Was Pablo Neruda killed by Pinochet?

When the great poet died 40 years ago in Chile, it was said to be from cancer. Now, lawyers say it was murder

The hunt is on for the suspected killer of one of South America’s most celebrated poets four decades after his death, which had originally been attributed to cancer.

Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda, described as the “greatest poet of the 20th century” and known for his romantic works, died on 23 September, 1973, after battling prostate cancer. Now prosecutors claim he was murdered on the orders of Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet.

Neruda was a member of the Communist Party and was a politician and diplomat under President Salvador Allende. His death at the age of 69 came 12 days after Pinochet seized power in a military coup.

The dictator’s 17-year rule would see more than 3,000 people disappear in a regime that had been accused of using death squads against its opponents. 

This April, the sensational news emerged that the poet’s body was to be exhumed from its resting place in the grounds of his beachside home on Chile’s Pacific coast over growing suspicions he had been poisoned. The allegations suggest he was murdered in a clinic while undergoing treatment for cancer.

Yesterday, a judge issued an order for police to track down the man prosecutors allege may have poisoned Neruda. Lawyer Eduardo Contreras said new evidence has emerged, in addition to claims by his driver who said the poet had been “silenced” by the regime. Contreras said the doctor who testified he was with Neruda at the time of his death has changed his story.

Dr Sergio Draper now claims a doctor called Price was with Neruda. There is no record of a Doctor Price in any of the hospital’s records and Draper said he never saw the man again after leaving him with Neruda.

The prosecutor believes that whoever the man was, “the important fact is that this was the person who ordered the injection” that may have killed Neruda. The description of Price as tall and blond with blue eyes matches Michael Townley, a CIA double agent who worked with the Chilean secret police under Pinochet.

Townley was put into the witness protection programme after he admitted killing critics of the Chilean dictator in Washington and Buenos Aires. 

Neruda’s body is still undergoing analysis by Chilean and international forensic scientists to discover if there is proof of foul play.

Patricio Bustos Streeter, director of Chile’s Legal Medical Service, who is coordinating the forensic team, told weekly scientific journal Nature: “The presence of bone metastasis of the prostate cancer would confirm an advanced state of the illness. On the other hand, traces of toxics could be found in the spongy part of the bone that contained the bone marrow.”

He added that the problem was the lack of medical records providing details of the drugs Neruda was taking for the illness to distinguish them from possible poisons. “But we have the advantage that several techniques to mask toxics in the body did not exist four decades ago,” he added.

Judge Mario Carroza ordered Neruda’s body to be exhumed as part of an investigation that has been running since 2011.

The enquiries started after Neruda’s former driver, Manuel Araya, alleged the poet was poisoned by agents working for Pinochet. He said an unscheduled injection was given to the poet just hours before his death and Neruda rang him from the hospital saying he was feeling sick afterwards. The Chilean Communist Party said he had not displayed symptoms associated with the advanced stage of the cancer.

Neruda had planned to head into exile in Mexico following the military coup, where he would campaign against the regime. His driver believes the dictator wanted to silence a powerful critical voice.

Neruda was buried next to his wife Matilde Urrutia in the garden of their home Isla Negra. His wife, who died in 1985, would state that Neruda did not die of cancer, although did not go as far to say he was murdered. The surviving family maintains it was the disease that killed him, but are cooperating with the investigation.

Neruda was born Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto in 1904. He initially used the pen name of Pablo Neruda to prevent falling out with his family who disapproved of his being a poet. He sold all of his possessions to finance the publication of his first book Crepusculario. A year later his second book Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada made his name. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, and was dubbed “the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language” by novelist Gabriel Garcia Márquez.

His work was introduced to millions in 1994 by the drama Il Postino, which received five Oscar nominations, winning one.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Bianca Miller in the final of The Apprentice
tvMark Wright and Bianca Miller fight for Lord Sugar's investment
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick