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40 Years After US-Backed Coup, Chileans Search For Justice

Published: September 11, 2013
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In this Sept. 11, 1973 photo, La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, is bombarded by military jets during a coup against President Allende's government. (AP/File)

In this Sept. 11, 1973 photo, La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, is bombarded by military jets during a coup against President Allende’s government. (AP/File)

Not everyone knows the name Victor Jara; but for students of rock ‘n’ roll history, Jara’s story — which has been profiled in Rolling Stone’s “15 Rock & Roll Rebels” — illustrates the humanity and conscious weight of music. A theater teacher and director, Jara picked up the social and moral convulsions of the Sixties, as the Free Love movement swept across his native Chile. With songs of love and justice that reflected the socialistic ideology of the common good — his songs are remembered as establishing the Nueva Cancion Chilena folk music movement — in the 1970 election Jara supported Salvador Allende for the Chilean presidency, the candidate whose ideology best matched his hopes for peace and justice.

This cost him his life. At the age of 40, Jara — along with thousands of others, including the teachers and students of the State Technical University in Santiago — were taken to the Chile Stadium on September 12, 1973. The day before, President Allende had died under mysterious circumstances in a military coup d’etat. After segregating him in an underground changing room, soldiers broke Jara’s ribs and shattered the bones in his hands. He was mocked and ordered to play his guitar with his broken hands. When he responded by singing “Venceremos” (“We Will Win”), he was further beaten.

On September 16, the soldiers swept Jara with machine-gun fire, riddling his body with 44 bullets. His body was dumped unceremoniously on a road on the outskirts of Santiago. Jara’s wife, Joan, retrieved his body and buried it. Immediately thereafter, she fled Chile.

The call for justice

“I saw literally hundreds of bodies that were piled up in what was actually the parking place of the morgue,” Joan Jara told to Democracy Now. “I recognized him. I saw what had happened to him. I saw the bullet wounds. I saw the state of his body. I consider myself one of the lucky ones in the sense that I had to face in that moment what had happened to Victor. I could [later] give my testimony with all the force of what I felt in that moment — and not the horror, which is much worse, of never knowing what happened to your loved one. That happened to so many families, so many women who have spent these 40 years looking for their loved ones who were made to disappear.”

Four decades later, she seeks justice for her loss. The soldier that is accused of killing Jara — Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez — is being sued by Joan Jara via the Center for Justice and Accountability for violations of human rights under a little-used federal regulation, the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991, which allows for redress of ross crimes against humanity by those who sought shelter in the United States.  For the last twenty years, Barrientos has lived in Florida.

The suit against Barrientos is only civil; he cannot be imprisoned as a result of it.

It is alleged by José Adolfo Paredes Márquez, who was arrested in 2009 in Chile for his participation in Jara’s death, that Barrientos killed Jara with a version of Russian Roulette — in which Barrientos placed one bullet into a chamber of a six-shot revolver, spun the chamber, placed the muzzle against Jara’s head and pulled the trigger, repeating the process until finally Jara was shot. At that point, Barrientos ordered conscripts to sweep the body with gunfire to “finish the job.”

The stadium where Jara died is now known as Estadio Victor Jara. This reflected a new mood in Chile, which began last decade, to address and resolve the crimes of the 1973 coup and the Pinchot regime.

Barrientos, for his part, has denied all involvement, saying he was not present at the stadium that day and was not aware of Jara at that time. “I do not need to face justice because I have not killed anyone,” he told Chilevision TV in May 2012. Five other former military officers face allegations of being involved in Jara’s death in Chile. To date, no criminal cases involved with Jara’s death have yet been heard.

“The fact that the man responsible for the torture and death of Victor Jara has been living freely in the United States shocks the conscience,” said the CJA’s executive director, Pamela Merchant. “Human rights abusers should not be able to enjoy safe haven here without consequence.”

The United States’ dirty hands

More glaring, perhaps, than the United States’ harboring of human rights abusers is the United States’ role in sponsoring those abuses. In the 1970s and 1980s, U.S. foreign policy was rigidly set on the contaminant of the Soviet Union’s global influence. The belief among policy-makers at the time was that countries under the Soviet system both excluded themselves from the global community politically and commercially and subjected their people to an environment hostile to democratic freedoms and individual protections. As such, communist and socialist influences in the Western Hemisphere — in line with the Monroe Doctrine — were not tolerated.

Until the 1960s, Chile was an economic juggernaut in South America, with the most stable government and economy in the region. The country was a member of the Alliance for Progress, a U.S.-backed group meant to prevent socialist revolutions from taking root in Latin America. As the nation grew more industrialized, prices rose and inflation increased. Workers requested higher wages but these were roundly rejected. Eventually, students and young workers started to form labor unions that actively protested the Washington-backed government.

The labor unions gave weight to the nation’s Socialist Party, leading to Allende’s election to the presidency. Washington feared that Allende, a Marxist, would bring Chile to a form of “Cuban Communism.” fears that were aggravated by a four-week state visit from Fidel Castro. After failed attempts to remove Allende and after the 1973 elections — which saw Allende’s Popular Unity coalition take 43.2 percent of the parliament, the CIA paid right-wing opposition groups between $6.8 million to $8 million to “create pressures, exploit weaknesses [and] magnify obstacles” toward Allende’s disposition.

It was reported that then-President Richard Nixon told Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that he wanted Allende removed. According to the Church Committee report, the CIA attempted to push the Chilean Congress to block the appointment of Allende as a candidate for presidency, paid to sway public opinion against him in the elections and financed protests designed to burden his presidency and force him to resign. The CIA’s efforts led to the confirmation of Jorge Alessandri as president, but when Alessandri threatened to resign if appointed, the CIA’s efforts finally failed with the appointment of Allende.

The CIA’s second attempt came with a threat to remove American support for the Chilean military if it didn’t support the removal of Allende. On top of the CIA-funded propaganda against Allende, the CIA used ITT Corporation — a multinational industrial manufacturing firm — which owned 70 percent of the Chilean Telephone Company and financed the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, to conduit money to Allende’s opposition. Eventually, the Chilean Congress and Supreme Court announced that the Allende government went against the Chilean constitution. This led to the military siege against the presidential palace and the death of Allende. Some have speculated that the siege was facilitated by Kissinger’s involvement of the murder of the head of the Army, Gen. Rene Schneider, who opposed a military coup.

The price of selfish aims

The aftermath of this is well-known. After the coup, the military, led by the new head of the Army, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, led a sweep of Allende supporters — real or imagined — that left 130,000 imprisoned over a three-year period. After the military junta set up after the fall of Allende solidified into a full dictatorship under Pinochet, Chile fell into a state of corruption, economic freefall and tyranny that lasted until 1990.

“He shut down parliament, suffocated political life, banned trade unions, and made Chile his sultanate,” wrote Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation. “His government disappeared 3,000 opponents, arrested 30,000 (torturing thousands of them) … Pinochet’s name will forever be linked to the Desaparecidos, the Caravan of Death, and the institutionalized torture that took place in the Villa Grimaldi complex.”

In Bill Moyer’s book, “The Secret Government,” Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) commented during his committee hearing on U.S. intelligence abuses abroad,

“Like Caesar peering into the colonies from distant Rome, Nixon said the choice of government by the Chileans was unacceptable to the president of the United States. The attitude in the White House seemed to be, ‘If in the wake of Vietnam I can no longer send in the Marines, then I will send in the CIA.’”

Ultimately, the Chilean Army would accept responsibility for the human rights abuses done under Pinochet, who would serve no punishment for his role. But as the United States debates intervening again, this time in a different part of the world, one must stop and ask what is the ultimate price of America imposing its will on the world? Is it a widowed wife, desperately seeking justice for her husband who was killed for his music?

Can America pay that price?


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