SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) – The remains of Salvador Allende’s vice president, Jose Toha, were reburied Monday in an emotional ceremony after nearly two years of examinations by forensic pathologists to determine his true cause of death.
Toha’s daughter Carolina, a leftist politician who served as spokeswoman for socialist President Michelle Bachelet and was just elected mayor of Santiago, led other family members in restoring his flag-draped coffin to the family’s crypt in the city’s general cemetery.
Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s military government said Toha committed suicide six months after he was taken prisoner during the Sept. 11, 1973 coup that toppled Allende. It said he hung himself with his belt in the closet of his hospital room.
The family never believed it, in part because Toha was a tall man, taller than the closet railing, and was very weak after nearly starving to death in a remote and frigid prison camp in Patagonia.
Dr. Patricio Bustos, who directs Chile’s national coroner’s office, determined last year that Toha was murdered by strangling. But two other autopsies were inconclusive. Now it’s up to investigative judge Jorge Zepeda, who ordered the body exhumed, to rule once and for all whether it was murder or suicide.
Bustos has no doubts, telling The Associated Press on Monday that evidence shows someone other than Toha fatally compressed his neck.
Neither does the family: Carolina Toha, who couldn’t contain her tears during the reburial, said “it’s already been established that our father was murdered,” and reiterated her call for those who have evidence to come forward and name those responsible.
“There is hope. You have to be persistent, despite the passage of time,” she said, directing her words to other victims of the 1973-1990 dictatorship. “We can still find the truth and this truth comes with the justice we’ve waited for.”
Jose Toha, a socialist like Allende, was arrested in the presidential palace as it was bombarded on Pinochet’s orders on Sept. 11, 1973, and taken to Dawson Island, a frigid prison camp in southern Patagonia.
According to the court investigation and witnesses imprisoned along with Toha, he was relentlessly tortured there and brought near death to the military hospital where his body was found hanging from a closet rail on March 15, 1974.
Chile’s pathologists have been busy re-examining emblematic deaths linked to the coup recently, clearing up lingering mysteries.
The coroner’s office found that President Allende did commit suicide rather than surrender to Pinochet’s troops, using a machine gun that Cuban President Fidel Castro had given him. It found that Eduardo Frei-Montalva, who preceded Allende as president and later became a Pinochet critic, was poisoned to death, rather than dying from an infection. And it determined that Gen. Alberto Bachelet, Michelle’s father, died of a heart attack provoked by torture on March 12, 1974.
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