FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

My Case Against Pinochet

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:

December 13, 2018
John Davis
What World Do We Seek?
Subhankar Banerjee
Biological Annihilation: a Planet in Loss Mode
Lawrence Davidson
What the Attack on Marc Lamont Hill Tells Us
James McEnteer
Breathless
Ramzy Baroud
The Real Face of Justin Trudeau: Are Palestinians Canada’s new Jews?
Dean Baker
Pelosi Would Sabotage the Progressive Agenda With a Pay-Go Rule
Elliot Sperber
Understanding the Yellow Vests Movement Through Basic Color Theory 
Rivera Sun
The End of the NRA? Business Magazines Tell Activists: The Strategy is Working
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Historic Opportunity to Transform Trade
December 12, 2018
Arshad Khan
War, Anniversaries and Lessons Never Learned
Paul Street
Blacking Out the Yellow Vests on Cable News: Corporate Media Doing its Job
Kenneth Surin
The Brexit Shambles Rambles On
David Schultz
Stacking the Deck Against Democracy in Wisconsin
Steve Early
The Housing Affordability Crisis and What Millennials Can do About It
George Ochenski
Collaboration Failure: Trump Trashes Sage Grouse Protections
Rob Seimetz
Bringing a Life Into a Dying World: A Letter From a Father to His Unborn Son
Michael Howard
PETA and the ‘S’-Word
John Kendall Hawkins
Good Panopt, Bad Panopt: Does It Make A Difference?
Kim C. Domenico
Redeeming Utopia: a Meditation On An Essay by Ursula LeGuin
Binoy Kampmark
Exhuming Franco: Spain’s Immemorial Divisions
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Democratizing Money
Laura Finley
Congress Must Reauthorize VAWA
December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail