Chilean poet Neruda to be exhumed next month

DIED OF CANCER, OR KILLED? Pablo Neruda during a Library of Congress recording session, 20 June 1966. Photo courtesy of the US Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.

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SANTIAGO, Chile - Pablo Neruda's remains will be exhumed next month to determine if the Nobel prize winning poet died of cancer as commonly believed or was killed by agents serving Augusto Pinochet, a judge said Monday, March 4.

The exhumation was ordered last month by Judge Mario Carroza.

On Monday he said he was allowing time for Chilean and foreign forensic experts to get ready for the exhumation and said it would take place in the first two weeks of April, though he set no exact date.

The leftist Neruda, who died 12 days after the 1973 military coup that ousted socialist president Salvador Allende and brought General Augusto Pinochet to power, was long believed to have died of prostate cancer.

But officials in 2011 started looking into the possibility he was poisoned by agents of the Pinochet regime, as claimed by Neruda's driver.

Neruda is best known for his love poems as well as his "Canto General" -- an epic poem about South America's history and its people.

A senior member of Chile's Communist Party, his writings were banned during Pinochet's military dictatorship, which ended in 1990.

Neruda is buried next to his wife Matilde Urrutia in Isla Negra, 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of the capital Santiago. He won the 1971 Nobel Prize in Literature.

The investigation began last year after a complaint was filed by the Chilean Communist Party.

The complaint came after Neruda's driver, Manuel Araya, declared publicly that Pinochet agents poisoned Neruda while he was hospitalized with cancer.

Araya said Neruda had been at home in Isla Negra but was taken to a clinic in Santiago when his condition worsened. While in the clinic, regime agents gave him a lethal injection, said Araya, who is now 65.

Pinochet ordered Neruda killed to keep him from traveling to Mexico, where he could speak out and lead opposition to Pinochet, according to Araya.

"For years, I knocked on doors and no one listened to me. I always thought I would die without this truth being known," the former driver once told AFP in an interview.

The Pablo Neruda Foundation has denied Neruda was murdered, and says it still believes cancer did him in.

Neruda's real name was Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, and he took the pen name of Pablo Neruda in memory of the Czech poet Jan Neruda.

He joined the Republican movement during the Spanish Civil War and began working on poems in the 1930s while living in Spain and France. He was elected to the Chilean Senate in 1945 and also held several diplomatic posts.

A brief part of his life inspired the Oscar-winning Italian film "Il Postino."

Chilean officials are also investigating the death of a former president, Eduardo Frei, during the regime years. Frei, who served from 1964 to 1970, died in 1982 in the same hospital as Neruda when complications arose during routine surgery.

Last year, the government also investigated the cause of death of Allende, the day of the 1973 coup. It confirmed that he committed suicide as warplanes bombed the presidential palace. - Rappler.com