Death of Eduardo Frei Montalva

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Eduardo Frei Montalva, President of Chile, reportedly died following a low-risk surgery. Questions continue to surround the events that led to his death and recently, Chilean justice has accused that Frei was murdered with small doses of toxic substances.

Historical context[edit]

Eduardo Frei was one of the opposition leaders against the government of President Salvador Allende. As such, he supported the Chilean coup of 1973 that deposed Allende and initially supported the administration of general Augusto Pinochet.

Events leading to the death[edit]

In 1981, Frei was suffering from chronic acid reflux, stemming from a hiatal hernia, a very uncomfortable but essentially low risk condition. After consulting with several specialists, he decided to have it treated via surgery. The surgery was performed at the Santa María Clinic in Santiago on 18 November 1981 by a team of three surgeons: Dr. Augusto Larraín Orrego, Dr. Patricio Silva Garín, and Dr. Ivo Eterovic. At the time, Dr. Larrain was a world-renowned gastric surgeon, as well as a cousin of Andrés Zaldívar, one of Frei's closest advisers.

The initial surgery was considered a success and, after a few days, Frei was discharged to continue his recovery at his home. However, Frei began experiencing fever and pain a few days later and was readmitted to the Santa María Clinic on 4 December. After a complete check, he was diagnosed with an intestinal occlusion and a partial necrosis of the small intestine. He underwent a second (corrective) surgery on 6 December, this time performed by Dr. Patricio Silva Garín.

Despite another initial bout of improvement over the next several days, Frei's health once again severely deteriorated and he was found to be suffering from septic shock and septicaemia. After suffering a complete immune system collapse, Frei died on January 22, 1982. His death was attributed to an infection by the fungus candida albicans, contracted either during surgery or due to hospital contamination. He was buried in the Cementerio General de Santiago.


Frei's death is a matter of controversy due to allegations that he was poisoned by the DINA, the intelligence service of the military government, allegedly using a toxin produced by biochemist Eugenio Berrios. After Belgian researchers from the University of Ghent reportedly found biological remnants of mustard gas in Frei's body, the former president's family filed a lawsuit, which is still pending as of 2009.[1] Frei's personal doctor, Patricio Rojas, who was also his minister of Interior and minister of defense during Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle's administration, has denied the accusations. El Mercurio columnist Hermógenes Pérez de Arce disputes even the existence of the Belgian report, citing the denial by the University's chief of communications, Tom de Smedt, that an investigation had been done in that university.

In December 2009, six persons were arrested for their roles in the alleged assassination of Frei.[2] Judge Alejandro Madrid based his decision on a report that determined that Frei was administered low doses of thallium and mustard gas over an extended period while he was hospitalized at the Santa María Clinic in Santiago and that these toxic substances had the effect of decreasing Frei's immune system, making him too weak to survive his surgery".[3] Nonetheless, the report has been widely criticized on scientific basis as well as by the medical team that participated in the surgery.[4][5] The Appeals Court attempted to suspend Judge Madrid from the case, while the accused were set free on bail.

However, the case re-opened in 2010 after a failed attempt to disqualify Judge Madrid.[6] In April 2013, the body of poet Pablo Neruda, who died in the same hospital one day before departing for exile, was exhumed amid suspicious of foul play in his death.


  • Dr. Patricio Silva Garín – Head of the second medical team
  • Dr. Pedro Valdivia Soto – member of the medical team
  • Dr. Helmar Rosenberg Gómez
  • Dr. Sergio Gónzalez Bombardiere
  • Luis Becerra Arancibia
  • Raúl Lillo Gutierrez

Additional information[edit]

See also[edit]