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Former Chilean Army Officer Found Liable for 1973 Murder of Víctor Jara After U.S.-Backed Coup

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In Florida, a jury has found former Chilean army officer Pedro Barrientos liable for the murder of legendary folk singer and activist Víctor Jara in September 1973. In the days after dictator Augusto Pinochet seized power in a U.S.-backed coup, Víctor Jara was rounded up, tortured and shot more than 40 times. Barrientos has lived in the United States for more than two decades and is now a U.S. citizen. The Jaras sued him under a federal civil statute known as the Torture Victims Protection Act, which allows U.S. courts to hear about human rights abuses committed abroad. The Guardian newspaper called the verdict "one of the biggest and most significant legal human rights victories against a foreign war criminal in a US courtroom." We speak to Víctor Jara’s widow Joan, his daughter Manuela Bunster and Dixon Osburn, executive director of the Center for Justice and Accountability, which represented the Jara family.

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Video squareStorySep 09, 201340 Years After Chile Coup, Family of Slain Singer Víctor Jara Sues Alleged Killer in U.S. Court
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: "Te Recuerdo Amanda," "I Remember You, Amanda," by Víctor Jara. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In Florida, a jury has found former Chilean army officer Pedro Barrientos liable for the murder of legendary folk singer and activist Víctor Jara in September 1973. In the days after dictator Augusto Pinochet seized power in a U.S.-backed coup, Víctor Jara was rounded up, tortured and shot more than 40 times.

In 2013, on the 40th anniversary of Víctor Jara’s murder, his wife and daughters filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. court against the former military officer Pedro Barrientos, who has lived in the United States for more than two decades and is now a U.S. citizen. The Jaras sued him under a federal civil statute known as the Torture Victims Protection Act, which allows U.S. courts to hear about human rights abuses committed abroad. Chilean prosecutors have indicted Barrientos and another officer with Jara’s murder, and Chile is seeking his extradition so he can be tried on criminal murder charges.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, in a landmark legal victory Monday, an Orlando court ruled Barrientos is liable for the killing of Víctor Jara, and awarded the Jara family $28 million in damages. The Guardian newspaper called the verdict, quote, "one of the biggest and most significant legal human rights victories against a foreign war criminal in a US courtroom," unquote.

In a moment, we’ll be joined by Víctor Jara’s daughter and widow Joan. But first I want to turn to our 2013 interview with Joan Jara, talking about the day Víctor disappeared.

JOAN JARA: We were both at home with our two daughters. There was somehow a coup in the air. We had been fearing that there might be a military coup. And on that morning, together, Víctor and I listened to Allende’s last speech and heard all the radios, the—who supported Salvador Allende, falling off the air as, one by one, being replaced by military marches.

Víctor was due to go to the technical university, his place of work, where Allende was due to speak to announce a plebiscite at 11:00, and Víctor was to sing there, as he did. And he went out that morning. It was the last time I saw him. I stayed at home, heard of the bombing of the Moneda Palace, heard and saw the helicopter’s machine gun firing over Allende’s residence. And then began the long wait for Víctor to come back home.

AMY GOODMAN: And how long did you wait?

JOAN JARA: I waited a week, not knowing really what had happened to him. I got a message from him from somebody who had been in the stadium with him, wasn’t sure what was really happening to him. But my fears were confirmed on the 11th of September—well, I’m sorry, on the 18th of September, Chile National Day, when a young man came to my house, said, "Please, I need to talk to you. I’m a friend. I’ve been working in the city morgue. I’m afraid to tell you that Víctor’s body has been recognized," because it was a well-known—his was a well-known face. And he said, "You must come with me and claim his body; otherwise, they will put him in a common grave, and he will disappear."

So then I accompanied this young man to the city morgue. We entered by a side entrance. I saw the hundreds of bodies, literally hundreds of bodies, that were high piled up in what was actually the parking place, I think, of the morgue. And I had to look for Víctor’s body among a long line in the offices of the city morgue, recognized him. I saw what had happened to him. I saw the bullet wounds. I saw the state of his body.

And I consider myself one of the lucky ones, in the sense that I had to face at that moment that—what had happened to Víctor, and I could give my testimony with all the force of what I felt in that moment, and not that horror, which is much worse, of never knowing what happened to your loved one, as what happened to so many families, so many women, who have spent these 40 years looking for their loved ones who were made to disappear.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Víctor Jara’s widow, Joan Jara, speaking in 2013 on Democracy Now! She joins us live now from Orlando, Florida, along with Víctor Jara’s daughter, Manuela Bunster. And in San Francisco, we’re joined by Dixon Osburn, executive director of the Center for Justice and Accountability, the law firm that represented the Jara family.

Joan, let’s begin with you. Your reaction on Monday to the court decision?

JOAN JARA: Well, it was almost incredule—

AMY GOODMAN: Joan, if you could respond to the decision in the court on Monday?

JOAN JARA: Yes, well, I can only say it was with happiness, incredulity, casi. But we lived with—all these years with gradually losing more and more the hope of justice for Víctor. It was wonderful here in the United States, in an American court, to find this unanimous verdict.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Manuela Bunster, your reaction, after so many years, of finding some measure—not full measure, but some measure—of recognition and justice for what happened to your father?

MANUELA BUNSTER: Well, as Joan says, it’s—I think, I mean, for us, it’s still difficult to weigh, really, how this is going to affect our lives in the future, because, I mean, we’ve lived with the sense of impunity and a pain within, you know, in relation to the—not knowing the truth of what happened with Víctor. And so, it’s been—we’re still—I mean, we are happy, but calm, because also—I mean, there’s a lot to do still, you know, in relation to justice for Víctor and for other victims of the stadium. But, you know, we received it. We’re very grateful, really.

AMY GOODMAN: Joan Jara, how did you learn that it was Barrientos who was responsible for your husband, for Víctor Jara’s murder, right in the midst of the coup of September 11th, 1973, in Chile?

JOAN JARA: Yes, well, it has been only gradually. And during this trial, I learned many things about what happened in the stadium. And that, in itself, is a wonderful progress to justice in Chile, because other people will be able to find a certain amount of justice for their loved ones who were killed there. But I must say that during the trial there was so much evidence against Barrientos, so much evidence and so much lying on the part of the people who were defending him and the witnesses—I mean, incredible, just easily proved lies, which were quickly dismissed and overcome by our lawyer, our wonderful lawyer.

MANUELA BUNSTER: Well, he’s been—Barrientos, we’ve known about him for years now, around seven years, I should say. Many conscripts have—I mean, he’s been denying having been in Chile Stadium, and he’s been, you know—the evidence presented in this, in this trial, and also all the previous investigations that have been going on in Chile, have put them in the stadium, with a command responsibility in the stadium. And this has been confirmed, you know? And no officers who have command responsibility in a situation like that, during that week, that specific week, you know, just after the coup in Chile, can say they didn’t know anything and that they—I mean, they’ve been constantly denying everything that happened in the stadium. And also, basically, he’s been denying having even been there in that week.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we’re also joined by Dixon Osburn, the executive director of the Center for Justice and Accountability, who tried the case against Pedro Barrientos. Dixon Osburn, could you tell us who was Barrientos? What was his role? And what were you able to establish in the trial?

DIXON OSBURN: Yes, and good morning. Barrientos was a former lieutenant under Pinochet. And what—what we were able to show in the court was in direct contradiction to what Barrientos claimed, which is that he didn’t know Víctor Jara, that he had never been in the stadium. We had one of the conscripts who testified, very chillingly, that Barrientos bragged—not just once, but many times—that he’s the one who shot and killed Víctor Jara. We had other conscripts who identified Barrientos as being in Chile Stadium and having command responsibility there, performing a wide variety of duties, and therefore having responsibility over the events at Chile Stadium. We had civilians. We had a former student from the university where Víctor taught who identified that Víctor was assaulted, beaten badly at the university when the military laid siege to it. And we had another witness who identified Víctor’s body tossed outside of Chile Stadium. So, through and through, we presented more than a dozen witnesses and significant evidence of what transpired in the days following the Pinochet coup, and specifically what happened to Víctor Jara.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, in 2012, I got a chance to travel to Spain and interview Francisco Etxeberria, the forensic specialist who exhumed the bodies of both ousted President Salvador Allende of Chile and singer Víctor Jara to determine the nature of these deaths. I asked him to tell us what he discovered about Víctor Jara’s murder.

FRANCISCO ETXEBERRIA: [translated] What happened in the case of Víctor Jara is that he was at a university in Santiago, arrested there, and witnesses confirm that. Then we believe he was brought into a locker room. The military knew who he was. He was a popular person. He ended up with a single bullet wound through the back of the head and with over 50 broken bones throughout his body that we determined were caused by what looked like machine gun fire. After he died, they fired many, many shots at him and then dragged the body out into the streets where people would find it and think perhaps that it had been a gunfight between the authorities and others.

What happened to Víctor Jara is similar to what happened to other people who "disappeared" in that period of time. The bodies were found in the streets and brought into the morgue, where they were identified. This was very common at the early stages of the dictatorship. Later, probably due to their international political reputation, "the disappeared" were still being killed, but the bodies were hidden in mass graves, mines, throwing them into the sea, and other places.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Francisco Etxeberria, the forensic specialist who exhumed the bodies of both Salvador Allende, the president who died in the palace, September 11, 1973, and Víctor Jara. Dixon Osburn, can you talk about how significant this case is in Florida? And what will happen to Barrientos?

DIXON OSBURN: It’s a very significant case. This is the first time that the Jara family has had their day in court, and for a court—a jury of six individuals was able to find somebody liable and responsible for the torture and murder of Víctor Jara. I think this is not only significant for the family, as they have said, but for so many victims and survivors who are continuing to look for truth and justice in what happened under the Pinochet coup.

What happens next for Barrientos? Now, this was a civil lawsuit; it’s not a criminal lawsuit. What the jury found is that he was liable, and they awarded damages. The next step will be to enforce that judgment to the extent that we can.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But what about the criminal case in Chile? If Chile has been seeking his extradition, why has the U.S. government not extradited him?

DIXON OSBURN: That’s a good question for the U.S. government. No, we certainly urge the U.S. government to move forward with extradition at this point. As you correctly noted, Chile has indicted him. They’ve requested it. The U.S. government has moved forward on other extradition requests. So we hope that the U.S. government will take this request very seriously and move forward.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Joan Jara, what is your next plan, as you head back to Chile?

JOAN JARA: Well, to go on as one has been going for 40 years, is to seek justice for all the victims. I mean, this trial has revealed, in a very special way, what has been hidden for years, because there has been a veil over the history of what happened in the Chile Stadium. And it is our job to force this—the request to get together with the relatives of other victims to continue the search for justice for all, and to know, from moment to moment, what happened in the stadium.

AMY GOODMAN: Well—

JOAN JARA: It has been—yeah, it’s been extraordinary how all this has been hidden for so long, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Joan Jara and Manuela Bunster, thank you so much for being with us, joining us from Orlando, where the decision was handed down on Monday, responsibility for the death of your husband, your father, Víctor Jara. And, Dixon Osburn, thanks so much for joining us from the Center for Justice and Accountability in San Francisco.

When we come back, who got rich off student debt crisis? We’ll be speaking with the legendary reporter Jim Steele. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, Víctor Jara, singing "The Right to Live in Peace." This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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