A judge in Chile has ordered the exhumation of the remains of former President Salvador Allende in an effort to determine once and for all whether the late Marxist leader took his own life or was killed during a bloody military coup on September 11, 1973, which ousted his democratically elected government.
Judge Mario Carroza handed down his ruling on Friday after the Allende family asked for an official investigation into the cause of his death. The current government of President Sebastián Piñeda pledged to help in the inquiry.
Since the coup, the official story has been that Allende took his own life with a machine gun given to him by Cuban President Fidel Castro. The Chilean leader had been holed up in his office at La Moneda presidential palace as military jets were bombing the building.
When soldiers entered La Moneda, they found Allende's body slumped on the floor.
Pamela Pereira, lawyer for the Allende family, said she didn't trust the autopsy report performed at the Military Hospital and ordered by General Augusto Pinochet, who led the coup.
"I cannot trust an autopsy that was performed under inappropriate scientific conditions," Pereira told the Santiago daily El Mercurio on Saturday.
She claimed that the Allende family was not permitted to see the body before it was buried. A panel of experts will analyze the remains and prepare a report for the court, the lawyer said.
Hopes in Brazil
The announcement of the judge's ruling in Chile has given hope to the relatives of a former Brazilian president who have long argued that he was the victim of Operation Condor - the coordinated effort between the Southern Cone's military dictatorships to eliminate leftists and subversives in five countries.
Brazilian President João Goulart, a leftist who was deposed in a 1964 military coup, died in exile in 1976 at his family farm in Argentina. The official cause was a heart attack but in 2008 a former Uruguayan intelligence chief told a Brazilian newspaper that Goulart had been poisoned.
"Chile has now authorized the remains of President Allende to be analyzed to determine whether he was killed or committed suicide. This is a great boost to our hope that the circumstances surrounding the death of our father in 1976 are cleared up," said Goulart's son, João Vicente.