Letelier and Chile: U.S. Responsibility

AS THE THIRD ANNIVERSARY of the destruction of Chilean democracy and socialism approaches, we are violently reminded of the fact by the brutal assassinations last week in Washington of Orlando Letelier, former Chilean ambassador to Washington and foreign minister under Allende, and Ronnie Karpen Moffitt, a teacher and staff member of the Institute for Policy Studies, where Letelier also worked. The assassinations mark an important point in U.S. relations with the Third World. For the first time ever, a major leader of a Third World resistance movement has been murdered in the United States. For the first time in living memory, assassins have struck in Washington, D.C., the nation's capital. And also for the first time, a young American, a member of the next generation of American leaders, has fallen with a major Third World figure on American soil.

Three explanations have been advanced as to the agents and motives behind the assassinations. The first maintains that Letelier, as a representative of the more moderate, "non-revolutionary" section of the Unidad Popular, was killed by the more extreme left elements of the Chilean resistance. While indeed a mathematical possibility, this argument depends on three questionable assumptions: first, that the wing of the Chilean resistance has achieved a level of technical competence in explosives far beyond any previously ascribed to it; second, that there is an active enmity between the two elements of the Chilean resistance, rather than the amicable cooperation which in fact exists; and third, that any extreme left operatives could have succeeded in penetrating the extremely careful political checks given by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to all Chilean refugees to this country.

The second possible explanation would be that the junta itself was responsible for Letelier's murder. While considerably more likely than the first, this explanation is undercut by the fact that the junta had deprived Letelier of his Chilean citizenship a scant two weeks before his death. This must also be tied to the fact that the bomb which killed him went off within eye and earshot of the Chilean embassy in Washington. For the junta to have killed Letelier in Washington so close upon having denationalized him would indicate not only a ruthless cold-bloodedness (which the junta certainly possesses), but also a lack of political and diplomatic understanding too gross even for the Chilean dictators.

The most likely explanation for the murder is that that killing represents a serious clash between DINA, the dread Chilean secret police, and the military for control over the witchhunt of Allende sympathizers. Several months back, reports of just such a conflict circulated in the Western press, indicating that the DINA had become something of a Chilean "rogue elephant," out of even the junta's control. In this context, the murder of Letelier would have two important effects: first, to still the growing voices of the Chilean resistance all over the world, not simply in Chile; and second, it would give DINA the upper hand in the internal struggle with the military for ultimate power in a battered and plundered Chile. If indeed this is the case, then the assassination of Letelier is not only a tragedy in itself, but a harbinger of further outrage.

THESE TRAGIC EVENTS UNAVOIDABLY raise the question of American responsibility, not only for the violent overthrow of the democratically elected Allende government in 1973 at the hands of the Chilean armed forces, but also for the consolidation and expansion of DINA, whose operations now appear to extend far beyond the borders of Chile. In view of the bloody murder of Orlando Letelier and Ronnie Karpen Moffitt, it is imperative and legitimate that the U.S. government totally sever all diplomatic and political relations with the Chilean junta; stop all U.S., World Bank and all other international forms of aid to the junta; and conduct an independent and thorough investigation by Congress--not the FBI--into the assassination itself and into the links between DINA and U.S. intelligence organizations.

To this end, it can be hoped that the tragic and violent deaths of Orlando Letelier and Ronnie Karpen Moffitt will mark the beginning of the end of the Chilean junta and the diminishing of the American imperialism which created it three years ago and continues to nourish it to this day.