On this first day of spring in the southern hemisphere,
an overcast, chilly Monday that became increasingly colder
as the event progressed, more than 60 girls and boys in
the grey and red uniforms of Canciller Orlando Letelier
School, 20 girls of the Crista McCullogh choir who earlier
sang songs by Victor Jara and Violeta Parra, listened attentively,
as did 30 members of the general public. From the podium
installed to the side of the roughly cut black stone that
marks the grave of the former Chilean Ambassador to the
United States, assassinated 33 years ago on this date, his
son Senator Juan Pablo Letelier, his sister attorney Fabiola
Letelier, and Government General Secretary Carolina Toha
described the legacy of Orlando Letelier.
(Translations by Memoria y Justicia)
FABIOLA LETELIER, Attorney
Orlando was Defense Minister in September 1973. His first
impulse on that morning of September 11 was to go to La
Moneda to be with President Salvador Allende. He called
the President very early and Salvador Allende gave him clear
not come to La Moneda. I want you, as Defense Minister,
to be at your place of work." And so Orlando went directly
to the Ministry building near La Moneda already under siege.
Twelve armed soldiers prevented him from entering the building
and immediately arrested him. There was absolutely no cause
for arresting him or the other thousands of people arrested
was first taken to the Tacna Military Base. Periodically,
someone would knock on his cell door and say, "It is
your turn, Minister." Fortunately, he was not executed
there, as so many Chileans were at Tacna. From the military
base, he was taken to the Military Academy, a place that
must have evoked many memories for Orlando, because he had
entered the military school as a cadet when he was 14 years
old. Despite a distinguished career at the Military Academy,
he eventually decided to leave, choosing to study law instead.
Together with the other government ministers of the Popular
Unity government, he was taken by plane, blindfolded, to
Dawson Island, in far southern Chile near Punta Arenas and
Antarctica. On that cold, rocky island where frigid winds
blew, the important government officials were treated like
prisoners of war, and made to perform force labor.
Orlando spent a year on Dawson Island, but others were there
more than two years. Sixteen countries persuaded the military
junta to free him, but it would not relinquish him. Caracas
mayor Diego Arias and Venezuela president Carlos Perez finally
persuaded the military to release Orlando. He left for Venezuela,
a country to which all the Letelier family is grateful.
From Venezuela he decided to go to the United States with
his family to transform himself into a person who denounces.
Orlando met with elected officials and high International
political, informing the world about what was happening
in our country. He spoke throughout Europe, denouncing the
suffering our people were enduring, the systematic violations
of human rights, and the failure of Chilean courts to act.
Clearly, he was provoking the hatred of the Chilean military,
which were determined to assassinate him.
The entire range of human rights violations converge in
Orlando, from arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, psychological
torture, exile, loss of nationality, to murder. The figure
of Orlando has been signaled as an individual who told the
world about the crimes that were taking place in Chile,
and his assassination caused tremendous disturbance in the
From 1976 to 1978 the U.S. court investigated to identify
the perpetrators. The inquest concluded that American citizen
Michael Townley had carried out the crime for the DINA with
assistance from a group of anti Castro Cubans. The inquest
enabled the court to seek the extradition of Chilean officials
Manuel Contreras, Pedro Espinoza and Fernando Larios, but
the Chilean Supreme Court ignored the thousand pages of
evidence of DINA involvement and blocked the extradition.
At that point, perhaps motivated by moral, ethical or political
shame, the Supreme Court conveyed the denied extradition
record to the Military Court. During 10 years, Jaime Castillo
Velasco and I filed motions to ensure that the case remained
open. After Jaime Castillo was expelled from the country,
Andres Aylwin argued the case before the Supreme Court and
obtained a ruling to dismiss the case only temporarily.
Upon the advent of the democratic transitional government,
the Supreme Court assigned Judge Adolfo Bañados to
the case. Within a short period of time, on the basis of
all the court record compiled, he ordered the arrests of
two men [Manuel Contreras and Pedro Espinoza]. Attorney
Juan Bustos argued before the Supreme Court, as did Hernan
Quezada and a young lawyer Hiram Villagra.
I would like to conclude with words my mother Ines del Solar
sent Orlando when he was in prison on Dawson Island.
son! On these long nights
these gray days that drag on
slowly I feel
memory is strangling my soul
I can only cry out for you each second
the serene pride of the just
the honorable and the brave
may well ask with growing anxiety
is the cause that motivated
incomprehensible to the world
inspire the deepest hatred
justice and freedom
Only God in his divine goodness
be the judge of your gesture of giving yourself
Entirely to this land that you loved
by a noble ideal
gave yourself entirely, without asking anything in return
an open hand and your whole heart
You offered a magnificent and courageous present
hurled it to the side of the trail
serve your beloved Chile
to see a comrade in each man
know of the constant battle
meant for your young life
I saw you always marching forward
Filled with victories, forehead held high
I ask myself if your sacrifices
understood by those you judge you now
am certain that from this difficult trial
will emerge more human
like a sacred fire, pain
make you ever stronger, more pure
on a splendid, clear morning
Flowers will cover the roads
surrounded by love and song
will walk trusting in your destiny
men like you, my son
never be defeated.
CAROLINA TOHA, Government Secretary General
We were in Mexico when we learned about the attack that
took the lives of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffet. Thousands
of Chileans and persons from all corners of the planet can
remember exactly where they were and what they were doing
when they heard the news. And I remember it to this day.
Probably, those who planned this crime aimed to eliminate
someone they considered dangerous to the interests of the
dictatorship. Orlando Letelier was a person who not only
Chileans respected and listened to but people all over the
world. All countries, and especially the United States listened
to his testimony about what was happening in Chile and what
he personally had lived through as political prisoner. Democratic
readers the world over, human Rights agencies, international
organizations and prestigious communications media repudiated
the Chilean dictatorship alter hearing Orlando Letelier
speak. He was capable of making many listen to him. And
he was capable of mobilizing commitment for taking action
by very diverse actors to bring back democracy in Chile.
That is why they wanted to kill him. They feared what he
could awaken and mobilize. Yet they failed to calculate
that his death would be read throughout the World as irrefutable
proof of the evil of which the dictatorship was capable
and that it was set upon exterminating the forces that had
accompanied President Salvador Allende.
Personally, I remember that the death of Orlando Letelier
invoked in me a sense of infinite fear. At the time I was
11, about the age of many of the children here today. I
had talked to Orlando a short time before in Mexico City.
Some months earlier my mother suggested that we meet with
him so he could transmit to me the experience he shared
with my father on Dawson Island. Maybe the children here
do not know that my father [Jose Toha] just like Orlando
Letelier had been a Cabinet minister of Salvador Allende
and that he too was imprisoned on Dawson Island many long
months. That encounter during which he told me anecdotes
and stories about their time in prison took place when both
of us felt safe. The danger seemed to be behind us, although
many people were in prison or persecuted in Chile. But Orlando
was out of danger.
His death a few months later placed that safety in doubt.
We would never be safe again. That is how I experienced
it as the girl that I was. But I relieve many people in
exile had the same sensation.
The dictatorship feared Orlando Letelier alive. But it never
imagined what Orlando Letelier would mean dead. If anyone
still thought the dictatorship was legitimate, that assassination
dispelled all doubts. If anyone was tempted to feel sympathy
for Pinochet, alter that assassination, they did not think
twice. So many, many years have passed and today as we gather
in front of the tomb of Orlando Letelier, I would like to
express my gratitude to him for the conversation we had
in Mexico City that is engraved in my memory as if it had
Just as I am grateful for the meeting I was able to have
with him as a child, Chileans have much to thank him for
what he did while he was alive and what his voice against
the dictatorship was able to achieve in exile. His years
as an international official, his term as secretary of state,
and his experience as cabinet minister, but not only that.
We should thank him for what he was capable of doing alter
his death. His assassination touched to many people and
brought out the best of so many men and women who repudiated
We must also thank him for the road to justice that his
case oponed. His wife Isabel Margarita, his sons, the infaltable
Fabiola, certainly the serious and inspired work of Juan
Bustos, the memory about the role of Jaime Castillo and
Andrˇs Aylwin, of which I was unaware. To all of them we
must thank for that difficult, and impossibly sinuous road
that they paved, that led to the possibility of truth and
justice for many others. Now, years later, many are traveling
that road or have already done so. Today I want to thank
Orlando for what he gave us when he was alive, for what
he gave us after death, and for the hope for justice and
truth that he continues inspiring in us and will inspire
Thank you very much.
JUAN PABLO LETELIER, Senator
Allow me to offer three reflections. If we are here today
and are able to talk, if we are here today in this cemetery
that has seen so much pain as well as hope, if we can be
here peacefully, it is because hundreds, thousands sacrificed
their lives to recover democracy. It is because dozens of
fighters for democracy opened the way, as did Roberto Garreton
here today, one of many lawyers who raised his voice in
the past and continues to do so wherever atrocities are
committed around the world.
If we are here today it is because people fought for freedom
and to open channels. Many who fought for freedom did not
live to see this day. Many who fought for those dreams are
not here. Sometimes one forgets the many children and young
people who died during the protests. Many were high school
students who fought for hope, to be treated in a different
way. If we are here today, it is because many fought.
Orlando Letelier had something that perhaps has not been
underscored. It may derive from his Military Academy training,
and it has to do with the fact that ideals about changing
society are collective. Not one person alone or one group
of people alone, but rather broad communities make history.
The people create history, as President Salvador Allende
Second, I wish to express my gratitude for the permanent
remembering this school does, which is so needed in our
country. At times this society seems to believe the world
was made yesterday, that the world can be made today, and
that the future can be built through a media catch phrase.
History is about the memory of our deep roots. Things do
not just happen alone.
I wish to share some words for the young man who spoke here,
Pedro. You must know that each of you have roots in the
municipality of El Bosque, each one has dreams, as did Orlando
Letelier, as did President Salvador Allende who rests a
few meters away. We had dreams when we were young. We dreamed
that we could Guild a country where people are valued for
what they are, not for what they have.
I want to urge the children and young people from the school
to never forget the reason we pay tribute to a person is
that his life was cut down prematurely because he represented
a way of viewing society of the future in which we will
all be respected equally.
Carolina and I belong to a special generation. We belong
to the families of Dawson, united by destiny. Our fathers
were prisoners in the same place. History and life brought
We remember these 33 years since Orlando was deprived of
his life, when I was only 15 and Carolina was 11, because
our lives crossed. Thank you, children from Orlando Letelier
School, for being part of this effort to build a country
with different values, as Pedro said, where people are valued
for what they are rather than what they have.
to "Reclaiming Memory"