Pablo Neruda's Legacy

October 10, 2016

Pablo Neruda, the famed Chilean poet, is scheduled to be exhumed for a second time in less than three years in order to test his body for possible poisoning, which would support the claim that his death was a murder rather than the result of prostate cancer. In April 2013, his remains were exhumed in order to determine whether or not he was actually killed by poison during the 1973 coup of Augusto Pinochet. Neruda died on September 23, 1973, shortly after the September 11 attacks of La Moneda (Chilean Presidential Palace) in which the former president, Salvador Allende, committed suicide and the Pinochet regime took over.1 The first autopsy, ordered by Judge Mario Carroza and supported by the Pablo Neruda Foundation2 showed no signs of foul play. This second autopsy “will look for inorganic or heavy metals… [to detect] if there is any cellular or protein damage caused by chemical agents, whereas the prior testing looked specifically for the remains of poison.” The tests are aimed at revealing whether or not Pinochet’s people murdered Neruda, as he was a communist and avid supporter of President Allende.1

Neruda, whose birth name was Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, began his writing career at a fairly young age, thirteen, as a contributor to local publications and journals. His first published work came at the age of nineteen with his collection of poems Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair). The Chilean government made him an honorary consul, which carried him to Burma, Ceylon, Java, Singapore, Buenos Aires, and Madrid. It was during Neruda’s time in Spain that he became a political writer, as the Spanish Civil War and the murder of Spanish poet Federico García Lorca drove him to write his collection of poems, España en el corazón (Spain in the Heart), during the height of the war. Two years following his 1943 return to Chile, Neruda was elected a Senator of the Republic while also joining the communist party. Unfortunately, he had to live underground for several years due to his protests against President González Videla and his policies against striking miners in 1947. He successfully fled in 1949, and after living in several European countries, returned in 1953 to Chile and published several works in the following years that demonstrated his political ideologies, namely Las uvas y el viento (The Grapes and the Wind) and Odas elementales (Elemental Odes). For his works, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971.3

His political career continued, as in 1969 Neruda announced his decision to run for the office of President of Chile. However, in 1970, he renounced his candidacy and instead he campaigned for socialist Salvador Allende in the 1970 election. As an apparent thanks to Neruda, Allende named him the Chilean Ambassador to France the year he was elected as Chile’s first socialist president. Both Allende’s presidency and Neruda’s position as ambassador were short-lived, however, as on September 11, 1973, Augusto Pinochet’s forces bombed the Chilean Presidential Palace, resulting in the death of Allende. Pinochet took over as President and Dictator of Chile within 24 hours. A short 12 days later, Neruda died of prostate cancer in Santiago, Chile.

Naturally, theories spread concerning the deaths of two of the most prominent figures in Chile during the revolution, especially when they occurred within two weeks of one another. The second exhumation should put to rest any doubts that anyone may have regarding the death of the poet. Although it is highly unlikely, if significant amounts of poison are found in Neruda’s body that substantiate the theory of his murder, his legacy as a Nobel Prize winner, political figure, and a literary great in Latin America will surely not be tarnished. 


 1. “Chile to reopen investigation into poet Neruda’s death.” Reuters. Jan. 21, 2015. Web. Feb. 16, 2015.

2. “Pablo Neruda foundation supports exhumation of Nobel Prize-winning poet’s body for autopsy.” The Independent. Feb. 9, 2013. Web. Feb. 15, 2015.

3. “The Nobel Prize in Literature 1971: Pablo Neruda.” Nobel Prize. 1971. Web. Feb. 18, 2015.

4. “La Vida del Poeta Cronología.” Universidad de Chile. Web. Feb. 19, 2015.

About Author(s)

Asa Equels's picture
Asa Equels
Asa Equels is a junior undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh studying Hispanic Languages and Literatures, as well as pursuing a Certificate in Latin American Studies. He is a member of the university's Cross Country and Track and Field teams. After graduation, Asa plans on continuing his education in graduate school, and hopes to become a teacher/professor and cross country/track coach.