Chile court orders remains of poet Neruda exhumed

A Chilean judge has ordered the remains of poet and Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda to be exhumed in a probe into whether he died of cancer or was killed by agents serving Augusto Pinochet.

The exhumation was announced Friday by the foundation that manages his literary legacy.

The leftist poet, 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 and aide.

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.

An exhumation date will be decided in March.

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 Pablo Neruda Foundation said it learned a few days ago from Judge Mario Carroza of his decision to have the remains of the poet exhumed.

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.

It expressed hope that the exhumation would be conducted "with the greatest possible respect and care" and would clear up "any doubts that might exist" as to how Neruda died.

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 probed the cause of death of Allende, the day of the 1973 coup. It confirmed that he committed suicide as warplanes bombed the presidential palace.

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