Chilean courts to investigate exact cause of Allende's death

For many years, the death of former Chilean President Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973 remained a mystery. Many people thought he was assassinated by members of the military who rose up against his government, and that he died defending the presidential palace, weapon in hand. Others believed he committed suicide with his own AK-47 when he realized there was no chance of resisting the coup staged by General Augusto Pinochet.

Until now, neither version could be considered official because there was never a judicial investigation into the events of that day at Palacio de La Moneda. Last week, for the first time, Chile's justice system decided to open the case and examine an action brought by the attorney of the Appeals Court of Santiago, asking to investigate the exact cause of Allende's death.

His case will be examined along with that of 721 others that involve human rights violations during the military dictatorship, in what is a legal first in Chile. The procedure was opened last year by Supreme Court Justice Sergio Muñoz, who was appointed coordinator of all cases dealing with human rights abuses between 1973 and 1990. Muñoz found that there was a significant number of crimes that had never been investigated by the courts for one reason or another.

Few witnesses

Many of the people who took part in the events now being investigated ? those who worked for the legitimate government and those who rose up against it ? are already dead, including Pinochet, who ruled with an iron fist for 17 years and died in 2006.

Allende represented the first attempt by Latin America's left to achieve power by democratic means and develop its programs from within the institutions. Allende, a doctor and a seasoned Marxist politician, was elected president of Chile on November 4, 1970 and held office until the uprising led by Pinochet, who bombarded the presidential palace.

Initially, the few survivors of that attack reported that Allende had been murdered by the military who entered the palace, but years later Allende's personal doctor revealed that he had decided to take his own life and not be made prisoner. The Chilean justice system must now decide whether this latter version is the true one.

Allende's daughter, the Socialist senator Isabel Allende, supports the investigation.

President Salvador Allende (center), flanked by bodyguards, in the Palacio de la Moneda on the day of the coup in Chile.
President Salvador Allende (center), flanked by bodyguards, in the Palacio de la Moneda on the day of the coup in Chile.ORLANDO LAGOS

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