Friday, May 3, 2013

Was Pablo Neruda murdered by the junta of General Pinochet?

"It is necessary to judge these hands stained
by the dead he killed with his terror;
the dead from under the beaten earth
are rising up like seeds of sorrow"
Pablo Neruda (Portrait of The Man)
The New Yorker on the strange irony that on the day Margaret Thatcher died Chilean authorities were exhuming the remains of legendary Chilean poet Pablo Neruda to determine whether he was murdered by the Chilean junta led by Margaret Thatcher's great friend and ally General Auguste Pinochet.

Neruda died just 12 days after the 11 September 1973 military coup that saw Pinochet seize power in a military coup that overthrew and murdered the democratically elected President of Chile Salvador Allende. Neruda had long been a political ally and supporter of Allende. Around 3,000 people were killed during  the brutal 17-year-long Pinochet dictatorship.

It was long thought that Neruda died of prostate cancer, but recent claims by his former driver have led to suspicion that the Pinochet regime poisoned Neruda to avoid the possibility that he would become a voice of protest and dissidence overseas.

Neruda's driver claims that while Neruda was making final preparations for exile in Mexico, doctors injected the poet with a substance, after which his health rapidly deteriorated.

 The New Yorker article continues:
"In a country where, for decades, history was buried, it is fitting for Chileans to dig up Neruda to find out the truth of what happened to him. In a sense, Neruda was Chile’s Lorca, the Spanish poet who was murdered in the first weeks of Francisco Franco’s Fascist coup of Spain in 1936, and whose blood has been a stain on the conscience of his country ever since.

Chile now has a chance to do the right thing by its poet. Neruda’s beach home, at Isla Negra, some miles from Santiago on the coast, is a lovely, modest villa on a rocky beach, with windows that look out to sea and the poet’s lyrical collection of old ship mermaids as decorations. He and his widow, Matilde Urrutia, were buried there, and that is where the investigators went to look for the truth of what happened. In the end, even if Neruda died of cancer, as was said at the time, his exhumation is an opportunity to reinforce the message to authoritarians everywhere that a poet’s words will always outlast theirs, and the blind praise of their powerful friends"
The British Guardian has this story about why Neruda was such a significant political figure at the time and why he was such a threat to the Chilean junta led by General Pinochet. At the time of his death, just two weeks after the coup that overthrow Chilean President Salvador Allende, Neruda was planning political exile in Mexico where he intended to denounce and campaign against the military regime.

 The Guardian writes:
That made the poet dangerous to some very powerful people, who had shown they would stop at nothing to defend their interests. They had ousted his friend, Salvador Allende, from the presidency less than a fortnight earlier. Allende died in a coup that was as much about silencing dissident voices as bringing about regime change. Another voice, that of popular singer Víctor Jara, was cut off four days later. Neruda remained. He was perhaps the loudest. His face certainly the most recognisable worldwide. He was too dangerous.

Members of the junta are on record expressing the view on the morning of September 22 that if Neruda flew into exile, his plane would fall into the sea. In the afternoon, radio stations under military control announced the poet would probably die in the next few hours, at a time when he was still awake in the hospital. The following day he was dead.

That historical mystery alone explains why his body was exhumed this week.

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