In Memoriam: Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt

01 December 1976

Address at a funeral mass for Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt, held at St. Mark's Cathedral, Washington DC, on 26 September 1976.

TNI and the Pinochet precedent

As you can imagine, it seems more than a little strange being here today. I will not say that I am lucky to be here, but in any case I am. I am also not very good at this sort of thing, so I'll try to be as brief as possible.

Some of you might be aware of the fact that this coming Sunday Ronni and I would have been married four months. As we were preparing our wedding ceremony with the assistance of Rabbi Harold White, my wife, being the most creative of the two of us, composed her own words to express how she felt about me. I took the easier route, relying instead on the words of a great Chilean:

Stand up with me.
No one would like
More than I to stay
On the pillow where your eyelids
Try to shut out the world for me.

There too I would like to let my blood sleep
Surrounding your sweetness.
But stand up,
You, stand up!
But stand up with me
And let's go off together
To fight face to face
Against the devil's webs,
Against the system that distributes hunger,
Against organized misery.

Let's go.
And you my star, next to me,
Newborn from my own clay.
You will have found the hidden spring,
And in the midst of the fire you will be
Next to me,
With your wild eyes,
Raising my flag.

For those of you who do not recognize them, those are the words of Pablo Neruda.

If there is a lesson to be learned from the murders of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt by the agents and henchmen of the brutal regime which rules the Republic of Chile, it is the following: none of us, to use Neruda's phrase, can stay on the pillow and shut our eyes to the realities of this world. For even if some of us remain unscathed by this kind of brutality for a time, reality inevitably intervenes in our lives when we do not expect it. None of us can profess solidarity with the oppressed majority of the human race without eventually experiencing their suffering first-hand.

There were, in a sense, two very different kinds of people in that car on September 21. Orlando Letelier was known the world over as a close associate of the late President Salvador Allende. He has been eloquently described by his friend Peter Weiss as a freckle-faced redhead, a lawyer, a first-rate economist, a lusty singer of folk songs, and a born diplomat. And, he concluded, Like most sensible people, Orlando Letelier was a socialist.

Ronni, on the other hand, has been described as a doer of little things. As Marcus Raskin put it: She knew that without little things, big things could never happen. But she also knew that without big things, little things can be meaningless. One of the little things my wife Ronni did was to organize with others a community music center in a low-income black and Spanish-speaking neighborhood in Washington DC. The 'Music Carry-Out' provided the community with good music at no cost and hoped to gather enough funds to begin a program of children's music lessons to compensate for the inadequate program of the District of Columbia schools.

Though it is difficult for me to find any consolation whatsoever in the loss of Ronni, I can take some pride in the fact that she joins a long list of fallen American heroes. They are the kind of heroes you don't hear much about in a bicentennial year. Ronni joins the heroes who organized the first trade unions in the United States. Their fate was similar, more often than not being gunned down by private police forces or troops of federal and state governments. Ronni joins the heroes who were murdered on highways in Mississippi and Alabama in recent times. Black and white, they were killed because they were fighting for the civil rights of black people in the South. She joins the millions, Jews and Gentiles alike, who died resisting the Nazi war machine. She joins the heroic people who today are organizing farm workers in the fields of California, and who are fought every step of the way by professional thugs employed by corrupt unions and the agricultural industry. Finally, she joins literally hundreds of thousands of Chileans who have seen their lives and hopes - in some cases their limbs, tongues, and genitals - severed by the regime of organized terrorism now in power in Santiago.

Ronni and Orlando thus join these countless numbers of heroes who died resisting oppression and injustice. The only possible tribute to their sacrifice is to intensify our own efforts to raise public awareness of the monstrous character of the Chilean military junta, those who collaborate with them, aid them, and support others like it - from Argentina, to Iran, to South Korea. As Orlando often used to say, what the junta is trying to exterminate is not so much individuals as ideas. But if the junta and its henchmen think that by this act of terror they have silenced the voice that speaks for free Chile, they are very much mistaken. For they have not silenced the voice of socialist Chile but multipliedit a hundredfold.