SANTIAGO — Chile is launching its first investigation into the death of socialist president Salvador Allende whose body was found in the presidential palace during a 1973 coup, officials said on Thursday.
Until now Allende's death, during the bloody US-backed coup that brought military dictator Augusto Pinochet to power on September 11, 1973, had officially been ruled a suicide.
"What has not been investigated, the courts will investigate," said prosecutor Beatriz Pedrals, who has filed suit to probe 726 cases of alleged human rights abuse, including against Allende.
"This will finally establish what happened," she said, adding she hoped all those responsible would be prosecuted and treated equally.
The probe is part of the investigation of hundreds of human rights complaints against Pinochet's 1973-1990 military dictatorship.
Allende was a Marxist who came to power in 1970 when he won a narrow victory in Chilean elections. But his ascent to power was not welcomed by all.
Conservatives in Chile and Washington feared his attempts to pave "a Chilean way toward Socialism" would usher in a pro-Soviet communist government.
Henry Kissinger, US secretary of state under then president Richard Nixon, made quite clear what US intentions were after Allende's election.
"The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves... I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people," Kissinger said at the time.
Allende, Chile's first socialist president, was found dead in the presidential palace as soldiers supporting the coup closed in and warplanes bombed the building. He was 65.
An official autopsy ruled that he had committed suicide, although the results have long been questioned by some politicians and human rights groups.
Pinochet's 17-year, iron-fisted rule, became the longest lasting dictatorship in South America. He died in December 2006 of a heart attack aged 91, with a slew of judicial cases still open against the regime.
Chilean officials are still probing some 560 military officials for human rights abuses during the period of military rule. That includes the death or disappearance of 3,150 people and 28,000 cases of alleged torture.
The new probe into Allende's death comes after the judge in charge of coordinating the human rights probes, Sergio Munoz, determined there were many cases where victims had not lodged any complaint.
Munoz appointed a prosecutor to verify how many victims were not represented, and to file their complaints on their behalf, including one for Allende.
"It is necessary to determine whether or not this was a suicide, and the circumstances" of the death, a person close to the matter said, asking not to be identified.
The news was welcomed by the Association of Relatives of the Disappeared, whose president Lorena Pizarro said it would sent a "strong signal to other branches of government."
"No crime should be left uninvestigated. We're talking more than 700 cases, which have never been investigated, and the inclusion of Allende is a powerful sign," Pizarro told AFP.
Allende was the father of Chilean lawmaker Isabel Allende, who has long pressed for compensation for all the victims of Pinochet's regime. The novelist also named Isabel Allende is a relative of the slain president.
Allende's widow, Hortensia Bussi, who was exiled to Mexico, also continued to fight for justice. She died in 2009 at the age of 94.
Last year, President Sebastian Pinera rejected a controversial proposal by the Catholic Church that repentant members of the military be pardoned for human rights abuses committed under Pinochet.
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