Chile’s national television station TVN ran an investigative program on Monday night unveiling new evidence that former President Salvador Allende’s death may not have been a suicide, as previously believed
Just one week after experts exhumed the remains of the former president and Marxist leader, family members have called the special report disrespectful and below their standards of journalism.
Between March and April of this year, the TVN researchers led by journalist Paulina de Allende-Salazar accessed a 1973 military file containing many previously unseen documents. Witness testimonies, a ballistics report and the original autopsy of the body were central to their report.
Allende-Salazar took the information to the renowned Uruguayan forensics expert, Dr. Hugo Rodríguez, the director of the Department of Legal Medicine at the Universidad de la República del Uruguay. Rodríguez pioneers a new “historical autopsy” method, which seeks to determine the cause of death even when the body is inaccessible, based on records left behind.
Until now history books have taught that Allende killed himself on Sept. 11, 1973 during a military coup d’état led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet. In his final speech broadcast to the nation as the La Moneda presidential palace was bombarded with bombs, Allende announced: “Placed at a historical crossroads, I will pay with my life for the loyalty of the people”.
The original autopsy specifies the cause of death as a bullet that entered below the chin and exited the left parietal region, shattering Allende’s skull. Those findings combined with the former president’s slumped over body position led doctors conducting the autopsy to declare the death a suicide.
But Dr. Rodríguez’s historical autopsy draws a different conclusion.
Rodríguez believes to have identified two successive shots to the president’s head. Most have assumed that Allende shot himself using an AK-47 that Fidel Castro gave him as a gift. However Rodríguez has cause to believe that a different smaller, less powerful gun was also used against the president.
“We found two different lesion patterns, one that was left by a bullet with an explosive effect which would be typical of a weapon of war, and another left by a bullet from a lower-speed projectile.”
The basis of Rodríguez’s assumption came from the 1973 autopsy report that found a bone fragment with the shape of a bullet exit wound in the middle.
“That would indicate that there was another shell and that this bullet was fired before the AK-47 bullet that caused the skull to explode,” he told TVN’s Informe Especial (Special Report) program. Rodríguez explained that the AK-47 would not produce the small bullet wound that this bone fragment demonstrated. According to him, the key to determining the cause of death is located in the fragment of the skull with the exit wound.
The show has already received substantial backlash from the Allende family.
Senator Isabel Allende, the late president’s daughter, questioned the legitimacy of the program for rushing the story when the Chilean government is already currently investigating the president’s death using a scientific autopsy of the actual body.
“It shows a total lack of respect unbefitting of a public television channel,” Sen. Allende told Radio 95.3 in a Tuesday morning interview. “These assumptions have no scientific basis because they don’t have the body. They are unable to do what the entire team of researchers currently working on the autopsy is doing.”
“The only reason they would run a program like this is for the shock factor that creates higher ratings.” She added: “As a family member it really hurts me that they have done this. This report fell far short of the expectations I have for the serious journalism of public stations.”
By Amanda Reynoso-Palley – Santiago Times