The state-sponsored murder of Pablo Neruda

The official version of Pablo Neruda’s death goes something like this: World famous Chilean poet and Nobel winner dies of metastatic prostate cancer, age 69. But recent investigative findings put the lie to that version. Here’s the story that’s got Chileans, and Neruda fans everywhere, buzzing:

Poet Pablo Neruda did not die as a result of the prostate cancer he suffered. This is the conclusion, based on clinical records, in case ROL 1038-2011, after five months of investigations into the death of Neruda, headed by judge Mario Carroza.

In a 209-page dossier, the investigators contradict the information given by the Santa María clinic on the day of the poet’s death, September 23, 1973, which assures that he died of “metastasized prostate cancer”, as does his death certificate.

The clinic’s version has been supported by the Neruda Foundation, which on several occasions has ruled out the assertions of Neruda’s personal assistant and chauffeur, Manuel Araya, who says it was homicide.

In a press release dated last May 12, the Foundation announced: “There is no evidence, nor proof of any kind, that Pablo Neruda died of any cause other than the advanced cancer he had suffered for some time […] It does not seem reasonable to construct a new version of the poet’s death solely on the basis of the opinions of his driver, Mr. Manuel Araya, who keeps insisting on this version with no proof other than his appearance. We find much more serious and reliable the testimonies of the persons who were with Neruda in his last days of life.”

The judicial process to determine the cause of the Chilean poet’s death began last May 8, when it was reported that Neruda was “assassinated”, and Araya denounced that Neruda died of a lethal injection to his stomach.

In that report, Araya ruled out as well that Neruda had been in a grave condition in the days prior to his death. Araya states that Neruda was transferred to the Santa María clinic from his home on Isla Negra on September 19, 1973, in order to escape the violence [following the coup d’état of September 11, 1973] and to wait in Santiago, in a location he believed to be secure, to fly out to Mexico on a plane sent by the government of Luis Echeverría.

Clinical investigations and testimonies gathered by the investigators appear to prove Araya correct.

José Luis Pérez and Patricio Díaz Ortiz, physicians with the Criminalistic Investigations Department of the police, sent the investigators of the Human Rights Brigade, which is heading the investigation, Document 75 on the 16th of August. In it is the analysis of 13 medical examinations of Neruda between 1972 and 1973.

In the section marked “Medico-Criminalistic Considerations”, article (d), is written: “There is a fact which draws attention and complicates the analysis. In the letter from Dr. Guillermo Merino, Neruda’s treating physician, on April 18, 1973, to Dr. Vargas Salazar (urologist), it states: ‘Esteemed colleague: Enclosed please find a summary of the treatments given to Don Pablo Neruda, referred by yourself for treatment of adenoma of the prostate and arthrosis of the right pelvis.’

“The problem in this case, said the police medics, is that an adenoma is a benign tumor, and not malignant.”

But another record appears to point to the opposite. In point (2) of the same section, there appears a report of cobalt radiotherapy, applied between March 19 and April 18, 1973. “Radiotherapy is a treatment which, generally, is used against malignant tumors, such as prostate cancer […] radiotherapy is not used in the case of benign tumors,” say the medics.

In the first point of their conclusion, the medics state: “Based on objective examination, we cannot report with certainty the cause of the death of Mr. Pablo Neruda […] since we do not have the results of the respective biopsy.”

In the fourth point, they say: “The test that could signal the presence of metastases, the acid phosphatase test, showed normal results, which could signify among other things that there was no malignant tumor or that it was limited to the gland or was normalized as a result of radiotherapy. Since we have no clinical records from the patient it is not possible to draw any conclusions based on this test.”

These conclusions are consistent with the statements given by Neruda’s widow, Matilde Urrutia, to various Spanish media in 1974, and which were cited in the judicial report, whose contents are protected in Chile by a gag order.

In an article published in the magazine Pueblo, on September 19, 1974, Urrutia stated that “the cancer (Neruda) suffered was well under control, and we did not foresee such a rapid decline. (Neruda) hadn’t even written his will because he thought his death was still a long way off.”

Matilde Urrutia gave an interview to the EFE press agency this month in which she ratified her stance: “Cancer didn’t kill him. The doctors, whom he had seen a few days before, told him they had caught it in time, and that he would live several more years.” These declarations were cited in the report, “Shadows over Isla Negra”, by the Spaniard, Mario Amorós, published on July 22 of this year in the magazine Tiempo, in Spain.

The fifth and final point of the conclusions of the medical report underlines the necessity of locating the clinical records of Neruda and his biopsy. These records were not provided by the institutions treating him in spite of Judge Carroza’s request, in response to the demands of the plaintiffs, the directors of the Chilean Communist Party, represented by attorney Eduardo Contreras.

On July 28, Contreras requested that the Santa María clinic provide the Nobel prizewinner’s medical history. On August 22, Dr. Cristián Ugarte Palacios, medical director of the clinic, responded: “Given the time elapsed, I must inform the Minister that our clinic no longer has the information solicited.”

In an interview with Proceso, Contreras said that the disappearance of Neruda’s records “is impossible to imagine, not only because they have the obligation to preserve them under the law, which states that public hospitals and clinics must maintain records for at least 40 years. You also must consider that we are not speaking of an unknown patient…This concerns the medical history of one of the only two Nobel prizewinners in Chile. All things considered, it’s very strange and suggestive that his records no longer exist in the Santa María clinic.”

The attorney said that a prestigious group of oncologists, whose identities he prefers to withhold for the time being, analyzed various medical tests performed on the poet during the last year of his life. According to Contreras, they came to the conclusion that “it is not possible to accept that [Neruda] died of cancer, since he did not have ‘caquexia’ [cachexia, severe wasting of a terminal patient], all of it is absolutely false.”

Contreras added: “According to how they explained it to me, ‘caquexia’ produces a state of abandonment in which the person is practically a cadaver, and cannot even speak. And Pablo [Neruda] spoke up to the last minute, not only with the Mexican ambassador, Gonzalo Martínez Corbalá, but with others as well.”

Martínez Corbalá, in a testimony published in the same weekly magazine, said that on Saturday, the 22nd of September, 1973, he was at the clinic to inform Neruda that all was in readiness for him and his wife, Matilde, to travel to Mexico. He affirmed that “the poet’s appearance had improved. And his spirits as well […] He looked very much the master of himself and I dare say, very optimistic.”

All of this speaks of a Neruda who was not on his deathbed, as medical accounts heretofore accepted as the official truths of his last days have insisted.

On page 206 of the dossier appears the testimony of Rosa Nuñez, Neruda’s personal nurse from 1960 to 1973. “Two years after the death of Don Pablo, during the summer, Señora Matilde Urrutia came to visit me. She told me that she suspected that her husband was murdered in the clinic, possibly with some kind of injection. It was the last time I saw her.”

This declaration appears in a clipping titled “The Captain’s Solitude”, by journalist Javier García, published in the newspaper, La Nación, on September 18, 2005.

Coincidentally, the Chilean newspaper, El Mercurio, published, on September 24, 1973 — one day after the death of Neruda — that he had died “as a result of a shock suffered after having received an injection.”

In the report, “Who Killed Pablo Neruda?”, published last September 6 by the magazine Revista Ñ, published by the Clarín group of Argentina, Dr. Sergio Draper — who attended Neruda in the Santa María clinic — declared:

“I only saw [Neruda] for an instant on Sunday the 23 of September, as I was not in charge of his case. That day the nurse on duty told me that Neruda was apparently in a great deal of pain, so I told her to give him the injection prescribed by his physician. If I recall correctly, it was a ‘dipirona’ [metamizole]…I ordered that she give him an injection as indicated by his physician. I was nothing more than an interlocutor. It’s the last straw that we are constantly under suspicion.”

Draper has also been called as a witness before the court in the case of the murder of former president Eduardo Frei, verfied in the same Santa María clinic, in January 1982.

On page 113 of the dossier are declarations from numerous people linked to the Neruda Foundation, all rejecting the possibility that the poet was assassinated. All of them also discred Manuel Araya, the chauffeur.

Among them is the singer and documentary filmmaker, Hugo Arévalo. He maintains that “on September 18, 1973, hearing rumors that Neruda’s death was imminent, I went with [my wife] Charo Cofré to Isla Negra in our Citroën AX330. Upon our arrival at Pablo’s house, we met a person who identified himself as his driver [Araya].”

Further on, Arévalo states that the poet “could not walk, and felt demoralized”, and that he commented that the Mexican ambassador to Chile had offered to take him out of the country. In spite of his anguish, Neruda celebrated the country’s independence day that day with them, “for which reason he sent us to buy some empanadas,” said Arévalo.

In an interview with Proceso, Manuel Araya said that the story related by Arévalo — countersigned by the latter’s wife — “is absolutely false.” He affirms that neither Arévalo nor his wife were on Isla Negra in the days following the coup, and that no one could come to see Neruda because the soldiers guarding the house prevented the entry of any visitors. He also stated that nobody drank wine or ate empanadas that day, “because we were not in the mood.”

In Arévalo’s account, he and his wife stayed the night of the 18th on Isla Negra. The next day they supposedly accompanied, in a caravan, Neruda and Matilde on their trip to the Santa María clinic in Santiago. In an interview given to the magazine Rocinante in May 2003, Cofré said that Araya participated in all these events, and drove the Nerudas’ Fiat 125 while Pablo and Matilde Neruda rode in an ambulance. But in her legal testimony, Cofré omitted this item. Araya, for his part, denies vehemently that the other couple had been there at any time.

The statements of Cofré and Arévalo were not solicited by the plaintiffs or Judge Carroza. Contreras asks: “What influence does the Pablo Neruda Foundation bring to bear so that persons testify who have not been called upon to do so? I say this since there is a curious preoccupation on the part of the Neruda Foundation to ‘help’ the investigation, or rather, to tilt it a certain way. So I ask myself: why does it matter so much to them?” And then he answers himself: “I think the Foundation has an interest in not allowing anyone to tarnish their marketing icon.”

Matilde Urrutia mentioned Manuel Araya repeatedly in her memoir, My Life With Pablo Neruda: “Now it is getting late, and my driver still hasn’t appeared. Yesterday, he left me at the clinic […] he was the only person nearby to help me…Poor guy, who went all over the place with Pablo, to markets, to antique shops…he disappeared with our car and with him I lost the only person who kept me company all the hours of the day.”

Translation mine.

From what I can glean from the above, a few interesting facts emerge:

*Pablo Neruda did have prostate cancer, but it was well under control, not metastasized.

*His doctors felt that he had several more years of life ahead of him, and he did not feel the urgency to write a will.

*Neruda did not have the characteristic wasted appearance that terminally ill individuals tend to get. He was well enough to see visitors other than immediate family, among them the Mexican ambassador, who was trying to arrange Neruda’s safe passage to Mexico with the new military junta in charge of Chile since the coup of a few days prior. He appeared to be in good spirits and was “very much the master of himself”, as the ambassador himself testified.

*Neruda was in fact well enough to leave the country. His doctors seemed to offer no objections to his plans to flee to Mexico. Were he truly on his deathbed, wouldn’t they have told the Mexican ambassador to scrap all travel plans for the poet?

*Both Neruda’s widow and his chauffeur asserted the same thing: Neruda was killed by a lethal injection administered in the Santa María clinic. Why would the two people closest to the poet for so many years of his life lie about such a thing, when they lacked any motive for doing so?

*The “lethal injection” theory is corroborated by an attending physician, who states that Neruda was injected with Dipirona, the local trade name of a powerful analgesic, metamizole. He was in severe pain at the time, perhaps due to the “arthrosis of the right pelvis” mentioned early on. Was he given an overdose of the painkiller by accident, or on purpose? And if it was not a shot of Dipirona, what was the drug that killed him?

*In a strange coincidence, the same doctor who witnessed the “Dipirona” injection that likely killed Neruda was also called upon to testify in the case of the assassination of former Chilean president Eduardo Frei, who died in 1982 at the same clinic where Neruda breathed his last. Could this have been another instance of the Pinochet dictatorship eliminating anyone popular enough to stand as a rival? Frei had initially supported the coup against Salvador Allende, a coup which Neruda, a leftist, had vehemently decried. But several years later Frei turned against Pinochet. This conversion apparently took place not long before his “mysterious” death.

*Neruda’s medical records “were no longer being kept” by the clinic where he died. Chilean law mandates that ALL patient records be kept by their hospitals and clinics for at least 40 years after their deaths, in the event that a suspicious death should result in an inquest. Yet this law, which applies to all Chileans, was not observed in the case of one of Chile’s most famous citizens, whose own death is highly suspicious. Just a malign coincidence?

*And finally, the timing. The coup took place on September 11, 1973; Neruda died on September 23. Not two weeks after a coup which he passionately decried, Neruda, who famously vowed never to “sing the General’s verses”, was suddenly dead of a cancer that had not spread or caused cachexia, or terminal wasting. Dead despite being in good spirits and ready to leave for Mexico, apparently with his doctors’ blessing.

If that all doesn’t stink to high heaven, I don’t know what does.

As for the Neruda Foundation, its adherence to the official version seems to stem more from a dedication to orthodoxy than to truth. Why would they not welcome an investigation to get to the bottom of their famous namesake’s highly suspicious death? It makes little sense for them to categorically reject all but the “official” version.

Unless, of course, they were infiltrated by Pinochetist elements who determined that the foundation’s job was not to preserve the accurate memory of the ardent, popular leftist Neruda, but to whitewash it. A possibility that certainly can’t be ruled out, given how for many years the entire awful truth about Pinochet’s ruthless fascism was concealed — “disappeared”, as it were — from the public record. Along with the fact that it was all directly aided and abetted by the US State Department, the US military, and the CIA.

Under those circumstances, the extremely hinky events surrounding Neruda’s death are not merely suspicious, they are downright sinister. Could the US government have played a role in the murder of Pablo Neruda? The many questions, the many doubts, the known facts of their role in the Chilean coup, and the disappearance of evidence mandated by Chilean law, makes this hideous possibility impossible to rule out.

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