[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?
By PAUL CANTOR
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.
ARREST AND MURDER
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."
TRIAL AND TRANSITION
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."
WHO KILLED VICTOR?
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
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."
THE MAN AND HIS MUSIC
"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 PRESENTE
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
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.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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