More on the Neruda investigation

A laboratory in North Carolina is still studying samples taken from the remains of Chile’s Nobel Prize winning poet, Pablo Neruda, to determine whether he died of prostate cancer or was poisoned by a mysterious injection during his hospital stay shortly after the 1973 coup. (see earlier post:

Meanwhile, there has been speculation in both the Chilean and the foreign press that Neruda’s killer might have been Michael Townley, an American who worked for the Pinochet regime’s secret police organization, the DINA. Last week a Chilean judge ordered police to search for a “tall, blond, blue-eyed man” whom a doctor claimed to have seen at the hospital where Neruda died.  The physician, Dr. Sergio Draper, has changed his earlier account of the poet’s death and according to The Independent,

Dr Sergio Draper now claims a doctor called Price was with Neruda. There is no record of a Doctor Price in any of the hospital’s records and Draper said he never saw the man again after leaving him with Neruda.

The prosecutor believes that whoever the man was, “the important fact is that this was the person who ordered the injection” that may have killed Neruda. The description of Price as tall and blond with blue eyes matches Michael Townley, a CIA double agent (sic) who worked with the Chilean secret police under Pinochet.

There are a few problems with this line of inquiry. The DINA did not form until months after the coup, and neither this secret police organization nor its successor, the Central Nacional de Informaciones (CNI) worked with poisons until the 1980s. Townley, who moved to Chile with his parents as a teenager in the 1960s, is known to have been in the United States at the time of Neruda’s death.  As Peter Kornbluh, author of The Pinochet File, told the Santiago Times

“He was in Florida, a fugitive from justice in Chile where he had been part of an anti-Allende operation March 1972 that left a man dead. Only after Pinochet was well consolidated did he return and join DINA,” Kornbluh said.

He explained that officials in the U.S. undertook an extensive investigation into Townley and can verify his whereabouts for the time in question.

“Michael Townley was a prolific international terrorist who committed an act of terror and murder in the [U.S.] capital. As the target of a massive FBI investigation, the FBI retraced his movements in the years he was associated with violence in Chile,” said Kornbluh.

This blogger interviewed Townley’s ex-wife in Santiago in the late 1980s, and she remarked that her former husband had never lost his American accent. Which means that in the unlikely event he was in Santiago at the time of Neruda’s death, and managed to enter the poet’s hospital room dressed as a doctor, his accented Spanish would have made him even more conspicuous to hospital staff. And though they may be a minority, Chile does have its share of tall, blond and blue-eyed people.

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