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Was Nobel prizewinning poet Pablo Neruda poisoned?

June 6, 2011 | 12:17 pm

Pabloneruda
Pablo Neruda, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, may have been poisoned, an associate maintains. A Chilean judge has opened an investigation into the poet's 1973 death, which could lead to Neruda's body being exhumed from its grave in Isla Negra, Chile.

Our sibling blog La Plaza reports:

A judge in Chile has opened an investigation into the death four decades ago of the Nobel Prize-winning poet in response to allegations by his former driver that Neruda was poisoned by agents acting for Gen. Agustin Pinochet. The general led the military junta and coup that toppled President Salvador Allende in September 1973.

Neruda's estate has long maintained that the poet's death on September 23, 1973 -- just 12 days after the Sept. 11 coup -- was due to prostate cancer. Yet Neruda's former driver and associate, Manuel Araya, has repeated claims recently that Neruda was assassinated for his activism as a Communist Party member and supporter of Allende, a democratically elected Marxist.

Days before his death, Neruda published an impassioned critique of the coup. Araya told reporters Neruda was probably poisoned to prevent him from traveling to Mexico, where the poet could position himself safely as a vocal opponent to the dictatorship.

Last week, judge Mario Carroza ordered the investigation, following a request filed by Chile's Communist party. Carozza is overseeing the cases of hundreds of Chileans who were "disappeared" during Pinochet's regime, as well as an investigation of the death of Allende.

The Pablo Neruda Foundation has repeated its belief that the 69-year-old Neruda died of cancer.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Neruda talked about solitude, silence and connecting with the surrounding landscape and with others:

[w]e writers within the tremendously far-flung American region, we listen unceasingly to the call to fill this mighty void with beings of flesh and blood. We are conscious of our duty as fulfillers -- at the same time we are faced with the unavoidable task of critical communication within a world which is empty and is not less full of injustices, punishments and sufferings because it is empty -- and we feel also the responsibility for reawakening the old dreams which sleep in statues of stone in the ruined ancient monuments, in the wide-stretching silence in planetary plains, in dense primeval forests, in rivers which roar like thunder. We must fill with words the most distant places in a dumb continent and we are intoxicated by this task of making fables and giving names. This is perhaps what is decisive in my own humble case, and if so my exaggerations or my abundance or my rhetoric would not be anything other than the simplest of events within the daily work of an American.

Read more about Pablo Neruda, including some of his poems, online at the Poetry Foundation.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Pablo Neruda in October 1971. Credit: Michel Lipchitz / Associated Press

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