit were killed in the bomb blast.


External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Clodomiro Almeyda
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Clodomiro Almeyda
Preceded by
Carlos Briones
Minister of the Interior
Succeeded by
Carlos Briones
Preceded by
Carlos Prats
Minister of Defense
Succeeded by
Patricio Carvajal

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