Chile Investigates Deaths of Salvador Allende, Pablo Neruda

Chile is clearly a country not afraid to look the ghosts of its past in the face, ordering the investigation of the deaths of two of the country’s biggest national leftist symbols: Former President Salvador Allende and Poet Pablo Neruda. The investigations are part of the Supreme Court’s effort to investigate all human rights violations committed during the rule of General Augusto Pinochet. They are but two of hundreds of cases of desaparecidos (the disappeared) being looked into.

Allende’s body was also exhumed at the request of his family, which wants to settle once and for all whether rumors that he was killed as opposed to having committed suicide, are true. Doubt has long surrounded Allende’s September 11, 1973 death. The official report is that the Marxist leader shot himself with an AK-47 given to him by Cuban leader Fidel Castro as warplanes bombed the presidential palace during the coup that brought Pinochet to power. But the number, size and placement of the wounds has left doubt as to whether he was killed and his death was later staged to appear self-inflicted.

In Neruda’s case, Chile’s Communist party requested an investigation into the poet’s death, after his former driver asserted that he was poisoned by Pinochet operatives because of the beloved poet’s activism and support of Allende. The fervent Communist’s own estate has always asserted that he died of prostate cancer. The investigation may lead to an exhumation of Neruda’s remains from his grave at his beloved Isla Negra house. He died on September 23, 1973, 12 days after Allende.