Former US Minister of Foreign Affairs Henry Kissinger meets with General Augusto Pinochet of Chile. (Reuters)
This past week was marked by the coincidence of two sad and related occasions: Wednesday, September 11, was the fortieth anniversary of the American-backed coup that overthrew the socialist President of Chile, Salvador Allende; on Monday, the great journalist and documentary filmmaker Saul Landau—a lifelong friend and contributor to The Nation—died at 77.
Landau’s first articles for The Nation were based on a years-long investigation into the assassination of Allende’s foreign minister, Orlando Letelier, by a car bomb in Washington, DC, in late September 1976. In his Nation pieces and in his widely acclaimed 1980 book, Assassination on Embassy Row, written with his frequent collaborator, John Dinges—our reviewer Jorge Nef called it “a provocative study [that] reads like an absorbing spy thriller”—Landau painstakingly demonstrated that the US intelligence community’s complicity with the Pinochet regime’s crimes did not end with the tragic 1973 coup.
Just a month before he was killed, Letelier—then a fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, now celebrating its fiftieth anniversary—published a remarkably prescient article in The Nation titled “Economic ‘Freedom’s’ Awful Toll: The Chicago Boys in Chile,” extensively documenting the efforts of American-trained conservative economists to convince Pinochet’s regime “that they were prepared to supplement the brutality, which the military possessed, with the intellectual assets they lacked.” In an editorial the week after the bombing—which also killed 24-year-old Ronni Moffitt, Letelier’s assistant at the IPS and a US citizen, and injured her husband, Michael, sitting in the backseat—The Nation wrote: “Letelier made the essential political connection in that article—that the kind of economic organization the United States was fostering on Chile absolutely required a ‘system of terror…to succeed.’ And now that system of terror has reached out and struck down by murder an opponent of the dictatorship which the United States did so much to install.”
Landau and Ralph Stavins, both colleagues of Letelier’s at IPS, immediately embarked on an investigation to determine both who was directly responsible and who was complicit. In a March 1977 Nation article dramatically titled, “This Is How It Was Done,” Landau and Stavins laid out the evidence linking the Chilean secret police—DINA—to the crime: