A scene at Pablo Neruda’s funeral shortly after the military coup in September 1973. Marcelo Montecino, who took this photo, recalls that “the procession came past the morgue where lists of the dead were posted on the door. As the crowd gathered at the gate of the cemetery they started to sing “The International” plaintively but also full of rebellion and anger.”
How long does a man live, after all?
Does he live a thousand days, or one only?
For a week, or for several centuries?
How long does a man spend dying?
The investigation into the death of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda began nearly two years ago, and this week his remains are being exhumed. Was Neruda, who was suffering from prostate cancer, poisoned in his hospital room shortly after the 1973 coup? He was planning to fly to Mexico with other Chilean asylum seekers and his driver maintains the poet called him to say, “come quickly because I was sleeping and a doctor gave me a shot in the gut. I’m in a lot of pain and I’m boiling.”
But investigators are warning that, nearly four decades after the death, they may not be able to determine whether he was poisoned. Eva Vergara of the Associated Press reports
“Neruda’s remains have been buried for years in soil that receives intense coastal humidity. Once they are exhumed, investigators will then have to work with what experts say is outdated technology and equipment.
“No big or false hope should be made about the exhumation and the analysis of the remains of Neruda yielding a cause of death” said Dr. Luis Ravanal, a forensic specialist.
Chile’s legal medicine laboratory “lacks basic equipment for the analysis of toxics and drugs that even the most modest labs own,” he said. “Technically there’s a big limitation; there is no sophisticated equipment to detect other substances, so they’ll invariably have to seek other labs.”
Ravanal also said that Chile lacks expertise in analyzing bone remains.
Chilean Communist Party lawyer Eduardo Contreras, who is overseeing the exhumation, said he was disappointed that outside experts were not allowed.
“There’s no ill doing or trickery, but I think this not rigorous enough,” Contreras said.
Some more background on the poet’s death and the investigation by the Guardian’s Jonathan Franklin: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/07/pablo-neruda-exhumed-murder-investigation