[Ppnews] Who Killed Victor Jarra?

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Aug 28 12:14:16 EDT 2008

And there are torturers who function with impunity in our very midsts!

August 28, 2008

Arrest and Murder

Who Killed Victor Jarra?


A few days after the other 9/11, Victor Jara., a 
Chilean folksinger, songwriter, actor, director, 
poet, political activist and teacher, was 
tortured and then shot to death while being held 
prisoner by the military.   This year on May 15th 
Chilean Judge Juan Eduardo Fuentes found Colonel 
Mario Manriquez, the man in charge of the 
makeshift prison where Jara was being held, 
guilty of his murder.  Today Colonel Manriquez is 
under arrest awaiting sentencing while the judge 
is attempting to determine who else was 
responsible for torturing and killing him.


Here is some of what we know about the 
circumstances surrounding the death, the 
discovery of the body, and the struggle to identify the murderers:

On Tuesday, September 11, 1973 the democratically 
elected Popular Unity government of Salvador 
Allende, a socialist, was overthrown in a bloody 
coup d'état led by Augusto Pinochet and supported 
by the United States.   Afterward thousands of 
Allende's supporters were arrested, tortured, and killed.

Victor Jara was detained on September 12, 1973 at 
La Universidad Técnica del Estado (UTE or State 
Technical University) where he worked and along 
with hundreds of students and colleagues forced 
to jog with his hands behind his neck to the 
Estadio Chile , a sports stadium six blocks away. 
Witnesses report he was beaten at the time of his 
arrest and en route to the stadium.  At the 
stadium an army officer recognized who he was.

"Bring that son of a bitch over here to me!" he ordered a soldier.

The officer's helmet was pulled down to his 
eyes.  Over one shoulder hung a machine gun.  On 
his chest was a hand grenade.  On his belt, a 
pistol.  His face was painted. He wore dark 
glasses.  And, he stood with his black boots spread wide.

"Don't treat him like a young lady, damn it!"

The soldier, following orders, struck Victor in 
the back with the butt of his rifle sending him 
sprawling face forward to the ground in front of the officer.

"Fuck your mother!" the officer started to rant 
as he began kicking the well known and popular 
song writer who now lay at his feet.   "You're 
Victor Jara, asshole!  You're the Marxist 
singer.   Your songs are pure shit! I'm going to 
teach you how to sing Chilean songs which aren't 
communist you son of a bitch!"   Victor's hair 
and face were soon covered with blood and one of his eyes swollen shut.

Then Colonel Manriquez showed up.  With him, 
under guard, was Danilo Bartulin, one of 
Allende's doctors.  Victor was made to join 
Bartulin and the two of them were led to an 
underground walkway.  There, according to 
Bartulin, they were beaten "from seven in the 
afternoon until three in the morning."   Then 
their tormentors were called away to help deal 
with the arrival of a new group of prisoners.  It 
was at that point that they managed to join their 
companions in the stadium's tiers of 
seats.  There they remained until Saturday, September 15.

Saturday around noon word reached Victor that a 
number of prisoners were to be released.  He 
responded by scrounging two sheets of paper and a 
pen from Boris Navia, a professor of law at the 
UTE who had been arrested with him, and starting 
to write.  After a time two soldiers appeared and 
signaled for him to follow them.  Victor passed 
the two pieces of paper back to Navia as he rose 
to go.  On them was a poem.  The poem later made 
its way to the outside world and became famous.

The soldiers took Victor to a broadcast booth 
where he was again badly beaten.  Later Carlos 
Orellana, another of Victor's colleagues arrested 
at the UTE, was approached by a student.  The 
student had seen Victor in a passageway where he 
was again being held isolated from the 
others.  Victor told him he wanted to talk to Orellana.

As Orellana approached the passageway, Victor 
persuaded the soldier guarding him to allow him 
to go to the bathroom.  Orellana followed. In the 
bathroom Victor told Orellana about a prisoner 
who was acting as a spy for the soldiers.  In 
other words, Orellana later recalled, even after 
Victor had been tortured and beaten and had good 
reason to believe that he wouldn't make it out of 
the stadium alive his concern was for the welfare of others, not himself.

Saturday afternoon, after his brief encounter 
with Victor, Orellana and other prisoners being 
held at the Estadio Chile were transferred to the 
Estadio Nacional, another sports stadium in 
Santiago that had been converted into a 
concentration camp. On their way out of the 
Estadio Chile they saw Victor's body.  It was 
riddled with bullet holes and piled together with 
other bodies in the foyer of the stadium.

Three days later, on Tuesday, September 18, Joan 
Jara, Victor's widow, received a visit from a 
young man she hadn't met before.  "I'm afraid to 
tell you," he said, "Victor is dead.  His body 
has been found in the morgue...You must come, 
unless his body is claimed they will 
take him away and bury him in a common grave."


Until the 9/11 1973 coup d'état Chile had been 
the most stable democracy in Latin America. It 
had an elected President, a two house legislature 
and a free and lively press.  The military Junta 
with support from President Richard Nixon in the 
United States changed all that.  Led by Augusto 
Pinochet it abolished the Congress, outlawed 
political parties and labor unions, appointed 
military rectors to run the universities, 
censored the press, forbid the playing of Victor 
Jara's records and other popular music, and 
established a secrete police force that arrested, 
tortured and killed those it considered a threat to its rule.

Even in the face of such repression, however, a 
resistance developed which won international 
support and 16 years after the coup forced the 
junta to hold a Presidential election. In the 
election, Patrico Alywin, a Christian Democrat, 
defeated the candidate supported by Pinochet.

The transition back to democratic rule in Chile 
began when Alywin took office on March 11, 
1990.  That transition led to Michelle Bachelet, 
a socialist like Allende, being elected President 
in 2006. Bachelet's father, a General in the Air 
Force and supporter of Allende, had been arrested 
after the coup and died after being 
tortured.  She and her mother had also been 
arrested and tortured.  Hence, her election 
signified for many that Chile was once again a healthy democracy.

President Bachelet, however, does not share that 
view.  Rather, in response to a question 
regarding the trials of military officials for human rights abuses she said,

"The important thing is in our country we do have 
trials going on. We are advancing and under my 
government we will still advance on three great 
principles: truth, justice and reparation for all 
the victims, all the families of the victims. We 
have been walking in that direction. And I will 
do all my efforts to continue in that direction. 
I mean -- no impunity -- no! Because I'm a 
doctor, I know when you have an injury it will 
heal if it's clean enough to heal; if your injury 
is dirty, it won't heal. And so when you are 
talking in societies, we are also talking in 
healing processes, and for a good healing 
process, you need to make things right."

That  effort to make things right got a boost 
even before Bachelet was elected when on October 
16, 1998 Pinochet was detained in England on a 
warrant issued by a Spanish judge, Baltasar 
Garzon, charging him with human right violations. 
Pinochet's arrest set a precedent.  It marked the 
first time anyone had been arrested under the 
doctrine of universal jurisdiction.  Universal 
jurisdiction holds that certain crimes threaten 
the welfare of people in all countries and 
therefore all countries have the right to arrest 
and hold accountable those responsible for 
them.  After his arrest Pinochet was allowed to 
return to Chile on the grounds that he was not 
mentally fit to stand trial.  After his arrival 
home he was again detained and charged with human 
rights violations. Though when he died in 2006 he 
was still under house arrest he had never spent a night in jail.

Joan Jara first brought charges against those who 
tortured and murdered her husband in 
1978.  However, for three reasons -- a decree 
issued by the military that year provided amnesty 
to its members for actions carried out in the 
aftermath of the coup, fear of how the military 
would react to prosecutions, and the resistance 
of many Chileans to opening old sores -- nothing 
came of her action or others like it.  But in 
August 1999, ten months after Pinochet was 
arrested, when she once again filed a lawsuit 
against her husband's killers, the climate in 
Chile had changed dramatically.   As a result on 
May 15 Judge Juan Fuentes found the man who had 
been in charge of the Estadio Chile, Colonel 
Mario Manriquez, guilty of his murder.  Then by 
declaring the case closed he provoked an outcry 
which led on June 3 to him agreeing to continue 
an investigation which seeks to identify and 
bring to justice all those who were involved in 
torturing and killing Victor Jara. Already, a key 
suspect, Edwin Dimter, has been 
identified.  Dimter is believed to be an 
especially brutal guard whom prisoners referred to as the "Prince."


How important is it to bring to justice every 
single individual who took part in torturing and 
killing Victor Jara 35 years after he was 
murdered?     Imagine walking down the street and 
seeing someone who tortured and killed a loved 
one sipping tea in a café while knowing that 
pickpockets and prostitutes are serving time in 
jail.  Chile will only become a healthy democracy 
again when everyone in the country is confident 
that wearing or having once worn a military 
uniform won't provide people with impunity for the crimes they committed.

That is one argument.  Others think it is more 
important to move up the chain of command than 
down.  "Who killed Victor Jara?"  The superficial 
answer according to this point of view is that 
most likely it was a soldier from a poor or 
working class background.  The more substantive 
answer is: "the people at the top of the chain of 
command, a chain which in the case of Victor Jara 
and other victims of the Pinochet regime leads 
all the way from Chile to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.

How could a common soldier with a working class 
background end up pulling the trigger that ended 
Victor Jara's life?  Victor answered that 
question a month before he was killed when in 
response to a question about his military service he said:

"I think that the professional soldier, from the 
fact of wearing a uniform and having power over 
the rest of the contingent, loses the sense of 
his own class.  I think the exercise of command 
makes him, consciously or unconsciously, put 
himself on a different plane and see life from a 
different point of view.  He believes himself to 
be superior.  As a shaven-headed private, I 
remember having to polish an officer's boots or 
do the cleaning in his house and I thought it 
very natural
indeed, I thought it almost a 
privilege to be called upon to do it, because it 
meant that I was a very disciplined bloke who 
could be trusted to do the job properly.  But 
looking at it now, without innocence, I think it 
was a conditioning – it conditions the servility 
of the private, just as it conditions the superiority of the officer."


"Duerme, Duerme negrito."  That is the title of a 
Cuban lullaby sung by Victor.  When I think of 
how Victor was killed I think of that song.  The 
lullaby is so gentle, so sweet, so 
beautiful.  How could anyone harm even a hair on 
the head of the man who sung it?  "Sleep, sleep, 
little back baby."  "Que tu mama está en el 
campo."  Your mama is in the 
fields.  "Tabajando."  Working.  "Trabando 
duramente."  Working hard.  "Trabajando sí." Yes, working hard.

Victor Jara was born on September 28, 1932 in a 
rural region south of Santiago. Joan Jara 
describes Victor's earliest memories in her book 
An Unfinished Song:  The Life of Victor 
Jara.    His parents, Manuel Jara and Amanda 
Martinez were dirt poor peasants.  Amanda "had a 
strong strain of Mapuche Indian blood in her" and 
"was the mainstay of the family" As a child she 
had learned the folk music of the 
countryside.   Manuel "was embittered with the 
heavy toil of being an inquilino" or tenant 
farmer.  "He saw his children more as additional 
labor than as independent human beings."  Manuel 
was illiterate but Amanda had taught herself to 
read.  The relationship between his parents was 
strained.  After Amanda became pregnant with her 
fifth child they separated and she moved with her 
children to the city.  There she got a job as a 
cook.  When Victor was 15 his mother died and he 
began living with friends.  In the winter of 1950 
he entered a seminary.  In 1952 he dropped out of 
the seminary. "Ten days later he was called up 
for military service."  After he left the 
military he pursued a career in theatre and 
music.  He also joined the Chilean Communist 
Party and became an active supporter of 
Allende.  And he took a dance class that was 
taught by a British born and raised woman named 
Joan Turner who later became his wife.  Together 
they had a daughter.  They named their daughter 
Amanda after his mother.  When he learned that 
Amanda had diabetes he wrote a song which he 
dedicated to her.  The song is called, "Te 
Recuerdo Amanda."  It has nothing to do with 
diabetes.  It is a song about love and loss and revolution

"Te recuerdo Amanda.  La calle mojada.  Corriendo 
a la fabrica donde trabajaba Manuel

I remember Amanda.  The wet street.  Running to 
the factory where Manuel worked.  The wide 
smile.  The rain in your hair.  None of it 
mattered.  Soon you would be with him.  With 
him.  With him. With him.  You have five 
minutes.  A lifetime in five minutes.  The back to work siren sounds.

"Y tu caminando.  Lo ilumias todo. Los cinco minutos te hacen florecer."

And you walking.  You make everything 
brighter.  Those five minutes make you flower.

Because he wants more than five minutes a day to 
spend with Amanda Manuel retreats to the 
mountains to join others fighting for workers' 
rights.  Five minutes later he is killed.  The 
back to work siren sounds again.

"Muchos no volvieron.  Tampoco Manuel."

Many didn't return.  Neither did Manuel.

Most of Victor Jara's songs are like Te Recuerdo 
Amanda in that they are concerned with justice 
and the people who struggle for justice.  Most 
promote progressive change.   And most evince 
compassion for workers and the poor.  An 
especially lively ditty called Ni Chicha Ni 
Limonada is one of his most popular and difficult to translate:

Arrímese mas pa' ca
aquí donde el sol calienta,
si uste' ya está acostumbrado
a andar dando volteretas
y ningún daño le hará
estar donde las papas queman.

Usted no es na'
ni chicha ni limoná
se la pasa manoseando
caramba zamba su dignidad.

The song makes fun of those who sympathized with 
Allende but refused to actively support him.  A 
rough translation of the excerpted lyrics above 
is:  Come closer\here in the heat of the sun\if 
you're already accustomed\to somersaulting 
about\it won't hurt you\to be where the potatoes 
burn.  You, you are nothing\You're neither hard 
cider nor lemonade\you go about putting everybody 
down\ man you have no dignity.


Victor Jara was a loving, compassionate singer 
and songwriter who shared the Allende 
government's goal of moving along a peaceful road 
toward socialism.   His only weapon in the 
struggle for justice was his guitar.

His brutal murder therefore is seen by many as 
emblematic of the lengths the U.S. is willing to 
go to overthrow even peaceful, democratic 
governments when they pursue policies which it 
considers a threat to its interests.  The 
military junta in Chile was not out just to kill 
a man.   Rather, acting as an agent of the Nixon 
White house and the most reactionary force within 
Chile, it was out to kill the idea that 
democratic socialism was a possibility.  But as 
the popular progressive singer, actress and 
songwriter Holly Near points out in her song 
entitled It Could Have Been Me it failed:

The junta broke the fingers on Victor Jara's hands
They said to the gentle poet "play your guitar now if you can"
Victor started singing but they brought his body down
You can kill that man but not his song
When it's sung the whole world round.

It could have been me, but instead it was you
So I'll keep doing the work you were doing as if I were two
I'll be a student of life, a singer of songs
A farmer of food and a righter of wrong
It could have been me, but instead it was you
And it may be me dear sisters and brother
Before we are through
But if you can sing for freedom
Freedom, freedom, freedom
If you can sing for freedom I can too

That, of course, is the sentiment echoed at 
political rallies and other events when someone 
yells, "Victor Jara!"  and others respond, 
"Presente!"   Yes, Victor, you are here in our 
hearts as we search for your killers and struggle 
for human rights everywhere in the world.

Paul Cantor is a professor of economics at 
Norwalk Community College in Connecticut.


Those interested in familiarizing themselves with 
the history of the U.S. involvement in the coup 
might read Covert Action in Chile, the report of 
the Select Committee To Study Governmental 
Operations With Respect to Intelligence 
Activities of the United States Senate and 
available on the web at 
They might also view Costa-Gavras' riveting film, 
Missing staring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek.

The Estadio Chile was renamed the Estadio Victor Jara in September 2003.

This information comes primarily from Boris 
Navia, a law professor at the UTE who was 
arrested with Victor.  Navia's account of the 
singer's final hour can be found on numerous web sites.

"That first night two officers of the Chilean Air 
Force approached Victor."  One of them threw a 
cigarette butt on the ground.  "Want to smoke?" 
he asked.  Victor raised his head but did not 
respond.  "Smoke big balls, smoke!" the officer 
commanded.  Then as Victor reached for the 
cigarette butt the officer stomped on his 
hand.  "Now let see if you are going to be able 
to play your guitar, you communist piece of 
shit," the officer said.  That account comes 
from  Juan Cristóbal Peña Fernandez article La 
Sangre de un Poeta or The Blood of A Poet which 
appeared  in the September, 2003 edition of 
Rolling Stone-Chile Fernandez attributes the 
information to Boris Navia (see footnote 
2).  However, since Navia was not with Victor 
when the incident he describes took place his 
story is based on hearsay.  Nevertheless, given 
the manner in which Victor was treated from the 
moment he arrived at the stadium it would not be 
surprising if at some point an incident similar 
to the one described by Navia actually did take 
place. That certainly would be consistent with 
Joan Jara's report that when she saw Victor's 
body in the morgue in Santiago:  "His eyes were 
open and they seemed still to look ahead with 
intensity and defiance, in spite of a wound on 
his head and terrible bruises on his cheek.  His 
clothes were torn, trousers round his ankles, 
sweater rucked up under his armpits, his blue 
underpants hanging in tatters round his hips as 
though cut by a knife or bayonet
his chest 
riddled with holes and a gaping wound in his 
abdomen.  His hands seemed to be hanging from his 
arms at a strange angle as though his wrists were 
broken." (Joan Jara, An Unfinished Song, Ticknor 
& Fields, New York, 1984, p. 243).

The poem, titled El Estadio, is available on the 
web in Spanish and in translation at 
and many other places.   Pete Seeger set  it to music

Joan Jara, Op. Cit., pp. 241 – 242.  See footnote 
4 for Joan Jara's description of the condition of 
Victor's body when she saw it in the morgue.

January 25, 2006 interview with Elizabeth 
Farmsworth on the News Hour with Jim 
Lehrer.  Found on the web at: 

Pinochet was also under investigation at the time 
of his death for squirreling away money obtained 
from illegal financial operations in the Riggs 
National Bank in Washington, D.C.   In 2007 his 
wife and five sons were arrested on related charges.

This question is similar to questions that South 
Africa, Cambodia, Rwanda and many other countries are confronted with today.

Joan Jara, Ob. cit., p. 36 This response is 
consistent with the conclusions of Stanley 
Milgram and Philip Zimbardo, two experimental 
psychologists who carried out experiments which 
demonstrated the willingness of almost anybody to 
behave brutally toward others.   Milgram 
discusses his experiment in his book Obedience to 
Authority: An Experimental View.  Zimbardo's 
Stamford Prison Experiment is described in his 
best selling The Lucifer Effect.  It is also 
important to point out that many common soldiers 
feared that if they disobeyed orders they 
themselves would be beaten and/or shot.

   On you tube you can listen to Mercedes Sosa singing the lullaby.

takes you to Victor performing Te Recuerdo Amanda on You Tube.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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