Chilean Poet Pablo Neruda’s Mysterious Death and Its Impact on History

The death of Pablo Neruda, one of Chile’s most famous poets, still remains shrouded in mystery half a century after his passing. The allegations that he was murdered under the orders of dictator Gen Augusto Pinochet have sparked a decade-long investigation that has yet to reach a conclusion. Despite the efforts of forensic experts from Canada, Denmark, and other countries, a definitive answer regarding the cause of Neruda’s death remains elusive. The man who first made the murder allegation, Neruda’s former driver and personal assistant Manuel Araya, passed away without witnessing the resolution of the case, leaving Neruda’s family and supporters seeking closure.

Pablo Neruda, renowned for his love poetry and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, died just 12 days after the military coup that brought Gen Pinochet to power. Neruda’s death certificate attributed his passing to “cancerous cachexia,” a wasting away caused by prostate cancer from which he had been suffering. In 2011, Manuel Araya claimed that Neruda had been given a lethal injection in the hospital while he was on the verge of going into exile in Mexico, where he planned to lead opposition against the Pinochet regime. As a close friend of socialist president Salvador Allende, who was deposed in the coup, Neruda’s departure from the country did not align with the interests of the dictator.

Following Araya’s claim, Neruda’s remains were exhumed in 2013 and subjected to forensic tests. The initial findings by an expert panel suggested that Neruda did not die of cancer, while the presence of the bacterium clostridium botulinum in one of his teeth fueled speculations of foul play. However, the report ultimately concluded that definitive proof was lacking, and the investigation continues in Chile’s judicial system. Judge Paola Plaza is expected to provide her view on the case, but a timeline for her decision remains uncertain.

The case surrounding Neruda’s death has divided Chileans and the Neruda family. While some, like Neruda’s nephew Rodolfo Reyes, firmly believe in the murder theory, others, such as Bernardo Reyes, dismiss the investigation as “pathetic” and fake news. The Neruda Foundation, responsible for managing the poet’s estate, maintains that Neruda died of natural causes. Neruda’s widow, Matilde Urrutia, also never alleged foul play, but expressed surprise regarding the rapid nature of his demise, suggesting that the coup and its destruction of everything Neruda stood for politically possibly contributed to his “broken heart.”

Numerous individuals, including doctors, nurses, diplomats, and politicians, were interviewed by prosecutors as part of the investigation. Conflicting testimonies emerged, with some describing a desperately ill man while others doubted his impending death. One of Neruda’s close friends, Aída Figueroa, attested to his deteriorating condition, while Mexico’s ambassador to Chile, Gonzalo Martínez Corbalá, stated that Neruda appeared to be in good health during their conversation regarding his imminent trip to Mexico.

Critics have questioned why Manuel Araya waited almost four decades to make his murder claim. Araya explained that it would have been too dangerous to come forward during the dictatorship, and in subsequent years, the Chilean media declined to cover his story. However, just weeks before his death, Araya reiterated his belief that Neruda was indeed assassinated.

The unresolved nature of Pablo Neruda’s death not only impacts the poet’s legacy but also highlights the broader historical context of Chile under Pinochet’s regime. As Chileans and the Neruda family await the judge’s declaration, the possibility of finding closure and uncovering the truth about Neruda’s demise remains the ultimate goal of the ongoing investigation. Until then, Neruda’s mysterious death will continue to captivate the world, leaving a lasting impact on literature, history, and the collective memory of Chile.