Chile has not cleaned up its act

31 Marzo 1984

The Pinochet regime remains a repressive dictatorship with no intention of moving toward a return to democracy in Chile.

TNI and the Pinochet precedent

Rep. G.V. Montgomery seems puzzled by an unremittingly hostile attitude toward Chile [For the Record, March 18], despite what he and UN Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick see as a hopeful process of liberalisation moving toward democratisation by the military regime of General Augusto Pinochet. The congressman assumes that the Chilean regime has cleaned up its act in the human rights arena, and has cooperated in the US investigation into the September 1976 terrorist assassination of Orlando Letelier and Ronni K. Moffitt in Washington. He assumes too much.

The March 27 national day of protest in Chile against continued military rule, and the ensuing troop violence, left a toll of five deaths, dozens of injuries and hundreds of arrests. This is evidence enough that the Pinochet regime remains a repressive dictatorship with no intention of moving toward a return to democracy in Chile. And far from cooperating in the US investigation into their carbombing murders, as Montgomery alleges, Pinochet and his military government, in the words of the Justice Department official in charge of the case, E. Lawrence Barcella, haven't done spit. In fact, they have been dilatory and obstructionist. Yes, the Pinochet regime did turn Michael Townley, an American expatriate working as an international assassin for the Chilean secret police, DINA, over to the United States, but not voluntarily as Montgomery states. Rather, for more than a month after Townley was identified as a key suspect in the case, the Pinochet regime stalled, lying to US Justice Department officials - they were told that Townley's whereabouts were unknown when in fact he was under secret police protection at his own home - and even producing another man in his place. Only after US Ambassador George Landau threatened serious repercussions in US relations with Chile, and the Justice Department signed an agreement limiting the use of Townley's testimony to the Letelier case, was he finally turned over to American authorities.

And yes, Gen. Hector Orozco did relieve Townley of his oath of secrecy; the Chileans then secretly agreed to pay up to $250.000 for his legal expenses and support for his family in Chile as an incentive for him not to reveal his other assassination missions - in Argentina and Italy - undertaken on behalf of Pinochet.

Nevertheless, Townley is a smokescreen that Montgomery is using to divert attention from the real issue - the Pinochet regime's abject failure to bring three indicted Chilean co-conspirators, including the former head of DINA, Gen. Manuel Contreras, to justice. Congressional legislation passed in 1981 prohibits sending US military aid to Chile until the military regime takes appropriate steps to cooperate to extradite these intelligence officials to the United States to stand trial, or bring them to trial here.

Contrary to what Montgomery would have us believe, the applicability of plea-bargained evidence has nothing to do with Pinochet's refusal to prosecute Contreras and his subordinates. Evidence of their guilt exists independently of Townley's testimony; thus the military regime has blocked attempts by lawyers of the Letelier family to pursue their own investigation. As Townley himself wrote to a colleague in the Chilean intelligence service: You know the truth. I know it, the [Chilean] court knows it, perhaps 80 percent of the country knows it. If they really wanted to prosecute him [Contreras] they have more than 100 witnesses that could do it there.

Perhaps the truth - that officials at the highest levels of the Chilean government carried out and attempted to cover up a vicious act of international terrorism on the streets of this nation's capital, and continue to insult the US system of justice - was not told to Montgomery during the briefing he received in Chile. Otherwise, how does one explain why he seeks to reward the Pinochet regime by restoring US military aid while human rights violations continue and while the men who murdered Ronni Moffitt, Orlando Letelier and thousands of other innocent victims walk free.

I am in total agreement with Rep. Montgomery's conclusion: After 7 12 years it is time to move forward. It is time to move forward - be supporting the forces of democracy in Chile, and by demanding justice in the Letelier-Moffitt case.

For the Record

From a statement on Chile by Rep. G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery (D-Miss.), who recently led a delegation from the House Armed Services Committee to South America.

Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane J. Kirkpatrick [has asked]: Why, then, this totally condemnatory, punitive, unremittingly hostile attitude toward Chile, which is involved in a serious and, we believe, hopeful process of liberalisation moving toward democratisation.

One possible answer to this question is the unresolved Letelier murders. However, the basic but oft-ignored fact in the case against those indicted for the Letelier/Moffitt murders is that there would have been no case to prosecute in the US courts had not the Chilean government voluntarily turned over to the US authorities Michael Townley, the man whose plea-bargained testimony provided the key evidence in the trials in the United States and in the US extradition request to Chile.

Further, not only did Chile turn Townley over, but subsequently the government sent a general to Washington to relieve Townley of his oath of secrecy, so that he could provide information on the case. There is no question, therefore, that Chile cooperated in the case. Chilean law prohibits the use of plea-bargained evidence; therefore, prosecution in Chile of those responsible based on evidence from the US court action is not possible.

The underlying question about this point is whether and for how long the United States is prepared to let this matter remain a determining factor in relations with Chile. After 7 12 years, it is time to move forward.

Copyright 1984 The Washington Post