Panel in Chile starts final probe into what killed Pablo Neruda


A panel of legal and medical experts in Chile launched a final probe Tuesday aimed at resolving an old mystery: was the Nobel laureate poet Pablo Neruda murdered by Augusto Pinochet's regime? "We are on the verge of concluding an investigation that we think has been transcendental," Mario Carroza, a judge who handles human rights cases, told reporters after a ceremony marking the opening of the probe. Experts from Chile and abroad thus began nine days of meetings to discuss the results of previous studies carried out on the remains of Neruda, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1971. Neruda died 12 days after the violent military coup in which General Pinochet, then the commander of the army, ousted socialist President Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973 with help from the United States. Neruda was a celebrated poet, politician, diplomat and bohemian figure, and also a prominent member of the Chilean communist party. When he died in a hospital he had been preparing to flee into exile in Mexico to lead the resistance against the Pinochet regime. The official government version of events from that time stated that Neruda died of prostate cancer at age 69. In 2017 a group of Chilean and international experts concluded that Neruda did not in fact die of cancer but said it could not determine what did kill him. Then a probe was launched into a toxic bacterium called Clostridium botulinum that was found in Neruda's body. The new panel that got to work Tuesday will try to evaluate whether there is enough evidence to state that this substance killed Neruda, and also to establish who may have injected it into him and how. Neruda died in a private facility in Santiago. The experts are scheduled to conclude their work on March 7, when they will present their report to Judge Paola Plaza, who is leading the overall investigation into Neruda's death. The poet's health declined as he was waiting to leave the country after the coup that toppled Allende. The two men were friends. A plane provided by the embassy of Mexico was waiting to fly Neruda into exile. An investigation into the cause of Neruda's death first began in 2011 when Manuel Araya, who had been his driver and personal assistant, asserted that the poet was given a mysterious injection in his chest just before he died. Pinochet, who ruled Chile for 17 years, installed a regime that killed some 3,200 leftist activists and other suspected opponents. The dictator died in 2006 at age 91 without ever being convicted for crimes committed by his regime. Neruda won the Nobel prize in 1971 "for a poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent's destiny and dreams," in the words of the award committee. He is remembered especially for sensual poems about love.

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