The Guardian September 10, 2003

The death of a truthful President

by Gabriel Garcia Márque

At the moment of the final battle, with the country at the mercy of the 
unleashed forces of subversion, Salvador Allende continued to hold himself 
to legality.

The most dramatic contradiction in his life was to have always been a 
congenital enemy of violence and a passionate revolutionary. He held the 
belief that this contradiction could be resolved with the hypothesis that 
the conditions in Chile permitted a peaceful evolution towards socialism 
within the bourgeois democratic legality.

Experience taught him too late that a system cannot be changed from 
government but from power itself.

That late verification must have been the force that prompted him to resist 
until death in the debris and flames in a house that wasn't even his — a 
sombre mansion that an Italian architect built as a money factory and 
finished as the refuge of a powerless President.

He resisted for six hours with a submachine gun; a present from Fidel 
Castro. It was the first weapon Salvador Allende ever used.

The journalist Augusto Olivares resisted by Allende's side until the end. 
He was injured several times and bled to death at a public hospital.

At around four in the afternoon General of the Javier Palacios division 
with his assistant Captain Gallardo and a group of officers managed to 
reach the second floor, There among the false Luis XV chairs and the vases 
with Chinese Dragons and Rugendas paintings in the Red Parlor, Salvador 
Allende was expecting him. He was wearing a miner's helmet his sleeves were 
rolled up his arms, he didn't have a tie, his clothes were dirtied by 
blood. He had a submachine gun in his hands.


Allende knew General Palacios. Just a few days before Allende commented to 
Augusto Olivares that Palacios was a dangerous man, who maintained close 
ties with the United States Embassy. As soon as he saw him appear in the 
staircase, Allende shouted at him: "Traitor", and wounded him in the hand.

Allende died in an exchange of shots with that patrol. Then all the 
officers in a cast rite, shot at Allende's body. Finally an officer 
destroyed Allende's face with the butt of his rifle.

The photo does exist: it was taken by the photographer Juan Enrique Lira, 
from the newspaper El Mercurio, the only one granted permission to 
do this portrait of the corpse.

Allende was so disfigured that Hortencia Allende, his wife, was only 
allowed to see the body in the coffin, but they did not permit her to 
discover the face.

He had turned 64 in July the previous year and was a perfect Leo: 
tenacious, determined and unpredictable.

He loved life

What Allende was thinking only Allende knows. One of his Ministers had said 
to me, He loved life, he loved flowers and dogs, and he was of a gallantry 
a little old fashioned, with scented notes and furtive encounters.

His greatest virtue was commitment, but destiny granted him the rare and 
tragic greatness to die defending with bullets the anachronistic 
monstrosity which is the bourgeois legality, defending a Supreme Court of 
Justice that had repudiated him and was going to legitimise his murderers, 
defending a miserable Congress that had declared him illegitimate and was 
going to succumb before the will of the usurpers, defending the will of the 
opposition parties that had sold their souls to fascism, defending the 
moth-eaten paraphernalia of a system of shit that he had been determined to 
annihilate without shooting a shot.

The drama occurred in Chile, bad luck for the Chileans, but it should be 
passed on to history as something that happened hopelessly to all of us 
people of this time, and that will remain in our lives forever.

* * *
Gabriel Garcia Márquez: The Coup and the Gringos, UNED Workshop. Translated by Claudia Raddat

Back to index page