Experts determine Pablo Neruda died from cancer not poison

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Published On : Fri, Nov 8th, 2013

Forensic investigation into whether he was a victim of the dictatorship finds no evidence of foul play and confirms the poet died from prostate cancer, though case remains open.

Pablo Neruda's remains were exhumed from the poet's Isla Negra home in April. Photo by Charlotte Karrlsson-Willis / The Santiago Times

Pablo Neruda’s remains were exhumed from the poet’s Isla Negra home in April. Photo by Charlotte Karrlsson-Willis / The Santiago Times

The results are finally in regarding the death of Nobel-Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda — he was not murdered.

Friends of the poet launched an investigation based on the testimony of his former driver Manuel Arayas in 2011. According to Arayas, Neruda had been poisoned in September 1973 by agents of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship and the official documents, which claimed he died from cancer, were hiding the truth. Judge Mario Carroza picked up the case, ordering the exhumation of Pablo Neruda in April of this year.

After a long list of tests and forensic procedures, including those conducted by foreign experts in the United States and Spain, Patricio Bustos, director of the Justice Ministry’s Legal Medical Service (SML) and head of the investigation, announced Friday that they have conclusively determined cause of death: cancer.

“Each of several examinations revealed the presence of metastatic lesions scattered throughout several segments of the skeleton, corresponding to the disease for which Mr Pablo Neruda was being treated,” Bustos said Friday.

These results mirror those released in May. Perhaps most important this week was the information from toxicology reports. Bustos announced these results explaining that what they found matched the original cause of death listed in 1973.

“The toxicological analyses of the bones of Mr. Pablo Neruda confirmed the presence of pharmaceuticals used for the treatment of cancerous diseases, specifically prostate cancer, which were used at the time,” Bustos said. “Chemical agents which could have caused the death of Mr Pablo Neruda were not found.”

After the results were read by the head of the SML, Neruda’s nephew and lawyer Rodolfo Reyes emphasized that it is important to follow through to the end of the investigation.

“The investigation must continue,” Reyes told press, saying he would wait for all the investigation’s results to put the issue “beyond doubt.”

“Although what [Bustos says] is respectable, I do not rule out any other action that may help shed light on the death. This is an initial report and there is more to come,” Reyes added.

Judge Mario Carroza also noted Friday that the investigation is still waiting for DNA results to concretely confirm that the remains at the center of the case do in fact belong to Pablo Neruda. Along similar lines he commented, from a legal standpoint, the investigation needs to conduct every possible test and thoroughly go through all the results before reaching any conclusion.

The judge added that if the results from the various experts are not unanimously agreed upon, then “we have to look for alternative [tests].”

The SML told The Santiago Times that the experts are still compiling the official report to be released shortly.

By Charlotte Karrlsson-Willis (kwillis@santiagotimes.cl)
Copyright 2013 The Santiago Times

About the Author

Charlotte Karrlsson-Willis
Charlotte specializes in foreign relations, law, and human rights. Her work can also be found on Mapuexpress, The Center for Justice and Accountability, and InterAmerican Security Watch. Charlotte is also a regular contributor to the BBC Radio5 program Up All Night as a Chile correspondent. Contact her at kwillis@santiagotimes.cl