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Forty Years Later, Justice for Víctor Jara: School of the Americas Grads Indicted in Murder of the Popular Allende-Era Singer/Activist

Jara was among the first victims of the violence that swept Chile after the US-backed coup of 1973.

Supporters march during a funeral service of Victor Jara, December 5, 2009, thirty-six years after his incarceration and death. (Photo: Daniel Hernández)

The move to extradite Florida resident Pedro Barrientos Nunez in connection with the murder of famed Chilean singer Victor Jara – a supporter of deposed President Salvador Allende – is re-igniting Chile’s campaign for justice for victims of the Pinochet regime’s reign of torture and violence.

The US-backed military coup in Chile on September 11, 1973, was a prelude to systematic state terrorism unleashed after the bombing of the presidential palace, La Moneda, and Salvador Allende’s alleged suicide.

Allende’s Popular Unity was a socialist movement that unified the workers’ struggle within a realm of culture. The Nueva Cancion Chilena (New Chilean Song), born out of a necessity in the mid-1960s to articulate social struggle, became a popular feature during Allende’s presidential campaign, with musicians wholeheartedly bequeathing their support.

Victor Jara, a Nueva Cancion singer synonymous with the movement, became one of the first victims of the dictatorship when he was brutally tortured and murdered after being apprehended at the Technical University and brought to Estadio Chile- the country’s national sports stadium. Secrecy and impunity shrouded Victor’s death, until testimony from a former conscript at Estadio Chile revealed the name of Victor Jara’s alleged killer.

The name of Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez became the source of a relentless campaign by Chilean social movements to pursue justice for Jara. A documentary aired in May 2012 by Chilevision, entitled Quien Mató a Víctor Jara? (Who Killed Víctor Jara?) drew upon the testimony of several survivors, conscripts, former lieutenants and activists to reconstruct the events leading to the singer’s death. In the course of the documentary, ex-conscript Jose Alfonso Paredes Marquez alleged that Barrientos had pulled the trigger, shooting Víctor in the head. “He shot him at almost point blank range because the man would not answer him,” stated Paredes.

The campaign “Justicia Para Víctor Jara” (Justice for Víctor Jara) gained momentum last year, with Joan Jara and lawyer Nelson Caucoto Pereira urging the Minister of Defense and the Armed Forces of Chile to reveal classified information that would lead to identifying the lieutenants responsible for Victor’s murder.

On December 28, 2012, Chilean newspaper El Mostrador announced indictments had been issued against Barrientos, Hugo Sanchez Marmonti, , Raúl Jofré González, Edwin Dimter Bianchi, Nelson Haase Mazzei and Luis Bethke Wulf in connection with Jara’s murder.

Another two former officials were later indicted: Jorge Smith Gumucio and Roberto Souper Onfray. Following the announcement, an international arrest warrant was issued for Barrientos, who had been living in Florida since the 1990s, and Paredes, the ex-conscript, was arraigned on charges related to his alleged role in Jara’s death. Judge Miguel Vásquez denied bail to the seven former lieutenants, four of whom already are serving sentences for other unrelated crimes.

Almost 40 years after Jara’s murder, Judge Vásquez said he had no doubt about Barrientos’ role, despite Barrientos’ claim that he was never inside Estadio Chile and “never having heard of the singer Jara in that era.” Barrientos had previously stated he was in the vicinity of the presidential palace, La Moneda, during the military coup. Questioned by journalist Macarena Pizarro from Chilevision, he declared his intent to never return to Chile to face prosecution. “I do not have to face justice because I killed no one. I’ve been to Chile several times, but now, loud and clear, I won’t go.”

The extradition request detailed the events leading up to Jara’s murder. On September 12, 1973, the Technical University was surrounded by soldiers, who apprehended students and staff barricaded in the building, transferring them to Estadio Chile under the command of the Tejas Verdes contingent.

Jara’s popularity rendered him a threat to the military dictatorship. His support for Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity, and his later role as ambassador for the government’s politics and socialist culture, cultivated a symbol of resistance and unity with the campesinos. Upon his arrival at the Estadio Chile, a lieutenant nicknamed “el Principe” recognized Jara and singled him out for brutal torture. The identity of “el Principe” remains disputed, although in his testimony Paredes indicated the nickname referred to Nelson Haase. Judge Vásquez stated that Jara was shot 44 times on September 16 – four days after soldiers brought him to Estadio Chile.

Following his murder, Jara would have become one of Chile’s well-known “los desaparecidos” (the disappeared), his body thrown outside the Metropolitan Cemetery for burial in a mass grave, had he not been recognized by a social activist, who alerted others to his fate. Following a secret burial, Joan Jara and her daughters fled to exile in the UK, risking their lives by smuggling Jara’s recordings out of Chile at a time when any material related to the Nueva Canción was tantamount to conspiracy against the dictatorship.

The denial of involvement in Jara’s murder was echoed by other former lieutenants, exhibiting an impunity bordering upon the ludicrous. From the non-committal replies, outright denial, to out-of-context afterthoughts, like Nelson Haase’s, “I was never in Estadio Chile. I don’t know it. I don’t even like football,” the former lieutenants relished their apparent impenetrable status. However, Paredes stated he accompanied Barrientos during the period when Estadio Chile was transformed into the nation’s first torture and detention center, and also had access to the interrogation rooms.

All officials indicted for the murder of Jara formed part of the Tejas Verdes contingent, and operated directly under the command of Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, later head of DINA [Direccion de Intelligencia Nacional]. The Tejas Verdes contingent specialized in torture practices, later dispersing to hold official positions in other detention and torture centers throughout Chile, like Londres 38, Villa Grimaldi, Tres y Cuatros Alamos and the notorious extermination center Cuartel Simón Bolívar, headed by Manuel Contreras himself and collaborating with other officials like Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko, specializing in the detention of communist and MIR [Movimiento Izquierda Revolucionario] militants.

The role of the US in facilitating the coup against Salvador Allende is well known and asserted by various statements from Henry Kissinger, who declared the issue of communism in Chile “too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.” An equally pivotal role that the US played in supporting the right-wing dictatorship was its training of soldiers and lieutenants through the School of Americas (SOA). Four of the indicted officials are SOA graduates, including Barrientos.

Established in 1946, the SOA trained more than 64,000 Latin American soldiers, bequeathing them a wealth of counterinsurgency techniques, torture instruction and intelligence tactics. The deceitful mission statement of the SOA deemed democracy an integral part of military training; however, Latin American history has been replete with accounts of torture corresponding to tactics learned at the SOA. In reality, the SOA appears to have constituted a military program aimed at eliminating the socialist revival which was intensified after the success of the Cuban Revolution. SOA Watch has established that one out of every seven DINA officials in Chile were enrolled in the school and responsible for the targeting of Communist and MIR militants.

Speaking out against impunity, lawyer Nelson Caucoto urged soldiers who were present in Estadio Chile to break their pact of silence about the atrocities committed, emphasizing a duty towards remembrance as opposed to strengthening Pinochet’s hope for oblivion. After the screening of the documentary, Joan Jara asserted her belief “officials lied with impunity,” and the expressed the necessity of investigating within the higher echelons of the military in order to extract any semblance of justice.

The extradition request has strengthened tenacity toward preserving memory and justice in Chile. Social networking sites have been influential in disseminating updates about the case. While Barrientos’ Facebook profile appears to be inaccessible, his photo, together with the extradition request, has been a prominent feature of Chilean activists’ clamor for the right to memory.

If the extradition and subsequent trials are successful, Chilean memory will have succeeded in implementing justice within a country still shackled by remnants of the dictatorship. Last year brought about a resurgence of tactics designed to eliminate references to human rights violations by deconstructing narrative and language. Reclaiming Jara’s memory as inherent to the public space will serve as a catalyst for justice against decades of oppression that still flourish in today’s society, as impunity provides a channel of legal and political control through torturers and DINA agents employed within the public sphere.

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