Judge Revisits Chile’s Ashen Past

While the Chilean volcano Puyehue continues to spew ash that has caused air traffic chaos halfway around the world, Chileans are grappling with another kind of combustion altogether. A Chilean judge has ordered that the cause of death of Pablo Neruda be investigated after it was alleged that the poet and Nobel laureate was assassinated by the Pinochet regime. Manuel Araya, Neruda’s secretary at the time of his death, has claimed that the cause of his former employer’s death less than a fortnight after Pinochet’s coup in 1973 was not advanced prostate cancer, as was previously believed, but politics. He’s alleged that Neruda was poisoned, a claim denied by Neruda’s estate.

Neruda during a Library of Congress recording session [1966], via WikiCommons

Neruda during a Library of Congress recording session [1966], via WikiCommons

Neruda was a friend of Salvador Allende and a looming figure in the leftist politics of the time. When troops ransacked his house after the coup, he’s reported to have told them, “Look around - there’s only one thing of danger for you here - poetry.” Neruda’s death is one of 725 dating from Chile’s version of the ‘dirty war’ currently under investigation. Last month, Salvador Allende’s body was exhumed to investigate his cause of death. Although not conclusive, the evidence points to the possibility that Allende was assassinated, and didn’t shoot himself as was previously believed.

We referred in the Dailies of last Friday to a controversy in Spain about the depiction of General Franco in a new national dictionary of Spanish biography. Neruda wrote poems that were stingingly critical of Franco’s regime (‘I’ll Explain Some Things’ and ‘Curse’ are fine examples). Here’s the last poem Neruda wrote before his death.

Related posts