Belfast Telegraph

Home News World

Jury holds ex-officer liable for 1973 torture and killing of Chilean folk singer

A US jury has said a former military officer in the regime of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet tortured and killed a folk singer more than 40 years ago and is awarding his family 28 million US dollars (£21 million).

The jury in a civil trial in a federal court in Orlando, Florida, decided that Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nunez tortured and killed folk singer Victor Jara.

Jara's family claimed Barrientos - who now lives in Florida - was in charge of soldiers at the stadium where Jara was tortured and killed in the days after Pinochet's coup 1973.

The coup led to the torture and disappearance of thousands of political opponents.

Barrientos had discounted a witness who made that claim, and said the lawsuit should never have gone to court.

"This is the beginning of justice for all the relatives in Chile awaiting the fate of what happened to their loved ones," said Joan Jara, Victor Jara's wife, outside the federal courthouse in Orlando.

Barrientos's lawyer, Luis Calderon, said no decision on an appeal had been made.

"We are disheartened by the jurors' verdict. We hoped it would have gone our way," Mr Calderon said. "We are going to take stock and explore our options."

The lawsuit was filed by Joan Jara; Victor Jara's daughter Amanda, who was eight when her father died; and his stepdaughter Manuela, who was 13, under the Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows civil lawsuits to be filed in the US against people who have committed torture.

"It's a case for criminals to see that if they ever commit a crime anywhere on this planet, they cannot run away and hide," Amanda Jara said after the verdict.

Jara was a popular singer and political activist who worked for the candidacy of Salvador Allende, a socialist who was elected president of Chile in 1970. Mr Allende's efforts to nationalise industries, including the takeover of US-owned copper companies, drew fierce opposition internally and from the United States, which opposed leftist influences in Latin America amid the Cold War.

Pinochet, an Army commander, orchestrated a coup against Mr Allende's government in September 1973. Mr Allende killed himself after unsuccessfully leading resistance to a military assault on the presidential palace. Pinochet and the military junta he headed shut down congress, opposition political parties and trade unions. Soldiers rounded up Allende supporters and ideological enemies and sent them to the stadium where many were tortured or disappeared.

Years later, various commissions determined that almost 3,200 people were killed or went missing between 1973 and 1990, when Pinochet's dictatorship ended, and tens of thousands of people were tortured or arrested and interrogated.

In a 2000 report, the CIA said it was aware of the coup plotting but that it did not instigate it. Some historians argue that US efforts to destabilise Mr Allende's government helped foment the coup.

"Victor could never have imagined that justice for his case would occur in the United States," Joan Jara said.

The Jara lawsuit claimed that the singer's music and political beliefs, spotlighting social inequality, were a threat to Pinochet's young government. Jara was arrested during an army assault on the university where he worked, and he was transported to the stadium that had been converted into a makeshift prison for 5,000 detainees. He was taken to an underground locker room where he was beaten and then shot more than 40 times, including in the head, according to the lawsuit.

In 1978, Joan Jara attempted to have a criminal investigation opened in Chile, but those efforts were thwarted by a law granting amnesty to anyone who committed crimes from 1973 to 1978. In 2012, the Santiago Court of Appeals charged Barrientos as a perpetrator in the killing of Jara but could not move forward with a prosecution because Chilean law does not allow for prosecutions in absentia. That left the family with no options to pursue justice in Chile, the lawsuit said.

Relatives of victims of the Pinochet regime previously have sued military leaders successfully in courts.


Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph