On Sept. 23, 1973, Pablo Neruda died at the Santa Maria clinic in Santiago, Chile. The medical report pronounced his death as caused by complications from a tumor. Now, thanks to an international team of experts, cancer can be ruled out as the poet’s cause of death.
This does not mean that it is possible to confirm it was a political murder, as the Communist Party, as well as the Nobel-prize-winner’s assistant, Manuel Araya, have always claimed. Nonetheless, forensic pathologist Dr. Aurelio Luna, the central figure of the group of experts, has claimed without any reservations that a toxin was detected in the writer’s bones.
Evidence that Neruda was poisoned has reopened the debate surrounding his death. It calls into play the controversial, although highly plausible, accusations that have come in recent decades from Neruda’s family (even though Matilde Urrutia, his third and last wife, never spoke about poison, but still excluded the possibility that he could have died from cancer).
The chronology of the poet’s death, and the dynamics of power at the time, certainly bolster the need for a serious reckoning with the event beyond facile conspiracy theories. Neruda died only 12 days after the coup by Augusto Pinochet, of whom he was a bitter opponent, and shortly before going into exile in Mexico, a place from which he certainly could have hardened his already radical position of aversion toward the infamous Chilean regime. It would not have been absurd that someone would want him out of the picture.
The turning point in the quest for reconstructing what really happened took place four years ago, when Judge Mario Carroza authorized the opening of an investigation and the exhumation of the body. Despite the decay, particularly of the soft tissue, as the body was in a state of highly advanced decomposition, the group of experts has been able to isolate the toxin. The particular type of toxin and its components will be subject to additional investigations within a year, which is the timeline the scientists have set for themselves to offer the definitive answer to the question of whether he was poisoned.
If he was, not only would it not be a surprise, but it would also count as yet another barbaric act ordered by one of the fiercest regimes that the 20th century has known. And it would mean the regime was not above assassinating one of the most lucid visionaries in the history of Latin America.
“So much have I lived that one day / you’ll have to make yourselves forget me,” wrote Neruda with calm prescience, “erasing the blackboard of me: my heart was endless.”
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