“I insist on telling you that I am not a political poet,” said Chilean poet Pablo Neruda in a 1971 Canadian radio interview.
And yet when he died of heart failure just 12 days after the 1973 military coup that unseated president Salvador Allende — a close friend of Neruda’s — and installed Augusto Pinochet, many wondered if the Nobel Prize-winning writer and Communist Party member hadn’t actually been killed over his political beliefs.
We may know more soon: A judge in Chile has ordered that Neruda’s body be exhumed and autopsied as part of an investigation into his death originally launched in 2011.
Neruda’s family has long maintained that the poet died, aged 69, of advanced prostate cancer, and he was already hospitalized by the time the Sep. 11, 1973 coup occurred. The Pablo Neruda Foundation, which “promotes and preserves” the poet’s legacy, said in a May 2011 statement that there was “no proof whatsoever that suggests Pablo Neruda died of causes other than cancer.” But Neruda’s chauffeur and assistant, Manuel Araya, has alleged that Neruda might have been poisoned — injected with a substance that sent him into cardiac arrest.
The Huffington Post notes that the Pablo Neruda Foundation now supports the judge’s investigation.
Neruda was an outspoken critic of the Chilean military, and of the coup that resulted in Allende’s death. The former president’s body was itself exhumed in May 2001 to determine if he had died by his own hand, as the official version of events had it, or if he was assassinated. However, after examining Allende’s remains, forensic analysts concluded that Allende had indeed committed suicide.