Remains of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda exhumed

Inquiry continues into whether Nobel prizewinner was murdered by former dictatorship

Rodolfo Reyes (left), grandnephew of Chilean poet and Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda, carries his coffin covered with the Chilean flag, inside the grounds of his house-museum after the exhumation of his remains in the coastal town of Isla Negra,  northwest of Santiago yesterday. Photograph: Reuters

Rodolfo Reyes (left), grandnephew of Chilean poet and Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda, carries his coffin covered with the Chilean flag, inside the grounds of his house-museum after the exhumation of his remains in the coastal town of Isla Negra, northwest of Santiago yesterday. Photograph: Reuters

Tue, Apr 9, 2013, 07:23


The remains of Chile’s Nobel prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda were exhumed yesterday by authorities investigating whether he was murdered by the military dictatorship.

A life-long communist whose poems won him a huge following in Latin America, Neruda died 12 days after the US-backed coup which brought Gen Augusto Pinochet to power in 1973.

Officially, he died of prostate cancer. But an inquiry into his death was launched after claims he was poisoned by the military in order to stop him going into exile in Mexico.

In 2011 Manuel Araya, his personal assistant, said Neruda was administered a lethal injection by doctors under orders from the military.

Chile’s communist party asked for the investigation after other witnesses also cast doubt on the official version.

The Neruda family and the foundation that cares for his grave located at his house in Isla Negra always believed the poet died of natural causes.

Speaking on Sunday at Neruda’s seaside grave as forensic experts started work, his nephew Rodolfo Reyes said it was an emotional moment for the family. “We only hope that the truth can now come to light and we can definitively close this chapter.”

The exhumation is the latest in a series of efforts to clarify whether public figures were murdered by the Pinochet regime.

In 2011 the remains of president Salvador Allende – who in 1970 became the first Marxist leader to come to power through the ballot box – were exhumed to determine whether he had been murdered by Pinochet’s troops when they stormed his presidential palace during the coup.


Harboured doubts
Officially, he died by suicide though many had long harboured doubts, especially as the dictatorship refused his family the right to view his corpse before burial.

A court last year ruled that Allende died by suicide. His family always believed he killed himself with an AK-47 given to him as a present by Fidel Castro rather than surrender to Pinochet’s forces.

In 2010 a judge ruled that Allende’s predecessor as president was murdered by the Pinochet regime. Eduardo Frei Senior was investigating human rights abuses by the dictatorship at the time of his death from a supposed stomach illness in 1982. The judge investigating the case ruled that he was poisoned to silence him.

More than 3,000 were murdered during Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship.