Chilean poet Pablo Neruda may have been murdered by the Pinochet dictatorship

November 11, 2017 at 5:55 pm (anti-fascism, assassination, Chile, culture, good people, Latin America, literature, murder, poetry)

Pablo Neruda
Above:  Neruda

By John Cunningham

Recent autopsies suggest that the death of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda in 1973 was possibly caused by poisoning. This should surprise no-one even moderately acquainted with the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Neruda, arguably South America’s greatest poet and a staunch champion of the oppressed, was admitted to hospital at the time of Pinochet’s military coup which overthrew the left social-democratic government of Salvador Allende elected in 1971. 12 days later Neruda died of a heart attack – at least that was the official version. There have been rumours for many years that he was poisoned by agents of the Pinochet regime who wanted this opposition voice silenced forever. It is well-known that the Mexican government had offered Neruda asylum and even had a plane waiting for him at a nearby airport.

Neruda, the son of a railway worker, was born in 1904 and his first poem was published when he was only 13. In the mid-1930s he was forced to flee Chile after his vocal opposition to US exploitation of the Chilean economy. Ending up in Spain he joined the Republican movement returning to Chile only in 1943. He became a member of the Chilean Communist Party in 1945 but four years later he was again in disfavour with the authorities and he, once more, went into exile, returning in 1959. His poetic output was prolific and he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.

Ignoring the orders of Pinochet thousands turned out for his funeral in what was the first public display of opposition to the dictatorship. His spirit and example live on in his poetry. He once wrote:

‘On our earth, before writing was invented, before the printing press was invented, poetry flourished. That is why we know that poetry is like bread; it should be shared by all, by scholars and by peasants, by all our vast, incredible, extraordinary family of humanity.’

An excellent introduction to his poetry is The Essential Neruda published by Bloodaxe (in a Spanish/English bi-lingual edition). To give readers a flavour of his verse here are a few lines from my favourite Neruda poem, ‘El pueblo/The people’:

I think that those who made so many things
Ought to be the owners of everything.
That those who make bread ought to eat.

That those in the mine should have light.
Enough now of grey men in chains!
Enough of the pale souls who have disappeared!
Not another man should pass except as ruler.
Not one woman without her diadem.
Gloves of gold for every hand.

Fruits of the sun for all the shadowy ones!


  1. petrel41 said,

    See also the blog posts here

    including ones about possible murder,

  2. Ben said,

    Funny that his publisher is called Bloodaxe. Neruda has been accused of complicity in the murder of Trotsky.

    • Glasgow Working Class said,

      That would be a crime if true however most Stalinists would have been happy that Stalin had the man done tae death.

  3. John Cunningham said,

    Ben, I’ve never heard anything about this – do you have any further information?

    • Ben said,

      Google “neruda trotsky murder”. We’ll all be interested in your opinion on the matter.

      • John Cunningham said,

        Not sure if I can add anything but here’s a few guesses:

        1) The attempt on Trotsky’s life in which Siquerias was one of the leading lights was a completely incompetent botched affair. I’m writing from memory but at least six gunmen burst into the house (possibly aided and abetted by Sheldon Harte, one of the guards) showered bullets everywhere but still failed to achieve their aim. It seems quite probable that Neruda was involved in getting Siquerias out of the way but in the absence of any readily available documentary evidence I can only speculate. I’ve checked what resources I have on the whole affair, including “Stalin’s Nemesis” by Bertrand Patenaude (probably the most thorough account), the Deutscher trilogy and a few others but can find no mention of Neruda. If he had a role then it seems quite likely that it was a minor, secondary one – i.e. helping the blundering Siquerias get out of the country.

        2) After the debacle of the so-called ‘Commando’ raid, codenamed ‘Operation Horse’ (after Siquerias’ nickname!). The hardmen from Moscow took over. The next attempt on Trotsky’s life – the successful one – was a much more ‘Muscovite’ operation using a lone assassin, the Catalan Ramon Mercader (aka Jacques Monard) with little Mexican input. I’m sure Neruda had no part in this as the operation (codenamed ‘Operation Duck!!) was confined to just a few people: the assassin, his mother, Vittorio Vitalli (aka ‘Carlos’), the Moscow overseer Grigolevich…maybe a couple of others. This is the way Moscow usually worked. Assasinations were carried out by small teams, sometimes just one individual with a small support team in the background. This was the way most Trotskyists around the world, when targetted by the GPU, were bumped off, (including probably Trotsky’s son Leon Sedov, another example would be Ignace Reiss). I get the impression they regarded the Mexicans as just a blundering bunch of incompetent cowboys and were keen to take over and get Siquerias out of the way.

        Just as an observation: I am often struck by the centrality of the Spanish Civil War in the operations of the GPU/NKVD. All volunteers for the International Brigade had to give in their passports which were never returned, so this gave the Soviet secret service an invaluable ‘arsenal’ of identities which their agents could use (Mercader used the passport of a Canadian killed in action in Spain) The ‘war’ against the Trotskyists became international in the thirties and, no longer able to pack off their opponents to Siberia, the GPU/NKVD developed sophisticated techniques for bumping people off (including, for example a bomb in a box of chocolates). In this respect the actual assassination of Trotsky was surprisingly crude. In a sense Spain was a testing/training ground for them.

        Last point, apropos of not very much: The Stalinist agent who recruited Ramon Merdader in Spain was probably Alexander Orlov who ‘ran’ Burgess, Philby, Blunt and MacClean (the ‘Cambridge Spies’) when he was attached to the Soviet Embassy in London.

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