World

Investigation reopens into mysterious death of poet in Chile – 50 years on

An investigation has been reopened into the mysterious death of a poet in Chile.

Pablo Neruda was a Nobel Prize winner, and complications from prostate cancer were listed on his death certificate when he passed away in 1973.

He died 12 days after a military coup that toppled his close friend President Salvador Allende and put General Augusto Pinochet in power.

For decades, his driver Manuel Araya had argued the poet had been poisoned – and last year, forensic experts uncovered evidence supporting this theory.

Tests carried out in Danish and Canadian labs indicated a “great quantity of Clostridium botulinum” was found in Neruda’s body.

The powerful toxin is incompatible with human life, and can cause paralysis in the nervous system.

Pablo Neruda was exhumed in 2013 for a fourth time - and reburied in 2016. Pic: AP
Image:
Pablo Neruda was exhumed in 2013 for a fourth time – and reburied in 2016. Pic: AP

Last December, a judge rejected a request by Neruda’s nephew Rodolfo Reyes to reopen the case and look for other causes of death – but at an appeals court on Tuesday, that decision was overturned.

A calligraphic analysis of his death certificate will now be carried out, and evidence will be sought from bacteria experts.

Neruda’s body was exhumed in 2013 for further investigation – and two years later, the Chilean government said it was “highly probable that a third party” was responsible.

He has since been reburied in his favourite home overlooking the Pacific coast.

Neruda's driver - and his family - had long argued that the poet had been poisoned. Pic: Reuters
Image:
Neruda’s driver Manuel Araya – and his family – had long argued the poet had been poisoned. Pic: Reuters

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Best known for his love poems, Neruda had planned to go into exile after Pinochet’s coup, where he would have been an influential voice against the dictatorship.

A day before he was due to leave, the poet was taken by ambulance to a clinic in Santiago where he had been treated for cancer and other illnesses, and died there.

Suspicions that the dictatorship had a hand in the death remained long after Chile returned to democracy in 1990.

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