According to his death certificate, Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda (born Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto) died of prostate cancer in 1973. This was two years after he won the Nobel Prize for Literature and conveniently only weeks after the coup d’état led by Augusto Pinochet that overthrew the Socialist government of Salvadore Allende — with whom Neruda was allied and under whom he served as the Chilean ambassador to France. (Allende himself committed suicide immediately following the coup.) But now, after a long series of suspicions, investigations, and the exhumation and testing of the body, the Chilean government is saying that it’s likely Neruda was murdered.
While Neruda did, as has always been thought, die in Santiago’s Santa María Clinic, it was claimed — by his driver (Manuel Araya) and by a lawyer for the Communist Party — that it may have been of heart failure, not of his prostate cancer. This led to a call for his exhumation and further investigation (based on the theory that he’d received a lethal injection) in 2011. Allende was also exhumed following similar heat from the Communist Party in Chile, but his death was determined a definite suicide; that might not mean much, though. For, interestingly, the Chilean government had, in 2013, also declared that the cause of Neruda’s death was as thought: prostate cancer, “not an assassin’s poison,” as NPR wrote at the time. The director of the Justice Ministry’s Legal Medical Service had said:
The toxicological analyses of the bones of Mr. Pablo Neruda confirmed the presence of pharmaceuticals used for the treatment of cancerous diseases, specifically prostate cancer, which were used at the time… Chemical agents which could have caused the death of Mr Pablo Neruda were not found.
But this conclusion didn’t satisfy the poet’s former driver, nor his family, especially given the uncanny timing: Neruda had been planning to exile himself to Mexico (through plans arranged with the Mexican ambassador) the following day, where surely he would have spoken out against the regime from abroad.
Now, The Guardian reports that all this suspcion seems to be coming to a head, with the Chilean government itself, for the first time, declaring (in a statement released yesterday by the interior ministry) that Neruda may have been murdered. The statement recalled another document of the ministry’s — dated from March of this year — which said that it’s “possible and highly probable that a third party” was involved in the death. The judge overseeing the case has ordered more tests for substances that hadn’t been looked into when the body was first exhumed and tested in 2013. The new tests, explains the Telegraph, will look for “inorganic or heavy metals,” as well as “cellular or protein damage caused by chemical agents” — and until (and given the history of this investigation, perhaps even after) those results come back, the cause of Neruda’s death will remain unconfirmed.