The Assassination of Orlando Letelier and a Politics of Silence

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Forty years ago final night, agents operative for a Chilean tip use trustworthy cosmetic explosives to a bottom of Orlando Letelier’s Chevrolet as it sat in a expostulate of his family’s home in Bethesda, Maryland, only outward Washington, D.C.

A few blocks divided opposite Massachusetts Avenue my family’s Pinto sat in a expostulate unmolested. Our whole neighborhood, including my mom and father and sister and me, slept by everything.

Forty years ago this morning, a Chilean agents followed Letelier as he gathering himself into Washington, down Massachusetts to a consider tank where he worked. The explosve went off as Letelier went around Sheridan Circle, ripping off many of a reduce half of his body. He died shortly afterward, as did Ronni Moffitt, a 25-year-old American who’d been in a automobile with him. A second passenger, Moffitt’s father Michael, survived.

Letelier’s murder was ordered by a Chilean tyrant Augusto Pinochet, who’d dismissed a country’s democratically inaugurated boss Salvador Allende 3 years before in a troops coup. Letelier, who had been Allende’s invulnerability minister, was arrested during a manoeuvre and tortured for a year until Pinochet bent to general vigour and expelled him. But in Washington, Letelier became a streamer general voice of a antithesis to Pinochet, who motionless he had to be eliminated.

There are still many unanswered questions about this time. Exactly how complicit was a U.S. in a overpower of a Chilean government? Why did the CIA omit a wire revelation it that Chile’s agents were streamer to a U.S.? Why did Henry Kissinger, afterwards Secretary of State, cancel a warning to Chile not to kill a abroad opponents only 5 days before Letelier was murdered?

But for me, a many engaging doubt is this: How it is probable we was right there though didn’t learn about a assassination of Orlando Letelier until twenty years later?

Social Silence

It’s loyal we was only in second grade when Letelier was killed. But this was a mafia-like strike executed in a center of a placid, shaggy suburb. Moreover, it goes distant over Letelier — a whole area was drizzling with a bloody story of Chile:

  • If we went a few blocks in a other instruction from Letelier’s home you’d come to a residence of Ted Shackley, on Sangamore Road. Shackley, infrequently called “The Blond Ghost,” was conduct of a CIA’s Western Hemisphere Division in 1973, and played a pivotal purpose in encouraging Pinochet’s coup. Shackley residence was directly across a travel from Brookmont Elementary School – where my sister and we were on a morning of Sep 21, 1976.
  • Down a mountain from a residence was Western Junior High, where my sister would after go. One of Western’s other alumni is Michelle Bachelet, a stream boss of Chile. After a coup, Bachelet’s father was tortured to death; Bachelet and her mom were tortured as well.
  • When Letelier was killed, his son Francisco was called out of geometry class during Walt Whitman High School – that both my sister and we would after attend.
  • Our area was directly opposite a Potomac River from a CIA’s domicile in Virginia. It was so tighten that one of a neighbors who worked there commuted there on good days by canoe.
  • On Letelier’s final expostulate into Washington, his trail appears to have taken him within a retard of St. Columba’s Episcopal Church; a parishioners during a time enclosed George H.W. Bush, afterwards conduct of a CIA. Shortly after Letelier was killed, a CIA leaked a fake report to Newsweek that Pinochet hadn’t been involved.

Given all this, we competence theory that a adults would have mentioned something about Letelier’s assassination — not indispensably to decry it though simply to liven adult the endless automobile pooling to soccer practice. That never happened.

Nor was this an aberration. In further to soccer practice, there was lots of pee diminutive football practice at Woodacres Park around a dilemma from Letelier’s house. During a tumble of 1980, my father volunteered to underling as manager if Iran expelled a hostages being hold in Tehran — since a unchanging manager worked for a Defense Department and was partial of a group that was on call to reveal them. All we kids knew about this was that these bizarre foreigners were indignant during us for some unintelligible unfamiliar reason. No one informed us that a U.S. had dismissed Iran’s supervision in 1953, so Iranians had receptive reasons to be antagonistic toward us.

So notwithstanding a fact that it was right there in front of me, we didn’t learn about Letelier (or a U.S. story with Iran) from adults, or TV, or in high school, or college. we had to learn about them on my own, by removing books out of a library and reading them.

Map: The Intercept.


The answer to my question, we now believe, is that this is a approach all countries work. Anthropologists call this materialisation “social silence” — a many critical aspects of how societies work are exactly the ones that are never discussed and many simply forgotten.

But it’s unfit to conceal a past totally — it fundamentally leaks out around a edges, even if only as a universal anxiety. we remember when my Bethesda friends and we went to see Blue Velvet when it came out in 1986 and how totally it done clarity to us: Everything is polished, happy, and mundane on a surface, while underneath there’s an eternal, animalistic, bloody onslaught for power.

Orlando Letelier is left and he’s not entrance back. We can’t change that. But we can break a amicable overpower about his death, who we are as a country, and what we’re able of doing.

Top photo: Orlando Letelier graphic in Apr 1975.

In : Politics

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