It was 27 years ago that General Augusto Pinochet attended the funeral of a man killed by his own security apparatus: former president Eduardo Frei Montalva, a Christian Democrat who led Chile from 1964 to 1970.
Protocol demands that acting heads of state attend the funerals of their predecessors, and this blogger covered the funeral. The dictator’s motorcade pulled up to Santiago’s cathedral and as he emerged from the vehicle there were loud cries of Asesino! Asesino! from some in the crowd gathered outside, and the jeering resumed after the service when Pinochet left. But the protesters were referring to the thousands of other human rights abuses committed by the regime, and at the time few were aware that Frei had become its latest and perhaps most prominent victim.
Here’s a link to an earlier post on the case.
Frei, one of the most vociferous critics of the socialist government of his successor, Salvador Allende, had even said the 1973 military coup had been necessary. But as time passed he became a critic and then an opponent and thus came under the sinister eye of Pinochet’s security forces. His driver was an informant, keeping the regime up to date on his activities.
In late 1981 Frei checked into a private hospital in Santiago for a hernia operation and was discharged three days later, seemingly on the road to recovery. But Frei was slowly being poisoned to death and was readmitted to the hospital, where he died on January 22, 1982.
Frei’s body was eventually exhumed and examined by forensic experts, who found traces of mustard gas and other toxins. A judge in Santiago has indicted six people, including Frei’s former driver, in connection with the case, with sentences ranging from three to 10 years. Two of the indicted are former university professors of medicine charged with covering up the poisoning and falsifying the autopsy report.
Some further reading (in Spanish):
Frei’s daughter Carmen’s book on the case, Magnicidio: La historia del crimen de mi padre
And the Chilean newspaper La Tercera has a special report on the investigation.