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Was the Pinochet Regime Behind Pablo Neruda's Death?

The Chilean government confirms it sent a document to the judge investigating the poet's death, two weeks after General Pinochet came to power in 1973, stating that "third parties" were probably involved.

by Nicolás Ríos
Nov 10 2015, 12:34am

Foto d'archivio AP

The claim that Chilean poet Pablo Neruda was murdered by the regime of dictator Augusto Pinochet has been gathering supporters as a long and drawn out judicial investigation into the cause of his death finally nears its end.

Though advances in the investigation are not public, the Chilean interior ministry confirmed last week that it sent a document to the judge presiding over the case stating "it is clearly possible and highly probable that third parties were involved in his death."

The document was authored in March but only came to light after it was obtained by the Spanish newspaper El Pais. "If a third party was involved," the document reads, "it would have been through an injection of undetermined substances to the poet's abdomen during his stay at the Santa Maria clinic, resulting in his death in the following six hours."

Neruda is best known around the world for his love poems, but he was also a former communist party senator and a personal friend of President Salvador Allende, who famously committed suicide in the national palace in the final hours of General Pinochet's coup in September 1973.

Related: The Soldiers Who Set Two Chilean Protesters on Fire in 1986 Will Finally Face Charges

The poet died two weeks after the coup at the age of 69. He was taken ill and taken to hospital the day before he was due to fly to Mexico where he had been offered asylum.

Neruda's death certificate stated the cause of death as a wasting syndrome caused by a prostate tumor. However, the document highlights that there was no autopsy, and the doctor who signed the certificate gave his conclusions over the phone from his home.

"He did indeed have cancer" Rodolfo Reyes, one of the poet's nephews told VICE News. "But he didn't have weight loss."

Reyes said that he believes Pinochet killed Neruda because he feared the poet would become a danger to the regime. "I think there was a direct intervention in his death. Pinochet knew that if Neruda left the country he could make a Chilean government in the exile," Reyes said.

The March document written by the interior ministry does not include the discovery a couple of months later of potentially life-threatening staphylococcus aureus bacteria in samples from the poet's body.

Dr. Andrei Tchernitchin, member of the international panel, told VICE News that the experts have yet to establish where the bacteria came from. He declined to make further statements on the grounds that the investigation is still ongoing.

"I feel confident that he was murdered," Eduardo Contreras, the Community Party's lawyer in the case, told VICE News. "The substance found in Neruda's body is toxic."

The investigation into Neruda's death was opened in 2011 when one of his drivers, Manuel Anaya began pushing for a probe. 

"Neruda was not sick enough to die. We thought he would be safer in the Santa Maria clinic, but we never imagined he would die from an injection," Anaya told local media at the time. The driver also said he was detained and sent to a torture camp a few hours after Neruda's death. "They had everything planned."

The poet's body was exhumed in 2013, though initial tests showed up nothing obviously suspicious and the investigation continued.

This is not the first time that the Pinochet regime has been accused of eliminating opposition figureheads.

Former President Eduardo Frei died in 1982 after falling into post surgery septic shock. The dictatorship has also been accused of killing former diplomat Orlando Letelier with a car bomb in Washington DC and then ordering the murder of his former spy chief to cover it up.

Related: Pinochet Considered Killing His Own Spy Chief to Cover Up 1976 Washington DC Car-Bombing

Follow Nicolas Rios on Twitter: @nicorios