SANTIAGO, Chile – Chile's state television channel has reported that long-secret documents support the theory that President Salvador Allende may have been assassinated and did not commit suicide during the 1973 coup.
TVN's "Special Report" based its report late Monday on a copy of a 300-page military review of Allende's death long thought to be lost.
Chile's military announced during the Sept. 11, 1973 coup that the socialist president had killed himself with an AK-47 given to him by Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Allende was later buried in a closed casket in a secretive nighttime ceremony with only his widow present.
The comprehensive military review reportedly describes ballistics and fingerprint evidence and includes photos and witness testimony as well as the original autopsy report, which was made public years ago. Two forensics experts who analyzed the more complete set of documents told TVN they believe more than ever that Allende was shot first through the face with a small-caliber weapon, and that an AK-47 blast blew out the top of his skull after he was already dead.
One of the experts, Luis Ravanal, confirmed this with The Associated Press on Tuesday. Ravanal noted that the crime scene photos show Allende sitting slumped but upright in a chair, but with no signs of blood on his collar, sweater or throat. The review does not make any reference to the presence of blood on his clothes either. And yet the initial autopsy described Allende's undergarments as drenched with blood.
Due to gravity alone, his throat would have been bloodied had Allende fired the AK-47 while still alive, Ravanal said. "The bullet hole below the chin was of large dimensions. It ripped apart the tongue, the palate, the nose. It goes against logic that there's no blood. ... The only explanation is that the second bullet was fired when he was already dead and in another position."
Ravanal has for years advocated the theory that another weapon was involved, citing a reference in the initial military autopsy to a small bullet hole in the back of Allende's skull that he alleges is inconsistent with an AK-47 fired from below the chin through the top of his head.
The official version is that Allende killed himself, based chiefly on testimony from Dr. Patricio Guijon, who maintained that he saw Allende shoot himself with an AK-47 and that he was the only eyewitness. Guijon reiterated that testimony to the AP in a recent interview.
Allende's family has come to support the suicide theory, but also supports an ongoing judicial investigation to dispel any doubts and to develop evidence that might solve other human rights crimes. Allende's body was exhumed last week and a top team of world forensic experts is now conducting an autopsy.
Sen. Isabel Allende was furious Tuesday that Chilean state television aired a report on her father's death before it had been resolved. She said TVN's report was mere speculation, based on what she said was flawed military evidence from 1973.
"TVN is speculating in the middle of a judicial process where only the scientific investigation of his remains will reach a conclusive review," Allende wrote on Twitter.
TVN wouldn't identify the source of its copy of the review, which it said was pulled from a home demolished in last year's earthquake that had belonged to military prosecutor Col. Horacio Ried.
Many people who might have clarified things are now gone. Some of Allende's closest allies who were with him at the end disappeared after being captured and tortured. The respected doctor who did the original autopsy under close military supervision committed suicide several years later. The colonel died in a 2005 car crash.
Other witnesses, including several interviewed on Monday night's TVN program, said Allende was never alone with Guijon, and that unidentified men were seen running from a side door moments after gunshots were heard in the hall where Allende died.
Judge Mario Carroza was told by the military that the review didn't exist after he formally requested it along with other evidence earlier this year. Then someone on the Internet offered to sell the review for 2 million pesos (nearly $4,300), and the judge was preparing to have that copy seized, the CIPER investigative journalism website reported Tuesday.
Only then did the military provide the judge with the original document, a source in the court system's press office told the AP on Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity due to court rules against being identified. The source said the military still hasn't turned over key evidence including the AK-47, bullet casings and the helmet Allende had been wearing.
Vergara reported from Santiago, Chile and Warren from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Warren can be reached at http://twitter.com/mwarrenap