The San Juan Star
February 20, 1988, page 13

Allende's lover claims he committed suicide

London Observer Service
Via Scripps Howard News Service

SANTIAGO, Chile - New light has been thrown on the death of Chilean President Salvador Allende, overthrown in the military coup 15 years ago.

The Latin American left has always claimed that President Allende was killed by troops who

stormed La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago during the Pinochet-led takeover on Sept. 11, 1973, ending Chile's proud tradition of over a century of democratic rule.

The coup also heralded an era of brutal repression and savage human rights violations which continues to this day. This version has always predominated over rumors that Allende in fact committed suicide.

Now, in an interview published in the Colombian magazine Semana, Miriam Contreras -- Allende's lover and private secretary during the last ten years of his life who remained in the presidential palace to the end - has confirmed that he committed suicide, so fulfilling his vow that "'if they try to get me out of La Moneda before my mandate expires, they'll have to carry me out feet first."

Miriam Contreras, now 60, who has lived in Cuba since the coup, broke a 15-year silence on the controversial circumstances of Allende's death in an interview in Havana.

She says Allende took his own life with a Skorpio submachine gun -- a gift from Cuban president Fidel Castro -- while the presidential palace was being bombed by the air force.

Immediately afterwards, she entered his office, fighting off a journalist friend who tried to stop her, and saw Allende's body "lying in a pool of blood behind his desk. ... The gun was still in his hands."

Briefly detained by the military inside the presidential palace, Contreras managed to escape and lived in hiding in Santiago for two months until she gained political asylum in the Swedish embassy and subsequently went into exile in Cuba.

But by this time the myth of Allende's death resisting the coup had taken hold following a speech in Havana a few days after the takeover by Castro.

With Allende's daughter Beatriz at his side, Castro's version soon became legend for the Latin American Left.

"When I managed to leave Chile and reach Cuba, nobody liked my account of Salvador's suicide. I did not know that it was not even to be mentioned. Only the Chilean military and extreme Right were talking about suicide at that time.

"But I saw him dead a few seconds before the soldiers entered the presidential palace. I have never understood how images altered the fact of his suicide."

She recalls that Allende frequently spoke of the possibility of taking his own life and "felt a great admiration for the Chilean President Balmaceda who committed suicide in 1891 after being defeated in a civil war."

Later Allende's sister Laura committed suicide by jumping from the sixth floor of a hotel in Havana. In 1977, Beatriz Allende took her own life, leaving her children in Miriam's care. Today they live with Miriam's younger sister in the Cuban capital. Miriam's son was killed in the coup.

In the interview, she says that Allende's main failing was that he was "too trusting of people" and this eventually led to his downfall.

When General Carlo Prats, a supporter of the socialist experiment under Allende's popular unity coalition government, was forced to resign as interior minister and commander-in-chief of the armed forces because of opposition in the military, Allende accepted Prats' recommendation that Gen. Augusto Pinochet succeed him.

Pinochet became dictator in the coup and is now seeking a yes-or-no plebiscite on his military rule.