April 8 (Bloomberg) -- Chilean authorities exhumed the body of Pablo Neruda as part of a probe into whether the Nobel Prize-winning poet was murdered in the bloody aftermath of the country’s 1973 military coup.
Doubts have long surrounded the death of Neruda, who passed away just 12 days after military forces led by Augusto Pinochet overthrew the administration of the poet’s friend, socialist President Salvador Allende. While Neruda was suffering from prostate cancer at the time, his then-driver believes he may have been poisoned while undergoing treatment at a Santiago clinic because of his allegiance to the toppled government.
Authorities, acting on a court order, today removed Neruda’s corpse from the poet’s Isla Negra home, on the rocky shores of the Pacific Ocean, and transported it to the capital, Santiago, a two-hour drive inland. There, forensic experts will try to determine the cause of death.
Neruda is the latest South American luminary whose remains have been dug up as authorities probe the region’s past, looking mainly to uncover crimes committed by the military dictatorships that ruled much of the region during the Cold War. In addition to Neruda, two other opponents of Pinochet, Allende and former President Eduardo Frei Montalva, have had their remains disinterred. Pinochet’s 17-year regime killed about 3,000 opponents and tortured thousands more.
In the case of Allende, a Santiago court confirmed last year that he committed suicide while Pinochet’s forces stormed the presidential palace, dispelling suggestions that he may have been murdered. Meanwhile, traces of mustard gas were found in 2007 in the corpse of Frei, upending accounts that he died in 1982 from an infection contracted during a surgery.
In Brazil, the family of former President Joao Goulart, who was overthrown in a 1964 military coup, last month authorized his exhumation from a grave in Argentina to investigate their suspicion that he was poisoned in 1976.
In Venezuela the conspiracy theories go back even further.
Former President Hugo Chavez in 2010 exhumed the corpse of Simon Bolivar to determine whether the independence hero had been poisoned by Colombian oligarchs in 1830. While Spanish experts found no evidence of foul play, Chavez up until his death last month from cancer continued to insist his idol had been murdered. Allies of Chavez, including acting President Nicolas Maduro, have also suggested Chavez himself was infected with cancer for his anti-American political views.
Neruda was elected to Chile’s Senate in 1945 on a Communist party ticket and cited his political leanings in his 1971 Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
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