This week, the New York Times published the Retro Report “He Died Giving a Voice to Chile’s Poor. A Quest for Justice Took Decades”, on the Chilean teacher and songwriter Victor Jara, murdered on 16 September 1973, five days after the military coup d’état in Chile.
The report, by Clyde Haberman, is headed by a video showing real footage from the military repression, interviews with key witnesses, and moving and meaningful statements from the Jara family. The video was authored by the independent filmmaker Sean Mattisson, who has devoted hundreds of hours of his work to explain Victor’s disappearance, torture and execution, as well as to expose international crimes committed in Chile as a way to fight against the impunity of those responsible for the abuses. The deep commitment to truth and the respect for the victims that characterises the video resonates perfectly with the hopes of justice and reparation of those involved in the Jara case.
Almudena Bernabéu, Principal of The Guernica Group, led the investigation of the case from the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), an incommensurable effort that led to the conviction that brought justice to this case almost 45 years after Victor’s death.
The investigation of the case
In 1973, Gen. Augusto Pinochet took power. Over the next 17 years “an estimated 27.000 people were tortured and over 3.000 were killed or disappeared” According to Joan Jara, Victor’s widow, she is one of the lucky ones, as she was able to rescue her husband’s body from the morgue and bury him; “so many people here in Chile, so many families, they still do not know the destiny of their loved ones”. Joan was accompanied by their daughter who lamented upon the lack of justice in Chile and the pact of silence of the Chilean military, which “tried to cover up the truth”.
Forty years after Victor Jara’s death, on 4 September 2013, the Jara family, with the support of CJA, filed a lawsuit against former Lieutenant Pedro Pablo Barrientos Núñez under the U.S. Alien Tort Statute and the U.S. Torture Victim Protection Act.
In April 2015, Lt. Pedro Barrientos stood trial before a Florida court. He was accused of arbitrary detention, torture, extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity in the case of Victor Jara. On 27 June 2016, the jury found Barrientos guilty of the murder of the songwriter, condemning him to pay a compensation of $28 million to the Jara family. Jara’s daughter declared after hearing the jury’s decision that this was “a further step, a very big step towards revealing the truth of what happened 43 years ago”.
The New York Times reports that almost 45 years after Victor 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. On being asked what this sentencing would mean for the Jara family, the family’s lawyer responded that it meant; “that the wishes of a large part of the Chilean society have been fulfilled. That achieving justice wasn’t a dream”.
The New York Times Retro Report is available at the following link: