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Poet's body exhumed: Was Pablo Neruda poisoned?

A judge ordered a poet's body exhumed to look for evidence that Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda was killed by agents of Gen. Augusto Pinochet's brutal dictatorship.

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Forensic anthropologists dig at the grave of Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda as they prepare for the exhumation of the poet's remains in Isla Negra, Chile, April 7. The poet's body was exhumed today in an effort to clear up four decades of suspicion about how the poet died in the days after Chile's military coup.

Judiciary of Chile / AP

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Chilean forensic experts exhumed the body of Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda on Monday, trying to solve a four-decade mystery about the death of one the greatest poets of the 20th century.

The official version is that that the poet died from prostate cancer and the trauma of witnessing the 1973 military coup that led to the persecution and killing of many of his friends. But his driver and many other Chileans say Neruda was murdered by agents of Gen. Augusto Pinochet's brutal dictatorship.

Experts were concerned that high salinity and humidity could affect the exhumation at Neruda's home in Isla Negra, a rocky outcropping overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

But Patricio Bustos, head of Chile's medical legal service, said Neruda's casket is in good shape after the one-hour exhumation. After draping Neruda's coffin in the Chilean national flag, forensics workers took his remains to the capital for tests. They could also be analyzed abroad and Bustos said they have offers from labs in the United States and Europe.

"After we take a look at our lab, following the biomedical safety measures and with total vigilance, we will be able to set a timeline for the process," Bustos told reporters.

"The most complex part will be searching for toxic substances that could not only be classic poisons, but also, according to testimonies, could be medical substances at very high doses to harm the poet."

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