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Following Neruda June 21, 2013

Posted by Alex Sawit in Stuff in General.

By Alex Sawit

June 21, 2013



Pablo Neruda with his wife Matilde outside his residence, Casa de Isla Negra.


I love the poetry of Pablo Neruda.

Having said that, I must also declare that I had always devoted my attention to Neruda’s poems rather than to the political controversies that this literary hero ignited both during and after his lifetime. Hence, I was stunned by this news piece from early this June, which I only came across the other week while surfing online: “Chilean poet ‘may have been poisoned by American former CIA agent on orders of Pinochet’.”

“Judge orders manhunt for rogue spy,” was the part of that news line that really hit me.

It was actually Trinazhina, my longtime Cyrano friend and fellow Neruda fan (she’s one of those romantics who love Cyrano as a venue for Neruda discussions), who first alerted me to the initial news story last February: a judge in Chile had ordered the exhumation of Neruda’s remains to collect forensic evidence of foul play behind the poet’s death.

Now, I’m an objective person when it comes to conspiracy theories. So when Trinazhina texted me, my first thought was that Neruda would be amused to know that he is still the center of drama forty long years after his passing. I gratefully texted this thought to Trinazhina and left it at that, thinking that this was all the poetic license that fans like us needed as an excuse to spend the week in glorious revisitation of Neruda’s writings.

But that was where the news stood four months ago. Things have escalated since then. It’s one thing to order an exhumation. It’s a much more serious statement when the judge looks at the accumulating evidence and from there gives the green light to find the assassin. What to me once seemed mildly plausible suddenly begs to be reconsidered as more probable.

Is there really more to this conspiracy than just theory?

According to orthodox thinking, Pablo Neruda, a staunch opponent of the newly installed military regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet in the early 1970s, succumbed to heart failure stemming from his battle with prostate cancer. This view is being challenged, however, by compatriots who have finally broken their silence in the aftermath of Pinochet’s death in 2006. They claim that Neruda, who was a massively popular celebrity in Chile and a world famous Nobel laureate, was secretly poisoned on orders of Pinochet to prevent him from assuming the leadership of the opposition. They further claim that the deed was done by Pinochet’s infamous hatchet man, a CIA assassin who was later convicted in America for murdering one of Pinochet’s political opponents but who is now safely hidden away in the U.S. government’s witness protection program.

There are also those in Chile who do not believe these claims, most notable among them the poet’s own family. Other experts have also weighed in by saying that investigators are chasing the wrong assassin, if Neruda was assassinated at all. Yet given the documented brutality and ruthlessness of the Pinochet regime in eliminating its political opponents, even murdering them after they had already gone into foreign exile, it would be foolish not to pursue the merits of this case to a natural conclusion.

“It would be easy to dismiss the murder allegations as implausible were it not for Chile’s recent history,” wrote BBC News after the judge in the Neruda case ordered the exhumation. “In 2009, six people were charged in connection with the death of former Chilean president Eduardo Frei Montalva. Montalva was treated in the same hospital where Neruda died. Montalva received routine surgery in 1981, at the height of Gen. Pinochet’s military rule. He never came out alive. An investigating judge ruled he was poisoned. In December 2010, the remains of former Interior Minister Jose Toha were exhumed. The military said he had committed suicide by hanging himself in a hospital wardrobe. But in October of last year an investigating judge concluded he was strangled.”

It will be many long months before the forensic team has the test results that may answer whether Neruda succumbed to poison or not. Until then, Cyrano friends like Trinazhina will no doubt be following the case. I’ll be doing the same…and following Neruda’s poems while I’m at it.

Whatever the truth of Neruda’s passing might be, his words are now ours immortal.





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