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Lawyer to Discuss Human RightsPhoto by Rachel Been, Daily Bruin staff

Lawyer to Discuss Human Rights

Fabiola Letelier will be speaking today about prosecuting secret police in Chile.

While in the United States, Letelier also plans to lobby for the declassification of documents related to her brother's assassination, and attempt to establish an alliance with American lawyers to assist her in reopening her brother's case.

This article was first published in the Daily Bruin.

By Skye Mayring, Daily Bruin contributor

Thirty years ago, a car bomb killed a former ambassador to the U.S. and his colleague as they drove to work at the Institute of Political Studies in Washington, D.C. This 1976 act of international terrorism was ordered by the Chilean secret police.

Today, Fabiola Letelier – the sister of one of the victims and a prosecutor in the case – plans to speak about international terrorism and human rights at UCLA.

Letelier, a Chilean human rights lawyer, prosecuted the head of Chile's secret police, Gen. Manual Contreras, and his second-in-command, Gen. Pablo Espinoza, for the assassination of her brother, Orlando Letelier.

Alicia Partnoy, a Loyola Marymount University Spanish professor and president of the organization responsible for Letelier's tour, Proyecto VOS, said she hopes today's lecture will help instruct UCLA on the ways in which "the policies of one country can destroy another country," referring to the U.S. government's alleged support of Chilean dictator Agusto Pinochet's brutal regime.

Proyecto VOS – Voices of Survivors – aims to provide a forum for survivors of human rights violations to share their struggles with academics at various American universities.

Today's event is sponsored by the Latin American Center; Division of Social Science; Department of Spanish and Portuguese; and Southern California Consortium of International Studies.

Orlando Letelier was Chile's ambassador to the U.S. under Salvador Allende's administration and became the defense minister when Pinochet's violent coup supplanted Allende's socialist rule in 1973.

In 1980, Fabiola Letelier joined the proceeding of her brother's case before a Chilean military tribunal, which allegedly consisted of several of Pinochet's secret police.

After a decade of litigation, Letelier's case was transferred to the Chilean Supreme Court under the newly established democracy in Chile.

Letelier said that 1995 marked the first time in history that any director of secret police in Latin America received a sentence.

"The sentence was minimal – seven years for Contreras and six years for Espinoza – but significant because it opened the door for justice. Now, victims of disappearances and torture and their families are filled with hope and joy that one day they too will obtain justice," Letelier said.

During the 17-year dictatorship of Pinochet, violent criminal acts were common on an international scale as well as within Chile. An estimated 3,000 Chileans were subject to "disappearances" or execution, while thousands more were imprisoned, according to The National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture Report.

Members of Proyecto VOS have similarly personal ties to protection of human rights in Latin America.

Partnoy, the LMU professor, survived a three-year kidnapping in her home country of Argentina, part of which she spent in a concentration camp with hundreds of prisoners.

"I was arrested because I was a student activist active against the military coup. I spent three and a half months lying face down on a mattress waiting to be killed at the Little School concentration camp," Partnoy said.

While in the United States, Letelier also plans to lobby for the declassification of documents related to her brother's assassination, and attempt to establish an alliance with American lawyers to assist her in reopening her brother's case.

Even though nearly 30 years have elapsed since her brother's death, Letelier said she continues her efforts to combat human rights violations because "it's a long road to justice."

Latin American Institute