Was Pablo Neruda Poisoned After the Coup?

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda

I remember walking into a coffee shop on Cape Cod in September 1973 when I learned about the right-wing coup in Chile. There was no doubt in my mind, no doubt in the minds of any of the morning habitués there, that Richard Nixon and the CIA were involved in some way. When I heard later that Pablo Neruda had died not long after his friend, President Salvador Allende, I knew the poet had to have died of a broken heart. I was 18, and though I would have denied it then, I was an incurable romantic about Neruda and Chile’s nascent, democratically-elected socialist government.

After 38 years, Neruda’s cause of death remains an unsettled question. According to BBC News:

A judge in Chile has ordered an investigation into the death, in 1973, of the Nobel prize-winning poet, Pablo Neruda, following allegations he may have been poisoned.

Neruda – a Communist and a friend of President Salvador Allende – died in the immediate aftermath of the military coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power.

The poet’s family has always maintained that he died in a Santiago clinic of advanced prostate cancer, aged 69.

The foundation that guards his legacy has said in a statement there is “no proof whatsoever that suggests Pablo Neruda died of causes other than cancer”.

But, pressed by Chile’s Communist Party, a judge has now ordered a murder investigation.

This follows allegations from his former driver, Manuel Araya Osorio, that agents injected Neruda with poison at the clinic on the orders of General Pinochet, twelve days after the coup.

Neruda had severely criticised the military for what he saw as a betrayal of his country.

His death is not the only one from that turbulent time to be re-examined recently.

The remains of President Allende were exhumed last month on the orders of the same judge, in an effort to clarify whether he committed suicide – as is widely believed – or was killed by soldiers who stormed the presidential palace during the coup.

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