Chilean poet Neruda’s remains may be exhumed

A Chilean judge who is investigating the 1973 death of poet Pablo Neruda, which took place just weeks after the coup in the country, on Monday ordered a new set of expert reports to determine whether to exhume the Nobel Prize winner’s remains.

Officially, Neruda died from a heart attack while suffering from prostate cancer, on September 23, 1973 at a Santiago hospital. But his former driver, Manuel Araya, revealed last year that Neruda, a self-proclaimed Communist, may have actually been killed by doctors on the orders of Augusto Pinochet. Araya claims that Neruda wasn’t that sick and had traveled to Santiago from his home in Isla Negra on the Pacific coast with a view of going into exile in Mexico.

Araya said that the doctor on duty gave Neruda a lethal injection at the hospital where he had been taken to wait for his plane. The driver’s revelations led the Communist Party of Chile, in which Neruda was a member, to demand that the court open an inquiry.

Judge Mario Carroza, who looked into the death of deposed President Salvador Allende, said on Monday that he ordered experts from the Department of Mortuary Sciences at the University of Chile’s Clinical Hospital to advise him whether he believes Neruda’s remains should be exhumed for further study. The poet is buried in Isla Negra, where he lived with his third and last wife Matilde.

A previous report performed by a state Medical Legal Services (SML) team released on August 30 concluded that Neruda “most probably” died of prostate cancer and that any type of tests of remains would be doubtful because of the humid conditions of his tomb on the Pacific coast.

“The experts are going to present us with a work plan, which will help me reach a final conclusion,” Carroza told reporters in Santiago. “They will at least have to determine whether there is a need to exhume the poet.”

Carroza also said that he sent a request last June for Neruda’s medical records from France, where the poet was serving as ambassador for the Allende administration in the years before his death.

The purpose of the records, the judge said, is to determine how serious Neruda’s cancer was between 1970 and February 1973, when he returned to Chile because of his health.


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