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Poet Pablo Neruda Was Not Poisoned, Officials In Chile Say

It was prostate cancer, not an assassin's poison, that killed poet Pablo Neruda, officials in Chile announced Friday. The Nobel laureate's body was exhumed for testing this spring, due to claims from an employee and Neruda's family that the Chilean poet had been murdered at age 69.

From The Santiago Times:

" 'Each of several examinations revealed the presence of metastatic lesions scattered throughout several segments of the skeleton, corresponding to the disease for which Mr. Pablo Neruda was being treated,' [Patricio] Bustos, [director of the Justice Ministry's Legal Medical Service and head of the investigation], said Friday.

"These results mirror those released in May. Perhaps most important this week was the information from toxicology reports. Bustos announced these results explaining that what they found matched the original cause of death listed in 1973.

" 'The toxicological analyses of the bones of Mr. Pablo Neruda confirmed the presence of pharmaceuticals used for the treatment of cancerous diseases, specifically prostate cancer, which were used at the time,' Bustos said. 'Chemical agents which could have caused the death of Mr Pablo Neruda were not found.' "

Neruda died in 1973, just weeks after a military coup ousted President Salvador Allende, whom he had supported. The timing of Neruda's death led to doubts that he had been a victim of cancer, and instead had been a casualty of the rise of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship.

Suspicions over Neruda's death were renewed recently, after his former driver claimed that "the poet had been poisoned via injection while receiving treatment at Santiago's Santa Maria hospital," as The Los Angeles Times reported.

That allegation included the claim that a mysterious second doctor was present at the hospital.

Descriptions of that doctor led investigators to "an American named Michael Townley, who was an assassin for Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and a rumored CIA double agent," as NPR's Annalisa Quinn reported.

But Townley, who is now in the U.S. witness protection program, is believed to have an alibi that proves he was in Florida during the time in question.

The complete findings of the testing of Neruda's body — including DNA results that could confirm without doubt that the body exhumed is indeed that of the late poet — have yet to be released.

In part because of that pending report, Neruda's family members who spoke after today's announcement say they believe the case is still open, according to The Santiago Times.

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