On September 21, 1976, a car bomb exploded in Washington DC, killing a former Chilean diplomat named Orlando Letelier and his American colleague Ronni Moffitt. The assassination was a cruel and brazen attempt by the Chilean government to silence a critic of the Pinochet regime. And it proved to be a major strategic error––Pinochet himself used the language of “banana peel”––as the legal action that followed helped unravel US-Chile relations and provided a template for other human-rights victims to pursue justice in post-Pinochet Chile.
Alan McPherson, a professor of history at Temple University, investigates this event in his new book Ghosts of Sheridan Circle: How a Washington Assassination Brought Pinochet's Terror State to Justice (University of North Carolina Press, 2019). With the perspicuous eye of a detective, McPherson puts all the pieces together to explain how Pinochet and his secret service organized the murder, before following Orlando Letelier’s wife Isabel’s decades-long struggle to hold the assassins and the Chilean government accountable. It’s a harrowing but hopeful tale. And McPherson tells it masterfully.
Dexter Fergie is a doctoral student in US and global history at Northwestern University. His research examines the history of ideas, infrastructure, and international organizations.