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!

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