Víctor Jara, a murdered Chilean folk singer who became an international icon of resistance.

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Víctor Lidio Jara Martínez was a Chilean teacher, theatre director, poet, singer-songwriter and socialist political activist tortured and killed during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. 

Víctor Jara named his last song after the place where he spent his final days: Estadio Chile, an indoor sports complex in Santiago. He wrote it on 16 September 1973, five days after a military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet brought down the socialist government of Chile’s president Salvador Allende. Jara had been arrested the day after the coup and held in the stadium that had become an ad hoc detention centre for around 5,000 supporters of Allende’s Popular Unity alliance.

There are many conflicting accounts of Jara’s last days but the 2019 Netflix documentary Massacre at the Stadium pieces together a convincing narrative. As a famous musician and prominent supporter of Allende, Jara was swiftly recognised on his way into the stadium. An army officer threw a lit cigarette on the ground, made Jara crawl for it, then stamped on his wrists. Jara was first separated from the other detainees, then beaten and tortured in the bowels of the stadium. At one point, he defiantly sang Venceremos (We Will Win), Allende’s 1970 election anthem, through split lips.

On the morning of the 16th, according to a fellow detainee, Jara asked for a pen and notebook and scribbled the lyrics to Estadio Chile, which were later smuggled out of the stadium: “How hard it is to sing when I must sing of horror/ Horror which I am living, horror which I am dying.” Two hours later, he was shot dead, then his body was riddled with machine-gun bullets and dumped in the street. He was 40 years old.

How A Folk Singer’s Murder Forced Chile to Confront Its Past

NARRATION: Every year, musicians gather to pay tribute to the legendary folk singer, Víctor Jara, murdered during a military coup in Chile in 1973.

Victor Jara was a legendary Chilean folk singer and political activist whose brutal murder during a military coup in 1973 went unsolved for decades.

JOAN JARA: He was completely committed to trying to make the world a better place.

CROWD AT THE FESTIVAL: Ra! Ra! Ra!

JOAN JARA: And he actually gave his life for that.

CROWD AT THE FESTIVAL: Justice for Víctor! Víctor Jara! Víctor Jara!

NARRATION: Now, after 45 years, will his family finally get justice?

VÍCTOR JARA (SINGING, TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH):
I do not sing just to sing

SEAN MATTISON: Tell me about Víctor.

JOAN JARA (VÍCTOR JARA’S WIDOW): What shall I tell you? Well, I was in love with him so you must take my words with a pinch of salt, but he was a very special person.

VÍCTOR JARA (SINGING, TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH):
Five minutes with him
Life is eternal in five minutes

AMANDA JARA (VÍCTOR JARA’S DAUGHTER, TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH): My dad realized music was a beautiful way to communicate ideas. Son of peasants, due to his political convictions, he became a singer.

ARCHIVAL (TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH):
VÍCTOR JARA: Song has great power to raise consciousness in the face of the times we are living through.

VÍCTOR JARA (SINGING, TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH):
Free us from the one who rules us in poverty.
Bring us your kingdom of justice and equality.

NARRATION: In the 1960s, Jara and other artists used their music to advocate for political and social change, and workers rights.

JOAN JARA: The singers went to the trade unions to sing, went to factories to sing, went to universities to sing.

TITA PARRA (MUSICIAN, TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH): They were left-wing artists, socially and politically committed to the people.

NARRATION: When a socialist president, Salvador Allende, was elected in 1970, Jara was one of his most famous supporters.

TITA PARRA (TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH): It was a government that adopted this musical movement and considered it its own.

NARRATION: But from the start, the U.S. government, and allies within the Chilean military,  worked to destabilize the new regime.

Jara (pictured right) wrote the song Venceremos, a Chilean socialist anthem that means ‘We Will Win’ (Credit: Getty Images)

JOAN JARA: As Kissinger said: “You can’t stand back and let a country go communist.” So we didn’t really have consciousness of what was coming.

And then on the 11th September 1973, when I got home Víctor was listening to the radio and we realized that the coup had started. Víctor was programmed to sing in the Technical University where Allende was going to speak and he decided he should go to the University and he left home.

OSIEL NÚÑEZ QUEVEDO (PRESIDENT, STUDENT FEDERATION, 1973, TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH): The student federation issued a call to occupy the university, as an expression of support for the government. About 1,000 members of the university community stayed on campus.

JOAN JARA: Víctor managed to ring me when he got there. It was just after the bombing of the Moneda Palace.

ARCHIVAL (CBS, EVENING NEWS, 9-11-73):
WALTER CRONKITEChile today joined the list of South American countries to fall under military rule. Tonight control of the Chilean government is in the hands of the country’s armed forces, the presidential palace is under attack.
GENERAL AUGUSTO PINOCHET (TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH): Today, the armed forces have solely acted out of patriotism to save the country from the tremendous chaos into which it was being plunged by the Marxist government of Salvador Allende.

OSIEL NÚÑEZ QUEVEDO (PRESIDENT, STUDENT FEDERATION, 1973, TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH): Before dawn on the 12th, we were forced out by machine guns. We were taken to Chile Stadium. The first prison camp in Santiago. Víctor’s face was well-known, and as soon as he arrives, an officer recognizes him and separates him from the rest.

JOAN JARA: Eventually there were about 5,000 prisoners after a few days. It was packed full. That was horror in that place, during those days. The military behaved with great cruelty, torturing people, interrogating them.

OSIEL NÚÑEZ QUEVEDO (PRESIDENT, STUDENT FEDERATION, 1973, TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH): The day the last group of prisoners was being transferred out of the stadium, I had the chance to see Víctor. The line kept growing towards the back. We were the last prisoners here. And right there, suddenly, an official appears and takes two people out, Danilo Bartulín and Víctor Jara.

And that’s when we looked at each other and, I mean, we smiled and we made this face. It was the realization that Víctor was going to die and… and the awareness that there was nothing we could do to change that outcome. That part of history, inevitably, only the military officers can tell.

JOAN JARA: Exactly what happened to him there, it is not yet clear. But on the 18th of September, a young man who was working in the city morgue came to fetch me at home. I saw his body, I saw the… the bullet holes, I saw the disaster of what they had done to him, and was able to take him from the city morgue and to bury him in the cemetery. Nobody can lie to me about what happened to Víctor. I saw his body.

NARRATION: Over the next 17 years of military rule under General Augusto Pinochet, an estimated 27,000 people were tortured, and over 3,000 were killed or disappeared.

JOAN JARA: So I am one of the “lucky ones.” So many people here in Chile, so many families, they still don’t know the destiny of their loved ones. That is the worst fate.

AMANDA JARA (TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH): The wound is deep. Because, in addition to being so brutal, after so many years, there has been no justice, and they’ve tried to cover up the truth.

NARRATION: The Jara family fled to London, and began calling for an investigation of Víctor’s murder. Even after the military dictatorship ended, the attempts faltered. But they kept pushing.

NELSON CAUCOTO (JARA FAMILY LAWYER, TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH): I always wanted to figure out the chain of command in the stadium. And we asked the head of the armed forces, we asked the Navy, we asked the Criminal Investigation Police. “Who was the chief at the stadium?” We never got an answer.

AMANDA JARA (TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH): This gives us a sense of the pact of silence of the Chilean military.

NELSON CAUCOTO (TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH): But in this case, we have a greater difficulty. I don’t think there is anyone who would confess to being behind Víctor Jara’s murder, because it would mean carrying a stigma that would pursue that military person generation after generation. No one wants to be Víctor Jara’s killer.

NARRATION: But the wall of silence finally began to crumble, as low-ranking military conscripts and other eyewitnesses came forward. And in 2015, a Chilean judge charged nine army officers with Jara’s murder and ordered them to stand trial.

NELSON CAUCOTO (TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH): But there is one other person who was left out. Pedro Pablo Barrientos. Because he’s not in Chile.

ON SCREEN: DELTONA, FLORIDA

PEDRO PABLO BARRIENTOS NÚÑEZ (FORMER CHILEAN MILITARY OFFICER, TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH): My name is Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez. You’re in my humble house. This is where I spend most of my time very calmly because I know I didn’t kill Víctor Jara.

This is the hat that I wear when I go get my grandson. I have six step-grandsons. I came here looking for the American dream, and I had it until this nightmare started.

The death of Víctor Jara is an atrocity and the guilty person must pay for it. The thing is that I didn’t commit the crime. That’s the problem. I’ve always said that I didn’t even know Víctor Jara, I didn’t know him. And I had never been to Chile Stadium during that time.

I feel like a victim of political persecution.

NARRATION: Chile requested that Barrientos, who is now an American citizen by marriage, be extradited from the U.S. to face charges. To bolster that request, the Jara family filed a civil suit against Barrientos in Florida.

And, in 2016, they won. A jury awarded them $28 million, which Barrientos can’t afford to pay.

AMANDA JARA (AT PRESS CONFERENCE): It’s taken so long and this is a step, a further, but a very big step, towards revealing the truth of what happened 43 years ago. So thank you, thank you to all of you, thank you.

JOAN JARA (AT PRESS CONFERENCE): Víctor could not have imagined the first sign of justice for his case would occur here in the United States. And this has been, I want to express our gratitude as a family.

NARRATION: Almost 45 years after Víctor Jara’s murder, in July, 2018, eight of the military officers on trial in Chile were found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

NELSON CAUCOTO (TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH): Now, what does this mean? That the wishes of a large part of Chilean society have been fulfilled. That achieving justice wasn’t a dream.

NARRATION: Chile continues to pursue its request for Barrientos’ extradition, and is awaiting a decision from the United States.

PEDRO PABLO BARRIENTOS NÚÑEZ (TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH): I’m not going to go back to Chile to face the Chilean justice system, because justice is very politicized. It would be stupid for me to go to Chile voluntarily.

JOAN JARA: It’s forty years on, but in Víctor’s case, there’s been another sort of justice. His music has been able to go on, you know, and people can hear his voice.

VÍCTOR JARA (SINGING, TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH)):
When I wake up feeling cold
I light a long cigarette.

ARCHIVAL (TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH):
VÍCTOR JARA: Love is the fundamental thing. Love and the relationship of love between a man and a woman, a woman and a man, or a man with his fellow men, with his sons, with his home, with the country, with the instrument that he works with. It’s vital. It’s the essence of man’s reason to live. That’s why it can’t be missing from the themes of a folk singer.

(END)

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