New evidence shows that the Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda may have been murdered by a CIA double agent, according to the Associated Press. The American agent was working for the CIA in Chile when he was recruited by DINA, Augusto Pinochet's secret police.
The case sounds less Il Postino and more Zero Dark Thirty without the jingoism.
Neruda was a left-wing diplomat and close friend of Chile's socialist president, Salvador Allende. The poet was thought to have succumbed to prostate cancer in 1973, a mere 12 days after a bloody right wing coup against Allende, backed by Henry Kissinger, installed Pinochet in power.
Earlier this year, after four decades of conspiracy theories, a judge in Chile ordered Neruda's body exhumed, following requests from the country's Communist Party. (CNN says investigation began around the same time that officials looked into Allende's suicide during the coup, as part of an examination of 726 reported human rights violations during Pinochet's rule.)
According to human rights lawyer Eduardo Contreras, new evidence shows that Neruda "was likely murdered by agents of dictator Augusto Pinochet."
Dr. Sergio Draper, who originally testified that he was with Neruda at the time of his death, has changed his story. Draper now says another doctor named "Price" was with the poet. The AP reports:
But Price did not appear in any of the hospital's records as a treating doctor and Draper said he never saw him again after the day he left him with Neruda. Moreover Price's description of a blond, blue eyed, tall man, matches Michael Townley, the CIA double agent who worked with Chilean secret police under Pinochet.
Townley was taken into the U.S. witness protection program after acknowledging having killed prominent Pinochet critics in Washington and Buenos Aires.
This supports previous claims reported by the New York Times that Neruda did not die of prostate cancer:
In 2011, Mr. Neruda’s driver at the time, Manuel Araya, publicly claimed that Mr. Neruda had not been in critical condition beforehand and that a day before his death Mr. Neruda, 69, told him that a doctor had given him an injection in the stomach that made him “burn inside.”
Contreras, the lawyer, "laboriously reconstructed the poet's final weeks," concluding that:
. . . rather than being deeply unwell, Neruda was planning for his exile in Mexico, having intercourse with a lover and discussing the chaotic first days of the Pinochet dictatorship.
One of the damning pieces of evidence that convinced the judge to exhume Neruda's body was a report from the pro-Pinochet newspaper El Mercurio from the day after Neruda's death that also referred to an injection administered just before he died.
Contreras, who has been pushing for the investigation, said that if Neruda had escaped Chile, he would have been a voice of dissidence to continue Allende's legacy, telling The Guardian:
In Mexico City as a VIP guest of the president, Neruda would have been at home. His strong communist leanings, his service in the Chilean foreign service as ambassador and his worldwide following practically guaranteed that he would become a founding member of a government in exile. As a corpse in the Santiago hospital he was quickly added to the list of Allende aides and colleagues who were dead within weeks of the 1973 US-backed coup.
Last fall, a Spanish judge issued an international arrest warrant for Townley, who served five years in U.S. prison for complicity in the Washington assassination of a former Chilean ambassador, for the torture and murder of a Spanish U.N. official in Chile.
Update: Peter Kornbluh, author of The Pinochet File and director of the Chile Documentation Project at the National Security Archive, told The Santiago Times that Townley could not have been the mysterious "Dr. Price" involved with Neruda's death:
“[Townley] was in Florida, a fugitive from justice in Chile where he had been part of an anti-Allende operation in 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.
Kornbluh says the focus on Townley, a prolific international terrorist, is "diverting attention from a full and probative investigation into Pablo Neruda’s death."
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[Image via Getty]