New US documents show Pinochet ordered ex-minister’s murder in 1976

Secretary Kerry gives Chilean leader 300 classified papers about the killing in Washington

Rocío Montes
The late General Augusto Pinochet, in 1997.
The late General Augusto Pinochet, in 1997.EPA

US Secretary of State John Kerry has handed over a pen drive to Chilean President Michelle Bachelet containing 300 declassified documents on the 1976 car bombing in Washington DC, which killed former Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and his US aide.

The State Department cables, which contain communications between US diplomats citing Chilean informants, support the long-held theory that dictator Augusto Pinochet ordered the murder.

Kerry handed over a pen drive to Chilean President Bachelet containing 300 declassified documents

Letelier, who served under deposed Marxist President Salvador Allende, became a vocal opponent of the Pinochet dictatorship after he was released from a Chilean jail and banned from the country. Since 1975 he had been living and working in Washington, where he became a vocal activist against the Chilean regime.

Chile’s Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz explained that Kerry gave Bachelet the pen drive during a bilateral meeting on Monday in the resort city of Viña del Mar, where the Our Oceans Conference was being held.

Bachelet turned the documents over to judicial authorities and to Juan Pablo Letelier, the late envoy’s son, who currently serves as a senator for the Socialist Party.

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The lawmaker said he was surprised by Washington’s sudden move to hand over the previously unreleased cables that cover a period in the 1980s when President Ronald Reagan was in office.

“Among the cables, there are communications between Secretary of State George Schulz and the president’s office where it is discussed that there is a conclusive CIA report concerning Pinochet’s role in the murder of my father,” Letelier said in a radio interview on Thursday.

“This is the first time that a document has emerged providing concrete evidence that he ordered the crime – something we had always suspected,” he said.

Letelier said that among the more than 1,000 pages of documents he has so far reviewed, there is one showing how Pinochet hatched plans to “physically eliminate” his secret police (DINA) chief Manuel Contreras, so he wouldn’t talk.

Contreras died in a Chilean prison last August. He was serving an additional 526-year term for human rights violations when he died of kidney failure.

Other documents turned over by Kerry reveal more unknown details about the Pinochet dictatorship’s conspiracies

Between 1973 and 1977, Contreras served as DINA head during one of the most brutal periods of the dictatorship. In 1993, he was sentenced to seven years in prison for masterminding the assassinations of Orlando Letelier and his US aide Ronni Moffitt.

The two were killed on September 21, 1976 when a bomb went off while they were driving to work on Washington’s Sheridan Circle. Moffitt’s husband, who was riding in the back seat, was injured but survived.

“It’s possible that there could be information [in these documents] about people who are still alive and participated in this cover-up,” the son said.

Pinochet died in 2006.

In their book, La historia oculta del régimen militar (or The military regime’s hidden story), journalists Ascanio Cavallo, Manuel Salazar and Oscar Sepúlveda claimed that Orlando Letelier, former Defense Minister Carlos Prats and Christian Democrat leader Bernardo Leighton were the three most influential Chileans capable of forming a government-in-exile.

Prats was killed along with his wife while in exile in Buenos Aires in September 1974, while Leighton was seriously injured in an assassination attempt in October 1975 while he was living in Rome.

Allende died in a bloody coup on September 11, 1973 organized by Pinochet.

Other documents turned over by Kerry reveal other unknown details about the Pinochet dictatorship’s conspiracies.

The DINA also tried to murder Allende’s widow Hortensia Bussi and other leftist politicians during an international meeting held in Mexico City in 1975 to discuss human rights abuses in Chile, according to the papers posted on a Chilean television website.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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