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Forensic Study Finds Chilean Poet Pablo Neruda was Poisoned

  •   2 min reads
Forensic Study Finds Chilean Poet Pablo Neruda was Poisoned
 Jeso Carneiro via Flickr
By in Madrid and in Santiago

One of the most enduring mysteries in modern Chilean history may finally have been solved after forensic experts determined that the Nobel prize-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda died after being poisoned with a powerful toxin, apparently confirming decades of suspicions that he was murdered.

According to the official version, Neruda – who made his name as a young poet with the collection Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair – died from prostate cancer and malnutrition on 23 September 1973, just 12 days after the military coup that overthrew the democratically elected socialist government of his friend, President Salvador Allende.

But some, including Neruda’s nephew, Rodolfo Reyes, have long believed he was murdered because of his opposition to the then incipient dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

Ten years ago, a Chilean judge ordered the exhumation of the poet’s remains after his former chauffeur, Manuel Araya, revealed that an agitated Neruda had called him from the Santiago hospital where he was being treated to say that he had been injected in the stomach while asleep. The poet died hours later.

Samples of Neruda’s remains were dispatched to forensic laboratories in four countries for analysis, and in 2015 the Chilean government said it was “highly probable that a third party” was responsible for his death. Two years later, a team of international scientists said they were “100% convinced” the poet did not die from prostate cancer.

On Monday, Reyes said scientific tests had shown the toxin clostridium botulinum was present in his uncle’s body when he died, suggesting he was indeed “poisoned” in the aftermath of the coup. The results of expert analysis are due to be published in a report on Wednesday.

“We now know that there was no reason for the clostridium botulinum to have been there in his bones,” Reyes told the Spanish news agency Efe. “What does that mean? It means Neruda was murdered through the intervention of state agents in 1973.”

The bacteria, which produce the neurotoxin that causes botulism, were discovered on one of Neruda’s exhumed teeth in 2017. Reyes said analysis by experts at McMaster University in Canada and the University of Copenhagen had established the bacteria did not find their way into Neruda’s body from the coffin or the surrounding area.

“We’ve found the bullet that killed Neruda, and it was in his body,” Reyes told Efe. “Who fired it? We’ll find out soon, but there’s no doubt Neruda was killed through the direct intervention of a third party.”
Pinochet’s US-backed coup, during which Allende killed himself as troops stormed the presidential palace, devastated Neruda and led him to plan an exile in Mexico.

But a day before his planned departure, he was taken by ambulance to the hospital in the Chilean capital where he had been treated for cancer and other conditions. He died there on the evening of 23 September, purportedly from the wasting effects of the prostate cancer that had first been detected four years earlier.

Excerpt courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd. The Associated Press contributed to this report. Read the complete story here.

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