(First published in Mint Press News)
Earlier this month, Chilean media erupted with the news that a former member of Chile’s secret police under the dictator Augusto Pinochet would face trial in the United States for the 1973 murder of , a popular revolutionary folk singer.
The Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) confirmed the news with a statement on its website on April 14. “We are delighted with the news that our case will move forward for torture and extrajudicial killing,” CJA International attorney Almudena Bernabeu is quoted as saying.
Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez, a former National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) agent, has been living in the U.S. since 1989. Knowing that a number of previous extradition requests from Chile had failed, the CJA filed the lawsuit on behalf of Jara’s family in a U.S. District Court in Florida, asserting claims under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA).
Court documents made available by the CJA show that Barrientos is being held responsible “for the arbitrary detention, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and extrajudicial killing of Victor Jara at the Stadium on or about September 15 1973.”
After subjecting Jara to extreme torture, Barrientos played Russian roulette, eventually shooting the nueva canción singer in the back of the head. Jara’s body was then riddled with bullets by five military conscripts under orders from Barrientos.
On Jan. 30, 2015, Barrientos presented a motion to set aside the lawsuit instigated by CJA. His statement is replete with anti-socialist propaganda reminiscent of Henry Kissinger’s rhetoric, dismissing state violence as a mere excess that resulted “in the false detention, torture and execution of scores of individuals at Chile Stadium and other locations.”
Still, the CJA’s current legal proceedings against Barrientos, which commenced in September 2013, constitute a major step forward in attempting to bring Jara’s alleged murderer to justice.
“Quién mató a Víctor Jara?”
On Sept. 11, 1973, Pinochet ousted Salvador Allende, a democratically-elected, socialist president, in a U.S.-based coup that would keep Pinochet in power for almost two decades. In supporting the coup, the U.S. aimed to prevent the possibility of Chile becoming another beacon of socialism in South America, particularly in light of the resilience and popularity of the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro.
Allende’s campaign sought to unify the workers’ struggle within cultural consciousness. The Nueva Canción Chilena (Chilean New Song), a folk movement which originated in the mid-1960s as a means of articulating social struggle, became a popular revolutionary feature during Allende’s campaign.
Many nueva canción musicians, including Jara, later assumed roles as cultural ambassadors, and thus, targets for Pinochet.
A A mural depicting Victor Jara, one of the founders of the nueva canción movement.When “Quién mató a Víctor Jara?”
(“Who Killed Víctor Jara?”) aired on Chilevision in May 2012, the documentary accelerated an otherwise dormant process as former DINA conscript Jose Paredes Márquez revealed the name of Jara’s alleged killer.
“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,” Barrientos says in the documentary with the self-assurance of a man who, despite being wanted for Jara’s murder in Chile, has continued to live in the U.S. for almost 30 years without much threat of extradition.
Barrientos also cast doubt over Paredes’ testimony because after naming Barrientos as Jara’s killer, Paredes later retracted his testimony, stating that he was pressured by authorities to reveal details. And, indeed, given the lack of cooperation by the authorities to open dictatorship archives, it is likely that Paredes was pressured into retracting his statements to preserve Chile’s ingrained culture of impunity.
In December 2012, Chilean newspaper El Mostrador reported that Chilean courts handed down indictments against former DINA agents involved in Jara’s murder. Barrientos and Hugo Sanchez Marmonti were indicted as the murderers, while Roberto Souper Onfray, Raúl González Jofre, Edwin Dimter Bianchi, Nelson Hasse Mazzei and Luis Bethke Wulf were indicted as accomplices.
Struggle for justice
Jara’s murder and the subsequent struggle for justice reflect the stories of the thousands of Chileans murdered during Pinochet’s dictatorship, which lasted from 1973 to 1990. And speculation as to who murdered Jara was long shackled by authorities’ refusal to cooperate with investigations.
Indeed, legal action initiated by Joan Jara, Víctor’s widow, in Chile, proved futile for decades. The first legal proceedings filed in 1978 remained pending until Aug. 31, 1982, when the Chilean Criminal Court of First Instance declared there was insufficient evidence to charge any DINA agents with Jara’s murder.
Meanwhile, Pinochet passed Decree Law No. 2.191 in 1978. The amnesty law effectively prevented Chilean courts from prosecuting military officials involved in human rights abuses, including torture and murder, during the dictatorship era, which ran from 1973 to 1990. (The country moved to overturn the law last year, aiming to bring the country more in line with international human rights standards.)
Other attempts to bring Jara’s killers to justice were launched in 1999 at the Santiago Court of Appeals and the Chile Court of Appeals. Both were hampered by witnesses who were hesitant to come forward with information. The cases were consolidated in 2001, then closed in 2008, when Paredes stepped forward as a witness to Jara’s murder and provided the Santiago Court of Appeals with Barrientos’ identity as the alleged killer.