Remains of poet Pablo Neruda exhumed to determine if he was executed by Pinochet regime

The great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda has long been thought to have died of prostate cancer, but in recent years, his personal driver claims he was murdered by the Pinochet regime. After years of controversy, a judge has ruled that there is sufficient evidence to approve the exhumation of his remains, to try and determine the true cause of his death, just two weeks after the coup. One theory: Neruda was poisoned. The exhumation happened yesterday.
From the New York Times:
Shortly after the coup, as the new military rulers persecuted supporters of Mr. Allende, troops looted and destroyed Mr. Neruda’s house in the capital and twice raided his home in Isla Negra, where he lived with his third wife, Matilde Urrutia. The Mexican government had offered to fly the couple out of the country, and days before he was scheduled to travel, Mr. Neruda was admitted to the Santa María clinic in the capital. In 2011, Mr. Neruda’s driver at the time, Manuel Araya, publicly claimed that Mr. Neruda had not been in critical condition beforehand and that a day before his death Mr. Neruda, 69, told him that a doctor had given him an injection in the stomach that made him “burn inside.” His health quickly deteriorated. Mr. Araya contends that the poet was poisoned by doctors in the clinic, although there are no material witnesses to confirm the accusation.

And from the Guardian:

"There is lots of water [where Neruda is buried], lots of salinity and it will take months of investigation," said [Eduardo Contreras, a Chilean lawyer who has been pushing for a thorough investigation of Neruda's death], when asked whether analysis was even possible 40 years later.

"We have world-class labs from India, Switzerland, Germany, the US, Sweden, they have all offered to do the lab work for free. That is the tenderness that he still provokes in people."


  1. Neruda died a long time ago, and it’s likely his poisoner, if there is one, has died too.  I don’t know how much justice is to be had by digging the poor guy up.

    1. It may not be so much in the interests of justice as it is for history. There are questions surrounding the deaths of quite a few artists–Poe (was it alcoholism? a heart attack? rabies? a brain tumor?), Mozart (was it the Masons? was it kidney failure? was it trichinosis?), Dylan Thomas (was it alcoholism? drugs? diabetes?).

      Personally I don’t think there’s much value in digging through the detritus of famous people, but it gives biographers something to do.

      1. It’s not about him being an artist — his political role in Chile (and abroad!) was quite clear. As you say, it’s about history: about finding the truth about the death of a popular political leader and ideologue (and great artist) under a murderous dictatorship. If that’s not worth digging for, I don’t know what is.

        Whether this will help modern Chile, that’s another question entirely.

    2. Truth is important even when there’s no one to punish.

      Indeed, between the two, truth is far and away more important than justice.

      1. Will Neruda’s stature or the power of his words change at all if it is discovered he was in fact a victim of foul play?  Conversely, will it change if in fact the original circumstance of his death is affirmed?

        I strain to see the use of digging him up to satisfy a curiosity that in the end changes nothing.  He’ll be dead.  His words will speak posthumously.  Neither will be enhanced.

        1. Of course whether or not he was murdered is critical context for both the history of Chile, and for his own literary, political, and intellectual legacy. It seems exceptionally strange to think otherwise. Do you think either Kennedy’s legacy would have been the same if he had died in an accident?

          1. Forgive me, but I much prefer to measure the worth of my fellow humans by what they did while on this cursed rock and not the means by which they finally escaped it.  

            Neruda’s accomplishments speak for themselves and require no additional “voice” or “platform” upon which to stand.

            I find nothing “exceptionally strange” about this position.

          2. Would you include among those acts of his life the fact that he returned to Chile despite warnings that he would be murdered? That he remained as Pinochet’s coup unfolded, despite warnings that his murder would be imminent, as his friends were killed?

          3.  “I much prefer to measure the worth of my fellow humans by what they did while on this cursed rock”

            Exactly why the deeds of the Pinochet regime are examined and not allowed to remain hidden.

          4. I find nothing “exceptionally strange” about this position.

            Indeed, every totalitarian dictatorship in history has espoused it.

    3. What possible motive is there for that sentiment except to whitewash the history of a murderous right-wing dictatorship?

      1. I’d add the possible motive of whitewashing the documented relationships between Pinochet’s dictatorship and the governments of the US and the UK. Further, Pinochet was only one of many dictators in C. and S. America, who owed their position and power to the support and active involvement of the US and the UK.

        The history of that involvement in C. And S. American politics in the 70s and 80s is still left largely unexposed, to the detriment of the people of all the Americas.

        Nuanced history, the product of research by individuals representing viewpoints across the political spectrum, usually begins to emerge roughly 40 to 50 years after a particular epoch. Suppressed records are released. Formerly powerful agents die. And new political realities shed light on events that are difficult to put into context as they occur. Neruda’s exhumation is part of this process.

        I will add, finally, that Neruda was a phenomenal poet, but in the context of Chilean history, he was also a political heavyweight. Following a lifetime of activism, he was one of Allende’s closest consultants and was appointed Ambassador to France from 1970 to 72. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1970 partly in recognition of the dual role he had played as poet and activist over his lifetime.

        To quote Neruda himself: “A poet,” Neruda stated in his Stockholm speech of acceptance of the Nobel Prize, “is at the same time a force for solidarity and for solitude.”

        1. Well, you got me. There’s nothing I like better than whitewashing the history of a murderous right-wing dictatorship. In between homophobic screeds and ignorant, mysogynist comments.

      2.  And speaking of whitewashing murderous dictatorships…how about a quote from Neruda’s “Ode to Stalin”?

        “In Stalin’s invincible time! . . .
        In recent years the dove,
        Peace, the wandering persecuted rose,
        Found herself on his shoulders
        And Stalin, the giant,
        Carried her at the heights of his forehead. . . .
        A wave beats against the stones of the shore.”

        Written in 1953 by the way.

  2. my neighbor’s mom makes $81/hr on the laptop. She has been unemployed for eight months but last month her pay check was $16017 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on  Fab99.c­om

    1. And many people in the US have no idea who Pinochet or Allende were, despite the fact that Nixon gave the CIA the go-ahead, which the Agency embraced, to actively engage in propaganda of the word and deed to topple Allende’s government.

      The CIA was not entirely responsible for the coup d’etat, the dictatorship, the totalitarian state, the disappearances, and the reign of terror, but their involvement certainly set the stage for these events. And the Pinochet regime did enjoy the support of the United States governments, despite the crimes perpetrated by that regime. As I pointed out above, it is time to re-address the history of that era and, at least, honor its victims with the truth.

      It’s too much to ask, I’m sure, but one ideal result of fully documenting this history would be a fundamental shift in US foreign policy to refrain from installing and supporting right-wing dictators in areas in which US corporations (cf. ITT) might have financial interests. I know, I know… I must have gone too heavy on the ether again.

  3. Let’s not forget if the United States had not supported General Augusto Pinochet’s coup, these artists, activists and just regular  people would not have been tortured and murdered for the countries mining interests and oil.  

Comments are closed.