Six People Sentenced in 1982 Murder of Former Chilean President
On Wednesday, a judge convicted six men for the 1982 murder of former President Eduardo Frei Montalva of Chile. At the time, Mr. Frei was the leader of the opposition against dictator Augusto Pinochet. This conviction marks a historic ruling in the highest profile killing from the Pinochet regime.
In an 811 page-ruling, Judge Alejandro Madrid declared that Frei Montalva was slowly poisoned to death in a private clinic in Santiago where he had been recovering from surgery. The six co-conspirators were further accused of working to conceal the autopsy report.
“After 16 years, Judge Madrid determined that the death of President Frei Montalva was a murder,” Chilean president, Sebastian Piñera, said on Twitter. “We condemn this murder with indignation.”
The six men, which included Mr. Frei’s personal driver, four doctors, and a former agent for Pinochet, were sentenced to between three and ten years in prison.
Mr. Frei, a member of the Christian Democratic Party served as President of Chile from 1964 to 1970. He was succeeded by Salvador Allende in 1970. At the time of Frei’s death, on January 22, 1982, he was leading efforts to unite moderate political opposition in an attempt to oust Pinochet. Pinochet began his 17-year dictatorship after overthrowing Allende in a coup d’etat in 1973.
Frei’s government had created a land reform program taking majority control of the copper industry, then in the hands of foreign corporations.
Mr. Frei’s death was initially deemed to result from natural causes. A tip given in 2002 led to the case’s official opening in the same year. Mr. Frei’s remains were exhumed two years later and tested positive for toxic substances. The remains were re-exhumed in 2016 for further analysis.
Mr. Frei’s murder came at a crucial time for Chilean opposition parties which were in the process of regrouping following almost a decade of severing political repression under Pinochet. A month after Frei’s death, a prominent labor leader, Tucapel Jiménez, was killed by security forces. Jiménez was mobilizing a union movement against General Pinochet.
Forty thousand eighteen people were imprisoned, tortured or killed during the Pinochet regime according to an official report. The Chilean Government estimate of those, 3,095 were killed, half of those were forcibly disappeared.
In 2015, the Chilean government said that it was “highly probable that a third party” was responsible for the death of Pablo Neruda, a Noble Prize-winning poet who died following the 1973 coup. The official cause of death for Neruda was stated as cancer, but officials are now investigating the allegation.