50 Years After the Coup

Supreme court convicts seven for the death of Victor Jara

The Supreme Court has sentenced seven ex-soldiers to 25 years in prison for the kidnapping and murder of Victor Jara and Littré Quiroga. The events took place in September 1973, when the two were taken to the Estadio Chile where they were tortured. One of the soldiers, Hernán Chacón, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound when detectives went to pick him up.

On Aug. 28, the Supreme Court issued a 25-year prison sentence for the seven soldiers involved in the kidnapping and murder of singer-songwriter Victor Jara and Littré Quiroga, director of the National Prisoner Service, in the days following the Sept. 11, 1973 coup d’état. The Court also ordered the state to pay each of the deceased’s families CLP $150 million (about US $175,500) in damages.

Six of the guilty parties, Raúl Jofré González, Edwin Dimter Bianchi, Nelson Haase Mazzei, Ernesto Bethke Wulf, Juan Jara Quintana, and Hernán Chacón Soto received 15 years and one day for homicide plus 10 years and one day for kidnapping, with the seventh, Rolando Melo Silva receiving five years and one day plus three years and one day for helping cover up the homicides and kidnappings respectively. The convicted were taken into custody on Aug. 29, with the exception of Hernán Chacón Soto, who shot and killed himself after telling authorities that he had to grab some personal items.

The 45-year-long Investigation

This unanimous decision puts an end to the lengthy investigation that began in 1978 when Jara’s widow presented charges in the Santiago criminal court, where the charges remained dormant for 20 years until human rights lawyer Nelson Caucoto, who was already representing Quiroga, took up the case but couldn’t move forward with it until the return to democracy in 1990.

In 1997, a judicial reform took place which restructured the Supreme Court, thus removing many of the judges who had been appointed by the dictatorship, which allowed the investigation to continue and resulted in Jara’s remains being exhumed for a proper autopsy in 2009 and allowed a proper recreation of Jara and Quiroga’s last days.

The investigation led to the discovery that one of those involved in the murder was living as a naturalized citizen in the State of Florida in the United States. The ex-soldier, Pedro Pablo Barrientos, had his naturalized citizenship revoked when it was determined that he had lied on his citizenship request form by denying his military service and his role in the extra-judicial killings. Jara’s family is also pressing for Barrientos to be extradited to Chile.

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Jara and Quiroga’s Last Days

Jara was a singer-songwriter from the Ñuble region who gained popularity as one of the main artists of the Nueva Canción Chilena (New Chilean song) which revitalized Chilean folklore music for newer audiences. A member of the Communist Party, Jara was a big supporter of the Allende government, as was Quiroga who was named the director of the National Prisoner Service when Allende was sworn in as president in 1970.

Quiroga was detained in his home on the night of Sept. 11, 1973, while Jara was last seen on Sept. 12, 1973, when he was apprehended by the military from the Universidad Técnica del Estado (Technical University of the State) and taken to the Estadio Chile (subsequently renamed for Jara in 2003).

According to the testimony of the others in the stadium, the military separated well-known prisoners from the general population, and this happened to Jara, who was placed alongside Quiroga in a separate room, where they were both tortured from Sept. 13 to Sept. 15.

The two received numerous cigarette burns, punches, and kicks. Overall, Quiroga sustained 47 fractures and was shot 23 times, while Jara sustained 54 fractures and was shot 44 times. Their bodies were left near the Metropolitan Cemetery in the Lo Espejo municipality in Santiago, where they were found and recognized by locals.

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