Chile believes it “highly likely” that poet Neruda was murdered in 1973

Nobel laureate’s death after Pinochet coup had always been attributed to prostate cancer

Muerte de Pablo Neruda
Poet Pablo Neruda (r) next to President Salvador Allende in an undated photo.

The Chilean government has for the first time officially recognized that Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda may have been murdered days after the 1973 bloody coup that toppled President Salvador Allende.

A Chilean Interior Ministry report obtained by EL PAÍS states that Neruda did not die as a “consequence of the prostate cancer he had,” but that “it was clearly possible and highly likely” that he was killed as a result of “the intervention of third parties.”

Neruda may have been killed as a result of “the intervention of third parties” 

Neruda died on Sunday September 23, 1973 at the Santa María Hospital in Santiago after he was taken there by his driver from his home in Isla Negra.

On that day, according to the document, he was either given an injection or something orally that caused his death six-and-a-half hours later.

The 1971 Nobel laureate was scheduled to fly to Mexico where he may have been planning to lead a government in exile that would denounce General Augusto Pinochet, who led the coup against Allende on September 11, according to his friends, researchers and other political observers.

Neruda, a Marxist, was close friends with Allende, who reportedly committed suicide at La Moneda presidential palace on the morning of the rebellion. In the 1930s, he served as consul and cultural attaché in Barcelona, and lived for a brief time in Madrid with his second wife, the Argentinean artist Delia del Carril.

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The Chilean ministry’s report was prepared for a court investigation into Neruda’s death that is being led by Judge Mario Carroza Espinosa.

The finding is also the main revelation included in a new Neruda biography by Alicante historian Mario Amorós entitled Neruda. El príncipe de los poetas (Neruda: The prince of poets), which will go on sale next week in Spain and on November 23 in Chile.

Judge Carroza has been gathering evidence, including testimonies and official documents, since 2011. However, he is unable to make a final decision on the case until he receives the results of an important forensic study that could corroborate the murder allegations.

“We have always followed the line that something strange happened during his final days,” the judge said. “Neruda had cancer but he wasn’t suffering, nor was it terminal. But on September 23, his health suddenly deteriorated and he died six-and-a-half hours later.”

Carroza said that he is waiting for the results of the last scientific test conducted in May, which found that Neruda was infected with the staphylococcus aureus bacteria, which can be highly toxic and result in death if modified.

The murder investigation was opened in 2011 after Neruda’s former driver Manuel Araya Osorio publicly revealed in an interview with Mexican magazine Proceso that Pinochet had ordered the poet killed before he could travel to Mexico.

Pablo Neruda’s death certificate.
Pablo Neruda’s death certificate.

The body was exhumed on April 8, 2013 after the Chilean Communist Party (PCC) filed a complaint. A study of the remains by a team of international forensic experts failed to find any strange toxic agents or substances present in his body.

One of the experts who took part in the study, Spanish forensic scientist Francisco Etxeberria said that the judge has leaned toward accepting the murder theory based on the series of coincidences and persecutions that Neruda experienced during his final days.

“That day, he was alone in the hospital where he had already spent five days. His health was declining and he called his wife, Matilde Urrutia, so she could come immediately because they were giving him something and he wasn’t feeling good. He ended up dying a short while later, to the surprise of many, at a good hospital, which has raised suspicions,” said Etxeberria, who works at the University of the Basque Country.

Neruda was only 69 and the urologist who had examined him the month before had given him a life expectancy of five years under treatment, as his wife often said later, according to the author of the new book.

It was the Spanish forensic expert who detected the presence of the staphylococcus aureus bacteria and Judge Carroza is now awaiting the final lab results.

The Neruda murder inquiry was opened in 2011 after his former driver revealed that Pinochet ordered the poet killed to prevent him from going into exile

“We are trying to identify the DNA of this type of staphylococcus aureus. In other words, to establish if it was common at the time or in the area, or if it was manipulated. There are previous instances of this occurring in military bases where the strains were altered. But what we are looking for is difficult: if it was an altered staphylococcus, we are talking about finding out the base or the country where it might have been manipulated,” Etxeberria said.

No one knew the name of the doctor or person who might have injected Neruda or given him medicine at the hospital.

The Neruda case is not the only one involving the alleged poisoning of a political figure in Chile. In 1982, former president Eduardo Frei Montalva, a 71-year-old Christian Democrat who served before Allende, died just days after having undergone a routine hernia operation at a Santiago hospital. He was an ardent critic of Pinochet.

Because of his sudden death and political activism, many people, including his family, believe that Pinochet ordered his poisoning.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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