International experts gather in Chile to probe Neruda’s death

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Santiago, Oct 17 (IANS) A global team of scientists gathered in the Chilean capital with the goal of determining whether the 1973 death of poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda was the result of cancer or of poison administered on the orders of dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The panel, which includes recognised authorities from Chile, Spain, the United States, Denmark, Canada and France, is to deliver a report to Judge Mario Carroza, who is overseeing the investigation, Efe news reported.

“What each of the experts brings is our little piece of the puzzle to try to construct together in the most reliable way possible what could have happened with the death of Pablo Neruda,” said Spanish forensic pathologist Aurelio Luna.

The Nobel laureate, who was suffering from prostate cancer, died on September 23, 1973, 12 days after Pinochet toppled Chile’s Socialist government in a bloody coup.

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His death was officially blamed on the cancer, but an investigation was opened in mid-2011 after a complaint was filed by Neruda’s Communist Party colleagues based on charges by former chauffeur Manuel Araya that Neruda was murdered on Pinochet’s orders.

The poet’s body was exhumed on April 8, 2013, and a previous group of Chilean and international experts concluded seven months later that Neruda had not been poisoned.

Carroza, however, was not fully satisfied and he ordered additional tests.

The task of participants in this week’s conference in Santiago is to analyse the results of those tests and come to some kind of conclusion.

The initial review following the exhumation left a “series of doubts” that necessitate further review, Luna said.

Investigations of other deaths have established that “crimes” took place at the Santa Maria Clinic – where Neruda died – during the Pinochet dictatorships, Eduardo Contreras, legal counsel for the Chilean Communist Party, said Monday.

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The 1982 death of former President Eduardo Frei Montalva, who governed from 1964-1970, at the Santa Marta Clinic after undergoing a routine procedure has been attributed to poisoning.

“Pablo Neruda died in the same clinic, on the same floor, with the same doctors and several of the same nurses,” Contreras said.

The Nobel Prize winner, a member of the Communist Party Central Committee, died as he was preparing to travel to Mexico on a mission to organize opposition to Pinochet, the attorney said.

Supporters of the theory that Neruda was murdered have pointed to the presence in his remains of a highly aggressive, penicillin-resistant bacterium.

Lawyer Rodolfo Reyes, a nephew of Neruda who is representing the family, told EFE he was confident that the scientists meeting here would conclude that the poet was poisoned.

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