Fabiola Letelier, tireless fighter against the violations of the Pinochet dictatorship | International


Fabiola Letelier attends a hearing on the extradition of Augusto Pinochet, in London, on September 27, 1999.
Fabiola Letelier attends a hearing on the extradition of Augusto Pinochet, in London, on September 27, 1999.CHRISTINE NESBITT (Associated Press)

The name of Fabiola Letelier will remain inscribed on the indelible wall of Chilean memory. Deceased on Thursday at the age of 92, accompanied by her family, the lawyer is part of the faces of brave, prepared women, full of humanity and consequence who took the lead in the fight against human rights violations of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). From the political and moral stock of other great Chilean women, such as Ángela Jeria or Ana González, Fabiola made her life a cause. “History forced me to live as a social fighter and today I can say that I am happy with my life, even if it has been hard,” she said three years ago, when the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) awarded her for her tireless work on behalf of truth and justice.

He lived the horror firsthand. His younger brother, Orlando Letelier, was assassinated by the dictatorship in Washington DC in 1976, in one of the most ferocious crimes of the regime. She had been chancellor in the government of the socialist Salvador Allende and from the United States she was one of the main opponents of Pinochet from abroad. It was the reason why the dictator’s secret police, the DINA, dared to attack Letelier with a bomb attached to the car in the heart of the diplomatic quarter of the American capital. Letelier and Ronni Moffit, his American collaborator, died. Since then, her sister Fabiola has devoted herself to the case. “In the face of one of the most heinous crimes committed in the history of this country, Fabiola Letelier had a courage and loyalty to her brother that are exemplary. She was also – and what is an honor and a source of pride for us – a most excellent lawyer from our university. His name will remain inscribed in our history ”, reflected in these days the rector of the University of Chile, Ennio Vivaldi.

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Fresh out of university, Fabiola Letelier joined humanitarian work. In the 1960s he joined the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and, after the coup, he returned to Chile after living eight years in the United States. Born on July 17, 1929 in Temuco, in the south of the country, the lawyer was part of the Pro Paz Committee, a body founded only a few days after the democratic breakdown by Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez, who from the first moment resisted dictatorial brutality and played a central role in helping the persecuted and their families. It was the Committee for Peace that quickly began to organize the defense of the opposition with visits to the detention camps, assistance to relatives to try to locate relatives, defense of those who were being subjected to Councils of War and tours of the prisons .

With its dissolution due to tensions with the dictatorship, in October 1975 the cardinal managed to found the Vicariate of Solidarity, through a decree of Pope Paul VI. Attorney Letelier, again, was there. The organization not only faced the military and the paralyzed courts of justice, but was also a counterintelligence apparatus before the regime. “Liberation Theology, a name forged by the Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez, who defended the preferential option for the poor, profoundly marks the Chilean Church of the sixties and seventies,” explained the lawyer of the Vicaría de la Solidaridad, Carmen Hertz , to understand the antecedents of the position of Chilean Catholicism.

The human rights project that the Vicariate represented has been perhaps the most powerful globally developed during the dictatorship and was explained in his memoirs by Cardinal Silva Henríquez himself, who died in 1999. “It was an original creation, yes. It did not exist elsewhere, it was unprecedented. An extraordinary situation caused her, no doubt! But it was not by chance, nor was it a sudden inspiration: the Vicariate was born from a long and long-suffering reflection on what we lived through day after day, ”he indicated in the book by journalist Ascanio Cavallo. The group was joined by lawyers and social workers, among others, most of them young. This building, located in front of the Plaza de Armas, became a symbol of the anti-dictatorial resistance since the late 1970s and the main place of reception for the victims and their families. “Along with the monthly report, which recounted all the abuses that had been committed in the last month, once a year we presented the state of the human rights situation to the Judiciary. We hoped that the president of the Supreme Court would make some reference, but it never happened ”, recalled María Luis Sepúlveda, who became executive secretary of the Vicariate.

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Lawyer Letelier was there that morning of September 21, 1976, when the news of the attack on her brother Orlando reached the Vicarage. The lawyer Rosemarie Bornand remembers it: “No one who was in the Vicarage that morning of September 21 will forget those moments,” she points to the phone. “We all knew the history of repression against Orlando Letelier, who was in exile in the United States, after passing through Venezuela. He had an immense political activity of solidarity with Chile and denouncing crimes. That September morning, Fabiola received a call, while she was working at her desk. And she only said: ‘They murdered Orlando’, immensely moved. It was shocking. We had heard of the assassination of General Carlos Prats in Argentina the previous year, but a crime in the heart of Washington was surreal. That and Fabiola’s pain, that we experienced it as in our own flesh, because she was one of us. It was tremendous, frightening, “says the lawyer.

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Bornand recalls that Letelier began in the Vicariate, but that in his biography the role he played in the Committee for the Defense of the Rights of the People (CODEPU), a secular body that he founded in the early eighties and focused on at work with the social organization, but in political terms. “Fabiola was very warm, loving, yet formal. Her work in court, where she was always highly presented, was admirable because it showed her perseverance. It is unforgettable how he worked on his brother’s case. He got the prosecution of Manuel Contreras, the number one of the DINA, in a historic ruling, in which she has a leading role ”, recalls her partner about the decision of the Supreme Court of May 1995, where Brigadier Pedro Espinoza, another of the police chiefs, was also convicted. secret. “Most of the people gathered in the streets near the Courts, many of them relatives of the disappeared, hugged each other and sang the national anthem when they heard the ruling,” reported EL PAIS.

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He never walked away from human rights work. She was president and legal director of CODEPU until 1998, in democracy. In the courts of Justice they remember having seen her alleging at least until 2010, in her 80s. He had a special interest in cases where the victims were women.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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