Assassinated Leaders of Latin America

Leaders Murdered for Political Purposes

The history of Latin America is a long and bloody one, riddled with conflicts, wars and massacres. It is no surprise, then, that many important leaders in Latin America wound up in the sights of assassins. Which Latin American leaders were murdered for political reasons?
Dr. Mariano Moreno. Public Domain Image

Mariano Moreno was an Argentine lawyer, politician and journalist who was very influential during the early part of Argentina's independence from Spain. He got his political start in 1806, when Great Britain invaded Buenos Aires: Moreno was among those who successfully resisted the invasion. He was an important figure in the May Revolution of 1810 which began the formal break with Spain. He fought alongside Cornelio Saavedra, a military man who led Argentina's army. Unfortunately, the liberal Moreno and the conservative Saavedra agreed on very little. Moreno replaced Saavedra with a triumvirate in 1811: Saavedra returned the favor by marching on Buenos Aires and driving Moreno into exile. On March 4, 1811, while on board a ship destined for England, Moreno died mysteriously: it is commonly believed that Saavedra had him poisoned. More »

Gabriel García Moreno. Public Domain Image

Gabriel García Moreno was President of Ecuador from 1860 to 1865 and again from 1869 to 1875. García was extremely conservative and religious and he governed Ecuador accordingly. His administration was hard on liberals and dissidents and freedoms were severely curtailed for those who disagreed with him. His Catholicism was legendary: he had close ties to the Vatican, put the church in charge of many civil aspects of life in Ecuador (such as education) and even had Congress formally dedicate the Republic of Ecuador to "the Sacred Heart of Jesus." On August 6, 1875, he was attacked and killed by a small band of men wielding knives and machetes as he went from the Cathedral in Quito to the Presidential palace. When he heard the news, Pope Puis IX ordered a mass said in his memory. More »

Eloy Alfaro. Artist Unknown
Eloy Alfaro was President of Ecuador from 1895 to 1901 and again from 1906 to 1911. He was a liberal dictator: a reformer who ruled with an iron fist. Back in those days, politics often turned to civil war, and Alfaro was a master of both. He could deal with lawmakers or raise an army as the situation demanded. He was hungry for power: he even overthrew his own handpicked successor after the 1910 elections. He was arrested in early 1912 and an angry mob of conservative citizens broke into the jail: they shot Alfaro before parading his dead body through the streets of Quito. This undignified end notwithstanding, Alfaro is considered by Ecuadorians to be one of their greatest presidents, and his face currently graces Ecuador’s 50 cent coin. More »
Anastasio Somoza García. Public Domain Image
Anastasio Somoza Garcia was a ruthless general who seized control of Nicaragua in 1937. Thereafter, he and his family ran the nation like their own private ranch. They embezzled millions, used state funds for private purposes, nationalized industries and crushed Nicaragua's already impoverished population under a repressive system that was barely one step above slavery. His hold on power was absolute, and only his death could remove him from the presidency. On September 21, 1956, Somoza was shot by a young artist named Rigoberto López Pérez and died a few days later on the 29th. Although Anastasio Somoza was gone, his sons remained in power until 1979. More »
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September 29, 1974: General Carlos Prats

General Carlos Prats. Public Domain Image

Carlos Prats was a Chilean army general who supported the controversial presidency of Salvador Allende. He served as Commander of Chile's armed forces after René Schneider, his predecessor, was assassinated in 1970. On September 11, 1973, Allende was deposed by the Chilean military and replaced by a military government which would eventually be led by Augusto Pinochet. General Prats went into exile in Argentina. He publicly kept a low profile, but privately it was well-known that he did not approve of the military dictatorship which had taken over Chile. On September 29, 1974, Prats and his wife were killed by a car bomb planted by ex-CIA agent Michael Townley in Buenos Aires.

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June 1, 1976: General Juan José Torres

Juan Jose Torres Official Presidential Photo. Photographer Unknown
Juan José Torres was a Bolivian general who served as President of Bolivia in 1970-1971. He was also one of the highest-ranking victims of Operation Condor, a coordinated program of counter-terrorism and murder that was organized by the military governments of South America during the 1970’s and 1980's. Torres was handed power in Bolivia in 1970 by a fellow General, Alfredo Ovando. Torres lasted for about a year, when he in turn was deposed by forces loyal to rival General Hugo Banzer. Torres went into exile in Argentina, where he worked to undermine Banzer's military dictatorship. On June first, 1976, Torres was snatched off the streets of Buenos Aires: his bullet-riddled body was found the next day. It is believed that Argentine security forces made the hit as a favor for Banzer.
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September 21, 1976: Orlando Letelier

Orlando Letelier. Marcelo Montesino/Museo de la Memoria
Orlando Letelier was a Chilean diplomat who was a close advisor of President Salvador Allende. When Allende was deposed on September 11, 1973, Letelier was arrested by the Chilean military under orders from Dictator Augusto Pinochet. Letelier had important international contacts who forced the Chilean government to free him. He went to the USA to lobby for sanctions against the Pinochet regime, which had close ties to the US government. On September 21, 1976, Letelier was assassinated by a car bomb: his American assistant Ronni Moffit was also killed. This shocking act was ordered by the Chilean government and had serious repercussions: the USA did not take kindly to American citizens being murdered on American soil by a supposed ally.