NEW YORK – On Dec. 28, 2012, Judge Miguel Vásquez charged eight retired army officers with the murder of Victor Jara, a popular songwriter, guitarist and theater director who was killed days after the 1973 military coup against Chilean President Salvador Allende.
One of those charged is Pedro Barrientos Nuñez, reportedly the one who fired the final shot that killed Jara. Barrientos now lives in Deltona, Florida. His extradition to Chile would assist in trying all those involved in Jara’s death.
The most recognizable voice of Chile’s dispossessed, Jara was one of the founders of a new genre of Latin American song, and one of its best known practitioners. Jara was closely identified with the leftist social movement led by the late Chilean President Salvador Allende.
Jara composed “Venceremos” (We Will Triumph), which became the theme song of Allende’s Unidad Popular (Popular Unity) movement. Jara and his wife, Joan Turner, were among the main participants in the cultural renaissance movement that swept the country after Allende’s victory.
Sept. 11, 1973, is a day that will live in infamy for the people of Chile. Gen. August Pinochet’s troops mounted a coup against the Allende government. Jara was taken prisoner Sept. 12 at Chile’s Technical University, and later taken to the Estadio Chile, a large sports stadium, that was later renamed Estadio Victor Jara.
Jara was held at the stadium for four days where he was tortured. His torturers had no mercy with Jara’s hands, hitting them with their rifle butts while mockingly challenging him to continue playing his guitar with his broken hands.
According to testimony from companions who were also in prison, Jara remained undaunted and sang part of his song “Venceremos” as he was being tortured.
Other prisoners later testified that even during those difficult times, Jara was only concerned about the welfare of his companions.
Four days after being taken prisoner, he was taken to a deserted area in the country and shot 44 times. His body was dumped on a road on the outskirts of Santiago from where he was taken to the city morgue.
His wife was allowed to retrieve his body only after she promised that she wouldn’t publicize the event.
Shortly after Jara’s death, a Chilean television technician surreptitiously played an excerpt of Jara’s song “La Plegaria a un Labrador” (Prayer to a Laborer) over a Hollywood film soundtrack. Aside from this isolated tribute, for several years Jara’s recordings went unheard in Chile.
After Pinochet’s death in 2006, Jara’s wife and other human rights activists stepped up their efforts to find Jara’s killers, despite apparent delays by prosecutors and the army. On Dec. 28, 2012, Appellate Court Magistrate Miguel Vasquez ordered the arrest of two former military officers, Hugo Sanchez Marmonti and Pedro Barrientos Nuñez, as material instigators of the crime. Six other former military officials were named as accomplices. All of them have been detained with the exception of Pedro Barrientos Nuñez.
According to School of America Watch reports, four of the eight officers accused of murdering Jara were trained at the School of the Americas, located at the time in Panama. These reports indicate that Barrientos Nuñez took courses at that school in the 1960s and 1970s. Barrientos Nuñez has strongly denied any participation in Jara’s murder, despite credible testimony implicating him.
According to international law, the United States now has the legal duty either to prosecute Barrientos Nuñez or — in order to complete Judge Vasquez investigation of Jara’s murder — to extradite him to Chile. This is mandated by the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and by the Geneva Conventions.
Extraditing Barrientos Nuñez back to Chile would be minuscule compensation for the tragedies that the CIA-sponsored coup against Allende unleashed on the Chilean people.
Cesar Chelala, M.D. and Ph.D., is a co-winner of the Overseas Press Club of America award for the The New York Times Magazine cover story “Missing or Dead in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”