Orlando Letelier Deserves Honor

22 September 1976
Article

Orlando Letelier exemplified precisely the qualities - reason, concern for the common man, and civility - which the junta is trying to suppress in his native land

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Orlando Letelier, an economist of deep intellect and humane spirit, saw in the election of Salvador Allende as president of Chile in 1970, an opportunity to extend genuine economic and social befefits to the Chilean people. He promptly put his experience in international finance at the Chilean revolution's disposal, serving as ambassador in Washington. His special contribution was to try - against the ever longer odds created by both sides - to lead the American and Chilean governments to an appreciation of the steps both could take for their common benefit. He had no illusions about the spiraling of events in Chile but he nonetheless returned to Santiago to become foreign minister just before President Allende was assassinated in 1973.

The new junta at once put Mr. Letelier into a concentration camp and kept him there for a year. International pressure helped free him. He came to the United States, saddened but not embittered by the American role in the Allende tragedy, to teach and write and to prepare as best he could by open political activity for the restoration of his country's democratic traditions. Even that was evidently too much for the thugs who control Chile. Earlier this month they took away his 'nationality' - as if they could. Yesterday, with a Washington associate, Ronni Moffitt, he was killed in an explosion in their car in Sheridan Circle. The circumstances at the very least raise the question of political assassination.

Orlando Letelier was a rare individual, as patient in argument as he was passionate in conviction, the model of the private man prepared to act on his beliefs and to accept their public consequences. He exemplified precisely the qualities - reason, concern for the common man, and civility - which the junta is trying to suppress in his native land. Whatever may yet be proven about the junta's part in his death, his exile speaks its own comment on those who exiled him. He deserves honor; they and their rule of Chile, contempt.

Copyright 1976 The Washington Post