Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
In 1971, he was appointed ambassador to the United States by Socialist Chilean President Salvador Allende. Two years later, he served as Foreign Minister, and then Defense Minister. During the period, the Nixon and Kissinger Administration was directly engaged in an effort to destabilize Chile as a means of removing Allende from power. This, together with serious mistakes by the Chilean government ultimately led to the coup on September 11, 1973, which brought Pinochet to power. The United States then became a strong supporter of the new Chilean dictator.
As a result of the coup, Letelier was arrested by the Chilean dictatorship and tortured. He was eventually sent to a political prison in Tierra del Fuego.
After his release, he went to Washington in 1974, where he worked for restoring democracy to Chile. He was killed by a car bomb explosion on September 21, 1976. The car bomb also killed Letelier's American assistant, Ronni Moffit.
Orlando Letelier's assassination was part of a coordinated effort by several right-wing military dictatorships in Latin America to intimidate and murder their political opponents. This effort, known as Operation Condor, included such nations as Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia. Three of those nations -- Uruguay, Argentina and Chile -- began assassinating opposition figures in foreign countries during the spring of 1976. The United States government was aware of the existence of Operation Condor.
Several people were eventually prosecuted and convicted for the murder. Among them were Michael Townley , a US expatriate with close ties to the Chilean intelligence agency DINA; General Manuel Contreras, former head of the DINA; and Brigadier Pedro Espinoza , also formerly of DINA. Pinochet himself has never been brought to trial for the murders, although Townley has implicated Pinochet as having been behind them. Later released CIA documents showed that the CIA was closely linked with Contreras up to, and even after, the assassination of Letelier. Townley and Armando Fernández, who was also implicated in the murder, were given visas by the United States ambassador to Paraguay, at the urging of the Paraguayan government, despite having false Paraguayan passports.
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