In a recent blog post, Mary Helen Spooner, author of The General’s Slow Retreat: Chile after Pinochet (UC Press, May 2011) sheds light on the exhumation of former Chilean president Salvador Allende’s body, as well as the mysterious circumstances surrounding poet Pablo Neruda’s death.

Allende and Neruda
Salvador Allende with Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who won the 1971 Nobel Prize for Literature

Death of a Poet
by Mary Helen Spooner

“I am writing these quick lines for my memoirs only three days after the unspeakable events took my great comrade, Salvador Allende, to his death.”

Pablo Neruda, Nobel Prize-winning poet, added the final sentences to his memoir after a military coup overthrew the Socialist government of Salvador Allende. Soldiers raided his seaside home, and the poet, suffering from prostate cancer, is said to have told them, “There’s only one thing of danger for you here—poetry.” A short time later the author of Canto General, a poetic treatise on Latin America, and Twenty Love Poems and A Song of Despair, was moved to a hospital in Santiago, where he died on September 23, 1973. His funeral turned into the first public show of defiance against Chile’s new military regime.

Neruda did not believe the official account of Allende’s suicide, and for many years, neither did many of the late Chilean president’s family and supporters. On May 23 Allende’s body was exhumed and is being examined by a multinational team of experts who hope to determine, once and for all, how the democratically-elected Marxist died. The initial inquiry has established that the cadaver is in fact Allende’s, but the complete investigation will take up to three months. …

Read the full post on Mary Helen Spooner’s blog, Notes on the Americas.