Orlando Letelier: Testimonio y vindicación



Introduction by Memoria y Justicia
(September 2007)

It was September 1975.

One 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 8].

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 Coup.

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 very much

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 [1973], 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.

He replied,

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 Chief.

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 well know.




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