40 Years on, Justice for Victor Jara one Step Closer

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Victor Jara, the noted Chilean folk singer and activist, who was tortured and murdered just a few days after the 1973 U.S.-backed coup led by General Augusto Pinochet.

Above is a painting of Jara, one of dozens I saw throughout the capital Santiago during my visit there in March 2013. Jara is the most iconic figure of the Sept. 11, 1973 coup in which more than 3,000 people were killed or disappeared, more than 27,000 tortured and at least 50,000 arrested and interrogated as suspected opponents of the new government. Bodies are still being found today. Pinochet, with the firm backing of the U.S., Great Britain and others, remained in power until 1990.

With his image on billboards, posters and banners today, Jara remains a potent figure four decades after his death as Chileans still struggle with the coup’s aftermath more than two decades after the end of the Pinochet dictatorship. Below, a banner and display outside of the University of Chile Law School, also snapped in March 2013.

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Twelve days ago The Center for Justice and Accountability, acting on behalf of the singer’s surviving family members, filed suit in U.S. District Court against Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez, a former Pinochet army Lieutenant currently living in Florida as a U.S. citizen and who is wanted in Chile for Jara’s murder.

Citing the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), U.S. laws that address human rights abuses committed outside of the country, the suit accuses Barrientos of arbitrary detention; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; extrajudicial killing; crimes against humanity; and torture.

From the CJA’s press release:

Víctor Jara was a popular Chilean singer, songwriter, university professor and political activist who advocated for social and economic equality in Chile. Mr. Jara was detained immediately following the coup on September 11, 1973, during the Chilean Army’s siege of the State Technical University, where he was a faculty member. From there, he and nearly 1,000 students, professors and other civilians were transferred from the University and imprisoned in Chile Stadium, one of the first mass detention centers in the Pinochet military dictatorship. Many of these civilians were brutally tortured and subsequently murdered for suspicion of opposition to the new military regime. According to the complaint, Mr. Jara was repeatedly tortured by soldiers under Barrientos’ command. The complaint further alleges that Barrientos ultimately shot Mr. Jara point blank in the head and then ordered soldiers under his command to repeatedly shoot Mr. Jara’s corpse. An autopsy later revealed that Mr. Jara was shot at least forty times.

In December, Barrientos was charged in Chile with murdering Jara.

“The fact that the man responsible for the torture and death of Victor Jara has been living freely in the United States shocks the conscience,” said Pamela Merchant, CJA’s Executive Director. “Human rights abusers should not be able to enjoy safe haven here without consequence.”

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