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After claiming for more than 40 years that Nobel prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda died of natural causes, Chile has now acknowledged he may have been killed during the country's 1973-1990 military dictatorship led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

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Neruda is widely revered as one of the most important writers of the 20th-century. He gained international attention after the 1924 publication of Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, a collection of verses that has sold millions of copies. In 1994, noted critic Harold Bloom named Neruda one of the 26 individuals most responsible for shaping the Western Canon, a collection of works that have most defined western culture. In 1971, Neruda was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.

Neruda was also a leftist politician and close friend of Salvador Allende, who in 1970 became Chile's first democratically elected socialist president. Allende's presidency didn't last long; on September 11, 1973, with the support of the United States, Pinochet took control of Chile via a military coup d'etat. Allende committed suicide that day instead of resigning.

Armed guards watch out for attackers as Chilean president Salvador Allende leaves a building during the military coup in which he was overthrown and killed. (Photo by Luis Orlando Lagos Vázquez/Keystone/Getty Images)
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Neruda died just a few days later, on September 23. The official cause of death was cardiac arrest stemming from prostate cancer. However, many have long rejected the explanation, alleging the dictatorship played a role in Neruda's death because of his close association with Allende. Before his death, Neruda planned to go into exile in Mexico.


In 2011, the Chilean government started investigating the possibility Neruda might not have died of cancer after his driver, Manuel Araya Osorio, told a Mexican magazine he was with the writer when Neruda called his wife to say he believed Pinochet ordered a doctor to poison him. In 2013, Neruda's body was exhumed for forensic analysis.

Which brings us to today. Last week, Spanish newspaper El Pais added a new wrinkle to the case when it published a document from the Chilean interior ministry from earlier this year that states "it is clearly possible and highly probable" that Neruda's death "was caused by a third-party intervention."

Chilean soldier and politician, Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. In 1973 he led a coup which ousted, and resulted in the death of, the Marxist President, Salvador Allende. Pinochet then took over the presidency. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
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A panel of experts is continuing to investigate and a judge probing Neruda's death has requested a new round of tests on his body.


Fidel Martinez is an editor at He's also a Texas native and a lifelong El Tri fan.