Human Rights

Nine ex-soldiers convicted for murder of Chilean folk singer

SANTIAGO – Nine ex-soldiers were found guilty in the killing of artist Victor Jara. The folk musician was tortured and killed with 44 bullets after the coup that brought down Salvador Allende’s government in 1973.  Jara was a prominent supporter of Allende.

Judge Miguel Vásquez of Santiago’s Court of Justice sentenced nine ex-military officers for Victor Jara’s 1973 murder. Nearly 45 years after the crime, eight of the perpetrators were sentenced to 15 years and 1 day in prison. The ninth was given a five-year sentence as a cooperator in covering up the crime, which occurred days after the military coup that ousted Salvador Allende and installed a military junta.

Victor Jara was a member of Chile’s Communist Party, a popular folk singer-songwriter, theater director, and university professor. He was subject to torture before being killed. The British Guardian cites prisoners who were detained with Jara in the National Stadium as saying that the soldiers shattered his fingers with their rifle butts.

Three days after his abduction, Jara’s corpse emerged in a lot near a graveyard and his family struggled to have the case solved. In 2009, they had Jara’s body exhumed for a full autopsy, and in 2016 a jury in Florida found retired army lieutenant Pedro Barrientos guilty of torturing Jara. Since then, Barrientos’ extradition has been negotiated with the US government as he was also ordered to pay Jara’s family a compensation of about US$28 million.

Around 3,300 people were killed and 28,000 tortured during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who soon after the coup outsmarted and disempowered his co-conspirators. The Chilean Armed Forces, together with the police forces known as Carabineros, planned the coup that put an end the leftist administration of Salvador Allende. Subject to heavy bombardment in La Moneda government palace, Allende decided to commit suicide instead of becoming a prisoner.

During the 17 years of dictatorship, until 1990, human rights were violated with official approval. For example the Caravana de la Muerte, a national death squad traversing the country, executed at least 72 alleged left-wing opponents. Pinochet himself approved the measure with the cynically ironic assertion that “there won’t be mercy for extremists.”

Many episodes like the Caravana de la Muerte and the torture and death of national icon Victor Jara mark this especially cruel era in Chile’s history. The sentencing of the nine ex-soldiers shows that it remains an open wound.

See also:

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