On this day in 1976 former foreign minister of Chile Orlando Letelier was assassinated by a car bomb, along with one of his assistants, in Washington, DC. Letelier had served as one of the principal advisers to ousted Chilean President Salvadore Allende. He was killed by the Chilean secret police with potentially crucial assistance, as subsequently reported in The Nation by the late Saul Landau, from US intelligence. Just a month before he was killed, Letelier—then a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies—published a remarkably prescient article in The Nation titled “Economic ‘Freedom’s’ Awful Toll: The Chicago Boys in Chile,” which described the interlocking political and economic tendencies of what we now know as neoliberalism as it was propagated in his home country, after the General Augusto Pinochet’s 1973 coup, by American economists and “technical advisers.” So much of what has come to pass in the last four decades was described with perfect exactitude by Letelier in this Nation piece, excerpted in our recent 150th anniversary issue; it is no wonder his enemies decided that he had to be killed.

The economic policies of the Chilean junta and its results have to be placed in the context of a wide counter-revolutionary process that aims to restore to a small minority the economic, social, and political control it gradually lost over the last thirty years….

In such a context, concentration of wealth is no accident, but a rule; it is not the marginal outcome of a difficult situation—as they would like the world to believe—but the base for a social project; it is not an economic liability but a temporary political success. Their real failure is not their apparent inability to redistribute wealth or to generate a more even path of development (these are not their priorities) but their inability to convince the majority of Chileans that their policies are reasonable and necessary. In short, they have failed to destroy the consciousness of the Chilean people. The economic plan has had to be enforced, and in the Chilean context that could be done only by the killing of thousands, the establishment of concentration camps all over the country, the jailing of more than 100,000 persons in three years, the closing of trade unions and neighborhood organizations, and the prohibition of all political activities and all forms of free expression. While the “Chicago boys” have provided an appearance of technical respectability to the laissez-faire dreams and political greed of the old landowning oligarchy and upper bourgeoisie of monopolists and financial speculators, the military has applied the brutal force required to achieve those goals. Repression for the majorities and “economic freedom” for small privileged groups are in Chile two sides of the same coin. There is, therefore, an inner harmony between the two central priorities announced by the junta after the coup in 1973: the “destruction of the Marxist cancer” (which has come to mean not only the repression of the political parties of the Left but also the destruction of all labor organizations democratically elected and all opposition, including Christian-Democrats and church organizations), the establishment of a free private economy and the control of inflation a la [Milton] Friedman. It is nonsensical, consequently, that those who inspire, support or finance that economic policy should try to present their advocacy as restricted to “technical considerations,” while pretending to reject the system of terror it requires to succeed.

September 21, 1976

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.