Honoring victims of 1976 DC Embassy Row assassination

Assassination along embassy row in 1976

WASHINGTON (WUSA*9)--September 21, 1976 marks the 40th anniversary when a car bomb went off along Massachusetts Avenue's Embassy Row at Sheridan Circle here in DC. 

Francisco Letelier was 17-years-old and in the 11th grade  at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda. Someone came to his geometry class that day to say he was wanted in the office.  There he found his aunt waiting.

"All she could tell us was there had been an accident," recalls Francisco.   "When we arrived at the hospital my mother was waiting for us, and she let us know our father had died."

Earlier that morning, at approximately 9:35, a bomb taped underneath Orlando Letelier's car ripped the vehicle apart.  

"My mother, she huddled us all together and said, whatever happens don't let this teach you how to hate," says Francisco, one of Orlando and Isabel Letelier's four sons.

Orlando Letelier had served as Chilean Ambassador to the United States and as a cabinet member to the democratic elected government of Salvador Allende in the early 1970's. Then came a military coup.  The elder Letelier was imprisoned until international pressure led to his release.  He returned to Washington and was a vocal opponent to the government of General Augusto Pinochet.
"The first question for us was who do you think killed your father," says Francisco,.  "Each one of us answered Pinochet, the military junta killed our father."
Today Francisco is 13 years older than his father lived to be.  He is an artist.  And with the help of some students from DC's Latin American Youth Center, has created a mural to honor his father.  It hangs at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center.  It will hang in the sculpture garden at the American University Museum through October 23.
"One of the things I tried to do with this mural is show that my father really lived a large portion of his life right here in DC," says Francisco.  "Here is a facsimile of his Maryland driver's license showing his address and the age at the time of his death."
Orlando Letelier had two passengers in the car with him that fateful day 40 years ago.  Ronni Moffitt, worked with Letelier at the Institute for Policy Studies.  Just 25-years-old, Moffitt was sitting in the front passenger seat. Seated behind her, in the car, was her husband Michael.
After the bomb was detonated, Ronni would walk away from the area near the car.  She died later at George Washington University Hospital.  Her husband would survive the blast.  The couple had only been married a few months.
Moffitt is also depicted in Francisco's mural.  She's seen holding an American Beauty Rose--the flower of DC. There's also an image of Moffitt playing the flute.
"She was incredibly gifted musically.  As my father was," says Francisco. 
For Francisco his 5-paneled mural is a narrative he hopes is never forgotten.
"I feel that even though this is something that happened 40 years ago it's become very current.  Because a mural is a lot more than a work of art.  In the making of this project we've created a moment of historical memory and action."
As for those responsible for the killings of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt, there have been some convictions and the wheels of justice are still moving.  General Pinochet, who died in 2006, denied any involvement in the killings.
However last year a memo written in 1987 by then U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz became declassified.  Partly redacted, the memo to President Ronald Reagan cites a CIA report.  Schultz writes "the CIA concludes that its review provides 'what we regard as convincing evidence that President Pinochet personally ordered his intelligence chief to carry out the murders.'"
Francisco has included this declassified memo into his mural honoring his father and Ms. Moffitt.

Francisco Letelier talks about his father pt 1

Francisco Letelier talks about his father pt 2

1976 Video on the Assassination of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt

1976 Interview with Michael Moffitt about the Assassination


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