Death of Salvador Allende
Salvador Allende, President of Chile, died during the Chilean coup of 1973 by the Chilean Army Commander-in-Chief Augusto Pinochet. Although he reportedly committed suicide shortly after giving a radio speech to the Chilean people, there has been great controversy regarding the circumstances of his death. Allende supporters have always dismissed the military junta's version of events because they believe he was assassinated. Allende's family stands by the official version of events, in which he committed suicide.
In May 2011, Allende's remains were exhumed and analyzed by a team of international experts, which concluded that the former president had shot himself with a rifle. In December 2011 the judge in charge of the investigation affirmed the findings and ruled Allende's death a suicide. On 11 September 2012, 39 years to the day after his death, an appeals court unanimously upheld the previous ruling, officially closing the case.
On September 11, 1973, just prior to the capture of the Palacio de La Moneda (the presidential palace) by military units loyal to Pinochet, President Salvador Allende made his famous farewell speech to Chileans on live radio (Radio Magallanes). The president spoke of his love for Chile and of his deep faith in its future. He also stated that, as he was committed to Chile, he would not take an easy way out or be used as a propaganda tool by those he called "traitors" (accepting an offer of safe passage, like Carlos Altamirano). The radio address was made while gunfire and explosions were clearly audible in the background.
Allende's weapon was purportedly given to him as a gift by Fidel Castro. It bore a golden plate engraved: "To my good friend Salvador from Fidel, who by different means tries to achieve the same goals".
At approximately 1:50 PM local time, President Allende ordered the defenders of the La Moneda Palace to surrender. The defenders then formed a line from the second floor, down the stairs and onto the Morande street door. The president went along this queue, from the ground floor up the stairs, shaking hands and thanking everyone personally for their support in that difficult moment. After he finished, he directed himself toward the Independence salon, located in the north-east side of the Palace's second floor.
At the same time, Dr. Patricio Guijón (a member of La Moneda's infirmary staff) decided to return upstairs to recover his gas-mask as a souvenir. He heard a noise, and opened the door of the Independence salon in time to see the president shoot himself with his AK-47 assault rifle. From the other side of the salon and through an open door Dr. José Quiroga, Arsenio Poupin, a member of the cabinet, Enrique Huerta, a palace functionary, two detectives from the Presidential security detail, and some GAPs (Presidential Security) were able to see the moment of death, or arrive a few seconds afterwards, attracted by the noise.
|"Workers of my country, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Keep in mind that, much sooner than later, the great avenues will again be opened through which will pass free men to construct a better society. Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!"|
|President Salvador Allende's farewell speech,
September 11, 1973.
All sources seem to agree that at least the following witnesses were present:
- Dr. Patricio Guijón – member of the Presidential Medical Staff – Survived
- Dr. José Quiroga – member of the Presidential Medical Staff – Survived
- Arsenio Poupin Oissel – Presidential Assessor and member of the cabinet – Executed a few days later
- Enrique Huerta Corvalán – Palace Intendant – Executed a few days later
- David Garrido – Detective (Presidential Security Detail) – Survived
- Ricardo Pincheira – Detective (Presidential Security Detail) – Survived
- Pablo Manuel Zepeda Camillieri – GAP (Presidential Security) – Survived
Of these witnesses, only Dr. Guijón spoke about the events immediately after they happened, and was roundly vilified for doing so. Some sources misattribute Guijón's declarations to "Allende's personal doctor": Dr. Enrique Paris Roa, who was at La Moneda not on his professional role but as a member of Allende's cabinet. He does not appear to have made any such statement as he was executed shortly afterwards. The other witnesses kept silent until after the restoration of democracy in Chile, as they believed (according to their own statements) that to corroborate the version of a suicide would in some measure downgrade Allende's sacrifice and lend support to the military regime.
Many Allende supporters have always presumed that he was assassinated by the forces staging the coup. On 28 September 1973 (only two weeks after Allende's death), Fidel Castro told a Cuban crowd in Havana's Plaza de la Revolución that Allende had died in La Moneda wrapped in a Chilean flag, firing at Pinochet troops with Fidel's rifle. Over the coming decades, the Cuban leader would continue to make public addresses using this version of events. The theory was the basis of Robinson Rojas' 1975 book The murder of Allende and the end of the Chilean way to socialism. It claimed that the Chilean president had been killed by Pinochet's military forces while defending the palace.
With the end of the military junta in Chile in 1988, the view that Allende committed suicide has become more accepted as different testimonies confirming the details of the suicide have become available in news and documentary interviews. Likewise members of Allende's immediate family including his wife and his daughter, have never disputed that it was a suicide. In 2008 a Chilean doctor Luis Ravanal published an article in the magazine El Periodista stating that Allende's wounds were "not compatible" with suicide. Asked to comment on Dr. Ravanal's hypothesis, the Chilean congresswoman Isabel Allende, the President's daughter, said that the suicide version is the correct one.
In late January 2011, a Chilean judge ordered the exhumation of Allende's corpse as part of an inquiry into his death. After examining the remains, a team of Chilean medical experts confirmed the official verdict of suicide, that he died after shooting himself with an AK-47 given to him by Fidel Castro. The shots tore the top of Allende's head off, killing him instantly, because the rifle had been set to automatic fire.
However, on May 31, 2011, Chile's state television station reported that a top-secret military account of Allende's death had been discovered in the home of a former military justice official. The 300-page document was only found when the house was destroyed in the 2010 Chilean earthquake. After reviewing the report, two forensic experts told TVN "that they are inclined to conclude that Allende was assassinated."
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- La Tercera, Chilean newspaper, September 11, 1973 (Spanish)
- La Tercera, El Once, includes news of different newspaper of days previous to the coup (Spanish)
- Las 24 horas que estremecieron a Chile. Detailed minute-by-minute account of the events of September 11, 1973 by historian Ascanio Cavallo, on the site of La Tercera. (Spanish)
- Salvador Allende's "Last Words" (Spanish) (with English translation.) The transcript of the last radio broadcast of Chilean President Salvador Allende, made on 11 September 1973, at 9:10 AM. MP3 audio available here.
- September 11, 1973: President overthrown in Chile coup, BBC News "On this Day", undated. Accessed 22 September 2006.