Letelier del Solar, Orlando (1932–1976)

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Letelier del Solar, Orlando (1932–1976)

Orlando Letelier del Solar served as Chilean ambassador to the United States and cabinet minister under President Salvador Allende. Born April 13, 1932, in Temuco to an upper-class family, Letelier graduated from the University of Chile with degrees in law and economics. After several years in the government's Department of Copper, he worked for Felipe Herrera at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, D.C., from 1960 to 1971. A long-time Allende supporter, he was appointed Allende's ambassador to the United States, a post in which he faced a hostile Nixon administration committed to subverting the Chilean government. During Allende's hectic final four months in office, Letelier served in his cabinet as minister of foreign relations, interior, and defense, successively.

He was arrested in the September 11, 1973, coup and, with other ranking officials and supporters of the fallen government, was sent to a prison camp on Dawson Island in the frigid Strait of Magellan. Exiled a year after the coup, Letelier went to Venezuela before accepting a position as associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., where he was prominent among Chileans attempting to rally opposition to the Augusto Pinochet regime. Agents of the Dirección Nacional de Inteligencia (DINA) blew up his automobile on September 21, 1976, killing him and his assistant Ronni Moffitt. U.S. courts tried and sentenced five DINA agents: U.S. citizen Michael Townley and four Cuban exiles.

When the Pinochet dictatorship issued an amnesty decree in April 1978 exonerating the military and police of crimes committed since the coup, it pointedly excluded the Letelier assassination in order to reduce friction with the U.S. administration of President Jimmy Carter. Nonetheless, Pinochet refused requests for the extradition of former DINA commander Manuel Contreras Sepúlveda and sub-commander Pedro Espinoza Bravo, both indicted in the United States. Following the dictatorship's end, a Chilean court in November 1993 sentenced Contreras and Espinoza to seven and six years, respectively. The Supreme Court upheld the sentence in May 1995. While some denounced the sentences as too lenient, others saw them as weakening the military's heretofore absolute impunity for the human rights violations committed during the dictatorship.

See alsoAllende Gossens, Salvador; Carter, Jimmy; Chile: The Twentieth Century; Pinochet Ugarte, Augusto.


Branch, Taylor, and Eugene M. Proper. Labyrinth. New York: Viking Press, 1982.

Dinges, John, and Saul Landau. Assassination on Embassy Row. New York: Pantheon, 1980.

Matus Acuña, Alejandra, and Francisco Javier Artaza. Crimen con castigo. Santiago: Ediciones B, Grupo Zeta: La Nación, 1996.

                                     Thomas C. Wright