215. Telegram From the Embassy in Chile to the Department of State1

3980. Subject: Letelier/Moffitt Assassination Investigation.

1. Summary: Although we remain hopeful, current visit of Propper and others has not yet brought desired additional cooperation from the GOC. The Ambassador explained the situation to Foreign Minister Cubillos at lunch today (see septel).2 Orozco has promised a response to one of our requests by evening of May 26.3 This visit much more than previous, has been marked by almost hysterical press and media treatment, but which does not, in our view, represent GOC policy at this time. The judge looking into the Townley expulsion has requested Scherrer and Cornick to answer in writing questions on their role. We will report the questions and answers by septel.4 End summary.

2. FBI agents Scherrer and Cornick returned to Santiago May 17 and will depart May 26. Assistant US Attorneys Propper and Barcella returned to Santiago May 22 and will depart evening of May 25. Propper and Barcella have limited their official contacts on this trip to General Orozco. Scherrer and Cornick have also met with Mena and Pantoja of the CNI. The four specific objectives of these meetings are set forth in the following paragraphs.

3. Availability of Iturriaga as a witness: Lt. Col. (Army) Raul Iturriaga is a former Director of Foreign Operations in DINA. He was not, so far as we know, involved in the Letelier case. However, Propper seeks to have him made available to come to Washington as a witness at the trial in order to corroborate Townley’s testimony on how DINA functioned. Propper has some reason to believe that Iturriaga would be willing to come. Orozco, presented with the request, told Propper that military regulations clearly prohibited Iturriaga from leaving the country to testify but that he, Orozco, would discuss the matter with higher authorities to see if a loophole could be found. Alfredo Etcheberry tells us that there is no specific legal prohibition against such a [Page 643] role for Iturriaga. Orozco has promised to get back to Scherrer by the evening May 26.

4. Paraguayan testimony: According to Propper’s information DINA Chief Contreras called the Paraguayan Chief of J–2, Col. Benito Guanes to request the Paraguayan passports for “Williams and Romeral.” Propper wants Guanes to come to the US to testify to that conversation. The Paraguayans say he will do so only if the GOC has no objection and that the Chileans must call them. Propper and Scherrer have raised the issue with Orozco who passed the buck to Mena. Mena says that if the Paraguayans want something from the Chileans they should initiate a request.

5. Propper, et al, also hoped on this visit to be able to talk to Contreras, Col. Pedro Espinosa and Capt. Fernandez Larios. They have been informed by Orozco that none of the three is willing to talk to them. According to Etcheberry they are within their rights in so refusing. Orozco did, however, show Propper and others portions of the secret testimony of the three before him.5

6. Finally, Propper had hoped Orozco, on the basis of information provided him by Townley in Washington, would have carried his own investigation further by this time.6 There is no evidence that the GOC has, in fact, pressed ahead in recent weeks.

7. Press coverage of this visit by Justice Department officials is much more antagonistic than on previous occasions. The climate was adversely affected by news stories in the U.S. (duly reported here) just prior to Propper’s arrival that he was coming to obtain the extradition of Contreras and other ex-DINA officials.7 Only, but an important exception, “El Mercurio” of the newspapers has maintained a reasonably calm approach. All others have carried repeated Banner headlines misrepresenting purpose or facts of Propper visit or taking anti-American stances. We are reporting the flavor of these attacks separately (e.g. Santiago 3948).8 Anti-U.S. leaflets appeared today for first time.

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8. Earlier this week the focus of local attention was a request by Townley’s lawyer for the judge investigating his expulsion to prevent the departure of Scherrer and Cornick until they had testified in her court. Because Scherrer and Cornick are travelling on diplomatic passports the judge has submitted written questions to Scherrer and Cornick through the Foreign Ministry. Their responses are not obligatory but both Scherer and Cornick will reply prior to departure May 26 and we will report the questions and responses by septel.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780222-1026. Secret; Immediate; Stadis; Exdis.
  2. In telegram 3978 from Santiago, May 25, Landau reported: “I told [Cubillos] that, in Mr. Propper’s view, the GOC had not lived up to the written mutual cooperation agreement whereby each government would investigate the case independently and exchange their findings.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780221-0982)
  3. Not found.
  4. Telegram 4029 from Santiago, May 27. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780225-0012)
  5. Not found.
  6. In telegram 4140 from Santiago, June 1, the Embassy reported that Orozco “told an embassy officer that he wanted the embassy to know that his slow progress is not from lack of effort, but is due primarily to the necessity of building a case that meets the standards of Chilean (not U.S.) law.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780230-0071)
  7. Telegram 3948 from Santiago, May 24. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780234-0960) See also “Chile Has An Opening In Extradition Pact,” New York Times, May 22, 1978, p. A5.
  8. May 24. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780234-0960) See also telegram 3977 from Santiago, May 25. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780221-0919)