Los expresidentes de Chile

Cable de EE UU que analiza la muerte del expresidente de Chile Eduardo Frei Montalvo

La embajada en Santiago informa el 11 de diciembre de 2009 sobre el proceso judicial abierto cuatro días antes contra seis individuos acusados de matar al padre de Eduardo Frei en 1982

Date:2009-12-11 20:22:00
Source:Embassy Santiago
DE RUEHSG #0937/01 3452022
O R 112022Z DEC 09



E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/12/11
SUBJECT: CHILE: Six Charged in Death of Former Chilean President
Eduardo Frei Montalva


CLASSIFIED BY: Laurie Weitzenkorn, A/DCM, State, US Embassy Santiago;
REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1. (SBU) Summary: On December 7, Judge Alejandro Madrid charged
six individuals with assassinating former President Eduardo Frei
Montalva in 1982. Frei, who is the father of the current
presidential candidate Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, died ostensibly of
a bacterial infection after undergoing routine surgery. USG
laboratory tests conducted to date have found no evidence of the
poisoning that Judge Madrid alleges, though some of the substances
alleged to have been used cannot be detected via laboratory tests.
Even when a judicial decision is eventually reached in the case,
Frei's death--like many other events surrounding the Allende and
Pinochet governments--is likely to remain controversial, with
Chilean opinions about the matter based more on ideology than fact.
End Summary.

Outline of an Alleged Assassination

--------------------------------------------- -

2. (U) On December 7, Judge Alejandro Madrid charged six
individuals in the 1982 death of former president Eduardo Frei
Montalva. President Frei, who was 71 years old at the time of his
death, was admitted to Clinica Santa Maria in Santiago for a
routine hernia operation. Despite his overall good health, Frei
died on January 22, 1982, ostensibly of a bacterial infection
incurred during the surgery or his subsequent hospitalization.
Frei was the leading figure in the opposition to military dictator
Pinochet, and his unexpected death, combined with other political
assassinations, led Frei's family and others to suspect that he was
murdered. (Note: Eduardo Frei Montalva was president of Chile
from 1964-70. He is the father of current presidential candidate
Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, who served as president from 1994-2000.
End Note.)

3. (U) Judge Madrid's report alleges that Frei was slowly poisoned
with thalium and mustard gas over a period of months. These
substances allegedly weakened his immune system to the point that
he was highly susceptible to infection, which Madrid alleges may
have been purposefully transmitted. (Frei was also allegedly given
a U.S.-manufactured product known as "Transfer Factor" which had
not been approved by the FDA, though it is unclear what affects
this substance had on his health.)

4. (U) Less than one hour after his death, doctors from the
Catholic University Pathological Anatomy Department came to Clinica
Santa Maria and performed an autopsy of Frei without the family's
consent. The highly unusual autopsy was allegedly performed in the
hospital room where Frei died, using a ladder to hang the body
upside down in order to drain bodily fluids into the bathtub.
Some organs, and in particular those whose chemical compositions
might indicate poisoning, were removed and destroyed, and the body
was embalmed.

Chilean Investigation and Individuals Charged

--------------------------------------------- ---------------

5. (U) Judge Madrid charged six individuals in the case. Three
individuals are charged with actually committing the murder:

--Luis Becerro, Frei's driver, who has admitted to secretly working
for the Chilean intelligence service (CNI) and reporting on Frei's

--Raul Lillo, a Chilean intelligence agent who allegedly worked in
a group dedicated to spying on Frei and other Christian Democrats.

SANTIAGO 00000937 002 OF 004

--Patricio Silva, a doctor who allegedly performed surgery on Frei.

Two others are charged as accessories:

--Helmar Rosenberg, the doctor accused of performing the autopsy
and embalming the president.

--Sergio Gonzalez, a pathologist who also allegedly participated in
the autopsy.

One person is charged as an accomplice:

--Pedro Valdivia, a doctor who allegedly worked at a medical
facility run by the Chilean intelligence service. Madrid's report
states that Valdivia entered the room while the autopsy was being

6. (SBU) Judge Alejandro Madrid has been investigating the case
since 2002, when the Frei family first learned about the
unauthorized autopsy. The case is being conducted under Chile's
old inquisitorial justice system, where Judge Madrid is
investigator, prosecutor, and judge, and where there is no "trial"
with oral arguments. (Note: Chile finalized its penal process
reform to implement an oral, accusatorial system in 2005 and only
cases occurring after the implementation date are tried under the
new system. End note.) Under the system being used for this case,
if a judge has brought charges, it is because he believes that he
has the evidence to convict. The defendants now have the
opportunity to submit judicial inquiries and proposals to try and
limit the judge's ability to convict, but the most likely scenario
is that Judge Madrid will end up issuing convictions and the
defendant can then appeal.

Convenient Timing: Charges Filed Six Days Before Election

--------------------------------------------- ----------------------

7. (SBU) The charges against the six individuals allegedly
involved in the murder were filed on December 7--just six days
before presidential elections pitting the deceased president's son
and namesake, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, against conservative
candidate Sebastian Pinera (from the Alianza coalition) and
independent progressive Marco Enriquez-Ominami. Pinera and
Enriquez-Ominami publicly expressed support for the Frei family
when the news broke. However, some observers have questioned the
timing of the charges, as media attention surrounding the case both
emphasizes the image of the beloved and well-respected Eduardo Frei
Montalva as well as bringing up the specter of military rule, which
is still tied to the Alianza coalition in the minds of some voters.
Judge Madrid has denied any political considerations in the timing
of the charges. News reports state that the Frei family knew
several days in advance that the charges were about to be filed.
Press reports also state that Judge Madrid has an affinity for the
Christian Democratic party, the party that Eduardo Frei Montalva
helped to found and the party of his son, presidential candidate
Edurado Frei Ruiz-Tagle.

USG Involvement in Testing Frei's Remains

--------------------------------------------- -----------

8. (SBU) The Chilean government, the presiding judge, and an
affiliated scientist have requested USG assistance in testing

SANTIAGO 00000937 003 OF 004

Frei's remains a number of times, including sometimes by
purposefully circumventing official channels. Judge Madrid first
formally requested USG assistance in testing remains in 2004. The
request was processed as a Foreign Police Cooperation Matter and
FBI personnel were present during the exhumation process and
ensured chain-of-custody protocols were followed. The Armed Forces
Institute of Pathology (AFIP) conducted the testing , which
confirmed that the remains were those of Eduardo Frei Montalva, but
did not find any alkaline extractable substances. (Note: AFIP did
not test for nitrogen mustard, as it is highly volatile and experts
know of no analysis that would detect nitrogen mustard in remains
20 years after death. End Note.) Legatt sent a copy of the
toxicology report to Judge Madrid. Nonetheless, in 2005, Judge
Madrid publicly alleged that he had never received any testing
results and accused the USG of failing to cooperate in the
investigation. (Legatt later sent another copy of the toxicology
report to Judge Madrid.)

9. (SBU) At a scientific conference in May 2007, Dr. Laura Borgel,
a scientist at the University of Chile, discussed the scientific
interpretation of recent forensic analyses with Dr. Jose Centeno of
AFIP. Dr. Centeno offered to informally collaborate with Dr.
Borgel in testing the samples at the AFIP lab, as Dr. Centeno's lab
did not have the capability to do so. (Judge Madrid later told
Legatt that Dr. Borgel never told Dr. Centeno that the specimens
she provided belonged to Frei.) This collaboration was not
authorized by the US or Chilean government and chain-of-custody and
other procedures were not followed.

10. (SBU) In October 2007, Judge Madrid wrote to AFIP requesting
the scientific collaboration of Dr. Centeno and AFIP. Post
learned of the request when AFIP contacted the FBI Lab Division,
who then informed Legatt. In a subsequent meeting with Legatt,
Judge Madrid explained that he had purposefully tried to circumvent
the need for additional authorization from the Supreme Court by not
sending his letter through normal diplomatic channels. Legatt
encouraged Madrid to make his request through proper channels. He
never did, though in August 2008 Madrid used a diplomatic note to
ask AFIP to agree to his October 2007 letter to AFIP requesting
assistance. Ultimately, the State Department sent a diplomatic
note to the Chilean MFA on January 9, 2009 along with a letter from
Dr. Centeno to Dr. Borgel explaining that Dr. Centeno's informal
testing found that metals, including thallium, were present only at
background levels.

11. (SBU) U.S. involvement in the investigation took another
strange turn in October 2009 when two Chilean Policia de
Investigaciones (PDI) officers assigned to the Frei case attempted
to speak with officials from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
in Atlanta. The officers wanted to know if the CDC sent strains of
"clostridium botulinum" (toxin or antidote) to the Chilean
Institute of Public Health in 1981 or 1982. The officers requested
the meeting with the CDC through the Pan-American Health
Organization (PAHO) rather than through a U.S. law enforcement
agency, creating another situation where Chilean authorities did
not follow proper protocols. After consulting with Post and
WHA/BSC, the CDC declined to meet with the Chilean officers because
they did not follow established rules for arranging such a meeting.
The State Department's Chile desk officer verbally notified the
Chilean Embassy in Washington about the need to follow proper
channels when conducting investigations and Post's Legatt discussed
the issue with the PDI officials.

The Death of Eduardo Frei Montalva: Ghost Story or Assassination?

--------------------------------------------- ----------------------

12. (C) Comment: While Judge Madrid's charges will likely

SANTIAGO 00000937 004 OF 004

eventually lead to a final judicial ruling about the guilt or
innocence of the six men accused of participating in the death of
Eduardo Frei Montalva, it seems very possible that no national
consensus will ever be reached on how the former president died.
Chilean intelligence agents assassinated or attempted to
assassinate a number of opposition political figures, including
Carlos Prats (pro-Allende Army Commander-in-Chief who was killed by
a car bomb in Buenos Aires); Orlando Letelier (former Chilean
Ambassador to the US who was killed by a car bomb in Washington,
DC); and Bernardo Leighton (prominent opposition politician who was
shot during an attempted assassination in Rome). In addition, the
intelligence service is known to have secretly operated
laboratories dedicated to developing chemical and biological agents
to be used in targeting political enemies. Within that scenario,
and given the formerly good health of the president and his role
leading opposition to the Pinochet regime, it is easy to see why
his family and supporters suspect that he was murdered. And Judge
Madrid may have additional evidence which post is not aware of to
support this conclusion.

13. (C) On the other hand, at present the Embassy is not aware of
any direct evidence indicating foul play. Official tests conducted
by AFIP and unofficial tests by Dr. Centeno have not shown toxic
levels for any of the elements tested. Given the extremely long
time since Frei's death and the destruction of some key organs,
forensic science may not be able to provide definitive evidence
whether Frei was murdered. Chile's tragic recent history continues
to divide its people, and the death of this emblematic president
seems destined to be yet one more area in which the full truth may
never be known. End Comment.
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