Chilean poet Pablo Neruda may have been poisoned: study

For nearly 50 years, the death of Chilean Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda has been shrouded in mystery, with long-standing allegations that he was assassinated. Now, new forensic evidence has emerged that the great writer may have been poisoned.

Researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., along with colleagues from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, presented their findings Wednesday before a Chilean judge and said Neruda’s body had evidence of Clostridium botulinum in one of his molars.

C. botulinum is a strain of bacteria that can produce botulinum, which the researchers describe as “one of the deadliest toxins known to mankind”. The poison attacks the body’s nervous system and often leads to paralysis, difficulty breathing and even death – an illness known as botulism.

In addition to C. botulinum found in molars, the researchers also found small amounts of bacteria at Neruda’s burial site. C. botulinum’s DNA samples from both the molars and the burial site were damaged in a similar way, suggesting that the bacteria may have been there when he died and not from subsequent environmental contamination.

“We used methods identical to those used to reconstruct the genome of the bacteria responsible for the Black Death from 700 victims,” ​​said evolutionary geneticist Hendrik Poinar of McMaster University. year old.

Neruda, who was also a former Communist Party politician and staunch supporter of leftist Chilean president Salvador Allende, was hospitalized with cancer in September 1973, just at the time of General Augusto. Pinochet came to power in a coup and overthrew Allende.

Neruda died 12 days after the coup. Official records say Neruda died of complications from prostate cancer, but the poet’s driver, Manuel Araya, has argued for decades that he was poisoned.

McMaster researcher Debi Poinar said: “The fame of Neruda’s suspicious death and its analysis is emblematic of the investigation into every single unsolved death that occurred during Pinochet’s dictatorship. .

An examination conducted in 2013 after Neruda’s body was exhumed concluded that there was no evidence that his death was related to anything other than natural causes. but the family of Neruda and Araya are not convinced.

Araya told the Associated Press last month that he believes his former employer was “injected in the stomach” at the hospital after hearing this version of events from a nurse.

In 2015, the Chilean government said there was a “high probability that a third party” was responsible for Neruda’s death.” Two years later, an international team of investigators concluded that the primary cause of death was consciousness was false, but did not say at the time what killed Neruda.

Debi Poinar said: “It probably won’t be possible to have a definitive answer as to how the poet died, but so far the possibility of poisoning by a third party has not been ruled out by scientific evidence. studies we have found so far”.

With files from The Associated Press

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