Shortly after ordering his loyalists to give up arms and surrender to Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s troops in 1973, former Chilean president Salvador Allende walked alone into the Independence Salon of the La Moneda presidential palace, then under siege, and shot himself in the head with an AK-47 assault rifle gifted by Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. That, at least, is the story according to the Pinochet regime, which staged the coup against the democratically elected Allende, and ruled Chile until 1990. It’s a narrative many Chileans believe in, including Allende’s own personal physician, one of the last ones to see him alive.
But many other Chileans fervently believe in another finale: Allende was killed by soldiers’ gunshots as he fought back. Now the truth may finally be established. At the request of the former president’s family, a Chilean court investigating rights abuses during the Pinochet era has ordered Allende’s body exhumed and re-examined. It’s one more step toward writing a national history all can trust.