The torturers and murderers of Latin American folk icon and socialist musician Victor Jara may be one step closer to justice, after a Chilean judge brought charges against the men accused of killing the legendary artist.
Eight retired military officers, four of whom are graduates of the notorious School of the Americas (renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), were charged Dec. 27 in Jara's death.
Pedro Barrientos and Hugo Sanchez, two former officers, were implicated by Judge Miguel Vásquez in the murder of Jara, while six others, Roberto Souper, Raúl Jofré, Edwin Dimter, Nelson Hasse, Luis Bethke and Jorge Smith, were charged as accomplices. Barrientos, Jofré, Dimter and Smith are SOA graduates.
Jara, an artist and musician, was Chile's most popular folk singer at the time of his death. He was among many activists rounded up by the late military dictator Augusto Pinochet and held in a stadium turned into detention center. There, Jara was tortured and shot 44 times. His body was later found dumped near a railroad.The assassination of Victor Jara is part of a tragic history in Chile, a country brutally ruled by Pinochet from 1973 to 1990 through the help of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Before Pinochet, President Salvador Allende was swept to power on the strength of a progressive political platform. Chileans had tired of foreign corporations dominating public life, and Allende was a symbol of a new political era.
Chile's gains under Allende were extraordinary, as a Liberation News article noted:
“One of his initiatives was to enforce social services such as one that granted half a liter of free milk for each child. In the first year of his presidency, inflation dropped to 22.1 percent. Wages increased by 60 percent, thanks to an across-the-board raise for the working class combined with a government ban on price hikes. ...
“In a significant move against foreign-owned private property, Allende’s government nationalized major U.S. corporations in 1971—including the U.S.-owned telephone company, ITT, and the copper mines owned by Anaconda Copper Mining, Kennecott and Braden. Allende decreed that all copper mines would now be in the hands of the Chilean government. Private companies would receive compensation for their loss—less the amount of profits they had extracted over previous years. ...
“Every step toward meeting the needs of the masses gave the working class greater confidence to push forward the class struggle against the capitalists. Workers took over factories, setting up organizing committees called "industrial cordons." The cordons were open to all interested workers, where they began planning future tactics to place the control of production into the hands of the people.”
Rightist forces in Chile plotted to undo revolutionary change and, on Sept. 11, 1973, the military, supported by the United States, overthrew Allende. Jara was jailed the next day, and was one of the Pinochet regime's first victims. A 1991 commission convened to investigate human rights abuses under Pinochet estimated that more than 3,000 people, many of whom were socialists, were killed or disappeared by the government.
Jara is fondly remembered in Chile for his outspoken politics and encouragement of Chileans to seek a new world. No date for the trial has been set.