Top scientists to probe death of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda
Published 25/02/2016 | 04:51
An international team of genomics experts and forensic specialists will study the remains of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda to try to solve the cause of his death.
The communist poet died in the chaos following Chile's 1973 military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet and some have speculated that he was poisoned by agents of the right-wing dictatorship.
Mr Neruda's body was exhumed in 2013, but tests showed no toxic agents in his bones. Nevertheless, Chile's government said last year that "it's clearly possible and highly probable that a third party" was involved in his death, although it warned that more tests needed to be carried out.
The remains of Mr Neruda's bones and teeth will be analysed by a lab at Canada's McMaster University's centre for ancient DNA and the University of Copenhagen's forensic medicine department.
Experts will focus on identifying pathogenic bacteria that might have caused Mr Neruda's death. The researchers say they will use techniques to "extract, purify and enrich fragments of the bacterial DNA", which they hope will yield genomic data that will help solve the nearly 43-year old mystery surrounding his death.
"The search for the truth of the death of the poet, Pablo Neruda, is a forensic challenge. We hope that the work of the Chilean Human Rights Programme and the scientists will contribute to the reconciliation between the various groups in Chile," forensic geneticist Niels Morling, director of the department of forensic medicine at the University of Copenhagen, said.
Mr Neruda was best known for his love poems but he was also a Communist Party politician and friend of Marxist president Salvador Allende, who killed himself rather than surrender to troops during the September 11 1973 coup led Pinochet.
Mr Neruda, who was 69 and had prostate cancer, was traumatised by the coup and the persecution and killing of his friends.
He planned to go into exile, where he would have been an influential voice against the dictatorship b ut a day before his departure, he was taken by ambulance to a clinic in Santiago where he had been treated for cancer and other ailments.
He officially died there on September 23 from natural causes, but suspicions that the dictatorship had a hand in the death remained long after Chile returned to democracy in 1990.
Although tests carried out after the exhumation of Mr Neruda's remains showed no signs that he was poisoned, his family and driver demanded further investigation.
The judge investigating the case has asked for testing for substances not looked for in the first round of tests.