Happier days: Neruda with his wife Matilde Urrutia against our own Golden Gate
We’re going to get to the bottom of this … forty years too late. Why do I have a feeling the killer has escaped? Or else died of old age?
Much is puzzling about the claims that preeminent poet Pablo Neruda was murdered by Pinochet’s forces in Chile on Sept. 23, 1973. Apparently, there was a mysterious “Dr. Price” on the scene, never seen before or since, who ordered the final injection, the doctor at the scene, Sergio Draper, now claims. Dr. Price is not in any of the hospital records. The authorities are now organizing a portrait of the suspected killer, based on people’s memories of nearly half-a-century before … does anyone remember this guy at all except Draper?
What motive? According to a story last year in the Associated Press:
Pablo Neruda, Chile’s Nobel Prize-winning poet, would have been a powerful voice in exile against the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. But that all changed just 24 hours before Neruda was to flee the country in the chaos following the 1973 military coup.
He was 69 years old and suffering from prostate cancer when he died, exactly 12 days after the brutal coup that ended the life of his close friend, socialist President Salvador Allende.
The official version was that he died of natural causes brought on by the trauma of witnessing the coup and the lethal persecution of many of his friends.
Some Chileans have questioned that official telling of Neruda’s death and instead suspected foul play at the hands of Pinochet’s regime.
Ask them. They knew everything.
Draper’s description of a “blond, blue eyed, tall man” is a pretty good match for Michael Townley, the CIA double agent who worked with Chilean secret police under Pinochet. Neruda’s body was exhumed on April 8, and is being analyzed by Chilean and international forensic specialists. Nearly two months… nuthin’ yet? Mmmm-kay.
According to the AP piece in Huffington Post: ”Townley was taken into the U.S. witness protection program after acknowledging having killed prominent Pinochet critics in Washington and Buenos Aires.” Wait a minute. I thought witness protection programs were for victims, not perps? So they’re going to “investigate” to find a man being hidden and protected by the U.S. government? Good luck with that.
It reminds one of all those top-level investigations that are being ordered to address scandals in Washington. Why do we have to spend millions of dollars “investigating” what our senior public officials have done? Can’t they just tell us? It’s not like we don’t know who he is or where to find him. If he’s one of our guys… didn’t we ask him before we hid him? On the other hand, why is Draper suddenly remembering this doctor forty years later?
Neruda’s widow and the foundation rejected the claims of murder last year, but Chile’s Communist Party pressed for an exhumation. The idea of a CIA double-agent appearing in a doctor’s uniform in a hospital, ordering a fatal injection and then disappearing seems impossibly like an old Mission Impossible rerun. Is Townley being safely pinned for one murder he did not do?
According to Manuel Araya, Neruda’s driver, bodyguard and assistant in the year before his death:
Talking to The Associated Press, Araya described the day of Neruda’s death at the clinic, where the poet was being treated for his cancer, phlebitis and a hip problem. Araya had accompanied him as his bodyguard to protect him ahead of his departure from Chile. He himself wasn’t there, and says the story was told to him by a nurse whose name he has forgotten.
“Coincidentally,” Araya said in sarcastic manner, Dr. Sergio Draper “was passing by in the hallway when a nurse called to him and said that Neruda was in a lot of pain, and this doctor, very considerately, goes and gives him a Dipirona (analgesic), and the Dipirona… killed him.”
Adding to the conspiracy theories, it was at the same Santa Maria clinic where another prominent Pinochet critic, former President Eduardo Frei, was allegedly poisoned while recovering from hernia surgery in 1982. A judge in Chile has accused four doctors and two of the dictator’s agents in Frei’s death. The case is ongoing, and Frei’s body has been exhumed. One of the doctors questioned in the case, though not accused: Sergio Draper.
The AP was unable to reach the doctor for comment, after contacting the clinic where Neruda was treated and one of Chile’s main medical schools.
However, in an interview published in the Argentine newspaper Clarin in September, Draper strongly denied the allegation. he said he was only following the instructions of Neruda’s physician, Vargas Salazar, to help relieve the patient’s pain by giving him what he remembers was the drug Dipirona.
“I ordered that he be given an injection prescribed by his physician,” Draper said. “I was nothing more than a messenger. It’s outrageous that we are constantly under suspicion.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m confused. Stay tuned.
Postscript on 6/3: Over at Books Inq., Rus Bowden offers a little enlightenment with this article today from the Santiago Times: The death of Pablo Neruda: looking for answers in the wrong place. The upshot: it’s not Townley. The article says:
“With the new focus on the mystery doctor, theories have circulated in the local Chilean press and been picked up by the international media linking this mysterious man to Michael Townley, a United States citizen who worked for Pinochet’s secret police (DINA) and was involved in the famous assassination of Orlando Letelier in Washington, D.C.”However, Peter Kornbluh, author of the Pinochet File which is being revised and released for the 40th anniversary of the coup and an expert on dictatorship-era Chile, told The Santiago Times that Townley could not have been involved in Neruda’s death, and speculation to the contrary is hurting the case.”
“He was in Florida, a fugitive from justice in Chile where he had been part of an anti-Allende operation March 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.
“Michael Townley was a prolific international terrorist who committed an act of terror and murder in the [U.S.] capital. As the target of a massive FBI investigation, the FBI retraced his movements in the years he was associated with violence in Chile,” said Kornbluh.