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Allende Was a Suicide, an Autopsy Concludes

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Allende Was a Suicide, an Autopsy Concludes

The New York Times


July 19, 2011

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — A new autopsy has determined that President Salvador Allende of Chile killed himself with an assault rifle, Chilean officials said Tuesday, dispelling doubts that have persisted for 37 years about the exact circumstances of his death, including whether troops storming the presidential palace had murdered him.

The forensic analysis, overseen by a team of Chilean and international experts, did not find any evidence of third-party involvement in Mr. Allende’s death, concluding that the head injuries he sustained were consistent with bullets fired from a single AK-47 assault rifle.

Even as leftist supporters like Fidel Castro declared that Mr. Allende died in a gun battle on Sept. 11, 1973, the day of the coup, his family members had long found credible the original autopsy and accounts of witnesses, including palace detectives and doctors, who said he had taken his own life before the military entered the palace.

But doubts had lingered, and in recent years some independent forensic experts had argued that there was evidence of a second bullet wound to Mr. Allende’s skull, raising the possibility that a second weapon may have been involved in his death.

In May, at the behest of a judge investigating 726 human rights cases related to Chile’s 17-year dictatorship, Mr. Allende’s remains were exhumed. After a thorough analysis, the forensic and anthropological team issued a 20-page report on Tuesday.

“We are in a position to assure that this was a violent death that was suicidal in nature,” said Dr. Francisco Etxeberría, a forensic expert appointed by the Allende family. “Of that we have absolutely no doubt.”

Forensic experts said there was only a single entry and exit wound in Mr. Allende’s skull. They said they found no evidence of a second weapon, but there was evidence that two bullets may have been discharged by an AK-47.

“There were two bullets fired at the scene, two shells were recovered, but only one bullet was recovered,” said David Pryor, a British consultant in forensic ballistics who used to work for Scotland Yard.

For the Allende family, the team’s findings brought relief, confirming Mr. Allende’s suicide, which had come to be a source of family pride. He “made the decision to end his life before being humiliated or having to go through some other situation,” Senator Isabel Allende, his daughter, said Tuesday.

But for Dr. Luis Ravanal, a forensic doctor who concluded in 2008 that the gunshots were most likely fired by two different weapons, the latest autopsy “did not reveal anything different than was already known.”

He contended that the forensic team had failed to “resolve fundamental doubts” by not having recovered a bone fragment in the back of the skull that had formed what appeared in the original autopsy report to be a second exit wound, he said. Dr. Ravanal also said the latest autopsy had confirmed his fears that a 1990 exhumation had been botched and produced “postmortem fractures” in Mr. Allende’s remains, which he said made it difficult to come to a definitive conclusion about his death.

Alexei Barrionuevo reported from São Paulo, and Pascale Bonnefoy from Santiago, Chile.

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Strikes me as a piece to deflect or diffuse the issue of whether a proper investigation into Murdoch will reach as far as the Dismissal which quickly overshadowed the CIA coup in Chile. While it's ok that the Allende family has closure on this, the why of Allende being forced into such a position in the first place is far far more important.

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