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'Evidence' Chile dictator Pinochet ordered DC killing

Recently declassified documents reveal that the military dictator Augusto Pinochet ordered a Chilean diplomat's assassination in Washington, the victim's son has said. The US handed the documents over to Chile this week.

The CIA had evidence that Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet had ordered the brazen assassination of the country's exiled former foreign minister in Washington, the diplomat's son said on Thursday.

On September 21, 1976, a bomb exploded under a car driven by resistance leader and ex-Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and his American assistant Ronni Moffitt as they drove through Washington's leafy Embassy Row.

"This is the first time there are documents that give evidence of that," Juan Pablo Letelier, one of the diplomat's four sons, told Chile's Tele13Radio on Thursday.

For years, Chileans had suspected Pinochet, who seized power in a 1973 military coup and remained in office until 1990, of ordering the attack. On a trip to Chile on Monday and Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry handed a memory stick with 1,000 declassified documents related to the sensitive case to President Michelle Bachelet. She passed them on to Juan Pablo Letelier, now a Chilean senator.

Did the USA know?

Letelier served as foreign minister under President Salvador Allende from 1970 to 1973. Officials consider his assassination the first foreign terrorist act on US soil.

The assassination also soured the relatively warm relations Pinochet had enjoyed with the United States after overthrowing Allende, the first Marxist elected to office in the Americas. His friendship with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher carried on through the 1970s.

Letelier said the documents included a memo to the White House from George Shultz, the secretary of state at the time, "which reports that there is a conclusive CIA document on Pinochet's responsibility, in which he orders my father's assassination."

Pinochet never faced trial for Letelier's murder and was never convicted for the estimated 3,200 deaths and disappearances that occurred under his military regime. Though he was never convicted, he died under house arrest at the age of 91 in 2006. At his final birthday party, less than two weeks before his death, Pinochet's wife read his final statement:

"Today, approaching the end of my days, I would like to state that I do not carry any rancor for anybody, that I love my country above all and that I assume the political responsibility for all that was done, in the conviction that there was no other way to grow Chile and avoid its disintegration."

Bachelet was herself imprisoned and tortured by Pinochet's regime after her father died of cardiac arrest following his own incarceration and beating. This summer Manuel Contrera, Pinochet's former spy chief, died at age 86. The government has brought new charges against a gang of military officers for their role in the death of a musician in 1973.

mkg/sms (EFE, Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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