by Memoria y Justicia
was September 1975.
year earlier, the Military Junta headed by Augusto Pinochet
bowed to international pressure, particularly from Venezuela,
and deported Orlando Letelier, the first political prisoner
released outside of Chile. He had spent the previous twelve
months imprisoned, with other former Cabinet Ministers of
the Popular Unity government, first, at Isla Dawson and
then the Ritoque military camp. At the Tacna Regiment Letelier
was subjected to the first of three simulated executions,
perhaps rehearsals for the attack that would take his life
three years later.
During the next two years Letelier traveled tirelessly across
the United States and Europe, denouncing the repressive
practices of the dictatorship. He testified before the Church
Commission of the US Senate and succeeded in decisively
uniting international opposition against the Chilean tyranny.
In Chile, Military Junta had dismantled government democratic
institutions and sustained its dictatorial rule on the installation
of fear. The machinery of terror, with its staff of torturers
on the State payroll, were operating at full steam at Villa
Grimaldi, Colonia Dignidad and numerous other places throughout
the country. Beyond Chilean borders, in Buenos Aires, former
General Carlos Prats had been assassinated by a car bomb
the year before.
That Augusto Pinochet was a traitor and had a quest for
vengeance was evident by then. Although it may appear paradoxical,
up to the few days prior to the September 11,1973, those
who were about to become his victims (President Salvador
Allende, former Army Commander in Chief Carlos Prats, and
Cabinet Ministers like Orlando Letelier himself), believed
they could count on his loyalty and support.
Pinochet informed them about his visits to military units
to stem the impending uprising. However, history has shown
us that the true reason for his visits to military barracks
was not the task President Allende had asked him to fulfill.
Rather than pacify military commanders, in fact, he was
firming the organization for the Coup and fanning sedition
among military ranks.
In response to questions Joan Garcés, special advisor to
President Allende, posed in preparation for his book Allende
et lÕexpérience chilienne (Presse de la Fondation Nationale
des Sciences Politiques, 1976), in September 1975 Orlando
Letelier reflected upon the context that led to the coup,
and the figures who orchestrated the overthrow of the democratically
elected government of Allende. On the tape he recorded for
Garcés, the calm voice of Letelier describes how none played
his role better than Augusto Pinochet.
One year later, on September 21, 1976, Orlando Letelier,
whose voice mobilized thousands to repudiate the dictatorship,
would die with Ronni Moffit, colaborator at the Institute
for Policy Studies, as result of a crime against humanity
ordered by Augusto Pinochet, a wolf disguised as a lamb.
With permission from the author and editor, we present a
translated excerpt of the transcription of the tape Letelier
recorded for Garces in 1975, published under the title Orlando
Letelier: Testimonio y vindicación (Siglo Veintiuno Editores,
Madrid, S.A., 1995).
Regarding the second point.
You say that at another moment during the luncheon, I mentioned
that if we were not overthrown that week, then we would
not ever fall. And I indicated that everything had been
prepared so that the matter would explode that week.
I recall that remark of mine perfectly well. The grounds
for that remark were varied, but I will try to describe
the major sources of information for it.
First of all, the main element: Carlos Prats.
On Friday [September 7] night, I had a fairly long conversation
with him. Fairly interrupted as well, because the incident
at Sumar began while we were talking. And I had telephone
calls from my house, because Pedro Vuskovic was looking
for me, about what had happened there. I spoke to Leigh,
who was worried. Leigh called me at home several times and
I called him back because I did not want him to know that
I was at the home of Carlos Prats. I instructed Leigh to
remove the Air Force people from Sumar. He later called
me, to my house, to say that they really had been attacked.
Finally, I ended up asking him to meet me in my office at
nine the next morning. The next day was Saturday [September
As I was saying, that conversation with Prats was interrupted
several times. In addition, Prats was in a highly altered
state. Despite everything, he told me categorically:
Look, Orlando, things have reached a stage
that, if the President does not take measures to remove
some generals before next Friday, I think that by next Thursday
or Friday, the 14 [of September], we are going to have a
Afterwards I asked him about the attitude of each one of
the generals. He was convinced that Bonilla, Arellano, Bravo,
and of course to a certain extent Torres de la Cruz in the
south, and another general you mentioned, I donÕt recall,
who was in Concepcion [Washington Carrasco], were involved
with the Coup. He had doubts regarding certain individuals
such as Brady, which for me was a fairly complex situation,
as this Brady had just become Chief of the Army Second Division
with jurisdiction over the province of Santiago.
I had many reservations in regards to Brady. To a certain
extent, Prats did too. He remarked about that:
Well, Brady likes to boast about his friendship with President
Allende, but really he is someone who I would not trust
Now, it is clear that Carlos Prats, up until that day I
am telling you about, Friday [September 7], had great trust
in Pinochet. At one point after he suggested having to take
measures, I replied:
Okay, but if Pinochet has a loyal attitude,
that might create a problem for him as well and might have
to resign. Like what happened to you, Carlos. Or else, it
means that Pinochet is biding time, and at some point he
will join the faction with the greatest number of generals.
Or the group with the greatest strength, which might eventually
be the faction that goes for the Coup against the Government.
Carlos Prats did not refute me very categorically. In any
event, he insisted to me that he thought Pinochet had a
loyal attitude towards the President. And, anyhow, Pinochet
would not be in the league of the traitors.
That was one point, my conversations with Prats.
In addition, from the moment I took office at the Ministry
during the first days of September , actually, my
appointment was confirmed on the 28th [of August], but I
believe it was a weekend, I realized that the Coup was being
organized. That is, Carlos Prats gave me an exact date.
He told me it would be on the 14th. But I felt the thing
was evident. It is true that I saw the thing coming more
from the side of the Navy. But I presumed that there could
not be an attempted Coup without the Army.
And I want to tell you that from the very first days, Pinochet
(and this led me to have a certain confidence in him from
the first days) told me:
Look, Minister, we have a troop of madmen here, people not
in their right mind, who are suggesting that it is better
that a definition [in other words, a Coup] take place now
and a hundred thousand people die, rather than risk a confrontation
and civil war in which a million people might die. I am
doing everything I can, according to what my general Prats
had asked me previously, and what the President had asked
me. I am visiting [military] units and things are improving.
But I want to tell you that during my last visit, there
were people who had a very difficult attitude.
And I recommended to him,
Well, I said, those people have to be called
into retirement immediately.
Okay, but that would be too violent. Why
donÕt you give me a little time, Minister, as the President
himself asked me to do, so that I can steady the situation
with people of trust and I can visit the units (etc.).
The conversation with Pinochet worried me. That must have
been around the 3rd [Monday, September]. Maybe on that same
day or else the next day at the celebration of the 4th [of
September, anniversary of the presidential election of 1970),
or [Wednesday] the 5th I asked the President to convene
a meeting of the Heads of the Popular Unity parties. And
there I described what Pinochet had told me, plainly, that
if there an uprising were to take place, it would be generalized,
not like that of June 29. And that it was going to be generalized,
not only within the Army but would include all the three
branches of the Armed Forces.
I also had the impression, from the first days, that Admiral
Carvajal as Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would be the
point man for the whole group of reactionary officers. I
had mentioned that to the President. As well as Montero.
Montero did not refute me very energetically. But he suggested
that we should wait a bit more for the Evaluation [Meeting],
that is made of all the admirals at the end of the year,
to remove, basically, two people. In the Navy these were
Merino and Carvajal, who had already fulfilled the period
for their resignation. That is, forty years of service,
I believe. I am not sure if it was forty years, but in any
case they had reached the limit. I believe it was forty.
Those were the other elements. CarvajalÕs attitude. As I
was saying earlier, what Pinochet himself had told me. And
what Carlos Prats had told me just a few hours before.
To a certain degree, why did I say that if they did not
hit that week, they would never overthrow us? I had the
sensation that they could not remove Montero [as Navy Commander
in Chief] because I had been very firm in that situation
that affected Montero. We had already spoken to the President
about the need to speed up measures the Government would
take in regards to the officers that wanted a coup. The
impression was that, eventually, things were set for that
week. But, if they did not occur that week and gave us a
bit more time, and it did take place, in fact, the PresidentÕs
announcement about the Referendum, we would have the capability
to maneuver the retirement of a number of officers, who
we had already identified more or less. That we would have
the possibility to speed up the investigations, etc.
Regarding the information Pinochet had provided since he
became Commander in Chief. The information was in the terms
I previously indicated to you. I had barely taken office
in the Ministry, when he told me that the President, which
I verified with President and was true, had requested that
he visit the different military units in order to see what
the situation was there and to consolidate his position
as Commander in Chief. Moreover, he has asked all generals
for their resignation when he took over as Commander in
Within a few days he informed me that two generals, I had
learned from another source, not from him and I asked him
about it, one was Bonilla, and the other Arellano, had not
handed him their resignation. Then I talked to him about
that and told him I found it unacceptable, and that he had
to take steps immediately in this regard. This occurred
just a few days before the Coup and Pinochet replied:
Yes. Those are the generals who have had the least cooperative
attitude with me.
He did not ever tell me that they were the ones directly
at the head of the subversive movement. But he agreed when
I recommended that he had to speed up the retirement of
those two people in the next few days.
In sum, from the start, the attitude of Pinochet had been
to warn me of the existence of a very difficult situation.
But he was going to smooth out that situation, little by
little, through his visits. And at all times, he maintained,
as I have told you, both verbally and formally an attitude
of great support for the President of the Republic, as you
to "Reclaiming Memory"