There was some sober talk of the "storm clouds gathering," "cold war mentality," "best and worst of times". . .

"Human rights spokesman will be dismissed as naive," said Bob Borosage, director of the liberal think-tank, the Institute for Policy Studies, calmly looking over the cloth-draped dinner tables. Little bottle vases, one flower in each, sat atop the tables where some of the more well-known human rights spokesmen of the country gathered.

Times may be tough for the most liberal of liberals, but the 200-plus who came last night for the fourth annual Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards Ceremony at the Carnegie Endowment were of the stiff-upper-lip variety.

"As long as one of us is not free, none of us is free," said Mayor Marion Barry, who came for the dinner in honor of former Chilean ambassador and activist Orlando Letelier and his co-worker Ronni Karpen Moffitt. Both were killed four years ago last Sunday when a bomb planted in the car in which they were riding exploded at Sheridan Circle. Barry was able to smooth over bureaucratic red tape enough to get permission for IPS to put up a memorial plaque in Sheridan Circle honoring Letelier and Moffitt, both of whom worked at IPS at the time of their deaths. "I want to make sure the memory of Orlando and Ronni are kept living. That's the least any of us can do."

Some of the guests even appeared sanguine about the recent overturning on appeal of the convictions of the three men judged responsible for the murders.

"You might be shocked but you shouldn't be surprised," said Saul Landau, author of a recent book on the murders, "Assassination on Embassy Row." If retried, Landau said confidently, they will be reconvicted.

"I have a deep feeling for this award," said Barry, standing in the buffet line. "I've been around the Institute for a long time. I keep in touch with my friends, you know?" Just then he spotted D.C. councilwoman Hilda Mason and planted a kiss on her hand.

Rev. Ben Chavis, who had been awarded the Latelier-Moffitt Human Rights awards two years ago, was there last night, just nine months out of prison where he had been one of the Wilmington 10. He missed the ceremony when he was given the award; last night he got a standing ovation.

"Isabel and Michael came to visit me in prison," he said, referring to Isabel Latelier, and activist, and widow of Orlando Latelier, and Ronni Moffitt's widower Michael Moffitt, who also works at IPS. He too was in the car that exploded four years ago, but escaped with minor injuries.

Letelier and Moffitt lined up for pictures with award recipient Father William Wipfler of the National Council of Churches and David Mancia, the representative here of Socorro Juridico, the legal aid organization in El Salvador that was also given an award.

"I was supposed to be a priest," said Michael Moffitt with a smile to Wipfler, an Episcopal priest. "My mother told me if I became priest I'd go to heaven and she would go to heaven."

"There's a new vow you can take," said Wipfler. "It's called celibate, buy a bit, and give away a bit."

Landau spotted Congressman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) at a table. "I've been following you," said Landau with a grin, noting that he had seen Harkin on the TV news White Paper on Fidel Castro. "You were the shining light on that show."

Harkin looked up frowning. "I felt kind of strange on that -- sandwiched between Henry Kissinger and Ronald Reagan."