Experts found Chilean poet Pablo Neruda was poisoned, nephew says

According to Rodolfo Reyes, investigators have concluded that the toxin detected in the laureate’s body in 2017 was exogenous, meaning it must have been administered

Pablo Neruda
Pablo Neruda in October, 1971.Laurent Rebours (AP)
Santiago de Chile - Feb 14, 2023 - 11:42

An international panel of forensic experts has concluded that Chilean poet Pablo Neruda was poisoned. That’s according to the poet’s nephew, Rodolfo Reyes, who spoke to the Spanish new agency EFE on Monday about the investigators’ findings. As part of a probe into Neruda’s cause of death, researchers analyzed the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which was found in his body during an earlier investigation in 2017. According to Reyes, the experts concluded that the bacterium was endogenous, meaning it must have been injected.

This conclusion supports the Communist Party of Chile’s argument that the bacteria was “was injected as a biological weapon,” in other words, that Neruda was poisoned.

“I can say it because I have seen the reports,” Reyes confirmed to EL PAÍS after EFE reported the news. “I am saying it, as lawyer and nephew, with a lot of responsibility. The judge cannot make any remarks yet, as she has to have all the information.”

In 2017, a panel found the bacteria in Neruda’s upper molar and bones, but it was not known whether it was endogenous or exogenous, i.e. whether it was internal or external. “Now it’s been proven that it was endogenous and that it was injected or placed there,” said Reyes.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Reyes said forensic tests carried out in Danish and Canadian labs indicated a presence of “a great quantity of Cloristridium botulinum, which is incompatible with human life.” The powerful toxin can cause paralysis in the nervous system and death.

Neruda, who won the 1971 Nobel Peace Prize for Literature, died on September 23, 1973, just 12 days after the coup that overthrew Chile’s then-president Salvador Allende and put General Augusto Pinochet in power. For 40 years, the official cause of his death was listed as metastatic prostate cancer, but the poet’s driver Manuel Araya argued for decades that he was poisoned.

So far, only Neruda’s nephew has given details about the findings of the forensic experts, which are set to be made Wednesday, when the report is delivered to Judge Paola Plaza. The public release of the group’s finding has been delayed twice this year, first due to internet connectivity issues of one of the experts and then again because a judge said the panel had yet to reach a consensus.

The findings of the report are not legally binding. It will be up to Plaza to evaluate the evidence and determine whether or not a third party was responsible for Neruda’s death.

This is the third panel to investigate the death of the Nobel laureate. In 2013, the first panel concluded that he died from prostate cancer, which he had been suffering from since 1969. In 2017, the second group detected the toxin Clostridium botulinum. And since January, the third panel – made up of scientists from Canada, Mexico, El Salvador, Denmark, United Kingdom, United States, Germany, Canada and Chile – has been investigating whether the toxin was endogenous or exogenous.

The cause of Neruda’s death has been under investigation for more than 10 years. Given he died in 1973, the probe is under Chile’s former judicial system, which still keeps cases – including the ongoing investigations into human rights violations under the Pinochet dictatorship – under seal. This is why the forensic experts have not yet been able to give statements about their findings.

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