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Fri Feb 8, 2013, 10:50 AM

An apparition: extraditing Victor Jara’s suspected killer

An apparition: extraditing Victor Jara’s suspected killer
Carlos Labbé 8 February 2013

The struggle to bring one of the protest singer’s suspected killers from the USA back to his native Chile will remind Chileans of the struggle to extradite and try Pinochet himself. And while Jara’s case helped to draw attention to ‘disappearances’ under the regime, hundreds of families still have no answers

On Wednesday 30 January the request to extradite Pedro Pablo Barrientos, an ex-lietuenant of the Chilean army, was made official in Santiago. Barrientos is charged with being one of the eight participants in the killing of the Chilean singer-songwriter Víctor Jara, which took place at the national stadium in Santiago on 16 September 1973, in the first days of General Augusto Pinochet’s 17-year military dictatorship.

This is a milestone in the history of the South American country’s relations with the US as much as it is a milestone for justice: in Chile, extradition orders issuing from the criminal justice system are rare. Nor is it common for extradition cases to reach notoriety, and much less if they involve the country’s second-largest trading partner. The wide renown of Víctor Jara’s work – as a musician, folklorist, theatre director and political activist under the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende – has been elemental in his case; but so has the intensive campaigning of his widow Joan Jara, who has been helped by her US nationality. Above all – one would hope – the sheer brutality of the testimonies that were collected about the crime have been decisive: ‘the second lieutenant started playing Russian roulette with a revolver that he held pressed against the singer’s forehead. Then came the first fatal shot into his skull. The body of Víctor Jara fell sideways to the ground. […] The second lieutenant ordered the conscripts to fire machine-gun bursts into the artist’s body. […] According to the autopsy report, the body of the singer had received around 44 bullet wounds.’

Public opinion around the case will depend on what interventions the government of tycoon Sebastián Piñera is prepared to make into the Chilean judicial system. Piñera’s cabinet, and its ideological stance, are controlled by ministers who worked for Pinochet’s dictatorship and who are currently active in the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union) – a powerful, ultraconservative, antimarxist, Catholic political party linked to the neoliberal economic elite of Chile that has been driving the politics of the country since the mid-1980s. A possible precedent came in 2007, when a group of millionaire Chilean businessmen with heavy investments in Peru mobilised their lobbyists to prevent a trial to extradite, from Santiago to Lima, the ex-president of Peru, Alberto Fujimori, who was accused of fiscal fraud, genocide and crimes against humanity during his government. At that time, Chile was governed by the socialist Michelle Bachelet.


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