TDISH: The Insecurities of a Dictator

On September 21, 1976, a car bomb rocked central Washington, DC only about a mile away from the White House.  The bomb had been placed under the driver’s seat of the car owned by a Chilean national living and working for the Institute of Policy Studies named Orlando Letelier.  He had been the foreign minister of Chile under former President Salvador Allende.  When the Socialist Allende was overthrown in a military coup by General Augusto Pinochet, Letelier was one of the first men arrested and tortured by the new regime.

Letelier left Chile and arrived in the United Sates in 1975 and quickly took up an anti-Pinochet mantle.  He became one of the leading voices calling for economic sanctions against the regime in Chile.  General Pinochet was concerned that Letelier’s actions would lead to the fall of his government.  As such, on Pinochet’s direct orders, the Chilean intelligence services planted the bomb to kill th399px-ronni_moffitte troublesome former minister.  While the assassination of any individual is a tragedy, what makes this attack even more sad is that Letelier gave a ride to a colleague, Ronni Moffitt, and her husband that morning since the couple was having car troubles.  The explosion killed both Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt.  Michael Moffitt, who was sitting in the back seat, survived, but suffered severe injuries in the bombing.

Details of responsibility for the bombing remained hidden for decades after the attack until US intelligence documents were unclassified by the Obama administration.  These documents show the direct role played the General Pinochet and also seem to imply a possible role by United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.  The role of Kissinger seems to be limited to blocking a communique from being sent to the South American countries warning against perpetrating assassinations on United States soil.  This communique was to be sent a mere few days before Letelier’s death.

Featured Image: “Orlando Letelier.” By Unknown – Museum of Memory and Human Rights, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Image 1. “Ronni Moffitt.” By Moffitt family/Institute for Policy Studies, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Sources: Franklin, Jonathan. “Pinochet directly ordered killing on US soil of Chilean diplomat, papers reveal.” The Guardian. 8 October 2015.
Hidalgo, Louise. “Orlando Letelier: Murdered in central Washington DC.” BBC World Service. 21 September 2011.
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