Charges Filed in Murder of Former Chilean President

Six people were convicted on charges relating to the murder of former Chilean president Eduardo Frei Montalva on January 31. Frei was initially thought to have died of surgical complications, yet further investigation led by Judge Alejandro Madrid and Frei’s children uncovered an assassination plot instigated by Augusto Pinochet’s authoritarian regime.

Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorial rule ended in March 1998 and prosecutions of crimes that were committed under his administration have grown since then. According to Reuters, it is estimated that almost 3,000 people disappeared or were killed during the dictatorship and almost 28,000 were tortured.

Frei initially supported the coup against President Salvador Allende, a socialist whose government was overthrown by General Augusto Pinochet, but later became an adamant supporter of the Chilean pro-democracy movement. His murder in January 1982 preceded a string of mysterious deaths, which are now mostly attributed to Pinochet, of leading pro-democratic leaders. Other suspicious high-profile deaths currently being investigated include Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and leading union organizer Tucapel Jiménez, reports United Press International.

According to Pulse Nigeria, Judge Madrid sentenced four doctors, a former intelligence agent who worked for Pinochet, and Frei’s chauffeur with three to ten years for aiding and abetting in Frei’s murder. Judge Madrid ordered the exhumation of the body, which discovered that Frei died of toxic substances being introduced into his body, and not of surgical complications as reported by a previous autopsy. According to Chile Today, lethal doses of thallium and mustard gas were given to Frei through his medication, making him too weak to survive his hernia surgery. According to Reuters, two of the doctors were only charged as accomplices for their role in falsifying the official autopsy report and removing Frei’s organs to destroy any sort of contrary evidence.

This historic ruling on the highest profile murder case of Pinochet’s regime came after almost 19 years of investigations propelled by Frei’s children. According to the Washington Post, the first court objection came from Frei’s son and former Chilean president, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, who was supposedly tipped off by former aides to General Pinochet. Frei Ruiz-Tagle told the New York Times that the “battle does not end here” and demanded that the current Chilean government work to “establish the political responsibilities of high government officials at the time” to undercover the truth of the murder.

Carmen Frei, the daughter of President Eduardo Frei Montalva, also spoke out about her father’s murder in an interview with Chile Today, expressing her hope for him to “finally be able to rest in peace.” Other high government officials weighed in on the convictions, with current President Sebastian Piñera posting on Twitter his expressions of condemnation of the murder and condolences to Frei’s family and political party, the Christian Democratic Party (PDC). Former President Ricardo Lagos called the sentencing an “unprecedented moment in the history of Chile,” according to the Washington Post.

The increase in prosecutions of these dictatorship-era crimes represents a shift in the political climate away from the conservatism that has dominated Chilean politics since the end of Pinochet’s regime.