Orlando Letelier

Speech at public meeting ‘Letelier challenges Pinochet from the Grave’ November 1976

I met Orlando for the first time earlier this year when he walked into the offices of the Institute of Race Relations to find out about our work and more especially about our journal Race and Class. He was a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington at the time and was working on Latin America. He was soon to become the director of the Transnational Institute of the I.P.S. Himself a brilliant economist, he had set up a project on the New Economic Order. He stayed a while with us, studied our work, approved of what we were doing, saw our journal (which by now was a joint publication of the IRR and TNI) as an instrument in the liberation struggles of the Third World peoples everywhere- and he seized the opportunity.  He decided to use it, the journal, as yet another weapon in his armoury in his fight against the Chilean junta in particular and against imperialism and fascism in general. And he saw that that struggle was indivisible. And if his life and his work has not shown that, his death has. Whether it is the murder of Orlando in Washington or the burning of an Indian woman in Leamington Spa, fascism is no respecter of persons, and it can come in the grisly guise of Pinochet, or the genteel guise of Enoch Powell. 

And knowing that, Orlando seized every opportunity to extend and enlarge his fight against the Chilean junta, and against fascism. There was not a thing that he would not do to wage that relentless war, not a journal he would not use, not a man he would not speak to, not a stone he would leave unturned. He seized the slightest opportunity he got, he seized the hour, he seized the day. And he knew that there was more than one way to skin a cat and he used them all. And for that he had to die.

You have already heard how Orlando had used every conceivable means to stop Dutch business investing some thing like $63 million in Chile. You know of the ceaseless lobbying, speaking, lecturing he did in the U.S. to stop American aid and investment to Chile. Last week – no, the week before that – or was it the week before – I cannot quite remember for he has not quite gone – no more gone from us than a man who hands over the baton to the next man in a relay race is gone from the race – some few days before his death – Orlando sent me an article for publication.

In it and some of it has already appeared in The Nation – he destroys the specious arguments of the Chicago School of economists – Milton Friedman, Arnold Harberger and others that the “economic freedom” that they advocated and the US treasury had promoted in Chile had nothing to do with the political repression there. Friedman and his company of academics whom Orlando describes as the “Chicago Boys” had waited in the wings to try out their economic theories in the rarified, laboratory conditions of a fascist dictatorship- of a political system which outlaws strikes, destroys electoral rolls, imprisons and murders its critics both at home and abroad.

It was the perfect political setting for the experiments that the Chicago boys were dying to carry out on the Chile an economy. They had built a theoretical model in Chicago and in the words of the Wall Street Journal, they were ‘ champing to be unleashed’ into a country which would provide the perfect laboratory conditions for their experiment. That it failed dismally – even in capitalist terms – Chile’s rate of inflation, 341% in 1975, the highest in the world – is not the point here – the point is, the argument, the theories of Friedman and Co. – the so-called scholarship of intellectuals continues to be used in the poorer countries of the Third World to justify not just the exploitation of their peoples but their imprisonment, incarceration in concentration camps, detention without trial, And it is against this growing class of academic collaborators that bring credibility to power and rationalise judicial murder and state assassination and justify the murders of peoples that Orlando inveighs in his article – and he warns us against them and encourages us instead to generate a breed of insurgent academics who will help to apprehend reality in order to change it.

He left not a stone unturned. He kept on skinning the cat. He was relentless in his fight against the Junta, in his fight for his people, in the fight for the oppressed everywhere. Stripped of his citizenship by Pincohet’s pigs he remarked in the New York Times that you do not take a man’s country away from him by striking off his citizenship – a man’s country is his history, his peoples, it’s his contribution to them, and their’s to him – you do not take it away by rescinding his citizenship. “The things that destroy our nationality”. he wrote “are the concentration camps, torture, repression and hunger”. And by that very token he was the most Chilean Chilean of them all – and in his fight to remain so he was a fighter for all our freedoms. And the least of our monuments to him at Ieast is that we shall carry the baton he has put in our hands.