Monday, February 21, 2011

Allende: Suicide or murder?

This was a question that boggled me in my first few months living in Chile. Allende was the first democratically-elected socialist president in the Americas and the president who preceded the dictator Pinochet. Everywhere I read about Salvador Allende's death, it said something different.

Reading El Mercurio, if there was a reference to Allende's death, it mentioned it as a suicide. La Nacion, the government-owned newspaper that has since been dissolved and had been leftist, would refer to his death as murder.

Allende's thick rimmed glasses have since become iconic, not only representative of his death but of socialism, and songs have been made about these glasses, and they've been printed on shirts and mugs. They are one of the few artifacts that survived from the day that Allende died and are on display at the Museo Historico Nacional.

The story is that those leading the military junta rushed into Allende's room, and the official story was that he immediately committed suicide seeing that he'd been defeated -- but this was reported by those leading the junta. There's no real impartial story on what happened in that room.

It's interesting to see how different newspapers refer to the same event differently. During the regime there was a saying about El Mercurio, the leading newspaper in Chile: El Mercurio no dice la verdad (El Mercurio doesn't tell the truth), stemming from their poor coverage of disappearances, murders, and torturing that took place during the regime.

This is an easy way to gauge what way a newspaper leans. Allende committed suicide? Right. Murder? Left. But that still doesn't answer my question: Which one should I read?


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