Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

'No poison' in Nobel poet's remains

The copy of an old newspaper featuring Chile's Nobel-Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda is seen in his home in Santiago.

The four-decade mystery of whether Chilean Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda was poisoned was seemingly cleared up when forensic test results showed no chemical agents in his bones.

But his family and driver were not satisfied and said they would seek more proof.

Mr Neruda died under suspicious circumstances in the chaos that followed Chile's 1973 military coup. The official version is that the poet died of cancer, but his former driver has said for years that dictatorship agents injected poison into his stomach while he was bedridden at the Santa Maria clinic in Santiago.

Mr Neruda's body was exhumed in April to determine the cause of his death.

"No relevant chemical substances have been found that could be linked to Mr. Neruda's death," Patricio Bustos, head of Chile's medical legal service, said as he read the test results of the seven-month investigation by the 15-member forensic team.

Mr Bustos said experts found traces of medicine used to treat cancer in Mr Neruda's remains but there was no forensic evidence to prove that he died from anything else other than a natural cause.

The highly-anticipated results by the team of Chilean and international experts did not satisfy Mr Neruda's family members and friends who said the case remained unsolved.

"The Neruda case doesn't close today," said Chilean Communist Party lawyer Eduardo Contreras. "Today we're going to request more samples. They referred to chemical agents but there are no studies about biological agents. A very important chapter has closed and was done very seriously, but this is not over."

Mr Neruda was a larger-than-life figure with an enormous passion for women, food and wine. He also enjoyed the company of friends who often visited the poet at his homes decorated with collections of everything from ship's figureheads to giant sea shells.

He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1971 after a prolific career, and is still best known worldwide for his love poems.

"Neruda died 40 years ago but his work is alive," said Hernan Loyola, 83, a Neruda expert who has been studying the works of the poet for 60 years.

"If I go to any library in the world I'll find the works of Neruda. He was our Shakespeare, our Cervantes. A writer who beyond his political convictions is simply a jewel."

Mr Neruda was also a left-wing politician and diplomat, and a close friend of socialist president Salvador Allende, who committed suicide rather than surrender to troops during the September 11 1973 bloody coup led by General Augusto Pinochet.

Mr Neruda, who was 69 at the time and suffered from prostate cancer, was traumatised by the coup and the persecution and killing of his friends. He planned to go into exile, where he would have been an influential voice against the dictatorship.

But a day before he planned to leave, he was taken by ambulance to the Santa Maria clinic, where he was being treated for cancer and other ailments.

Officially, he died there on September 23 of natural causes. But suspicions that the dictatorship had a hand in the death lingered long after Chile returned to a democracy in 1990.

"We're not satisfied with this but it's an objective result and there's still a ways to go," said Rodolfo Reyes, one of Mr Neruda's nephews. "A deeper investigation is needed."

AP

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