Assassination of Orlando Letelier


On 21st September 1976, former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier was on a car journey with his American colleague from the Institute for Policy Studies, Ronni Moffitt, and her husband, Michael Moffitt, when a bomb, which had been previously placed underneath his vehicle, exploded.

The attack took place along Sheridan Circle, on Embassy Row, in the centre of Washington D.C. Orlando died immediately, followed by Ronni, a few minutes later. Ronni’s husband, Michael, survived.

Letelier had assumed numerous positions as a diplomat and a minister of Salvador Allende’s government. Following the coup d’état led by Augusto Pinochet, he was held in various torture and detention centres until September 1974. Upon his release, Letelier managed to go into exile, firstly in Caracas (Venezuela) and later in Washington D.C.

On 10th September 1976, the day before the third-year anniversary of the coup d’état in Chile, he had addressed 5,000 people at Madison Square Garden in New York to denounce the crimes of the Chilean dictatorship.

An FBI investigation revealed that the assassination was organised by the Chilean Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (Directorate of National Intelligence, DINA) under the leadership of the US national and DINA agent, Michael Townley. He had contracted several anti-Castro exiles from Cuba to carry out the operation. The bomb had been attached to the vehicle two days before and was operated via remote control.

Media description
The scene following the bomb explosion which assassinated Letelier and Moffit
AP Photo / Peter Bergg