On September 21, 1976, Institute for Policy Studies colleagues Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt were killed by a car bomb in Washington, DC. The FBI later determined that Chilean secret police agents working with "far right wing Cuban exiles had carried out this heinous act of terrorism".
After the Justice Department indicted five Cubans, plus four Chilean top intelligence agents, a trial took place in Washington. Lawrence Barcella, who died in 2010 of cancer, was one of two U.S. prosecutors who won the first case. Three Cubans got convicted, two of conspiracy to assassinate a foreign dignitary; the other for aiding and abetting and perjury before a Grand Jury.
An appeal overturned the verdict and Barcella lost the second case. He was deeply upset. Saul Landau recalls the scene in the courthouse corridor when Barcella shook his head in disbelief that a jury could have acquitted the three Cubans. The scene became especially dramatic for Landau when one of the Cubans, Guillermo Novo, "threatened to get me and I maturely responded by extending a finger upwards at him"
Barcella remained emotionally attached to the case for decades. In the mid and late 1990s he worked with Spanish attorney Juan Garces (a former Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow) and Saul Landau , along with former FBI Special Agent Carter Cornick and John Dinges (who co-authored the book Assassination on Embassy Row with Landau) and others to get the U.S. government to release massive files on Pinochet and the Chilean government’s involvement in the Letelier-Moffitt assassination and other crimes.
He also wrote op eds and letters to keep the case alive — to get Pinochet indicted and the information about his involvement made public.
The Chile letter
On August 1 1979 Thirty-five U.S. Congressmen signed a letterto President Jimmy Carter demanding that private bank loans to Chile be barred unless the Chilean government chose to extradite three military officials, including the former director of the Chilean intelligence service. The three had been indicted for complicity in the assassination of marxist Unidad Popular government member and KGB agent Orlando Letelier and the killing of Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) staffer Ronni Moffitt in 1976.
In May 1978 the Chief Justice of the Chilean Supreme Court rejected the U.S. request for extradition.
Chief sponsor of the letter was Rep. Tom Harkin (D-IA), who was joined by Congressmen John Burton (D-CA), John Conyers (D-MI), Robert Kastenmeier (D-WI), Ron Dellums (D-CA), Berkley Bedell (D-IA), Richard Ottinger (D-NY), Fred Richmond (D-NY), Robert Drinan (D-MA), Leon Panetta (D-CA), Don Edwards (D-CA); Norman Mineta (D-CA), Pete Stark (D-CA}, Anthony Beileson (D-CA) George Brown (D-CA), Toby Moffett (D-CT), Dale Kildee (D-MI), Eugene Atkinson (D-PA), Michael Barnes (D-MD), David Bonior (D-MI), Adam Benjamin (D-IN), William Brodhead (D-MI), Robert Carr (D-MI), Tom Daschle (D-SD), Tom Downey (D-NY), Harold Hollenbeck (R-NJ), Pete Kostmayer (D-PA), Stewart McKinney (R-CT), Edward Markey (D-MA), Andrew Maguire (D-NJ) Richard Nolan (DFL-MN), Gerry Studds (D-MA), Bruce Vento (DFL-MN) and Howard Wolpe (D-MI).
The Harkin letter characterized the Chilean government as "an enemy of the American people" and urged the President to "take strong action against this terrorist government." The letter was released (9 A.M. on August 1 1979) at the same time a press statement from the Washington, DC, Chile Legislative Center of the National Coordinating Center in Solidarity with Chile, staffed by veterans of the Venceremos Brigade and the Communist Party USA, supported the Congressional letter and urged pressure so that the State Department does not accept a military trial of the three Chileans in Chile as a substitute for extradition and trial in the US
- Tribute to Letelier Case Prosecutor, December 3, 2010 · By Saul Landau, IPS website
- Information Digest August 10 1979 p 244