Grieving Bomb Survivor Blames Chilean Regime

22 September 1976

'I think the government of Chile should be held responsible for the death of my wife', says Michael Moffitt.

TNI and the Pinochet precedent

He sits in the study of a friend's house in Georgetown, pressing his ears as if somehow it will make the ringing from the explosion go away, talking through the sobs because he wants people to read how he feels about why his wife was killed at the age of 25. Michael Moffitt, also only 25, married less than four months, economist, co-author with his murdered friend Orlando Letelier, talks unconsolably of how his own life is already being destroyed. He sounds almost apologetic about indulging himself a moment of grief, for the message that Moffitt wants to shout to those in the streets is one of international conscience. Still dressed in the green shirt from his brief stay at George Washington University Hospital for treatment of shock and minor injuries yesterday, his outrage seems incredible in its measured expression. 'I think the government of Chile should be held responsible for the death of my wife', he says. He is alive because he was sitting in the back seat of the former Chilean ambassador's car when the bomb went off. Sitting next to Letelier was Ronni Moffitt, who worked with Letelier and her husband at the Institute for Policy Studies and who died at the hospital. Chile has disavowed any knowledge of the bombing, but Moffitt is not convinced that its rightist government, which imprisoned Letelier after a junta three years ago, did not order the bombing. Letelier has been critical of the Chilean regime since his release two years ago. 'I hope we'll now be able to start a serious discussion as to whether or not the United States should be given assistance to one of the most brutal regimes on this earth', Moffitt continues.

The National Coordinating Center in Solidarity with Chile today accused the Chilean secret police of murdering Letelier and called on the people of the United States to demand a full and impartial inquiry to uncover and stop the secret police operation in this country. Representatives of the center in New York and its legislative office here on Capitol Hill also demanded the expulsion of the present Chilean Ambassador Manuel Trucco. They also called on the candidates for president and vice president to commit themselves to totally withdrawing support for the junta that runs Chile. They said Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had spoken out against the regime but words are not enough. The group is sponsoring a protest rally at 5 p.m. today in Dupont Circle followed by a march to Sheridan Circle, where Letelier died.

Moffitt accused the current Chilean government of eliminating all civil rights in the country and said Letelier, who held several top posts in the government of former Chilean President Salvador Allende, was killed because he protested. Moffitt said he worried about an attempt on Letelier's life, although he remembers Letelier himself always giving such talk an airy wave of the hand. In fact, the subject of assassination came up during dinner Monday night at Letelier's house near the Kenwood Country Club in Bethesda. The Moffitts were there to discuss a paper the two men were writing on the changing economic order and somehow the conversation switched to an argument in high Chilean government circles between what Moffitt called hard-liners and moderates. The hard-liners, Moffitt remembers Letelier saying, wanted him killed because of his outspoken criticism of the Chilean regime. Letelier had been stripped of his Chilean citizenship the week before.

The Moffitts left that night in Letelier's car because their own had broken down. Moffitt believes that when they drove out to the small, one-story house they had rented in Potomac two months earlier, the bomb was already in place. On the way back into Washington the next morning, they picked up Letelier and were on their way to the Institute for Policy Studies at 1909 Q St. NW, a block from the residence of the current envoy from Chile, when Moffitt heard a 'buzz', then saw the 'flash' of the explosion. Moffitt went to work at IPS three years ago, just after his graduation from the State University of New York at Cortland, where he had majored in economics. It was at IPS that Moffitt met the young woman who would become his wife. Young, sensitive, liberal, idealistic, hard-working, outgoing and friendly - those are the adjectives grieving colleagues use to describe the couple. Ronni Susan Karpen and Michael Paul Moffitt were married May 30 on the backyard of her parents' home in Passaic, NJ. About two months ago, they rented a one-story, wood-frame house in Potomac, at 12413 Falls Road. 'They were just beginning life', said Marcus G. Raskin, co-director of the Institute, who was a White House aide in the Kennedy administration. 'She did not bargain for being involved in Chilean politics. It's a terrible tragedy'. Ronni, who was Jewish, and Michael, from a Catholic family, shared a deep concern about the poverty, hunger and suffering endured by a majority of the world's people.

Ronni went to work in September 1974 as an assistant to Raskin and recently was named fund-raiser for the institute. Michael, who is from Binghamton, NY, came to the institute in January 1974 and worked with the other co-director, Richard J. Barnet, on 'Global Reach', a study of multinational corporations. Michael is now a research associate at the institute, doing graduate work in economics at American University. Mrs. Moffitt's father, Murray H. Karpen, who runs a 51-year-old family delicatessen and catering service, said his only daughter had been 'full of life and a happy child'. Mrs. Moffitt was planning to return to Passaic this weekend for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Karpen said he assumed, but could not prove, that the people who killed his daughter had been 'out to get the ex-ambassador'. Letelier 'had accused the junta of barbaric acts', Karpen said. 'The secret police decided they weren't barbaric and to prove it, they murdered him and my daughter'. Mrs. Moffitt attended public schools in Passaic. She spent many summers at Camp Tranquility, a coeducational camp in Earlton, NY, outside Albany. She majored in education at the University of Maryland and graduated in 1972. She taught for a year at Rocking Horse Elementary School in Rockville. The job, particularly the arduous task of teaching youngsters to read, did not agree with her. Then for about eight months she worked in Washington for the president of a large insurance company, but according to her father, she 'wanted something more meaningful'.

In 1974, she became involved in a storefront neighborhood music center, the Music Carry-out, on 18th Street NW in the Adams-Morgan area. The center lent musical instruments to the community. Ronni played guitar, recorder, flute and piano, liked folk music, wrote poems, painted in acrylics and drew with pen and ink. She came to know the institute because Raskin had helped the Music Carry-out obtain a grant. Mrs. Moffitt leaves her parents, Murray and Hilda Karpen of Passaic, and her brothers, Michael, 20, a junior at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and Harry, 24, a student at Washington University Law School in St. Louis.

The funeral will probably be held tomorrow at Passaic Memorial Jewish Chapel, followed by burial in King Solomon Cemetery, Clifton, NJ. The family suggets that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Retinitis Pigmentosa Foundation in Baltimore.

Copyright 1976 The Washington Star