General Augusto Pinochet ordered the 1976 assassination in Washington D.C. of a Chilean diplomat fleeing his dictatorship, according to declassified U.S. documents.
Orlando Letelier, who served as foreign minister under socialist president Salvador Allende, was imprisoned and tortured by the Pinochet government after Allende was deposed in a coup on Sept. 11, 1973.
He later went into exile in the United States, where he led resistance to Pinochet. In 1976 he was killed, along with Ronni Moffitt, his U.S. co-worker at the Institute for Policy Studies, by a car bomb detonated at Sheridan Circle in Embassy Row. Moffit’s husband, Michael, was seriously injured in the blast.
"There is a report from the CIA which is conclusive regarding Pinochet’s responsibility in ordering the assassination of my father. This is the first time there is evidence of this," Juan Pablo Letelier, a Chilean senator and a son of the victim, told Tele13 Radio on Thursday.
Agents for DINA, Pinochet’s secret police, were later convicted of the crime, which shocked Americans and hardened attitudes toward Pinochet's regime. Over 3,000 people are estimated to have disappeared — presumed killed by the military government — during Pinochet's 1973-1990 dictatorship.
The U.S. documents also provide evidence that Pinochet contemplated “eliminating” Manuel Contreras, the former DINA chief, in order to obstruct the investigation into Letelier’s assassination. Contreras died in August while serving a combined sentence of more than 500 years for crimes against humanity.
The newly declassified documents were handed to President Michelle Bachelet — herself detained by the Pinochet dictatorship — by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to the country on Monday.
Historians have previously speculated about the roles played in the murder by both the U.S. intelligence services and Pinochet himself, who died in 2006 without being convicted of any human rights abuses.