Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The death of Pablo Neruda and the "rattling of Chilean skeletons"

It is intriguing to see the way that inquiries into extrajudicial killings, disappearances and human-rights violations committed during the military dictatorship in Chile during the 1970's and 1980's are unfolding.

There will also be some nervousness about the inquiries within the US and UK political establishment and among those western collaborators, including multinational corporations and free marketeers, who were involved in and supported the 1973 coup that overthrew the Chilean President Salvador Allende and installed the military dictatorship of General Pinochet (some earlier pieces I wrote on US involvement in the coup and military dictatorship are here and the contemporary consequences of the military dictatorship here).

Chilean Judge Mario Carroza is investigating the death of President Salvador Allende during the military coup in 1973, as well as the disappearance of of hundreds of Chileans during the military coup and the Pinochet military dictatorship. Carroza is also investigating allegations that the legendary Chilean poet and political activist Pablo Neruda was in fact poisoned by agents acting for the General Pinochet and his coup supporters. It has long been claimed that Neruda who died during the coup died as a result of prostrate cancer, but these allegations and investigations cast doubt on that claim.

Neruda, in fact, died in the same Santiago clinic in which a former Chilean president, Eduardo Frei, was allegedly poisoned in 1981, also by Pinochet agents.

This extract is from a piece in the LA Times
"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. Augusto Pinochet. The general led the military junta and coup that toppled President Salvador Allende in 1973.

Neruda's estate has long maintained that the poet's death on Sept. 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.

Judge Mario Carroza ordered the investigation last week after a request filed by the Communist Party. The investigation could lead to the exhumation of Neruda's body from his grave at his beloved Isla Negra residence (links in Spanish).

The Neruda Foundation repeated its belief last week that Neruda died of cancer. Yet Communist Party members have pointed to press reports from the days after Neruda's death that said the 69-year-old went into "cardiac arrest" on Sept. 23, 1973, after a "calming substance" was injected into his stomach, contradicting the cancer story, the daily La Tercera reported.

Carroza has ordered press reports from the era to be located and examined.

Neruda's case is the latest rattling of skeletons in Chile's history since the end of the dictatorship in 1990. Last month the government ordered Allende's body exhumed to determine once and for all whether he committed suicide on Sept. 11, 1973, or was assassinated. Read The Times' report on that investigation"

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