More than four decades after the Chilean military tortured and killed beloved folk singer, playwright, and social activist Victor Jara during the coup of General Augusto Pinochet, former officers allegedly involved in the murder are finally facing charges.
Judge Miguel Vázquez Plaza on Wednesday announced homicide and kidnapping charges against 10 former military officers, including former lieutenant Pedro Barrientos Nuñez, a resident of Florida who is seeking to avoid extradition to Chile. Four of the people indicted have already turned themselves in, and arrests are expected to follow.
Charges were also levied Wednesday for the slaying of Littre Quiroga Carvajal, former military police chief.
Jara's widow, Joan Turner Jara, told reporters that the development offers a "message of hope," but she went further, saying "we’re pushing forward in demanding justice for Victor with the hope that justice will follow for everyone."
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Jara was one of the more famous victims. Born in Lonquén near Santiago to a family of poor peasants, he was a member of the Communist Party, supporter of elected socialist president Salvador Allende, and a prominent artist and political organizer. His evocative songs and plays about freedom and justice were part of a popular left cultural front that made him a threat in the eyes of the military dictatorship.
Jara was kidnapped during Pinochet's coup and subsequently tortured at an indoor stadium in Santiago, Estadio Chile, that was converted into a prison. After breaking the bones in his hands and wrists, Jara's perpetrators reportedly sought to degrade the musician by ordering him to play them a song. He responded by singing the defiant political ballad "We Will Win."
Jara was executed on September 16, 1973 and his body dumped into a street near Santiago's Metropolitan Cemetery. However, his songs and message lived on, memorialized by artists and musicians across Latin America and the world. He was also remembered by his wife, with whom he raised two children, in her book Victor: An Unfinished Song.
In "Manifesto," the last song he wrote before he was murdered, Jara declared:
I don’t sing for love of singing
or to show off my voice
but for the statements
made by my honest guitar
for its heart is of the earth
and like the dove it goes flying….
Yes, my guitar is a worker
shining and smelling of spring
my guitar is not for killers
greedy for money and power
but for the people who labor
so that the future may flower.
For a song takes on a meaning
when its own heart beat is strong
sung by a man who will die singing
truthfully singing his song.