Mystery of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s death deepens as scientists conclude he did not die of cancer
The poet died in Chile’s post-coup chaos in 1973. Despite government saying third party involvement was possible, forensic experts did not end the debate over whether he was murdered by agents of General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship soon after the country’s 1973 military takeover.
A team of international scientists said on Friday that Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda did not die of cancer or malnutrition, rejecting the official cause of death but not laying to rest one of the great mysteries of post-coup Chile.
While saying what the poet and Communist Party politician did not die of, the forensic experts did not say what he did die of. They also did not end the debate over whether he was murdered by agents of General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship soon after the country’s 1973 military takeover.
Panel members said they would continue to identify pathogenic bacteria that might have caused Neruda’s death to determine if a third party was involved.
The poet, who was 69 years old and suffering from prostate cancer, died in Chile’s post-coup chaos. The official version was that he died of cachexia, or weakness and wasting of the body due to chronic illness – in this case cancer.
“The fundamental conclusions are the invalidity of the death certificate when it comes to cachexia as a cause of death,” said Aurelio Luna, one of the panel’s experts. “We still can’t exclude nor affirm the natural or violent cause of Pablo Neruda’s death.”
Neruda’s body was exhumed in 2013 to determine the cause of his death but those tests showed no toxic agents or poisons in his bones. His family and driver demanded further investigation.
In 2015, Chile’s government said that it is “highly probable that a third party” was responsible for his death. Neruda was reburied in his favourite home overlooking the Pacific Coast last year.
Neruda was best known for his love poems. But he was also a friend of socialist President Salvador Allende, who killed himself rather than surrender to troops during the September 11, 1973, right-wing coup led by Pinochet.
Neruda was traumatised by the military takeover and the persecution and killing of his friends. He planned to go into exile, where he would have been an influential voice against the dictatorship.
But a day before his planned departure, he was taken by ambulance to a clinic in Santiago where he had been treated for cancer and other ailments. Neruda officially died there September 23 from natural causes. But suspicions that the dictatorship had a hand in the death remained long after Chile returned to democracy in 1990.