There is another presidential death under investigation in Chile, and this one is more belated and possibly more contentious that the inquiry into the death of Eduardo Frei Montalva (1964-70). Last month a Chilean judge opened the first official investigation into the death of Salvador Allende, a Socialist whose government was overthrown in a violent military coup on September 11, 1973.
Allende was found dead in the La Moneda presidential palace as troops stormed the building, his body carried out by Chilean firefighters. An autopsy suggested he had killed himself, and his remains were quickly buried in a family plot in the Vina del Mar cemetery. In 1990 an elected civilian government took office, and Allende was finally given a state funeral and reburied in Santiago’s Cementerio General.
Some of his supporters believe Allende was killed by soldiers, while others who were in La Moneda that day say he committed suicide with a submachine gun Fidel Castro had given him. The one witness who says he actually saw Allende die, Dr. Patricio Guijon, was arrested along with other officials and sent to a prison camp on an island in the Strait of Magellan. Guijon has never changed his story and over the years Allende’s widow and surviving daughter came to accept this account as well.
More recently a Chilean journalist, Camilo Taufic, offered another version of events: Allende shot himself with a pistol and only wounded himself, then asked one of his bodyguards to deliver the coup de grace. According to Taufic, the army general leading the attack on the presidential palace rearranged the scene to create the impression Allende had used the submachine gun on himself.
The investigation into Allende’s death is part of a broader judicial inquiry into 726 human rights-related crimes in which no legal action has been taken by the victims’ families. The team of specialists from Chile’s Servicio Medico Legal includes two thanatologists, an anthropologists and a forensic orthodontist.
Dr. Oscar Soto Guzman, a physician who was also with Allende in the presidential palace the day of the coup, backs Guijon’s testimony but asks why there has been no investigation before now. Not even Allende’s own Socialist Party, part of the political coalition governing Chile for 20 years, had sought an inquiry into his death.