Letelier-Moffitt Murder Highlights US Impunity, Imperialism 40 Years On
September 23, 2016 teleSURtv
Forty years ago, a remote-controlled car bomb exploded blocks from the White House, killing Orlando Letelier, a Chilean diplomat and his US assistant Ronni Moffitt. The attack was ordered by Chile's Augusto Pinochet, but human rights advocates have long argued that the chief masterminds behind the terrorist attack -- including Henry Kissinger -- should be put on trial. Meanwhile, Michael Townley, the US hitman who orchestrated the bombing, remains safely sheltered in the US witness protection program.
Chilean socialist economist Orlando Letelier was killed on a Washington, DC street corner on September 21, 1976 -- questions still remain.
Letelier Murder Highlights US Impunity, Imperialism 40 Years On teleSUR
(September 21, 2016) -- Forty years ago Wednesday, a remote-controlled car bomb exploded on a Washington, D.C. street, blocks away from the White House. The attack, ordered by Chile's Augusto Pinochet, killed Orlando Letelier, a Chilean leftist economist, politician and diplomat living in exile following the 1973 coup against socialist President Salvador Allende.
The bombing, dubbed an act of international terrorism, also killed Letelier's coworker, US citizen Ronni Karpen Moffitt, and wounded her husband, Michael Moffitt, and remains, to this day, a symbol of the profligate violence that characterized General Augusto Pinochet's bloody dictatorship.
Declassified documents later revealed that Pinochet -- propped up by then-US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the CIA, headed by George H.W. Bush in the year of Letelier's murder -- had ordered Letelier's assassination.
In a precedent-setting move for universal jurisdiction, London police arrested the despot in 1998 on a Spanish court order, eight years after his dictatorship collapsed. But Pinochet died in 2006 without ever being prosecuted for the Letelier-Moffitt killing or the thousands of other cases of forced disappearance, torture, rape, and murder under his command.
That's one main reason why Sarah Anderson, global economy director at the Institute for Policy Studies where Letelier worked when he was murdered, says that there have been only "measures of justice" in the Letelier-Moffitt case, but that no full or satisfying accounting has yet occuurred.
Notably, Chilean General Pedro Espinoza and notorious former head of the secret police Manuel Contreras, now deceased, were both jailed in 1995 for their role in the killing. But many human rights advocates have long argued that the chief masterminds behind the crimes and the US officials -- chiefly Kissinger among them -- supported them in their heinous crimes and should be held accountable and put on trial.
In May, Chile requested the extradition of Michael Townley, the US hitman and Chilean secret police operative who orchestrated the entire Letelier attack. Townley, who served 62 months in jail after confessing to his crimes, remains in the US witness protection program, and Washington has failed to respond to the extradition order.
"This man was an international terrorist, and his actions resulted in the death of many people," Anderson told teleSUR, stressing that other individuals involved in the crime also enjoy US witness protection and that it remains incumbent on the US to answer to Chile's extradition request.
The US State Department is scheduled to hand over newly declassified documents to Chilean President Michelle Bachelet later this week. Human rights defenders and legal advocates hope the archives will help unearth details of the CIA-backed dictatorship's atrocities and the roles of specific operatives and US officials, while also aiding Chilean society in reconstructing historical truth and collective memory.
Anderson added that the new documents may also be important for victims' family members, including Letelier's widow Isabel Margarita Morel. It is estimated that anywhere between 3,000 and 10,000 victims were tortured, killed, or forcibly disappeared under Pinochet as part of the regional US-backed Operation Condor aimed at wiping out "insurgents" and stabilizing dictatorships in South America.
Letelier's legacy lives on four decades later not only as an emblematic case among many dictatorship-era abuses, but also in the lasting relevance of his work theorizing how violence under Latin America's dictatorships bulldozed a path for de facto authorities to impose the new economic doctrine of free-market neoliberalism.
"These policies have been largely discredited, in part because of what Orlando (Letelier) pointed out, which was that these policies would cause widespread suffering," John Cavanagh, director of the Institute for Policy Studies, told teleSUR, adding the neoliberalism have also proved to decimate the environment. "There's now a widespread rejection of these policies and a real contestation for power in the world of ideas over what kind of economic models should come next."
Just weeks before his assassination, Letelier wrote a scathing article in The Nation laying bare how Chile's much-heralded "economic freedom" went hand-in-hand with "massive repression, hunger, unemployment and the permanence of a brutal police state."
He also singled out US economist Milton Friedman and his so-called "Chicago Boys," arguing that they, too, should be held culpable for wreaking havoc on Chilean workers and society. Letelier's economic analysis reflected his socialist politics, and he argued that growing inequality and gross wealth concentration were not accidental exceptions of the neoliberal economy, but the rule.
And according to Cavanagh, US imperialism played a key role in imposing neoliberal policies -- founded on the cornerstones of liberalization, privatization, and deregulation -- that free-market economists tested in Chile and exported around the globe. He explained that the US economists "happily dispensed advice" beginning in the 1970s to a number of Latin American dictatorships rushing to embrace the neoliberal model in a phenomenon that author and activist Naomi Klein later famously dubbed the "Shock Doctrine."
A decade after Chile's bloody coup, neoliberalism got a boost from free market champions like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, while the model was institutionalized in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund as a condition for financing, paving the way for the consolidation of the Washington Consensus while the apostles of neoliberalism chanted "there is no alternative."
But with discontent as the impetus, notable global power shifts and political struggles to escape the clutches of the US in many countries in Latin America -- long dubbed the US "backyard" -- has thrown the economic consensus off kilter. And trade proposals such as the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership involving both Chile and the United States, are the new battlegrounds against the status quo.
"For people who are concerned with the link Orlando made 40 years ago, these new trade agreements are the realm where this fight is continuing," singling out the TPP as a pinnacle "embodiment" of the neoliberal model. "(Neoliberal policies) have less power and there is more space for countries to fight back."
"It (the TPP) wins and passes, it does give new life to that model," he continued. "If the peoples of those 12 countries . . . defeat this agreement, it will be one more blow in the neoliberal armor."
In Chile, the full-throttle privatization and the gutting of public services in the 1970s and 1980s, implemented through brute and brutal force, took a lasting toll. The ongoing crisis is palpable in the thousands-strong marches that have flooded the streets in recent months to demand free quality public education for all and an end to crippling student debt, as well as a reversal of Pinochet's privatized pension system that deprives many seniors of dignified retirement.
Letelier's own son, Juan Pablo, like ousted President Allende's daughter, Isabel -- both current Senators and former members of Congress with Chile's Socialist Party -- continue to confront these political challenges, the legacy of the regime that led to their fathers' deaths.
"Many people over this half century have been killed fighting against injustice and fighting against repressive economic policies, and (Letelier and Moffit) are simply two of them," said Cavanagh. "But they are symbols in this larger fight."
In memory of Letelier and Moffitt, the Institute for Policy Studies honors two recipients every year, one from Latin America and one from the United States, with an award celebrating the "new champions of human rights." The 2016 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award recognizes all past honorees as the 40-year struggle for justices wages on.
"We have tried to keep the memory of Letelier and Moffitt alive in a way that is not just about the past but about supporting the causes of today," said Anderson. "And many of these have been people who are fighting some form or another of imperialism."
"It's lifting up people who are fighting with very limited means against powerful forces," she added. "We think that that's a proud part in the legacy of Letelier and Moffitt."
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