Among the thousands of political dissidents detained and executed in Chile during the days following the Military coup of 1973 which overthrew the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende (also known as the Unidad Popular), Victor Jara’s brutal death is probably one of the most emblematic. The story of his detention, torture and assassination at the Estadio Chile (a sports arena which was converted into a detention and torture center to hold thousands of political
dissidents) has been told and retold for decades, always with some variation, adding to the myth and further strengthening his mystique as a symbol of struggle against military oppression and injustice across Latin America.
Victor Jara was a popular Chilean folk singer/songwriter, educator, theatre director, poet, and political activist. He was involved in the development of the “Nueva Canción Chilena” (New Chilean Song Movement) which gained considerable popularity during the Unidad Popular government which he actively supported. On the morning of September 12 1973, Jara was detained, along with thousands of Chileans, and then held prisoner at the Estadio Chile (renamed “Estadio Víctor Jara” in September 2003) where he was repeatedly beaten and tortured, resulting in the breaking of bones in his hands and upper torso. Fellow political prisoners have testified that his captors, as he lay on the ground after the beating, mockingly suggested that he play guitar for them. Defiantly, he sang part of a hymn supporting the Unidad Popular.
He was murdered on September 15 after further beatings were followed by being machine-gunned (34 bullet wounds were found on his
body) and left dead on a road on the outskirts of Santiago. His body was found the next day and was taken to a city morgue. Before his death, he wrote a poem about the conditions of the prisoners in the stadium, the poem was written on a paper that was hidden inside the shoe of a friend. The poem was never named, but is commonly known as “Estadio Chile”.
Jara's wife (a British citizen), Joan, was allowed to come and retrieve his body from the site (and was able to confirm the physical abuse he had endured). After holding a funeral for her husband, Joan Jara fled the country in secret.
Those responsible for the detention, torture and death of Victor Jara benefited from immunity during the remaining 17 years of dictatorship and from the Amnesty Law decreed by the Military Junta before Chile’s return to Democracy. In December 2004, Chilean judge Juan Carlos Urrutia prosecuted the then retired Lieutenant-Colonel, Mario Manriquez Bravo for the murder of Victor Jara. Lt. Bravo was the highest commanding officer in charge at the National Stadium during 1973, but the identity of the Jara's actual killer remained unknown.
In recent months, and after various testimonies from ex-prisoners, Victor Jara’s alleged killer was identified as Edwin Dimter Bianchi. A Chilean military officer with a bad reputation (he was also known as “El Loco
Dimter”) who in 1970 attended the School of the Americas (SOA), then located in Panama, and completed a one month course in “Combat Arms Orientation”. Shortly after his stint at the SOA, Dimter participated in the failed coup attempt against Salvador Allende in June of 1973 known as the “Tanquetazo” led by a rouge military brigade. Dimter and his fellow conspirators were arrested and then set free shortly after the successful coup of September 11, 1973. Upon his release, he was assigned to serve in the Estadio Chile.
Survivors of the detention center have testified that on his arrival at the stadium he was full of spite and vengeful due to his recent imprisonment under the Unidad Popular and quickly gained a reputation as a sadist. Due to his good looks and arrogant swagger he received the nickname “The Prince”. An ex-prisoner, Chilean attorney Boris Navia, described “the Prince’s” modus operandi: “He would make rounds through the different levels of the Stadium screaming insults and intimidating prisoners. He would show up unexpectedly in a section of the Stadium and the prisoners had to remain silent in his presence. He behaved like a frustrated stage actor. He always carried a leather club and when he walked through the rows of prisoners who were waiting to be brought into the stadium and had been on their knees for hours and hours with their hands on their heads he would hit and insult them”. In another episode described by ex prisoners, “The Prince”, ordered another soldier to kill a prisoner by beating him with his rifle after he tripped and stumbled over his legs. According to testimonies such as these, Dimter was directly involved in the beating and death of Victor Jara.
Edwin Dimter Bianchi has not been formally charged by a Chilean court. He was discharged from the military in December 31st 1976 for unknown reasons. After his discharge, Dimter graduated as an Accountant and found his way into anonymity by working for the military government in the pensions and audit department. Surprisingly, in 1999 he applied for government benefits under the “Ley de Exonerados Politicos” which was created to benefit victims of human rights violations under the military dictatorship. The law was introduced as a means of compensating political prisoners under the Pinochet regime who had lost their jobs, could not find employment and had lost all pension entitlement. The law provided a compensation payment and pension rights for the period concerned. Dimter was granted those benefits as of January 20th of 2000. This wasn’t the first time that these benefits were granted to a criminal (probably due to the intervention of a sympathetic senator); a similar situation took place with former Chilean Air Force Intelligence agent Rafael González Verdugo, who was processed for the assassination of U.S. citizen Charles Horman (the film “Missing” is based on his story).
Today, Dimter still works for the government under Michelle Bachelet as a public servant. He, together with thousands of other public servants who served under Pinochet was benefited by Law 18.972 decreed in 1990 which allowed them to remain in their positions once democracy returned to Chile.
On May 25th of 2006 the FUNA Commission in Chile organized a massive demonstration outside the building of the Department of Labor in Santiago to denounce the presence of Edwin Dimter Bianchi. A group of 15 demonstrators, including Victor Jara’s daughter Amanda Jara, went up to the 14th floor where his office is located to confront the ex-military officer and hand out informational flyers to his co-workers. (For photos and notes of this event see:
Victor Jara’s legacy lives on today through his music and the Victor Jara Foundation started by his widow Joan Jara.
Víctor Lidio Jara Martínez (September 28, 1932 – September 15, 1973)
Joao Da Silva is the Communications Coordinator at School of the Americas Watch in Washington, D.C.. He is the son of a political exile from Chile and a former political prisoner from Brazil. He has a Bachelors Degree in Sociology from the Universidad de Artes y Ciencias (ARCIS) in Santiago, Chile.
To learn more about Victor Jara and the SOA, please visit the following
Victor Jara Foundation:
Information about Victor Jara (in English):
About the School of the Americas: