Pablo Neruda death probe urged in Chile

Members of Chile's Communist Party are calling for a judge to exhume the remains of Pablo Neruda for medical testing, due to allegations the poet and Nobel laureate died of poisoning and not of cancer.
Pablo Neruda, poet and then Chilean ambassador to France, talks to reporters in Paris after winning the 1971 Nobel Prize for Literature. Chile's Communist Party is asking to exhume Neruda's remains amid allegations he may have been poisoned. (Laurent Rebours/Associated Press)

Members of Chile's Communist Party are calling for a judge to exhume the remains of Pablo Neruda for medical testing, due to allegations the poet and Nobel laureate died of poisoning and not of cancer.

According to his official death certificate, the 69-year-old Neruda died of heart failure on Sept. 23, 1973 in a Santiago hospital where he was being treated for prostate cancer. The celebrated poet's death came at the time of the Chilean military coup that swept Gen. Augusto Pinochet into power.

Chilean Judge Mario Carroza has been conducting probes into hundreds of deaths allegedly connected to abuses of Pinochet's regime from 1973 to 1990.

The request for Neruda's exhumation is based on recent statements by Manuel Araya, who served as the writer's chauffeur and assistant. He alleges that Neruda may have been injected with something that caused his heart to stop.

Araya claims that he and the poet's wife received a phone call from the hospitalized Neruda. He reported that Neruda — who along with his poetry career had served as a high-profile diplomat — ordered them to "come quickly, because while I was asleep a doctor entered and gave me a shot."

The Pablo Neruda Foundation, which preserves and promotes the poet's legacy and also operates three museums, has discounted Araya's theory.

There is "no proof whatsoever that suggests Pablo Neruda died of causes other than cancer," the foundation said in a statement in May, when Carroza was first asked to add the poet's death to his investigations.

Carroza also oversaw the recent probe into the death of Neruda's close friend and Chile's socialist former president Salvador Allende, whose remains were removed from his tomb in May for an autopsy.

An examination by a team of international experts confirmed suicide as the cause of Allende's death, which happened during Pinochet's military coup. His remains were reburied in September.

Neruda, whose real name was Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, wrote poetry in a variety of styles: from passionate love poems to epic historic works to political manifestos. Hailed by his contemporaries, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.