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Pablo Neruda
AP Photo/Laurent Rebours
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SUSPECT

Pablo Neruda officially died of cancer, but a panel of forensic scientists disagrees

By Thu-Huong Ha

Nearly half a century after Pablo Neruda supposedly died from natural causes, rumors are swirling again about foul play.

The celebrated Chilean poet died in 1973, with cachexia from cancer recorded as the official cause of death. But a panel of 16 investigators, commissioned by a Chilean judge, issued a report Friday that contradicts this. They say they believe there’s no chance Neruda died of cancer.

“The fundamental conclusions are the invalidity of the death certificate when it comes to cachexia as a cause of death,” Aurelio Luna, one of the scientists, told the Associated Press.

The panel hasn’t said anything conclusive about how the poet did die, but it will next try to identify deadly bacteria found in Neruda’s molar.

Neruda died at age 69, two weeks after the military coup of Augusto Pinochet. He had been a close friend of the socialist president Salvador Allende and a critic of Pinochet. Neruda planned to go into exile in Mexico after the takeover, but before he could leave he was taken to a clinic in Santiago. (He did have prostate cancer, but it wasn’t life-threatening.)

In 2011, Neruda’s former driver, Manuel Araya, claimed that the Nobel winner had been murdered, alleging that the poet told Araya someone with access to his private clinic room had injected him with poison. A Chilean judge had Neruda’s body exhumed in 2013, and remains were sent to forensic scientists in Canada and Denmark.