Crime & Justice

Forensic experts deliver report on Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s 1973 death

Santiago, Feb 15 (EFE).- A team of forensic experts on Wednesday delivered a much-awaited report containing crucial information about the death of Chilean Nobel literature laureate and leftist intellectual Pablo Neruda, who passed away in a hospital just days after a right-wing dictatorship came to power in a September 1973 coup.

While the experts from Canada, Denmark and Chile have now turned in their principal findings to Judge Paola Plaza, who is heading up the judicial investigation into Neruda’s death, the complete report, including appendixes, bibliographies and other documents, will be delivered on March 7.

Rodolfo Reyes, a nephew of Neruda’s who as a plaintiff had access to the forensic report, told Efe Monday that the experts concluded that the “clostridium botulinum” found in the poet’s remains “was in his body at the time of his death.”

He said that in reaching that conclusion they ruled out the possibility that his corpse had been contaminated with that potentially lethal bacterium after burial.

“Clostridium botulinum” – which in low-oxygen conditions produces toxins that can cause botulism, a life-threatening paralytic illness – is generally found in soil, dust and river or sea sediments.

“We know now that there was no reason for the ‘clostridium botulinum’ to have been in Neruda’s bones (and teeth). What does that mean? That Neruda was assassinated. State agents intervened in 1973,” Reyes said at his office.

Neruda died on the night of Sept. 23, 1973, at downtown Santiago’s Santa Maria Clinic, 12 days after the coup that toppled his close friend, socialist President Salvador Allende, who took his own life as Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s troops were storming La Moneda palace following an aerial bombardment and tank barrage.

The 69-year-old Nobel literature laureate and longtime member of Chile’s Communist Party had been planning to go into exile the next day in Mexico, where he planned to be a leading voice against the dictatorship.

The bacterium was found in one of Neruda’s molars in 2017 by another team of forensic experts, who rejected the official version listing the cause of death as cachexia (wasting of the body due to chronic illness) stemming from advanced prostate cancer.

But how the bacterium entered the poet’s body – and who put it there – still remained to be determined.

Neruda’s family generally supports the version of events provided by Manuel Araya, who was the poet’s driver and one of the last people to see him alive.

Araya, whose testimony was the basis for a complaint filed in 2011 by Chile’s Communist Party, said Neruda was given an injection in the stomach by a regime agent who passed himself off as a doctor.

The conclusions of this latest forensic report were to have been presented on Feb. 3, but the hearing was delayed because one of the experts was unable to connect via Internet.

A second postponement then occurred three days later due to an apparent lack of consensus among the experts.

“We’re satisfied and sad, because now we know that they killed him. We had assumed things before, but this investigation shed light on the truth: they killed Neruda,” Reyes said Monday. EFE


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