Manuel Araya

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. 

 

 

Report detailing findings on Pablo Neruda’s death to be submitted this week

pablo-neruda

PABLO NERUDA

This week, a panel of international experts investigating the death of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, will be handing over to Judge Mario Carroza a report which is expected to confirm the assassination.

Manuel Araya, Neruda’s former chauffeur, declined from specific comments. He has, however, described his participation in the investigations as a duty to the poet’s memory and especially given that he was the last person to have seen Neruda prior to his death.

Neruda had been transferred to the Clinica Santa Maria where he was being treated for prostate cancer while awaiting arrangements to go into exile. Araya accompanied Neruda during his stay at the clinic, until he was asked to buy a prescription from outside the clinic upon doctor’s orders. Araya, however, was detained and taken to Estadio Nacional. 

The chauffeur has consistently maintained that Neruda was injected with a substance in his stomach by a doctor, presumably a DINA agent, named Dr Price. It is speculated that the identity of Dr Price might be Michael Townley, a US agent working for both the CIA and DINA and who is known to have experimented with chemical weapons upon detainees at Cuartel Simon Bolivar. 

The dictatorship’s official version was that Neruda had died from advanced prostate cancer. However, subtle preparation for Neruda’s death was disseminated through the media, warning Chileans that if Neruda died, it would be of natural causes. The timing of such statements so close to Neruda’s death indicate dictatorship complicity. 

El Doble Asesinato de Neruda

El-doble-asesinato-de-Neruda[1]Francisco Marin (Ocho Libros, 2012)

In light of the recent news regarding the investigations into Pablo Neruda’s death, the much maligned testimony of Neruda’s personal assistant and chauffeur Manuel Araya, is of significant importance. Denounced by the Chilean right as a leftist conspiracy, Araya’s declaration in the Mexican publication Proceso accusing the dictatorship of having assassinated Neruda by a lethal substance injected into his stomach created a furore and Chilean courts opened investigations into Neruda’s death, following a petition filed by Partido Comunista.  

El Doble Asesinato de Neruda (Ocho Libros, 2012) presents a compelling case based upon Araya’s testimony and the Fundación Neruda’s insistence upon adhering to the official version, which related the cause of death as happening from advanced and metastatic prostate cancer. The recent forensic investigations, partially completed since laboratories still have to test for toxic substances, have determined that Neruda was indeed suffering from advanced and metastatic prostate cancer, yet the authors Francisco Marín and Mario Casasús insist that medical records were void of such grim diagnosis and radiology reports did not specify the presence of metastatic cancer.

The book is described as ‘a reference to a biological and ideological crime’ – befitting the irregularities and contradictions which evolved through the years, as well as a possible manipulation of Chilean history. Prior to Neruda’s exhumation, the Foundation expressed its objection to the investigation, endorsing the dictatorship’s official statement and reiterating that there was no doubt that Neruda’s death had occurred due to natural causes. Despite the ambiguous statement indicating a lack of interest in constructing a vital segment of chile’s recent history, Marín and Casasús discover a more sinister network of contacts which may shed light upon why Neruda’s wish to bequeath La Isla Negra as a retreat for artists and intellectuals was disregarded. A betrayal of ideals ensued with the foundation became economically aligned with Cristalerías Chile – an enterprise owned by Ricardo Lagos, a torture coordinator as well as a financial supporter of Pinochet’s dicatatorship.

Prior to Neruda’s return to Chile from France where he was serving as ambassador, Araya was summoned to Santiago by leaders of the Communist Party and asked by Victor Díaz and Luis Corvalan whether he would accept the role of personal assistant and chauffeur to Pablo Neruda – a job which entailed a magnitude of commitment and responsibility. Araya describes Neruda as brimming with plans to strengthen the Communist Party in Chile, seeking ways to mobilise further support for Salvador Allende and concerned with establishing a cultural foundation for writers and intellectuals. Far from retiring to his home at La Isla Negra due to consuming illness, Neruda maintained an active political stance and frequently denounced US imperialism and interference in Chile, considering his role ‘a poetic, political and patriotic duty’ to prevent a right wing insurgency in the country. Among the frequent visitors to La Isla Negra were Salvador Allende, Voloida Teitelboim and Cardinal Raul Sílva Henríquez. The latter would attract the ire of the dictatorship and Vatican officials, who instructed the clergy to maintain a perfunctory role restricted to religious duties instead of campaigning against human rights violations and clamouring for investigations into the cases of Chile’s desaparecidos.

Considering Pinochet’s fear of leftist intellectuals destabilising the dictatorship from exile, the assassination scenario fits in perfectly with the later powers allocated to DINA and the deadly targeting of militants. In the aftermath of the coup, Neruda expressed the conviction that Allende had been murdered, despite the dictatorship’s proclamation of alleged suicide. The Tejas Verdes contingent paid their first visit to La Isla Negra on September 12, 1973, while Neruda fretted incessantly about the fate of his compañeros, sentiments fluctuating between the despair of abandonment and futility of defence. Knowing that the military would detain and torture Neruda for his involvement in the Allende government, discussions about the possibility of exile heightened, which would safeguard Neruda’s life and also provide him with the opportunity to initiate a formidable resistance.

Meanwhile La Tercera, a newspaper which was closely affiliated to the dictatorship, had started spreading rumours about Neruda’s allegedly debilitating illness. In an attempt to quell opposition suspicions of assassination, Pinochet issued a statement through Radio Luxemburgo. “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.” The book translates this ubiquitous statement as proof of constructing Neruda’s imminent annihilation.

Having left La Isla Negra to avoid the possibility of torture, Neruda, accompanied by his wife Matilde, and Araya, sought refuge at the Clínica Santa María. The exile offer by the Mexican government was at first repudiated, with Neruda vehemently declaring he would not assume a traitorous stance and betray his compañeros. After being briefed about the atrocities committed by the military, Neruda assumed a resilient stance, stating that he would lead the struggle against the dictatorship from exile in Mexico. On September 23, the newspaper El Mercurio contributed to the rumours by stating that Neruda had experienced a deterioration of health, coinciding with the injection administered by a doctor at the clinic at a time when the poet was alone, having sent Araya and Matilde on some errands prior to exile. Upon their return to the clinic, having been alerted of the suspicious circumstances by an employee, Araya was sent to buy medicine which, according to the doctor, was not available at the clinic. Upon his departure, Araya was ambushed and detained in Estadio Nacional. “I lost all contact with Neruda forever, I never saw him again. I believe it was a plot to detain me.”

Araya’s version of Neruda’s final hours has been discredited by the Fundación Neruda, despite the fact that all ‘official’ testimonies which have been endorsed by the foundation come from sources who had no access to the poet during his final days. Araya was beaten, subjected to electric shocks and asked to reveal the identities of Communist Party Leaders. He was released 45 days later following intervention by Raul Sílva Henríquez.

Matilde’s reluctance to denounce the alleged assassination was reciprocated by the foundation in later years. A solitary figure searching for ways to open an investigation, Araya’s efforts were shunned and the official version assumed the emblem of truth. The existence of the lethal injection would have been eliminated from collective memory, had it not been for Araya’s determination in maintaining his testimony. The official medical and death certificates obliterated its existence, citing cardiac arrest as the cause of death. Only when El Mercurio reported Neruda having been given ‘a tranquiliser’, did the injection suddenly spring into existence.

The possibility of Araya having invented his testimony in order to create a controversy fades when faced with the various contradictions and reluctance to properly investigate the cause of Neruda’s death. The authors hold Matilde responsible for the ensuing silence – it is reported that she had even tried to reach a compromise with Araya in return for relinquishing the quest for justice. She is also deemed responsible for the foundation’s betrayal of Neruda’s wishes, having entrusted the administration to individuals responsible for maintaining the dictatorship’s atrocities.

As we await the final results regarding the presence of toxic substances in Neruda’s remains, it is evident that, whatever the forensic verdict decrees, Neruda’s death will continue to hover within the confines of Chilean memory. The measures of impunity imposed by Pinochet to protect the network of torturers and murderers has rendered investigation a source of controversy and a means through which truth will remain eternally shrouded with a pervading negotiation of privilege over human rights violations.