Ever since Pablo Neruda died suddenly only twelve days after Chile’s 1973 coup d’état, the public has speculated as to the real cause of his death. The influential Nobel Prize winner, who had withdrawn from the 1970 elections as the Communist Party’s presidential nominee, supported Chile’s socialist president, Salvador Allende.
Last Friday, for the first time in 40 years of speculation, we had new information to consider: Neruda’s remains show no signs of foul play.
Death of the Poet
According to the official report, Neruda died from “cancer cachexia” while being treated for advanced prostate cancer in the Clínica Santa María hospital on September 23, 1973. This was just days before he had planned to flee to Mexico.
Around the same time, Chile was in violent upheaval—people were killed, arrested, and sequestered during the dictatorship following the coup. The Chilean military ransacked or occupied all of Neruda’s three houses, and many of the people who attended his funeral, which was overseen by police at the Cementerio General, were taken into custody afterward.
Nothing could be done at the time to further investigate Neruda’s death.
After the end of the dictatorship, on December 12, 1992, Neruda was finally exhumed and buried at his house in Isla Negra. There, next to his third wife, Matilde Urrutia, he had rested until April 2013.
“Death comes to shout without a mouth”**
The world has continued to question the cause of Neruda’s death, until finally, in 2011, the Chilean Communist Party decided to open a lawsuit based on the claims of Neruda’s ex-chauffeur, Manuel Arraya. Araya claimed that Neruda had been injected with a lethal substance, which led to his death. And so it was decided that the great poet’s remains would be reexamined in April of 2013.
On Friday, November 8, 2013, a statement was released asserting that the team of 13 experts—from Chile’s Medical Legal Service, the University of Chile, the United States, and Spain—had found no chemical agents that could have caused Neruda’s death.
There was evidence of the advanced prostate cancer he had been suffering and the presence of typical medications used to treat such cancer.
Restlessness and Continuing Controversy
While many organizations, including the Pablo Neruda Foundation, stated that these results confirmed their beliefs about Neruda’s death, other parties, including Neruda’s nephew, Rodolfo Reyes, insist that the examinations were not exhaustive and that there are still tests that need to be run before ruling out assassination.
To this, Fernando Sáez, director of the Neruda Foundations, says that those who wish to believe that Neruda was assassinated will continue to speculate.
At the end of the day, it is still up to the judge to take all of the results into account and release a verdict. But what will it take to have a definitive answer? And how will that answer change how we understand history and Neruda’s life? Time will tell.