On the afternoon of this February 3, one of the last chapters of the case of the death of the poet Pablo Neruda in 1973 was going to be written, which entered its decisive stage after more than 10 years of investigations in the Chilean justice system. A panel of international experts, which met on January 25, was to deliver this Friday the conclusions of a report that will determine whether the origin of the clostridium botulinum bacterium, found in 2017 in the body of the writer, is toxic or not. It is fundamental scientific information for the decision that the judge in the Paola Plaza case must make in order to determine if the writer died of prostate cancer or poisoning, but the results of the report will have to wait three more days. The fires that affect the country prevented the Chilean biochemist Romilo Espejo from traveling to Santiago de Chile or connecting via the Internet for the presentation.
Espejo, National Award for Applied Sciences 2018, is one of the members of the panel, made up of scientists from Canada, Mexico, El Salvador, Denmark, the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany and Chile, who have discussed the conclusions virtually. His presence was key, since he had been appointed as the spokesperson for the team of scientists to publicize the conclusions that will define the course of the Neruda case.
This international panel is the third to meet on the Neruda case. And in his report he must establish whether the bacterium that was found in the poet’s body six years ago, Clostridium botulinum, is of toxic origin or not. Although these conclusions will be essential to determine whether or not there was intervention by third parties, it will be Judge Paola Plaza who, after reading the document, will make a judicial decision regarding the case.
Pablo Neruda died on September 23, 1973 when he was admitted to the San María Clinic in Santiago, twelve days after the military coup. Historically, the known cause of death was prostate cancer, but in 2011 the Communist Party – in which the writer was a member – filed a lawsuit in which he raised a new thesis: chemical poisoning.
This hypothesis is based on the testimony of Manuel Araya, who was the poet’s driver and took him to the clinic in 1973 from his home in Isla Negra, a coastal town located 100 kilometers from Santiago.
“It is not normal for a person to have this substance, but this can be due to many things, be multi-causal. One of those explanations is the thesis of the complaint that was presented: that a substance has been inoculated to cause death. That is what the genomic panel must determine,” Judge Plaza said a week ago regarding the bacteria.
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