June 1, 2011
Pablo Neruda, poet and Chilean ambassador to France, talks with journalists after learning he has won the 1971 Nobel Prize for Literature. Photograph: Laurent Rebours/AP
Chile is to investigate whether Augusto Pinochet 's regime murdered the Nobel prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda after it seized power in a bloody 1973 coup.
A judge, Mario Carroza, will examine claims that agents injected poison into Neruda's stomach while he was treated in Santiago's Santa Maria clinic for prostate cancer, which until now was blamed for his heart failure.
If confirmed the allegation would rank as one of the dictatorship's vilest murders given Neruda's status as a revered literary great at home and abroad.
Chile's communist party demanded the investigation after the poet's former driver, Manuel Araya, said Pinochet henchmen injected the 69-year-old on the day he died, 23 September 1973, 12 days after the coup.
Neruda, a communist and political activist, had just written an article excoriating the military regime and defending his friend Salvador Allende, the socialist president who died during the coup.
Guillermo Teillier, president of the communist party, told the appellate court there was a moral requirement to clarify Neruda's cause of death. "We are acting responsibly, reasonable doubts exist," he told journalists.
The Neruda Foundation, which administers his estate, has rejected the murder theory and said the author of Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair was gravely ill.
The communist party said however that other Neruda staff had echoed the driver's suspicion and that Mexico's former ambassador to Chile, Gonzalo Martínez Corbalá, apparently found Neruda in good form a day before his death.
Six people, including Pinochet agents, allegedly poisoned a former president, Eduardo Frei, in the same clinic in 1981. They were charged last year in connection with his death.
Neruda and Frei are among 725 possible murder cases from the "dirty war" now under investigation. Last month Allende's remains were exhumed for a forensic examination to determine if he really shot himself with an AK-47, the official version, as troops closed in on the palace.
This week TVN, a state television channel, reported it had obtained a previously buried 300-page military review of Allende's death which suggested he was shot first in the face with a small-calibre weapon and that the AK-47 was fired after his death.