November 9, 2015
Chilean government announces definitively that Pablo Neruda was murdered, maybe
by Chad Felix
In 2011, Manuel Araya, Pablo Neruda’s driver, told the Mexican magazine Proceso that—as we reported—it was not prostate cancer alone that killed the Nobel Prize-winning poet in 1973. No, Araya claimed, it was poison that ultimately did Neruda in—poison administered by General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, which had ousted the democratically elected Salvador Allende—with whom Neruda had a close friendship—in a coup that resulted in Allende’s death just twelve days prior to Neruda’s.
Neruda was not only a close friend of the Marxist Allende, but a public supporter as well, and therefore an unwelcome, dangerous presence in Pinochet’s Chile. According to Araya, Neruda understood the danger and, as has been documented, he was planning to escape to Mexico the day before he was hospitalized—a hospitalization from which he never emerged.
Araya’s claim prompted the exhumation of Neruda’s body from his grave in 2013. However, following tests by forensic experts in Chile, the United States, and Spain, Patricio Bustos, director of the Justice Ministry’s Legal Medical Service (SML) and head of the investigation, concluded that there was no evidence of foul play; Neruda’s cause of death was indeed prostate cancer, and, as we reported, he was returned to his grave. Bustos told Charlotte Karrisson-Willis of The Santiago Times:
The toxicological analyses of the bones of Mr. Pablo Neruda confirmed the presence of pharmaceuticals used for the treatment of cancerous disease, specifically prostate cancer, which were used at the time. Chemical agents which could have caused the death of Mr. Pablo Neruda were not found.
Yet the case was left open, and in January of this year, the Chilean government ordered that new tests be performed prior to the reburial of the poet’s body. These tests reported the same cause of death, and a month later Neruda returned to the grave beside his house at La Isla Negra.
Four months passed and, as reported by Adam Feinstein in The Guardian, some unusual bacteria was discovered in the poet’s bones by a team of forensic scientists in Murcia, Spain. Still, Dr. Aurelio Luna, a member of the team that made the discovery, noted that poison is just one possibility, that a definitive conclusion will require further investigation.
And now, as reported an Associated Press wire story the Chilean government has concluded definitively that “it’s clearly possible and highly probable that a third party” was responsible for Neruda’s death. The government announcement follows an El Pais article that cites a government report from March 2015 stating that it was “highly likely” that a third party played a role in Neruda’s death.
And of course, given all we now know about the Pinochet regime, no one is surprised.
Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.