The Chilean Supreme Court has definitively ruled out this Friday that the former Christian Democrat president Eduardo Frei Montalva, who ruled the South American country between 1964 and 1970, was assassinated by poisoning in 1982, during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), by which confirmed a January 2021 ruling by the Santiago Appeals Court. Previously, in January 2019, Judge Alejandro Madrid, after almost 20 years of investigation, had reached the opposite conclusion, when he accused six people of murder.
The criminal chamber of the highest court has considered that Frei Montalva, whose son Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle was also president of Chile (1994-2000), died of medical complications at the age of 71 at the Santa María de Santiago Clinic on January 1982, where he had been hospitalized for 44 days with an infectious condition after being operated on for a hiatal hernia. When he died, the former president, who handed over power to the socialist Salvador Allende (1970-1973), was the main opposition leader to Pinochet.
Frei Montalva was the founder of the Christian Democracy in Chile, a party that defined the country’s politics in the second half of the 20th century. During his administration, he led fundamental transformations, such as the agrarian reform. And, although he was one of the staunchest opponents of Allende, after the coup d’état – this September 11 marks 50 years – he became one of the main critical voices of Pinochetism.
In August 1980, two years before his death, he called for free and open elections in an event known as the Caupolicanazo. Held at the Teatro Caupolicán, in the center of Santiago, it was the first organized demonstration of the opposition. The former president was a dangerous figure for the regime: unlike the leaders of the left who went into exile, he had remained in the country and played an important role against the dictatorship from within the territory.
In the ruling that was released on August 18, the five Supreme Court judges unanimously confirmed the acquittal of the six convicted of the crime. Three of them died during the processing of the case: Patricio Silva Garín, Helmar Rosenberg Gómez and Sergio González Bombardiere. Meanwhile, Raúl Lillo Gutiérrez and Luis Becerra Arancibia, sentenced in first instance as perpetrators of the murder, and Pedro Valdivia Soto, as an accomplice, have been released from charges.
Judge Madrid, in the first instance, had reached the conclusion that “a chemical substance evidently contributed to the final situation that the former president had.” When the case reached the Court of Appeals, however, three judges -also unanimously- disproved those theses: Paola Plaza, Guillermo de la Barra and Jaime Balmaceda.
Plaza and de la Barra are, in turn, two Chilean magistrates who have been appointed to investigate crimes that occurred during the Pinochet regime, cases in which hundreds of ex-military officers and ex-agents of the dictatorship’s secret police have been convicted.
Minister Plaza is also the one who investigates the circumstances of the death of the Chilean poet and Nobel Prize for Literature, Pablo Neruda. It is a case in which he is on the verge of issuing a sentence that will decide, in the first instance, whether the writer died at the Santa María Clinic on September 23, 1973 due to metastatic prostate cancer, or from poisoning. . The person who claimed that he was murdered was his driver Manuel Araya in 2011 – who died this year – and then the Chilean Communist Party filed a lawsuit based on that testimony.
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