Body of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda exhumed to determine if he was murdered by Pinochet regime

Did the Nobel-prize winner die of cancer or poison?

Judiciary of Chile/AP

Chile will begin exhuming the body of poet Pablo Neruda to put an end to a debate centred on the his cause of his death.

Though official documents say the Nobel-prize winner died of prostate cancer, there are others who think he was poisoned during the rise of dictator General Augusto Pinochet.

Neruda died suddenly, just 12 days after the 1973 military coup that ousted socialist president Salvador Allende. Neruda was a close friend of Allende, who was also killed when his government was overthrown.

Since 2011, officials have been looking in to new evidence that suggests the left-leaning Neruda was poisoned.

Neruda’s body was to be exhumed at 8 a.m. local time from Isla Negra, his beach house on Chile’s Pacific Coast. Preparations to exhume his body began Sunday, reports Al Jazeera.

Neruda’s bodyguard and driver, Manuel Araya, has been a key witness into this investigation, which comes 40 years after the poet’s death. The Guardian writes:

Araya said that while Neruda was making final preparations for exile in Mexico, doctors injected the poet with a substance, after which his health rapidly deteriorated.

The investigating judge, Mario Carroza, originally doubted the conspiracy theory but his inquiry over the past two years has uncovered sufficient evidence to order the exhumation.

“Until the day I die I will not alter my story,” Araya told BBC News. “Neruda was murdered. They didn’t want Neruda to leave the country so they killed him.”

While exhuming and testing Neruda’s bones may put an end to the mystery, The Pablo Neruda Foundation, which handles the estate of the poet, says Neruda died of cancer, but says that it will co-operate.

There is also a chance that exhuming his bones may not solve the mystery at all. Scientists will be looking for both evidence of cancer and of poison, but the poet has now been buried for 40 years and traces of both may be difficult to find.

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