Colonialism, neoliberal violence and the dynamics of resistance in Mapuche poetry

(First published in Instituto Manquehue)

Mapuche poetry has been a consistent trajectory expressing resistance against the oblivion and discrimination enforced upon the indigenous population through colonisation and subsequent governments targeting the community with oppressive laws. The literary realm attempts to connect the historical struggle against colonisation to the social problems constituting the enforced oblivion faced by the Mapuche people.

It is difficult to speak of ‘vestiges’ of oppression in the allegedly democratic era following the fall of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, as subsequent governments have embarked upon a more refined replication of the ethnocide and displacement characterising Mapuche history.

The Mapuche resistance against Spanish colonisation creates a backdrop against which the population has been able to reconstruct the dynamics of resilience against governments who have marginalised the indigenous population. Following the declared independence of the Chilean State, the colonisation of Mapuche territory through land purchase and expropriation led to the alleged pacification, which in reality accelerated defeat through military conquest. Restricting Mapuche communities was a step towards attempting assimilation of the indigenous population within the state, thus eliminating any references to territorial reclamation. In 1979 during Pinochet’s dictatorship, laws decreed that “the divided lands will no longer be considered indigenous lands, and the people living on those lands will no longer be considered indigenous.” The Mapuche people remain incarcerated within practices of oblivion, including the repression of history and culture in education and other forms of social exclusion leading to poverty and restriction of basic services including health and education, to prevent any possible reclamation of rights.

Oblivion, therefore, has been managed by the Chilean state through repressive laws capitulating to the proven violence of neoliberalism – a relic of Pinochet’s dictatorship which has been endorsed by the Concertación governments. This is particularly evident in the manipulation of anti-terror laws enacted during the dictatorship – now utilised to target Mapuche communities in order to annihilate resistance. The official divestment of identity required the rethinking of Mapuche resistance with regard to territory – the preservation of the indigenous subaltern memory of a community whose ancestral ties to land have been severed by colonialism, the emergence of the Chilean state and the application of Pinochet’s anti-terror laws. Despite the tenacious collective memory, the Mapuche struggle is marginalised through the dominant narrative which continuously strives to obscure the dynamics of resistance embedded within a community which has not relinquished its definition of nationhood.

It is pertinent, therefore, to assert that Chilean governments are committed to obliterating indigenous identity in order to deconstruct the struggle for recognition into terrorism which is erroneously justified by the application of the anti-terror legislation, upholding historical injustice while displacing the atrocities and violence committed by the state upon Mapuche activists. As is evidenced in past struggles, the state attempts to foment further division by differentiating between Mapuche activists and the rest of the community in political rhetoric; a tactic to dissolve unity which, authorities hope, will ultimately lead to a permanent dissolution of identity.

Recognition of the Mapuche demands remains fragmented, with post-dictatorship governments embarking upon deliberate compromises to enforce oblivion. Political participation remained marginalised and the New Indigenous Peoples Act (1993) did not recognise ancestral claims to land, thus the Mapuche remained estranged from the geophysical dimensions of their struggle. The ambiguity enforced by colonisation and subjugation is entrenched with legislation that seeks to create alienation from the ramifications of historical and contemporary memory. Thus, political autonomy, the recognition of the Mapuche as a nation, land reclamation and control over natural resources remain confined to a struggle which governments have sought to oppress, through eradication of the socioeconomic framework. This led to a rise in Mapuche social and political activism that has been criminalised under the anti-terror legislation. In pledging allegiance to the neoliberal framework endorsed by Pinochet, subsequent governments have modified discourse to depict the plunder of natural resources and destruction of landscape as progress and improving infrastructure. Governments, therefore, have opted for neutralisation policies that would further oppress the struggle for recognition and rights – a strategy that backfired in a renewed struggle for autonomous indigenous identity.

Mapuche poetry encompasses the collective struggle in a manner which displays the connection between language and land. For the Mapuche, language serves as a medium of expression in which historical memory is amalgamated with the ongoing social struggle, always in relation to land. Hence, through language and metaphor, the recuperation of culture occurs through countering the marginalisation enforced upon the population; a marginalisation occurring through the authorities’ tenacity to adhere to and manipulate the oppression inflicted by colonisation and legislation pertaining to the dictatorship.

Mapuche poet Jaime Luis Huenún describes literature as “creating a more visible culture” and marked by the anti-colonial struggle. Since the anti-colonial struggle is part of the Mapuche collective memory framework, Huenún insists that the idea of individuality that is cherished in the West with regard to creative work does not apply to Mapuche literature. Literature becomes the medium of articulating the community’s struggle. The same collective expression was expressed by Mapuche poet Leonel Lienlaf: “More than a representative of my culture, I come from it. I am an expression of it.” Collective memory, therefore, transcends the confines of individual expression to encompass a unified struggle against the neoliberal economic reforms that attempt to instigate assimilation in order to neutralise the reclamation of land, cultural and historical expression.

Mapuche poetry is a fluid expression of the contradiction between the restrictions placed upon the indigenous population through colonialism and the dynamics which have enabled a constant struggle against the dominating neoliberal political framework prevailing in Chile. While colonialism and neoliberalism have desecrated the Mapuche conservation of land, the indigenous struggle and its portrayal through literature has promulgated both the ancestral legacy and the affirmation of history – elements that override the external and hostile definition of what constitutes the indigenous. The political and socio-cultural aspects remain central to land reclamation and Mapuche identity, challenging continuous policies which elaborate upon allegedly inclusive rhetoric while increasing marginalisation through the criminalisation of Mapuche resistance.

The challenge within collective memory is best portrayed in the incisive poetry of David Aniñir Guilitraro, an urban Mapuche whose work challenges the imposed obliteration of history. In an interview which I carried out with Aniñir, it is explained that the poetic concept of identity incorporated within the book harbours “revenge against everything”. Aniñir explains, “My construction of the subject should be read within the context of discrimination and deprivation. We are the children of dispossession, of the exile suffered by our parents … Mapuche people have suffered as political prisoners, been subjected to murder, flawed trials and judicial assembly, militarization of communities – all these things are undeniable in our history. That’s my poetic art – corrosive, foul, crude. It is a poetic revenge against everything.” Fragmentation and retention of identity are exacerbated through the dynamics of nostalgia, experiences which accumulate and remain in constant conflict between fluidity due to the evolution of culture within the urban landscape and the imagined nostalgia which, nonetheless, retains significance within the collective experience of forced eviction.

Poetry exists as a collective expression despite the individual artistic articulation. For Aniñir, poetic expression is synonymous with experiences of the indigenous population and the importance of identity reconstruction within the urban framework. Expressing the collective identity is also important in the rewriting of history; the necessity to challenge official historical discourses which fabricate the memory of the oppressed in order to retain the hegemonic narrative. The trend is not solely confined to academia; it infiltrates official policy in order to discover the means of diminishing atrocities committed against the Mapuche people by distorting the dynamics of force to portray a conflict as opposed to systematic oppression.

The fragmentation expressed in Mapuche poetry incorporates a passion incumbent upon reflection wrought by distance and a lack of documented memory which is indicative of the turbulence associated with a permanent homecoming. In the absence of inscribed history, Mapuche poetry reveals the magnitude of nostalgia as a political testimony of forced displacement, a documentation of silence as collective memory in its various dimensions continues to assert its relevance within the wider context of the social and political struggle.

 


[1] http://www.cairn.info/revue-etudes-rurales-2002-3-page-283.htm

[2] http://tas.sagepub.com/content/21/1/55.full.pdf+html

[3] http://santiagotimes.cl/qa-award-winning-indigenous-poet-jaime-luis-huenun/

[4] https://www.academia.edu/3268117/Two_Mapuche_Poets_translation_and_introduction_

[5] http://upsidedownworld.org/main/chile-archives-34/3260-a-poetic-concept-of-identity-an-interview-with-mapuche-poet-david-aninir-guilitraro-

Launching of Rodrigo Rojas de Negri’s complete photographic archive

Next Tuesday, the complete photographic archive of Rodrigo Rojas de Negri was presented at Universidad de Chile. The archive, which comprises over 7,000 photographs, slides, documents, posters and audio visual material, forms part of the investigative project “Archivo Rodrigo Rojas de Negri” which is partly financed by Fondart Regional 2015.

Montserrat Rojas Corradi, curator of the exhibition “An Exile Without Return” which includes Rojas’s work, describes the photographer as “not only a victim of human rights during the dictatorship, but also a photographer portraying Chile during that period.”

Rojas was burned alive in 1986 by a military patrol. Carmen Gloria Quintana, who was also targeted by the military, survived the attack but remained heavily scarred.

A Temporary Suspension of Exile in Chile: An Interview with Former MIR Militant Hugo Marchant

 

(First published in Upside Down World)

Chile’s supreme court of appeals has temporarily suspended the exile sentence imposed upon an ex-militant of the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR). Hugo Marchant was detained in 1973 for distributing leaflets containing anti-Pinochet propaganda and later became a member of the (MIR) while in exile. Marchant entered Chile clandestinely in 1980 as part of a guerilla group opposing Pinochet’s dictatorship. 

Accused of involvement in the killing of Santiago General Carol Urzúa Ibáñez, Marchant and his family were arrested and tortured by Centro Nacional de Intelligencia (CNI) agents. Following nine years of imprisonment, Marchant’s sentence was commuted to exile during Patricio Aylwin’s presidency. Founded in 1965 by left-wing students, MIR quickly established support in Santiago, especially from working class neighborhoods. MIR supported Salvador Allende; however the group expected more radical social reforms. Nevertheless, prior to the military coup, MIR began contacting junior officers within the army, urging them to support the civilian elected government. With Allende overthrown by Pinochet’s military dictatorship in 1973, MIR were targeted and thousands of members, including the leaders, were arrested and killed, with those surviving the clampdown fleeing from Chile.

Marchant’s previous attempts to enter Chile were quickly repudiated by the Chilean authorities. Now nearing the end of his first exile sentence, Marchant’s renewed attempt to enter Chile brought about a legal triumph. Upon presenting his passport, Marchant found himself detained by the police and subsequently deported to Buenos Aires, where he awaited the final decision of Chile’s supreme court of appeals. Echoing Marchant’s adamant opinion that legalities were in his favour, the judiciary declared the temporary lifting of the exile, granting Marchant fifteen days, starting on December 29, 2011 at 9:30am, to visit Chile and be reunited with his family.

The appeal has garnered a lot of media attention as well as support from human rights and activists groups. It is estimated that between 1500 – 2000 MIR militants have been killed, exiled or disappeared by the Pinochet dictatorship. A few ex-militants remain exiled; their sentences will be nearing completion between 2012 and 2014.

The supreme court declared that Chile had transgressed the 1993-1994 American Convention of Human Rights (Article 22:5) and the Pact of Civil and Political Rights (Article 12:4) which specifically states that no one can be banished from national territory and no one can arbitrarily prevent anyone from re entering one’s own country.

Ramona Wadi: How did you become involved in MIR?
Hugo Marchant: I was a member of Frente de Estudiantes Revolucionarios (FER) during my years as a student at the military high school. FER was the students’ social front of (MIR). In 1977 I entered the party while in exile.

RW: What was your role within the movement?
HM: I was to enter Chile clandestinely in November 1980, as part of the Central Force in the area of logistics.

RW: At what point during Pinochet’s dictatorship were you and your family arrested?
HM: On Tuesday September 7, 1980 at 13:45pm I was stopped by a score of Central Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI) agents in the San Pablo con Bandera province. My family was arrested by the same intelligence body in Serrano. The agents arrested my wife, Silvia Sepulveda Aedo, my daughter Javiera who was eight months old, and my son Pablo, aged 4. My son, Simon, was hidden by neighbors for three days in the attic of a neighbouring house. My wife held Javiera in her arms while Pablo played with a little car in a cell at the CNI headquarters. The memory of these moments – the interrogation and torture, is so horrendous I cannot bear to talk about it.

RW: How did your memory of Chile alter during the nine years in prison and the subsequent nineteen years exiled in Finland?
HM: The nine years of imprisonment and nineteen years of banishment, exile, have not alienated me from my country or the struggle for Chile. Through the press, the reading of several testimonies has allowed me to retain the reality. The cruelty of this enforced exile is the emotional upheaval. I cannot walk with my kids and my wife through the streets which witnessed our struggles. I have been unable to mourn at the graves of my fallen comrades in battle. I failed to attend my mother’s funeral. Exile has prevented me from standing with the Mapuche people who are under military occupation of their land by the government in power. I have also been unable to accompany the students in their struggles. And during each day which passes in exile, I know I am suffering a wrongful conviction since fighting injustice and oppression is a legitimate cause.

RW: Did the Valech Commission* report have any effect on your case?
HM: The Valech report notes the violation of human rights committed in Chile and supports our defense. However, a new trial never materialized for me.

RW: What was the response from the government with regard to your case?
HM: The government’s response was a resounding ‘NO’. Not even the unanimous decision from the Commission of Human Rights in parliament, neither the authorisation allowing us time to file an appeal at the Appeals Court, were an impediment for the government to express its hatred for our history.

RW: Has your case created more awareness about the plight of exiled political prisoners in Chile?
HM: The strategy of attempting direct entry into Chile through the airport has been effective in demonstrating the injustice of exile. The laws of the state are in our favor, however the government reacted violently and expelled us. The publicity generated by the media garnered the attention of various social and political groups both nationally and internationally, effectively extending our campaign to terminate this exile. Social movements in Chile have expressed support in a concrete way for our cause. On an international level, a complaint is being filed with the Inter American Court of Human Rights since the state of Chile is violating international treaties to which it is supposed to adhere to.

RW: What do you think will influence the final decision of the appeal? The government or the judiciary?
HM: This is clear – a look at the history of political prisoners and judicial proceedings will show that the judiciary is the only way through which the political confrontation between the popular sectors in struggle and the state of domination or governance can be expressed. With our campaign, political facts have been installed in the political scene. Therefore if we continue accumulating the social and political support with our campaign, we will achieve a force that allows us to realize major actions. Meanwhile our people’s advances in pursuing the fight for human rights will change the legal results. At the international level it is important to perform specific tasks to raise awareness and opposition, such as sending letters to the Judiciary, the Ministry of Interior, The President of the Republic and repudiating manifest injustices such as banishment, exile and forced exile. Collection of signatures should be sent to Comite Fin Al Destierro Ahora – our committee which campaigns to end exile. Every initiative in favor of human rights, every stand against banishment, is a necessary initiative.

*The Valech Commission report is a record of abuses committed in Chile between 1973 – 1990, documenting over 38,000 political prisoners – most of them tortured.

 

‘A Poetic Concept of Identity’: An Interview with Mapuche Poet David Aniñir Guilitraro

(First published in Upside Down World)

The culture of Mapuche poetry has evolved into three distinctive forms: traditional, intellectual and urban. David Aniñir Guilitraro, an urban Mapuche poet from Santiago, has created a literary realm which connects the history of the Mapuche struggle to the social problems which the people face today.

 Guilitraro describes his book, Mapurbe, as ‘a poetic concept of identity’ which harbors ‘revenge against everything’. It is a response towards the culture of denial which has assailed the Mapuche people’s history. Each ‘democratic’ government since the fall of Pinochet’s dictatorship has contributed towards the oppression of the Mapuche, resulting in the people being marginalized and discriminated against. From the anti-terror law – a vestige of Pinochet’s dictatorship, to inadequate education in rural areas, to a repression of Mapuche culture, governments seem to be relying on distortion and manipulation to obliterate a history which has been mired in ethnocide and displacement of people for the sake of land acquisition. Mapurbe is a revolt against the treason of discrimination committed by governments and a reaffirmation of pride in Mapuche culture. 

Ramona Wadi: What are the dynamics of your poetry and which language dominates your poems?

David Aniñir Guilitraro: In developing my poetic language, I have made use of literary expressions which include colloquial language in order to give more significance to everyday speech. The influence of anti-poetry, as in the poems of Nicanor Parra, supports and installs communication between the poet and the audience. My poetry utilizes a hybrid language – it includes a babble of both Mapudungun and popular English words seeking to impart the aesthetics of language. But this aim is not always achieved – writing may corrupt the image, since it takes place at an independent pace within its own rhythm.

RW: What is Mapurbe about?

DAG: It is a half-open view to a world of identity reconstruction in urban Mapuche. The political and social context which has occurred in Latin American, indigenous people go hand in hand with artistic expression. Mapurbe poetics is an aesthetic concept in tune with the artistic movement in Chile. The revival of a culture that modifies to survive, adapting new forms of expression which are proposing a cultural and political reflection. A vanguard expression of art which has questioned its origin and now identifies itself as Mapuche. This state of culture should not propose a contemporary form of identification before a culture of domination. Therefore, it is a culture which is in constant motion. That’s Mapurbe – a poetic concept of identity and part of the people’s contemporary heritage.

RW: How is the Mapuche identity constructed in your poetry?

DAG: I have not constructed anything, except for my poetry. My poetry exists within a combination of influences affecting the indigenous youth. It is attuned to the complexity of cultural fusion. I have had people telling me that my poetry encompasses many experiences of the new generations: the disappointment, the search for identity, a sense of belonging to the people…the community. Everything was included, only Mapurbe visualizes these experiences with a poetic language, giving a new but equivalent meaning.

RW: What is your role as a Mapuche poet in the current political context?

DAG: As a poet I am a good worker! My work is a creative subject which contributes to the cultural development of our people, both in discussion and action. Being a cultural manager of several actions we can be attuned within our culture and society at large – our expressions are rendered valid across.

RW: In what context does the ‘revenge’ in your poetry take place?

DAG: It is a revenge on the historical and systematic way in which the rights of the Mapuche people have been violated. My construction of the subject should be read within the context of discrimination and deprivation. We are the children of dispossession, of the exile suffered by our parents. This is Mapurbe – the response to such racism and denial today. Mapuche people have suffered as political prisoners, been subjected to murder, flawed trials and judicial assembly, militarization of communities – all these things are undeniable in our history. That’s my poetic art – corrosive, foul, crude. It is a poetic revenge on everything.

RW: Is there a repression of Mapuche culture and language, and does your poetry strive to promote unity between the Mapuche people and their heritage?

DAG: I told you – my poetry is attuned to the whole Mapuche movement. Even though in the city our native language Mapudungun is not promoted, it has changed the significance of culture. This is a phenomenon which has been going on for approximately twenty years.

RW: Explain the motivation in your poetry and how your perception regenerated a new form of poetry.

DAG: Being able to promote my work is not vanity, to invent genres or something like that. It’s just poetry and, if it is clear, this is a success. What motivate me are aspects of life – the personal tendency towards the edge, the limit. Love, disillusion and essential feelings. My childhood experiences were replete with a burden of social discrimination; I lived through poverty, hunger and violence. This is why I have an affinity for rock, or the punk counterculture attitude.

RW: Would you describe your poetry as an anthropological discourse? And which is the deeper involvement in your poetry – the poet or the Mapuche as a collective memory and experience?

It is an ethnographic poetic testimony, based on experience transmitted through stories, music and visuals – many young Mapuche are indentifying with this. To quote one of my own poems, “I am not the writer / it is poetry that writes for me / it comes to shake me with dreams / in the night I wake up / with Mapuche voices / they want to cry and laugh at me through verse. I have never pretended to understand a poet. The bond with my Mapuche ancestors is something which until now I cannot understand, but through the ancestral legacy I sense the manifestation of strength and endurance.

RW: Is Mapuche history manipulated by politics?

DAG: Official policy recounts its own version of the story – it happens with all oppressed people and with our history it is no exception. The victors tell their story with an ideological difference. In the academic arena there is a story based on fabrication, but many are concerned with investigating the circumstances that led the nascent state to invade an autonomous territory at the expense of massacring people. This genocide is known as the Pacification of Araucanía – Chile and Argentina in the Desert Campaign. Ethnocide was committed on both sides of the Andes Mountain which led to territorial dispossession. Lurking beneath the official version, which excludes the version of the defeated, is the framework within which to develop indigenous policies. The phrase “History is written by the people” is completely coherent in accordance to how we repair to make our historical narrative objective.

RW: To what extent are the Mapuche visible participants in Chile?

DAG: Within the framework of institutional policies needs are attended to, seeking to diminish the sources of conflict. Deep demands are met with political repression, imprisonment and harassment. 
The standard dual role of the various ‘democratic’ governments since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship is based on neoliberal economic policies, to the detriment of the rights of communities in Southern Chile.

In a clear socialization of the Mapuche people’s demands, public sympathy has been towards the Mapuche. Long strikes in Chile have made the Mapuche political prisoners. In the context of the struggles which have occurred in different episodes, society has become aware that the Mapuche conflict has a solid basis in history that transforms into the cultural, becoming a display of enchantment for the Mapuche.

RW: How does your poetry combat discrimination and violence against Mapuche? By taking an offensive or defensive role?

DAG: Defensive. The offensive deserves a more cosmetic treatment against the status quo of the established paradigms in power – that’s my revenge poetry. The offensive has been reversed; a racist society that negates the different, intolerant, homophobic. I have nothing, but the defensive is a reflection – an observation from the small universe of how I perceive the world.

RW: Do you perceive your poetry to be solely relevant to the Mapuche, or it has the capacity to transcend borders?

DAG: What happened with my poetry was beyond, of course. A short circuit that incurs more of a political than artistic dimension – that’s my feeling. Poetry bears the burden in my case. I was fortunate to travel to Europe with a group of Latin Americans involved in alternative art. Some of my poems were translated in Berlin, even in France. I could see that the poetic language connects with human sensibilities. Both misery and beauty are repeated in all corners of the planet. Poetry always had the ability to transcend human boundaries, verifying the humanity in us – that’s the quality inherent in art in general. In Argentina, Mapuche identity is installed in the young through punk rock, metal and hip hop; they become attuned to the culture and vindication of identity.

RW: Do you have any forthcoming projects?

DAG: I intend to write a book that narrates my experiences through prose. A brother scholar suggested I should create a narration in the voices of characters of Mapurbe, related in prose. It is an exercise in narrative, which will cost me more than poetry. But through further observation it makes sense to delve into another literary genre. It is an exploration where the poems are the end through which a new form of literature emerges. I call it prose poetry.

In addition I am also creating audio visual poems – an experiment in visual poetic imagery.

My time is dedicated to the creation of expression, given the conditions. Many other artists should make an effort to form part of the creative dynamics since wage labour and survival are gruelling challenges. We can impart an attitude of resistance – the spirit to break the status quo.

Krassnoff and other former DINA agents on list for parole

Miguel Krassnoff Martchekno, Pedro Espinoza Bravo and 10 other former DINA and CNI agents serving multiple life sentences for atrocities committed during the dictatorship, including torture, extermination and disappearances, are on the list presented by the military to the Santiago Court of Appeals for possible parole.

According to El Ciudadano, the government, through justice minister Jamie Campos, has denied knowledge of this process.

Pablo Neruda: A Poet Possibly Poisoned By A CIA Agent Working For Pinochet

(First published in Mint Press News)

Tuesday marks the anniversary of a suspicious death during Chile’s dictatorship era – that of Chilean poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda on Sept. 23, 1973. Renowned for his passionate and politically-charged poetry, Neruda was one of the intellectuals greatly feared by Augusto Pinochet and his U.S.-backed dictatorship.

Culture – one of the pillars of President Salvador Allende’s revolutionary process – was to be severely suppressed by the dictatorship and its propagators tortured, murdered or exiled. Starting with la nueva canción Chilena, a revolutionary folk music movement, and moving on to the dissemination of literature, Neruda would become a prime target for the dictatorship following the suspicious circumstances under which Allende met his own death.

It is certain that Allende died during the coup staged by Pinochet’s forces. What remains unclear, however, is how. With the presidential palace La Moneda surrounded by Pinochet’s forces, Allende either committed suicide — as the official account of his death states — or was assassinated on Sept. 11, 1973.

As with Allende, there is a degree of uncertainty surrounding Neruda’s death. Official records indicate that the poet succumbed to advanced prostate cancer. This narrative remained uncontested until testimony from Manuel Araya, Neruda’s personal assistant and chauffeur, revealed a sinister plot culminating in the premeditated murder of the poet at the Santa Maria Clinic in Santiago, where Neruda sought refuge until plans for exile in Mexico were finalized.

In 2011, Manuel Araya declared himself the sole witness to Neruda’s murder, an act allegedly perpetrated by a CIA agent also working under the dictatorship. “I only ask that the truth is uncovered. The truth is, Neruda did not die a natural death. Neruda died by injection,” Araya insisted.

A compelling case for CIA involvement

Investigative reporter and author Francisco Marín has written extensively about the case, with his research being published in a 2012 book titled “El Doble Asesinato de Neruda” (“The Double Murder of Neruda”). Based on extensive testimony offered by Araya, forensic evidence, and the circumstances surrounding the upholding of the official version despite the dissonance, Marín has managed to present a compelling case that the poet had indeed been murdered by the dictatorship.

Prior to his arrival at the Santa Maria Clinic, Neruda, a staunch Allende supporter and advisor, had been abandoned with his wife, Matilde Urrutia, and Araya at La Isla Negra, the poet’s coastal residence. Their only possible means of communication was a transmitter, which they used to contact the Mexican embassy.

Neruda’s plans following the takeover of the presidential palace involved going into exile to establish a proper resistance abroad. With the Mexican ambassador’s help, Neruda was transferred to the clinic by ambulance, where he would stay until plans for his exile were finalized. The voyage was replete with checks and surveillance. Such a wholly humiliating ordeal was a speciality of the Tejas Verdes contingent — the brigade under the command of Direccion de Inteligencia Nacional (the National Intelligence Directorate, or DINA) chief Manuel Contreras which was responsible for the worst atrocities committed during the dictatorship era.

On Sept. 22, Neruda was advised that the plane offering safe passage to Mexico would leave Chile two days later, on Sept. 24. As Matilde and Araya returned from La Isla Negra after packing the poet’s belongings, they claim to have discovered that something had been injected into Neruda’s stomach. Only moments later, Araya was entreated by a doctor at the clinic to “urgently buy a remedy that is unavailable in the clinic.” Sent to an obscure street away from the center of Santiago, Araya was ambushed, beaten, and wounded in the leg, then he was transferred to the Estadio Nacional — Chile’s national stadium which had been transformed into a detention and torture camp under Pinochet. Here, Araya endured severe torture by DINA.

The location of Neruda’s death and the suspected identity of the “doctor” who allegedly administered the toxic injection to the poet are especially significant points to examine. The Santa Maria Clinic has, in recent years, come under greater scrutiny with regard to human rights violations committed during the dictatorship era. Former Chilean President Eduardo Frei died at the clinic following surgery in 1982. While his death was officially attributed to sepsis, it was later alleged that Frei had been administered toxic substances during his hospitalization, making Frei’s death another crime attributed to DINA.

Meanwhile, biological and chemical weapons experimentation formed a significant part of Pinochet’s dictatorship, with newly manufactured weapons routinely tested on tortured detainees. The manufacturing was the responsibility of biochemist Eugenio Berrios and former CIA and DINA agent Michael Townley, a U.S. citizen currently living under the witness protection program in his home country. Dr. Sergio Draper, a doctor who worked at the clinic during Neruda’s stay, has named Townley as the unidentified doctor who allegedly administered the toxic injection to the poet.

Townley’s stint in DINA was recorded by several witnesses, who have even placed him at the notorious Cuartel Simon Bolivar extermination site. Jorgelino Vergara Bravo, a former errand boy working under the command of DINA chief Contreras who was later transferred to the extermination center, witnessed Townley experiment with chemical weapons upon two indigenous detainees. Townley was also involved in the assassination of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier in Washington, on Sept. 21, 1976, for which he was convicted and sentenced to 62 months in prison in 1978.

Meanwhile, shortly before his death, right wing-affiliated newspapers La Tercera and El Mercurio had slowly started reporting about Neruda’s allegedly deteriorating health. According to Marín’s research, Pinochet sought to quell Chilean sensitivity and forthcoming indignation at Neruda’s impending death by issuing a statement: “Neruda is not dead. He is alive and free to travel wherever he likes, as befits other people of old age and struck with infirmity. We do not kill anyone and, if Neruda dies, it will be of natural causes.”

On Sept. 23, El Mercurio reported that Neruda’s health had taken a turn for the worse — a report that coincided with the day the toxic injection was allegedly administered to Neruda.

Within the wider framework, the suspicious circumstances of Neruda’s death align perfectly with the brutal dynamics of the dictatorship. As with nueva canción musicians, writers and intellectuals were also targeted by the dictatorship, with many of them going into exile to escape torture and imprisonment. While attempts to fund and form resistance abroad resulted in predictable splits within the groups, Pinochet’s obsession with overseas opposition led to extreme measures of surveillance through collaboration with various agencies and embassies, as documented by authors Mauricio Weibel and Carlos Dorat. Had Neruda managed to escape Chile, a political resistance acknowledged abroad might have endured, as Allende had frequently visited Neruda at La Isla Negra, seeking the Communist Party member’s political advice.

Exhuming Neruda’s remains

In April 2013, Pablo Neruda’s remains were exhumed to be tested for toxic substances, in order to challenge the state’s official stance that Neruda had succumbed to advanced and metastatic prostate cancer. The process leading to the legal order was fraught with difficulties, not least because the Neruda Foundation refused to cooperate, adamantly insisting upon the official version as the truth. Marín has uncovered other disturbing details about the Neruda Foundation, including its affiliation with Ricardo Claro, a torture coordinator under Pinochet’s dictatorship, who ran the Chilean enterprise Cristalerías Chile which provided funding to the dictatorship.

Preliminary investigations were inconclusive, determining that while no toxic substances were discovered in Neruda’s remains, further tests were to be conducted – thus leaving open the possibility of assassination.

Communist Party lawyer Eduardo Contreras has also requested DNA testing upon the remains to confirm that the exhumed body was indeed Neruda’s. Though ridiculed by many, this insistence on DNA tests is not excessive. In the 1980s Pinochet ordered the exhumation and destruction of the bodies of dictatorship victims under the codename “La Operación Retiro de Televisores” (“Operation of TV Removals”). It’s possible that Neruda’s body may have been substituted for another.

Speaking to Marín, it is evident that impunity retains a stronghold in Chile, while the lack of conclusive evidence has kept the story away from prominent media.

“I feel that no significant progress has been made. Last November the international commission of experts who analyzed the case failed to reach a determined conclusion,” Marín told MintPress News. “What has been repeated in the press is that Neruda was suffering from advanced cancer, thus the interested in the subject had dwindled. But the truth is that there is no proof that Neruda was suffering from advanced cancer.”

On the subject of forensic evidence, Marín has spoken at length to forensic expert Luis Ravanal, who pointed out the medical inconsistencies that cast doubt upon the officially disseminated version of Neruda’s death.

Additionally, Marín noted that Neruda’s family, represented by legal attorney Rodolfo Reyes, asked for public clarification with regard to the presence of metastasis in the exhumed remains of Neruda, yet that request was not upheld.

“The cause has also been severely affected by the fact that the most active player in this case, lawyer Eduardo Contreras, was appointed as ambassador to Uruguay, thus leaving a void with regard to the duties necessary to reach a conclusion in this case,” he said.

However, Marín reserved harsh criticism for Chile’s Servicio Medico Legal (SML) – the entity responsible for forensic investigation with regard to crimes committed during the dictatorship era.

“The most unfortunate thing is that the SML still does not recognize the obvious. Neruda was not suffering from cachexia at the time of death, as inscribed in the official documents from the Clinica Santa Maria and which was reproduced on the death certificate,” he said.

Impunity and collaboration

The case of Pablo Neruda’s assassination reflects impunity and collaboration as prominent themes running throughout Chile’s dictatorship era and even into the present. Once again, the diverging memory frameworks in Chile are resonant, with agencies related to the state rarely discovering evidence that contradicts the widely corrupt disseminated narrative.

With regard to Neruda, the official version of his death has been formidably challenged by both Araya and Marín – the latter skilfully portraying the dynamics of the dictatorship, evident within other narratives, through the lens of Neruda’s particular case.

Rather than relying on the usual tactics of right-wing versus left-wing narratives, Neruda’s case should be considered as part of the multitude of human rights violations committed by the dictatorship – the murder of a man, as many others had been murdered, with one striking difference: In eliminating Neruda, Pinochet stood to extend his own political survival. Hence, forthcoming proof that Neruda had been murdered would constitute an addition to a series of politically motivated crimes — a means to ensure the permanent elimination of political opposition that could have properly challenged the dictatorship.

Report discredits official version of Pablo Neruda’s death

pablo-nerudaThe panel of experts investigating the death of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda have discredited the official version which stipulates the cause of death as metastatic prostate cancer. While the cause of death is still unknown, there is unanimous consensus that the statement issued by the dictatorship is false, thus paving the way for additional investigations.

Judge Mario Carroza, who ordered the previous exhumations of Neruda’s remains, is expected to receive the expert’s report this evening, after which decisions regarding the judicial process and investigations will be decided. 

Neruda’s chauffeur, Manuel Araya, has repeatedly insisted that the poet was murdered at the Clinica Santa Maria by a doctor who injected a toxic substance in his abdomen. It has been alleged that the doctor administering the injection, known only as Dr Price, is the former CIA and DINA agent Michael Townley, now living under protection in the US.

In 1982, former Chilean Eduardo Frei Montalva was murdered at the Clinica Santa Maria by the Pinochet dictatorship. While undergoing surgery, Frei was poisoned with toxins manufactured by biochemist Eugenio Berrios.

Both Townley and Berrios were assigned duties related to the manufacturing of biological and chemical weapons during the Pinochet dictatorship.