CIA

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.

Crimes Of US-Backed Dictatorship Era Still Being Prosecuted In Chile

(First published in Mint Press News)

Two recent developments in Chile have reignited the struggle for memory against Augusto Pinochet’s lasting culture of oblivion. On Aug. 7, Chileans on both sides of the political spectrum either lamented or celebrated the death of Manuel Contreras, former head of Pinochet’s National Intelligence Services (DINA).

Contreras’ death ignited a fresh surge of rage and indignation, as the families of the over 3,000 disappeared still face an uphill struggle against the state and the military to uncover details regarding the murder and disappearance of their relatives.

Prior to Contreras’ death, Chilean media had announced investigations into another case from the dictatorship era — the burning of photographer Rodrigo Rojas and student Carmen Gloria Quintana, during a street demonstration on July 2, 1986. On July 21, Judge Mario Carroza ordered the arrest of two former army officers and five former non-commissioned officers, charging them with premeditated murder in the burning death of Rojas and attempted homicide against Quintana. The case in Chile is known as Caso Quemados (“the case of the burned”).

The arrests came on the heels of former conscript Fernando Guzmán revealing the identity of the commander responsible for Rojas’ death. During an interview on Chilean television, Guzmán named Julio Castañer, the head of Intelligence Section II, who, according to Guzmán, was also involved in cases related to the Chilean disappeared.

Rojas, the son of political exile and torture survivor Veronica de Negri, grew up in Washington, D.C. He visited Chile in May 1986, when he was 19, as part of a group who, on the morning of July 2, 1986, attempted to photograph a two-day national strike against the dictatorship in a Santiago neighborhood. The military descended upon the group, capturing Rojas and Quintana.

According to witnesses, including Quintana herself, both were severely beaten by the military, doused with gasoline and set on fire. The military patrol dumped Rojas and Quintana in a ditch on the outskirts of Santiago, where they were later discovered by locals and taken to the hospital. However, officials refused to have them transferred to a hospital that could treat the severity of their burns. Rojas died four days later. Quintana suffered severe disfigurement and received her treatment in Canada, including around 40 operations.

In an interview with CNN Chile last month, Rojas’ mother Verónica de Negri spoke about government complicity in concealing crimes pertaining to the dictatorship, describing former presidents Patricio Aylwin, Eduardo Frei and Ricardo Lagos as “criminals who protected Pinochet.”

The Concertación governments — a coalition of center-left political parties that won every election from the time military rule ended in 1990 until right-wing Sebastián Piñera’s electoral victory in 2010 — maintained the pact of silence enforced upon society by Pinochet. Hence, the state and the military were allowed to maintain a veil secrecy over details of execution, torture, disappearances and other horrors perpetrated against Chileans under the dictatorship.

“Lagos,” de Negri told CNN, “attended my son’s funeral to garner support for his presidential candidacy.”

The Rojas’ case: A turning point for the US

A trove of declassified documents reveals the CIA’s role in supporting and even arming violent right-wing factions in Chile to bring about the downfall of democratically-elected socialist President Salvador Allende’s presidency. With Allende at the helm, Chile was perceived by the U.S. as a country capable of instigating a wave of socialist revolutions in South America and thus extending the Cuban Revolution’s triumph further within the continent.

Acts of economic sabotage, instances of funding violence, and motions of impunity for torturers have all been well-documented, but Rojas’ case presents both a turning point and a contrast in U.S. involvement in Chile.

The declining support for Pinochet during the Reagan administration showed the U.S. as taking a more active interest in the Rojas case, given the U.S. government’s priority of ensuring that left-wing opposition would not create another revolution. The aim was to preserve the foundations enshrined by Pinochet while creating conditions necessary for a possible transition.

Declassified documents from the National Security Archives reveal the extents to which the U.S.-backed dictatorship, on orders from Pinochet himself, would go to ensure evidence and testimony would be silenced. Five days after Rojas died, Chilean chief of police Gen. Rodolfo Stange presented Pinochet with a report that identified the army units responsible for the immolations of Rojas and Quintana, which Pinochet flatly rejected.

On July 14, 1986, Rojas’ murder was the subject of the Presidential Evening Reading, according to a declassified document, and the only time an atrocity committed by the U.S.-backed dictatorship ended up on the agenda — the reason being Rojas’ status as the son of a political refugee residing in the U.S. The document acknowledges the dictatorship’s transmission of false information, such as attempting to persuade the public that Rojas and Quintana were “victims of their own Molotov cocktails.”

Another document reveals that Chilean police were reluctant to continue their investigations into the crime, deciding instead to hand over responsibility for investigation to the army. According to a declassified U.S. Embassy cable, Gen. Stange delivered a single-page report identifying the army patrol unit responsible for the violence inflicted upon Rojas and Quintana to Pinochet on July 11. According to the document, which cites a “reliable source within the Carabineros,” the uniformed Chilean national police force: “President Pinochet told General Stange that he did not believe the report, and he refused to receive the report from General Stange.” Further, an unidentified army official declared that “the case would be resolved within 48 hours,” followed by a notification by the army that “according to the source of the above information, as of yet there is no witness who saw anyone set the youths on fire.”

Pinochet wasn’t the only one to dismiss the case. Chilean journalist Alejandra Matus posted a callous comment that had been uttered by Pinochet’s wife, Lucía Hiriart, regarding Quintana: “Why is this child complaining when she suffered little burns?” Quintana remains scarred for life.

Government intimidation was the source of another declassified document, which showed that Chilean security forces threatened and detained witnesses to change their testimony on what happened to Rojas and Quintana, in order to avoid implicating the military.

While the Rojas case is cited as a reason why U.S. support for Pinochet’s dictatorship declined during the Reagan administration, the mounting protests against the repressive policies of the dictatorship created an alternative hypothetical scenario for the U.S. — that of growing left-wing mobilization against neoliberalism which would ultimately affect U.S interests in the region.

According to Peter Kornbluh, author of “The Pinochet File,” “Reagan admired Pinochet and wanted to go to Chile to personally thank him for ‘saving Chile’ and tell him [Pinochet] that ‘it was time to go.’”

US intelligence played ‘a fundamental role’ in the murders of two American citizens

However, U.S. complicity in torture and violence, the Rojas case and subsequent interest contrasts the official reaction to the deaths of Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi. The American citizens working and studying in Santiago, respectively, were arrested, tortured and murdered in Chile in 1973, following their investigations into U.S. complicity in overthrowing Salvador Allende.

American interest in the Rojas case did not stem from the fact that the victim was a U.S. resident being immolated. Rather, the State Department was safe to pursue details of the case due to the government’s growing need to detach itself from Pinochet’s systematic abuse of power.

Conversely, the deaths of Horman and Teruggi in the early days of the dictatorship would have been a liability for the U.S., given the involvement in the crime of U.S. military officers stationed in Valparaiso, one of the bases for both Chilean and U.S. coup plotters. In fact, a State Department document clearly mentions the complicity of U.S. intelligence forces in the murders of Horman and Teruggi.

In 2011, Chile’s Supreme Court indicted two former Chilean intelligence officers and U.S. Navy Capt. Ray E. Davis, who headed U.S. military operations in Chile at the time of the coup, in connection with the deaths of Horman and Teruggi.

“The military intelligence services of the United States had a fundamental role in the creation of the murders of the two American citizens in 1973, providing Chilean military officers with the information that led to their deaths,” the ruling by Judge Jorge Zepeda said.

However, the U.S. is said to have not been served with a 2012 extradition request for Davis, who Chilean authorities had long believed was living in Florida. It later emerged that he had been secretly living in Chile, where he died in 2013 without ever facing trial.