Chilean Poet Pablo Neruda Is Reburied, Pinochet Still Suspected Of His Murder

The remains of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda were reburied on Tuesday in his favorite home in the resort town of Isla Negra, northwest of Santiago. Forty-three years later, his death still remains a mystery.

Neruda, a celebrated poet, diplomat, and politician, died at the age of 69 just days after the bloody 1973 military coup in Chile that brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power. Pinochet, then head of the army, overthrew socialist President Salvador Allende. Neruda allegedly died of prostate cancer, but rumors have persisted that he was assassinated by Pinochet regime for his left-wing views, as were thousands of others who were killed or disappeared after the coup.

The writer was also a prominent member of the Chilean Communist Party and was reportedly traumatized by the persecution of his friends. He was planning to go into exile in Mexico, where he would have been an influential voice of resistance against Pinochet’s regime. His body was exhumed three years ago to determine whether he was poisoned by the country’s dictatorship. Following an investigation that revealed little about the cause of death, this is Neruda’s fourth burial.

Despite being exhumed and examined by scientists, specialists say it is very difficult to determine whether Neruda was poisoned. Forensic examination found no trace of poison in his bones. However, CBS News noted that the government of Chile said in 2015 that it’s “highly probable that a third party” was responsible for his death. TeleSUR also cited his driver Manuel Araya, someone close to the poet, as saying the circumstances of his death were highly suspicious.

“He died in a Santiago clinic where he was being treated for prostate cancer, the official cause of his death. But doubts have surrounded his death since his former driver claimed Neruda was given a mysterious injection in his chest. […] Forensic scientists at the University of Murcia in Spain said last year they had identified a massive, unexplained bacterial infection in Neruda’s remains, rekindling his family’s suspicions.The Chilean Interior Ministry said the strain of bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, does not occur naturally and may have been grown in a lab.”

Neruda is considered one of the greatest Latin American poets and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. He was a prolific writer, and his works ranged from romantic poems to Latin American epics. He was also the former ambassador to France. His life was defined by his politics as much as his poetry. In one of countless examples, he personally helped 2,000 Spanish refugees escape the Spanish Civil War and settle in Chile.

Neruda’s coffin was draped in a red, white, and blue Chilean flag and lay in state in the Congress building in Santiago on Monday before being transferred to the burial site. Neruda’s family members, government officials, and fans of the late writer honored him with a ceremony, playing music, reciting his poetry, and discussing his legacy.

Eduardo Contreras, the lawyer who brought the case to have the remains exhumed and examined, told news agencies that so much time has passed that he feared that the results would be inconclusive, according to BBC News.

“Even though all the evidence points to a crime, it will be technically very difficult to prove,” Contreras said.

But “anyone who sees the thousands of volumes of evidence” would conclude Neruda was assassinated, he added.

Pinochet, who ruled Chile for 17 years after a CIA-sponsored coup, commanded a dictatorship that killed over 3,000 suspected leftists and political opponents and tortured and disappeared tens of thousands more. He died in 2006 at the age of 91 without ever facing trial for his crimes.

Neruda’s remains were returned to his grave in his former home facing the Pacific Ocean in line with his last wishes. Tests are still being carried out by an international team of forensic specialists and genomics experts. They are due to release their findings in May.

[Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images]