Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

CHILE: Pinochet Authorised Letelier’s Murder, According to FBI

MADRID, Jul 4 1995 (IPS) - The head of the Chilean army, General Augusto Pinochet, authorised the murder of former Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier, according to testimony by an FBI special agent that was published in a book set to be presented in the Spanish capital.

The book “Orlando Letelier: Testimony and Vindication” will be presented on Thursday by Spanish General Alberto Piris, the president of the military Supreme Court of Justice, Jose Jimenez Villarejo, and Joan Garces, lawyer and former adviser to late Chilean President Salvador Allende.

The work contains the transcription of a long tape-recorded conversation between Garces and Letelier, who was elected president of Chile in 1970 at the head of a leftist government that was overthrown by General Pinochet in 1973.

The coup led to a de facto military regime that lasted until 1990, during which thousands of Chileans were tortured, “disappeared” and murdered by security forces.

The book also contains a prologue by Garces, and another by Saul Landau, a film director and researcher with the Institute of Political Studies in Washington, D.C., who co-authored the award- winning “Assassination on Embassy Row” with John Dinges.

Landau reveals that special agent Robert Scherrer of the FBI (U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations) told him that investigators from that office had reached the conclusion that “Pinochet had to have known in advance, and have authorised, Letelier’s murder.”

Allende’s former Foreign Minister was holding the office of Defence Minister on the day of the coup, Sep. 11, 1973.

Letelier was arrested and held in a concentration camp. When he was released he moved to Washington, D.C., where he was killed by a car bomb along with his U.S. secretary Ronni Moffit in 1976.

Landau adds that the FBI agent told him he had “no doubt” regarding Pinochet’s involvement in the assassination, but that the problem is that “we cannot prove it” unless he is implicated by retired General Manuel Contreras.

Contreras was head of Pinochet’s dreaded secret police in the early years of the dictatorship, and was recently sentenced in Chile along with his second-in-command Pedro Espinoza for having planned Letelier’s murder.

Landau points out that as head of the national intelligence service (DINA), Contreras went to Pinochet’s mansion in the early morning, where he reported to his general while they breakfasted. Later the officers would head out to government headquarters together, in an escorted armoured car.

Contreras, who at the time was a colonel, directly reported to Pinochet, the FBI agent said. “And he didn’t take orders from anyone other than Pinochet, who boasted that not even a leaf moved in Chile without him knowing about it.”

Furthermore, said Scherrer, “the evidence that accompanied the U.S. government’s extradition request for Contreras and Espinoza” showed the extent of the cooperation required by several government departments in the assassination of Letelier.

Garces said the recording transcribed in the book is evidence that will be used in a future trial of Pinochet.

Such a trial will not be long in coming, the lawyer added, because the United States will pressure Chile, which has been invited to join the North American Free Trade Agreement, to free itself from all possible military tutelage.

The shift in international relations that followed the end of the Cold War has led to an atmosphere in which justice can be done in Chile, said Garces, “where not even one inquiry into the violent death of the most universally respected of the country’s presidents has yet been undertaken.”

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