In fascinating news that may have been lost among word of death of a more recent vintage, the body of Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda has been exhumed in a bid to discover whether he died of prostate cancer – as is stated on his death certificate – or if he was, in fact, murdered in September 1973 by an agent of the dictator Augusto Pinochet. There now follows a pause, the better that you may aver that you are familiar with the works of Pablo Neruda.
Though Neruda’s surviving family maintain that cancer was the cause of his death, Chilean authorities are nonetheless proceeding to investigate allegations from his former personal assistant, Manuel Araya, that the poet phoned him from hospital and said he had been injected with something that made him feel ill, the implication being that Neruda was poisoned. Lest anyone accuse Neruda of being needlessly paranoid, his death came twelve days after Pinochet seized power from Salvador Allende, of whom Neruda was a noted supporter (also, he, y’know, died).
Furthermore, following Pinochet’s coup, Neruda had planned to leave Chile for exile in Mexico – or ‘Mexile’, as no one calls it – with historian Fernando Marin telling Reuters that at the time of Neruda’s death, there was a plane waiting for him at Pudahuel Airport, and that whilst the poet was suffering from a urinary infection and a benign tumor, ‘he wasn’t going to die’. All of which is decidedly more intrigue than has ever come, say, Andrew Motion’s way.
Known as a poet from his teens, Neruda won the Nobel Prize in 1971, a year after he was nominated for the Chilean presidency but instead ceded his support to Allende, the victor ultimately ousted from his seat by Pinochet. His acceptance speech is available in its entirety on the Nobel Prize website. It is eminently worth your time, but this paragraph in particular may go some way towards explaining why a murderous fascist despot would wish to rid himself of the man:
In the midst of the arena of America’s struggles I saw that my human task was none other than to join the extensive forces of the organized masses of the people, to join with life and soul with suffering and hope, because it is only from this great popular stream that the necessary changes can arise for the authors and for the nations. And even if my attitude gave and still gives rise to bitter or friendly objections, the truth is that I can find no other way for an author in our far-flung and cruel countries, if we want the darkness to blossom, if we are concerned that the millions of people who have learnt neither to read us nor to read at all, who still cannot write or write to us, are to feel at home in the area of dignity without which it is impossible for them to be complete human beings.
He was chief hack and music editor of webzine Brazen from 2006 to 2010, and hosted Left of the Dial on Subcity Radio from 2008 to 2011.
He can be heard semi-regularly on the podcast of Scottish cultural blog Scots Whay Hae ('20th best website in Scotland!' - The List), and in 2011 founded Seen Your Video, a film and music podcast and blog based in Glasgow. He has a Masters degree in Scottish Literature from the University of Glasgow that will never have any practical application. You are on a hiding to nothing if you follow him on Twitter expecting any kind of hot publishing scoop.