Was Pablo Neruda poisoned? Fifty years later, the death of the Chilean poet remains a mystery

Two members of the panel of experts who investigated the mysterious death of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda told AFP on Thursday February 16 that they could not determine whether or not the death in 1973 of the Nobel Prize for Literature was due to poisoning.

Clostridium botulinum bacteria”was present at the time of his death but we still do not know why. We just know she shouldn’t be there“, indicated Hendrik and Debi Poinar of the Canadian university McMaster. They thus confirmed to AFP their declarations in an article of their university.

Chilean justice investigates

Both are part of the panel of international experts who investigated the possible poisoning of the Chilean poet, the conclusions of which were submitted on Wednesday February 15 to Paola Plaza, the Chilean judge in charge of the case. The same day, the latter indicated at a press conference that the report would be studied so that the court could rule, without specifying the duration of this evaluation stage.

Chilean judge Paola Plaza Gonzalez during the press conference on Wednesday February 15, after receiving the conclusions of the report.  (MARTIN BERNETTI / AFP)

Hendrik and Debi Poinar said they worked at the request of Chilean justice for four years to determine whether the poet had been poisoned or not. The poisoning theory has been mooted for more than a decade in Chile. The two researchers specified that they were able to recover Pablo Neruda’s DNA from one of his molars but, due to its degradation, only succeeded in reconstructing a third of the genome of the bacterium clostridium botulinum.

According to them, it is however possible to reconstruct it in its entirety without new exhumation. “There is enough material to do it with what we have in the laboratory. We just need court approval“, they assured AFP.

The poisoning theory remains unresolved

Pablo Neruda died on September 23, 1973, twelve days after General Augusto Pinochet’s coup against Socialist President Salvador Allende, a great friend of the poet. International experts had unanimously rejected in 2017 the official version of the military regime assuring that he had not died of a sudden worsening of his cancer.

But they could not confirm or exclude the possibility of voluntary and deliberate contamination by the injection of germs or bacterial toxins. According to this theory of poisoning, Pablo Neruda would have succumbed to an injection made the day before his departure for Mexico, where he planned to go into exile to lead the opposition to the Pinochet regime (1973-1990).

The panel of international experts analyzed the results of samples taken from the remains of the poet whose body was exhumed in April 2013 from the crypt where he had been resting since 1992, in Isla Negra, 120 kilometers west of the Chilean capital. .

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