FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

My Case Against Pinochet

by FRANCISCO LETELIER

When I read that Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the 89-year-old former leader of Chile, had been placed under house arrest earlier this week and declared competent to stand trial for his many crimes, it was no abstract issue for me. This was a man, after all, who had a tremendous influence on my life, the man who robbed me of my father, who tore my family apart.

I met him first in the days before the military coup that put him in power. He was a guest for dinner at our home in Santiago, Chile. I was 14 years old. I can see him now in my father’s study, the Andes visible in the windows behind him. I remember that he looked strangely disconcerted, amid the bookcases and leather-backed tomes. Perhaps he was already making plans for the future.

Only a few months later, on Sept. 11, 1973, Pinochet seized power in a coup that ousted the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. Allende died during the coup, and life was turned inside out for my family and for my father, Orlando Letelier, who had served as Allende’s ambassador to the United States and later as foreign minister.

In the days that followed, we watched jets fly overhead, heard bombs hit, smelled the smoke. Tanks rolled through the streets.

From the start, Pinochet’s government relied on arbitrary arrests and shadowy disappearances; during his 17 years in power, tens of thousands of people were detained and tortured, and thousands killed. We were put under house arrest; my father spent a year in concentration camps, enduring the tortures of Dawson Island, a wind-swept rock off Antarctica. My brothers and I grew accustomed to being followed by secret police agents on the way to school and elsewhere.

After my father’s release, we left the country and moved to Washington. But that was not far enough for Pinochet. Because of my father’s ongoing work to restore democracy in Chile, Pinochet was determined to stop him ó undaunted by the distance or by the national borders that lay between Santiago and our home in suburban Maryland.

Before dawn one morning in mid-September 1976, when I was 17 years old, an American named Michael Townley, acting on orders from Pinochet’s secret police, attached a plastic explosive to the underside of the Malibu Classic parked in our driveway just a few feet from my bedroom window.

Everyone in my family used the car. I had driven it to my senior prom. On Sept. 21, any one of us could have turned the key. As it happened, my father drove it into Washington with his colleagues, Ronni Karpen and Michael Moffitt, her husband.

At 9:30 a.m., the bomb shattered the peace of Embassy Row. It severed my father’s legs; he bled to death in the charred wreck. Ronni drowned in her own blood on the sidewalk, a piece of metal lodged in her neck. Only Michael Moffitt survived. It was at that time the most brazen international terrorist act ever committed in the nation’s capital.

The investigations began immediately, but proceeded at a terribly slow pace. Townley eventually turned state’s evidence, gave a detailed confession and served three years and four months in prison. He confirmed that the order for the assassination had come from Santiago.

In 1985, Chile’s Supreme Court found Manuel Contreras, the director of the Chilean secret police, guilty of ordering the assassination of my father. He served seven years and was released. Declassified documents show that Contreras received a “one-time payment of $5,000,” through which the CIA hoped to gain leverage over him. To date, the CIA has not been directly connected to the murder, though many questions remain unanswered about the agency’s role in Chilean politics.

Several other men conspired in the assassination but have continued to elude justice. One of these was Guillermo Novo, who was convicted in Washington of conspiracy in the killings and sentenced to 40 years but whose conviction was overturned on a technicality. He later went to prison in Panama for his role in a plot to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro, but in August, as the U.S. presidential election was approaching, Novo was released. With three other known terrorists, he boarded a plane to Miami, where he was admitted to the country by U.S. officials and welcomed by Florida’s Cuban exile community.

And Pinochet? In August, 31 years after the coup, the Chilean Supreme Court made a historic decision to strip him of his immunity from prosecution.

Pinochet has been accused of participating in Operation Condor, an intelligence-sharing network used by six South American dictators of that era to eliminate dissidents. My father’s murder was a Condor mission.

On Monday, Chilean judge Juan Guzman ordered Pinochet placed under house arrest and declared him fit to stand trial. “It is not a part of American history we are proud of,” conceded Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in 2003 when asked to comment on the U.S. role in Chile in the 1970s.

Until the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism was, for many Americans, something they watched on television. Now there are many more people who, like me, have lost members of their families to terrorism. We continue to search for a long- awaited measure of justice. Our heroes emerge from courtrooms, from smoldering wreckage and fallen towers.

Justice in these cases must go beyond the incarceration of individuals. The true historical record should be made public and U.S. foreign policy must reflect the lessons learned.

I hope that a public trial of Augusto Pinochet will serve as an important step, and that it will lead to the re-energizing of the long-dormant Letelier case in the U.S. It is here in this country where the facts remain shrouded and where individuals involved in the tragic murders of my father and Ronni Karpen remain untouched.

FRANCISCO LETELIER is an artist based in Venice. His father was assassinated in Washington when he was 17 years old.

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 19, 2017
Melvin Goodman
America’s Russian Problem
John W. Whitehead
Nothing is Real: When Reality TV Programming Masquerades as Politics
Mike Whitney
The Trump Speech That No One Heard 
Conn Hallinan
Is Europe Heading for a “Lexit”?
Stephen Cooper
Truth or Twitter? Why Donald Trump Is No John Steinbeck
Binoy Kampmark
Scoundrels of Patriotism: The Freeing of Chelsea Manning
Ramzy Baroud
The Balancing Act is Over: What Elor Azaria Taught Us about Israel
Josh Hoxie
Why Health Care Repeal is a Stealth Tax Break for Millionaires
Kim C. Domenico
It’s High Time for a Politics of Desire
Shamus Cooke
Inauguration Day and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
More and More Lousy
David Swanson
Samantha Power Can See Russia from Her Padded Cell
Yoav Litvin
Time to Diss Obey- The Failure of Identity Politics and Protest
Kevin Carson
Right to Work and the Apartheid State
Malaika H. Kambon
Resisting the Lynching of Haitian Liberty!
January 18, 2017
Gary Leupp
The Extraordinary Array of Those Questioning Trump’s Legitimacy (and Their Various Reasons)
Charles Pierson
Drone Proliferation Ramps Up
Ajamu Baraka
Celebrating Dr. King with the Departure of Barack Obama
David Underhill
Trumpology With a Twist
Chris Floyd
Infinite Jest: Liberals Laughing All the Way to Hell
Stansfield Smith
Obama’s Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
Ron Leighton
Trump is Not Hitler: How the Misuse of History Distorts the Present as Well as the Past
Ralph Nader
An Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
NATO and Obsolescence: Donald Trump and the History of an Alliance
Zarefah Baroud
‘The Power to Create a New World’: Trump and the Environmental Challenge Ahead
Julian Vigo
Obama Must Pardon the Black Panthers in Prison or in Exile
Alfredo Lopez
The Whattsapp Scandal
Clancy Sigal
Russian Hacking and the Smell Test
Terry Simons
The Truth About Ethics and Condoms
January 17, 2017
John Pilger
The Issue is Not Trump, It is Us
John K. White
Is Equality Overrated, Too?
Michael J. Sainato
The DNC Hands the Democratic Party Over to David Brock and Billionaire Donors
John Davis
Landscapes of Shame: America’s National Parks
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks
Chris Busby
The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth
David Macaray
Four Reasons Trump Will Quit
Chet Richards
The Vicissitudes of the Rural South
Clancy Sigal
“You Don’t Care About Jobs”: Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Dodge
Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Jack Sadat Lee
I Dream of Justice for All the Animal Kingdom
James McEnteer
Mourning Again in America
January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail