Botero collapses in supermarket; Neruda and the ghost of Chile’s dictatorship
This week marked some macabre developments in the arts, as renowned Colombian artist Fernando Botero was rushed to the hospital with health problems and in Chile the Partido Comunista (Communist Party–PC) called for the exhumation of poet Pablo Neruda’s remains. This would make Neruda one of the most famous victims of the dictatorship that lasted from 1973-1990 and whose legacy still has not been exorcised.
Botero, 79, fell ill on Tuesday afternoon while at a supermarket in Rionegro, Colombia, with his family. He was taken to the emergency room at the San Vicente Fundación hospital nearby. Medical director Juan Manuel Sierra confirmed that Botero arrived at the hospital conscious and was seen by a number of specialists at the hospital.
Botero was discharged on Wednesday morning after being declared to be in a stable condition. Sierra would not release any further details, at Botero’s request for privacy, but maintained that the artist had been seen by a team of specialists in internal medicine, cardiology, and emergency care, who were certain that Botero was in good health. According to the artist’s brother, Juan David Botero, he fell ill from altitude sickness after travelling from sea level to Rionegro (at an elevation of 2.130 m).
Botero, born in Medellín, is famous for his paintings and sculptures of roly-poly figures. His latest series, Via Crucis, which takes the Crucifixion as its subject, is currently on display in New York.
Meanwhile, in Chile, the Partido Comunista called Monday for poet Pablo Neruda’s remains to be exhumed. Neruda died at age 69 on 23 September 1973 at the Santa Maria Clinic, days after the 11 September coup that unseated President Allende and led to years of military dictatorship. Neruda had been hospitalized for treatment for advanced prostate cancer. However, in recent months Neruda’s chauffeur Manuel Araya has come forward stating that Neruda did not die of cancer but rather was murdered by his doctors. Araya, whose cause has been taken up by the PC, is calling for the poet’s remains to be dug up for testing in order to definitively determine the cause of his death.
Araya has stated that in the days after the coup Neruda, his wife, and Araya himself were to travel to Mexico to go into exile. The day before their intended journey, Neruda asked Araya to travel to his seaside home in Isla Negra, 130 km from Santiago, in order to gather some of his belongings. While in Isla Negra, Araya claimed to have received a panicked phone call from his boss saying, ‘Come quickly, while I was sleeping a doctor came in and gave me an injection’. Neruda died that same day.
Araya and the PC brought forth a lawsuit on 31 May to definitively establish the cause of the poet’s death. The PC requested the release of Neruda’s file from the clinic but was denied. The new request to exhume the writer’s remains was presented to judge Mario Carroza, who has investigated human rights violations in several cases of deaths from the years of dictatorship, including those of President Allende and Alberto Bachelet, father of former president Michelle Bachelet. The Supreme Court appointed Carroza in 2010 to investigate the deaths of all victims of the dictatorship who still had not been identified.
PC representative Juan Andrés Lagos stressed the irregularities surrounding Neruda’s death and called the exhumation ‘necessary’. In addition, he called the investigation critical to uncovering the role of medical institutions in Chile, especially during the dictatorship years.
The Fundación Pablo Neruda (Pablo Neruda Foundation), which safeguards the writer’s estate, has condemned the PC’s efforts. Juan Agustín Figueroa, the president of the foundation, has stated that digging up Neruda’s remains would be an ‘act of profanation’ and reiterated that the poet died of natural causes.