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Decades-Old Debate Resolved: Chile's Allende Killed Himself

Experts exhumed the former president's remains as part of a human rights probe

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Medical experts put nearly four decades of controversy to rest today when they announced that former Chilean President Salvador Allende had indeed committed suicide as fighter jets, tanks, and soldiers attacked his burning palace during the 1973 coup that brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power. Allende's body was exhumed from the family's crypt in Santiago as part of an investigation into human rights complaints against Pinochet's military dictatorship, CNN explains. Chilean and foreign experts found that "Allende died of two shots fired from an assault rifle that was held between his legs and under his chin and was set to fire automatically," according to the AP.

When Allende died, AFP notes, officials claimed the socialist leader had killed himself with an assault rifle that he'd received from Cuban leader Fidel Castro. But when neither the weapon nor bullets were recovered after his death and the Pinochet regime prohibited Allende's family from seeing his corpse, some people, including Castro and Nobel Prize-winning writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, claimed Allende was murdered by soldiers. When the results of the autopsy were announced today, Allende's daughter, Isabel, now a senator, said the report confirmed what the family already believed. "Faced with extreme circumstances, he made the decision to take his own life instead of being humiliated," she said.

The AP has a vivid description of Allende's last moments, as relayed to the news outlet by Dr. Patricio Guijon, a member of Allende's medical team:

With the palace in flames, Allende told the 30 to 40 people who had stayed with him that they would surrender together, and that he would take up the rear as they filed out.

Instead, the president slipped off alone to the palace's Independence Hall. Guijon, meanwhile, realized he had left his gas mask behind and went to retrieve it. It was then that he saw Allende through an open door, he said, just as the president's body jerked upwards with the force of the blast.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.