Legal Medical Service experts remove the coffin of Chile's late President Salvador Allende from his tomb after being exhumed in Santiago, Chile, Monday May 23, 2011. Nearly 38 years after Chile's former president died in a military coup, his body is being exhumed in an exercise that even now is fraught with political overtones. The hope is that forensics can solve a mystery: whether Allende committed suicide or was murdered by the troops who mounted Gen. Augusto Pinochet's attack on the presidential palace. (AP Photo/Roberto Candia)
Was former Chilean President Salvador Allende assassinated in the military coup that overthrew his socialist government, or did he kill himself in the final moments while his presidential palace was being bombarded as history books currently read?
Forensic experts are examining the body of the former President after a dental review has confirmed that the remains pulled from Allende's tomb in Chile are those of of the deposed president, a judge said Friday.
So many mysteries surround the death of the socialist president during Chile's 1973 coup that experts performing his first authoritative autopsy wanted to first make sure they have the right body.
Judge Mario Carroza also said the remains are complete and that nothing was left behind when his body was moved in 1990, which makes it more likely that the autopsy will be able to determine whether Allende alone pulled the trigger.
"The exhumed skeletal remains are whole. That's to say, there is no loss of parts despite the burials and exhumations done in 1973 and 1990," Carroza said in a statement.
Allende's remains were hurriedly buried in his brother-in-law's tomb during the coup, and only after democracy returned to Chile in 1990 were they reburied with full honors before a huge crowd in Santiago's general ceremony. After 17 years, the bottom had fallen out of his casket, and some experts worried that evidence of bullet trajectories would have been destroyed if parts were left behind.
Allende's family has supported the version of the only apparent eyewitness, a presidential doctor who said he saw Allende shoot himself with AK-47 below his chin rather than surrender during a military bombardment of the presidential palace. Other experts have said the military's own written synopsis of its rushed and secretive autopsy described what might have been a first shot that traveled from front to back through Allende's skull.
DNA tests also will be performed in Austria as a 12-member forensics team, including some of the world's top experts, gets to work on the case.
The judge told The Associated Press that Chile's military is taking longer than usual to turn over key evidence, including Allende's helmet, which would have been damaged by AK-47 fire if he was wearing it; the assault weapon itself; bullet shells; pictures apparently taken by the military of his corpse before the initial autopsy, and even the original autopsy report.
Chile's Supreme Court named Carroza to gather evidence in 726 deaths, including Allende's. They are among the last of 3,065 killings by the Pinochet dictatorship that were never properly investigated.
Carroza said in an interview before the exhumation that some evidence points to an Allende suicide, and some points to murder.
"At this point I can't decide or even show an opinion that this is going one way or another," Carroza said. "If there are people who are somehow responsible, they will have to be prosecuted."
As for classified U.S. documents related to Allende's death, Carroza said he still hasn't asked for any, despite the public pledges made in March by both countries' presidents to consider and facilitate any such request.
"In this case, if there are elements that would permit me to clear up a situation that remains obscure, obviously I will do it," the judge said.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.