Pablo Neruda bones in poison probe tests

The family of the Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda agree to send his remains to a laboratory in the United States for toxicology tests.

During his lifetime, Pablo Neruda occupied many diplomatic positions and served a stint as a senator for the Chilean Communist Party.
During his lifetime, Pablo Neruda occupied many diplomatic positions and served a stint as a senator for the Chilean Communist Party.

Bone remains of Chilean Nobel literature laureate Pablo Neruda will be analysed in the United States as investigators seek to resolve a four-decade-old mystery about his death.

His body was exhumed on Monday by the authorities in Chile in an effort to determine whether his death was caused by poisoning.

Neruda was known for his erotic, passionate, romantic poetry, particularly Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. He was also a leftwing politician, diplomat and close friend of President Salvador Allende, who killed himself rather than surrender to General Pinochet in the 1973 coup.

Neruda died 40 years ago, shortly after the coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power.

At the time his death was blamed on prostate cancer.

The family's decision came as his nephew Rodolfo Reyes, along with an international group of experts, identified pieces of clothing found amid the exhumed remains.

Reyes, a lawyer, told local radio the remains would be thoroughly examined.

"They will take some samples to a laboratory. It's a technical examination and we want them to have all the time in the world to perform it, so there will be no outstanding doubts," he said.

The authorities said the tests would be done in North Carolina.

The poet - whom Gabriel García Márquez dubbed "the greatest poet of the 20th century" - was a close friend of the overthrown Chilean president, Salvador Allende. He died aged 69 just 12 days after Gen Pinochet's coup.

A close aide said the left-wing poet was given a lethal injection on Gen Pinochet's orders, but his family maintains the cause of death was cancer.

Neruda was buried next to his wife Matilde Urrutia in the garden of their home on the Pacific coast of Chile in Isla Negra, some 120km (75 miles) west of Santiago.

In 2011, Chile started investigating allegations by his former driver and personal assistant, Manuel Araya, that Neruda had been poisoned.

Araya says Neruda called him from hospital, and told him he was feeling sick after having been given an injection in the stomach.

The allegations are backed by the Chilean Communist Party, which says that Neruda did not exhibit any of the symptoms associated with the advanced cancer he is reported to have died of.

Reyes said the family wanted to know the truth "regardless of whether he died of natural causes or was murdered".

More than 3,000 people were "disappeared" and killed under the 17 years of Gen Pinochet's military rule (1973-90).

Persecution of the left had begun in Chile as early as 1948, at the behest of a US government awash with anti-communist paranoia.

That year, a controversial measure known as "the Damned Law" ("la ley maldita") outlawed the Chilean Communist Party, sent the communist leadership into exile and imprisoned hundreds of militants at the Pisagua camp under the orders of a young lieutenant named Augusto Pinochet - the concentration camp's director who would become Chile's dictator, and a friend and inspiration to Margaret Thatcher.

Neruda, radicalised like many others by the anti-fascist struggle of the 1930s and 40s, chose to flee the country. Fearing for his life he crossed the Andes on a horse, carrying with him the manuscript of his epic poem Canto General, before resurfacing in Mexico thanks to the help of his friends Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera.


More in World
For another look at this extraordinary event, please see my piece "Pablo Neruda and The Perilous Andes" in Huffington Post... Terence Clarke Director of Publishing, Red Room Press

Get access to the real stories first with the digital edition