Pablo Neruda: Chile Exhumes Body of Nobel Laureate

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda is at the center of an investigation--almost 40 years after his death.

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Chilean poet and ambassador to France Pablo Neruda (1904-1973).

Whether you’re a poetry aficionado or you vaguely remember reading his work in Spanish class, Pablo Neruda is still one of the most important poets of the 20th century and an emotional touchstone for survivors of the revolutions that wracked Latin America. In response to a request by Chile’s Communist Party to determine the exact cause of Neruda’s death, the 1971 Nobel Laureate’s body was successfully exhumed from his home in Isla Negra, Chile on Monday. Forensics workers have taken his remains to Santiago for tests.

Neruda was born Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, and named himself for the Czech poet Jan Neruda after his father told him that “writing would bring destruction to the family and [him]self”. He died on Sept. 23, 1973, at the age of 69 — just days after a U.S. supported coup led by Augusto Pinochet deposed Neruda’s close friend, the Socialist president Salvador Allende. Allende’s body was exhumed in 2011 in order to confirm assumptions that Allende had shot himself with a rifle given to him by his friend, Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

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Neruda was scheduled to flee Chile in order to avoid political persecution; instead, he checked into a Santiago hospital, where he died from prostate cancer, according to family members.

However, two years ago, Neruda’s driver and bodyguard, Manuel Araya, publicly stated that he believes the poet was murdered when persons working for the Pinochet regime injected poison into his stomach, reports the Los Angeles Times.

According to the Associated Press, another former Chilean president, Eduardo Frei Montalva, died at the same hospital nine years after Neruda. While Montalva was initially determined to have died from complications during stomach hernia surgery, an investigation almost three decades later showed that Montalva–also an opponent of Pinochet–had been slowly poisoned to death.