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Extradite Pedro Barrientos Núñez to Chile

It is time to try those accused of killing Chilean songwriter Víctor Jara

By Dr Cesar Chelala Created: February 7, 2013 Last Updated: February 7, 2013
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A man lights a candle at the gates of the Víctor Jara Stadium, formerly called Estadio Chile, bearing pictures of those who disappeared under the 1973–1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, on Sept. 11, 2002, in Santiago, Chile. (Victor Rojas/AFP/Getty Images)

A man lights a candle at the gates of the Víctor Jara Stadium, formerly called Estadio Chile, bearing pictures of those who disappeared under the 1973–1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, on Sept. 11, 2002, in Santiago, Chile. (Victor Rojas/AFP/Getty Images)

On Dec. 28, 2012, Chilean Judge Miguel Vásquez charged eight retired army officers with the murder of popular songwriter, guitarist, and theater director Víctor Jara. Jara was killed days after the 1973 military coup against Chilean President Salvador Allende.

One of those charged is Pedro Barrientos Núñez, reportedly the one who fired the final shot that killed Jara. Barrientos is now living in Deltona, Fla. His extradition to Chile could help properly try all those involved in Jara’s death.

His torturers had no mercy with Jara’s hands and hit them with their rifle butts while mockingly challenging him to continue playing his guitar with his broken hands.

The most recognizable voice of Chile’s dispossessed, Jara was one of the founders of a new genre of Latin American song, and one of its best known practitioners. Jara was closely identified with the leftist social movement led by the late Chilean President Salvador Allende.

Jara composed “Venceremos” (“We Will Triumph”), which became the theme song of Allende’s Unidad Popular (Popular Unity) movement. Jara and his wife, Joan Turner, were among the main participants in the cultural renaissance movement that swept the country after Allende’s victory.

Sept. 11, 1973, is a day that will live in infamy for the people of Chile, when Gen. August Pinochet’s troops mounted a coup against the Allende government. Jara was taken prisoner on Sept. 12, 1973, from Chile’s Technical University and later taken to the Estadio Chile, a large sports stadium, which was renamed Estadio Víctor Jara in 2003.

Jara was held at the stadium for four days where he was repeatedly tortured. His torturers had no mercy with Jara’s hands and hit them with their rifle butts while mockingly challenging him to continue playing his guitar with his broken hands. According to the testimony of his companions who were also in prison Jara remained undaunted and sang part of his song “Venceremos” as he was being tortured.

Other prisoners later testified that even during those difficult times for them Jara was only concerned about the welfare of his companions. Four days after being taken prisoner he was taken to a deserted area in the country where he was shot 44 times.

His body was dumped on a road on the outskirts of Santiago from where he was taken to the city’s morgue. His wife was allowed to retrieve his body only after she promised that she wouldn’t publicize the event.

Shortly after Jara’s death a Chilean television technician surreptitiously played an excerpt of Jara’s song “La Plegaria a un Labrador” (“Prayer to a Laborer”) over a Hollywood film soundtrack. Despite this isolated tribute, however, for several years Jara’s recordings went unheard in Chile.

After Pinochet’s death in 2006, Jara’s wife and other human rights activists stepped up their efforts to find Jara’s killers, despite apparent delays by prosecutors and the army. On Dec. 28, 2012, Appellate Court Magistrate Miguel Vasquez ordered the arrest of two former military officers, Hugo Sanchez Marmonti and Pedro Barrientos Núñez as the material authors of the crime, and named six other former military officials as accomplices. All of them have been detained, with the exception of Pedro Barrientos Núñez.

According to School of America Watch reports, four of the eight officers accused of murdering Jara were trained at the School of the Americas, which at that time was located in Panama. These reports indicate that Barrientos Núñez took courses at that school in the 1960s and 1970s. Barrientos Núñez has strongly denied any participation in Jara’s murder, despite strong testimonies condemning him.

According to international law, the United States now has the legal duty to prosecute Barrientos Núñez or, to complete Judge Vasquez’s investigation of Jara’s murder, to extradite him to Chile. This is mandated by the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and by the Geneva Conventions.

Extraditing Barrientos Núñez back to Chile will be a miniscule compensation for the tragedies that the coup against Allende unleashed on the Chilean people.

Dr. César Chelala is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award for “Missing or Dead in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims,” a cover story for The New York Times Magazine.

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