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Presentation of experts’ report on Neruda’s death delayed a second time

Santiago, Feb 6 (EFE).- The presentation of a preliminary report with much-awaited conclusions about the 1973 death of Chilean Nobel literature laureate Pablo Neruda was postponed here Monday for a second time.

Judicial sources told Efe that the presentation has been delayed until Feb. 15 and that not all of the experts are in agreement with the report’s conclusions.

Once unveiled, their findings will either support or refute Neruda’s driver’s assertion that the poet was poisoned by agents of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s newly installed regime just 12 days after the Sept. 11, 1973, coup that toppled socialist President Salvador Allende’s democratically elected government.

“In keeping with the request of the coordinator of the panel of experts, Feb. 15 has been set as the new date for the delivery of the preliminary report, while the date for the delivery of the final report remains March 7,” the judge presiding over the investigation, Paola Plaza, said in a statement.

It marks the second time the presentation has been postponed in less than a week.

On Friday, it was suspended because one of the experts, Chile’s Romilio Espejo, was in an area of southern Chile hit by severe wildfires that adversely affected Internet communications.

The panel of experts comprising forensic scientists from Canada, Denmark, Chile, the United States and other countries who have met either in person or via Internet since Jan. 24, are tasked with clarifying the origin of the “clostridium botulinum” bacterium that an earlier group of experts had found in one of the poet’s molars in 2017.

A quantity of that bacterium was found that is “incompatible with life,” Rodolfo Reyes, one of the poet’s nephews, said on Friday.

The discovery of the “clostridium botulinum” was made after the poet’s remains were exhumed at his garden in Isla Negra, a coastal area 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Santiago.

Although the experts in 2017 did not directly link the bacterium to Neruda’s death, they concluded that, despite what was indicated on his death certificate, he did not die of prostate cancer and a wasting sickness known as cancer cachexia.

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

The task of the current panel of experts therefore is to determine if the sample found in Neruda’s tooth had been altered in a laboratory and later injected into him by a third party.

The investigation into his death began in 2011 after Chile’s Communist Party, of which the 1971 Nobel literature laureate and one-term senator was a longtime member, filed a complaint challenging the version of Pinochet’s 1973-1990 dictatorship, which listed metastatic prostate cancer and cancer cachexia as the cause of death.

That complaint was based on the testimony of Neruda’s driver, Manuel Araya, who said the poet was poisoned by the right-wing regime while undergoing cancer treatment at Santiago’s Santa Maria Clinic.

Araya was one of the last people to see Neruda alive along with the poet’s third wife, Matilde Urrutia, who “always said his (prostate cancer) was under control and that the urologist had given him around five years to live,” historian and journalist Mario Amoros told Efe recently.

The author of the biography “Neruda. El principe de los poetas” (Neruda: Prince of Poets), Amoros added that the Nobel literature laureate had planned to travel to Mexico a few days before his death at the age of 69 and that as an exile would have been Pinochet’s “great enemy.” EFE


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