Justice for Victor Jara, Justice for Chile
After the death of the late dictator Augusto Pinochet in December 2006, many people in the Chile took to the streets in jubilant celebration. Others, who had sought for years to bring him to justice for his crimes, had mixed feelings when Pinochet passed without having spent a single day in prison for the human rights abuses committed under his 1973-1990 regime. Perhaps one of the most well known of the crimes that followed Pinochet’s September 11th , 1973 military coup was the torture and execution of the internationally renowned folk singer Victor Jara. Like thousands others, Jara was rounded up and taken to Estadio Chile following the violent ouster of Salvador Allende’s democratic socialist government. With his public persona as a well known folk singer in the country’s leftist Nueva Cancion movement, Victor Jara was targeted, tortured, and machine gunned to death soon after.
On May 15th , after nearly 35 years, a conviction was handed down in the murder case of Victor Jara. As the commanding officer in charge of Estadio Chile in 1973, Colonel Mario Manriquez was found guilty of first degree murder. However, no one else was found responsible for the death of Victor Jara, including the actual person or persons involved in his torture and murder. The family of Victor Jara, including his daughter Amanda and his widow Joan, has responded in protest asking that the case be re-opened immediately and that justice be served. The Victor Jara Foundation in Santiago Chile, founded by Joan Jara, has organized public demonstrations and petition drives to achieve that end. With Pinochet dying without having been held accountable for crimes committed under his rule, finding justice in the case of Victor Jara is of upmost importance in the movement for truth and justice in Chile.
Uprising Radio’s Gabriel San Roman spoke with Victor Jara’s widow, Joan Jara, about the closing of the case of her late husband’s murder without the actual killer being identified and brought to justice.
Gabriel San Roman: What was the initial reaction from your family in response to Judge Fuentes' ruling that held only held on person responsible for death of Victor Jara and declared the case closed?
Joan Jara: We were shocked and surprised. The decision of the judge was out of the blue as far as we were concerned. Understand that this is a case that has been going on for years and years. The initial case was presented in 1978 during the military dictatorship. Of course that didn't get anywhere at all. That was shut down. This current case was re-opened after the arrest of Pinochet in London. So we were surprised and shocked. We began immediately to react to this and take measures. We expressed this to the media and we asked for support from our friends all over the world by signing a petition to demand that the case be re-opened. We have been active in different ways since this case was shut down. We have the support of artists from all over Chile and different countries. We presented between 12,000-20,000 different petitions for the case to be re-opened. We haven't actually been able to count them all.
Gabriel San Roman: Do you have plans to appeal the decision? What is the legal strategy at this point? And what do you think its prospects are?
Joan Jara: Our first strategy was one of protest. In this we had an extraordinary amount of support. Our foundation is a very active foundation and has many friends all over the world. We have been receiving hundreds of signatures and emails from different countries like the United States, Pakistan, Japan, and the United Kingdom. In Chile, many people have been active here to protest against the closing of the case. Several hundred people accompanied us to the tribunals last Monday where there was an artistic performance just outside of the tribunals to ask for the re-opening of the case. On Wednesday, we accompanied our lawyer to the tribunals to formally ask for the legal re-opening of the case and were received by the judge who had closed it and who seemed to be convinced that it has to be re-opened.
Meanwhile, we made an appeal to the five thousand prisoners who were there in the stadium with Victor to come forward and give their testimony if they have any contribution to make in the identification of the military people from different branches of the armed forces who were active there in the stadium. Many people have thought that what they knew wasn't so important. Now, we have asked for people who were conscripts at that time who were in the stadium as guards to come forward. Perhaps many of these people will be able to identify their officers. We have had response to this. Many people have come forward with information to the foundation. We have passed this on to the investigating judge who is in charge of the case. We are optimistic that we have made a big step forward. Perhaps it was actually quite positive because in that sense there has been a very big reaction to this. People who have never been in touch with us, or who have never given us any information are coming forward to give us information.
Gabriel San Roman: Now in your book, "An Unfinished Song," you speak about a figure named "The Prince," who was at Chile Stadium where Victor Jara and thousands others were detained. Why did the trail and years of investigation fail to identify this figure who is said to have been the actual gunman?
Joan Jara: There has been an extraordinary amount of secrecy in the armed forces about the identity of the officers who were active in the stadium. The only officer who has been identified and processed has been Colonel Manriquez Bravo who was the official who was actually in charge of the stadium. But in the stadium, there were many other members of the armed forces acting. Among these, many ex-prisoners have identified one particular one who they have described physically. There seems to be no doubt that he was the officer who actually tortured and killed Victor. There may have been others involved. We don't know for certain. Our job now is to appeal also to the armed forces to give more information about the identity of the different officials who were active in the stadium. But there has always been a strong veil of secrecy, because very terrible things happened in the stadium, about the identity of officers who were there. But little by little information is appearing. It all has to be investigated. But there has been a flood of information now that there hasn't been during all the months that the case was open.
Gabriel San Roman: Nearly two years ago there was a public demonstration and confrontation with a person named Edwin Dimter. Protesters, including your daughter, as it was reported, confronted this person at the Department of Labor office where he worked. Demonstrators fingered him as "the prince" figure. What did the trail say, or not say, about this person?
Joan Jara: I think he was interrogated. He admitted to being in the stadium but he was never processed. I don't think we have the 100% certainty that he is person responsible for the assassination of Victor. This has to be further investigated. He was one of the officers who had taken part in a failed military coup in June 1973 and imprisoned by Allende's regime for treason, obviously, in their attempt to overthrow the government. These officials were released on September 11^th , 1973 and sent to the Chile Stadium. Dimter is one of them but we haven't got the certain identification that he was the author of the crime of killing Victor.
Gabriel San Roman: The case of Victor Jara is the most well known and perhaps the most emblematic example the repression that followed the coup of September 11^th , 1973. Given that, what does this initial trial outcome mean for truth, justice, and reconciliation in Chile following the end of the dictatorship?
Joan Jara: Victor's case has been called emblematic and symbolic. I don't really believe that there can be symbolic cases of homicide. I think each homicide is as important as another one. But it's true that Victor was a symbol for many years and in many different countries of the repression and violation of human rights in Chile. In that sense, his case must be solved. There must be truth and justice in the case of Victor because there are so many other cases waiting behind this that will just be forgotten. It makes it even more important to resolve the case of Victor's murder. In that sense, we are all conscious that there are so many cases that have never been solved.
Gabriel San Roman: The campaign for justice for Victor Jara is also the campaign for justice for Chile. How has the campaign mobilized people in the wake of the case closing and what has the Chilean media's response been?
Joan Jara: I may say that it has mobilized the media in Chile which is important. There has been enormous coverage I am glad to say. There has been a general interest and reaction to the closing of Victor's case because it is a symbolic case. There has been an outcry here.
Gabriel San Roman: Victor Jara will always be a symbol of justice and freedom for generations to come. How have you seen his music and living example engaging young people in your country who perhaps were even been born after the dictatorship?
Joan Jara: The whole weight of history has fallen on us with this closing of the case of Victor. We have had to go back 35 years. And it has always been my feeling since I wrote the book about Victor's life, "An Unfinished Song," that Victor's death can not wipe out the memory of his life. The whole reason of the foundation was to bring back the memory of Victor as a man and an artist. He was always present during the dictatorship but in a clandestine way. The foundation has rescued him from that clandestinity and now Victor is very present. He is almost a live presence in Chile among young people. They sing his songs and they take him as an example of an artist who was committed to social justice, who was courageous in that sense, and who really gave his life in all sorts of ways.
He said, "I'm a man happy to live at this moment. I am happy because when one gives one's reason, one's will, one's heart to work for the service of the people; one feels the happiness of being reborn." That was really Victor's motivation especially during the last three years of his life during the Popular Unity government. And his songs live on today as young people sing them. Sometimes they put their own music to them and we have Victor's texts with hip hop or all sorts of different styles of music whose content is valued today in Chile. Victor is an example that brings people together. I think he is an example who gives young people a motivation and courage to not be content with the world as it is today but to think that they can actually produce a difference to make a better world. That is what Victor's role is here today and maybe not even only in Chile but in other countries too. Victor somehow goes on living in that sense today.
Gabriel San Roman is the co-producer of Uprising Radio, a popular drive-time show on KPFK Pacifica in Los Angeles. He has also authored numerous articles on Nueva Cancion Chilena and can be reached at gsanroman(at)kpfk.org