Justice for Victor Jara

By Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryIn 1973, well-known Chilean folk singer Victor Jara was found dead just days after he was arrested by the Chilean military junta. His body had been riddled with over 40 bullet holes, showed signs of torture, and his fingers had been broken as a sign of ultimate disrespect. Although he was a member of the Communist Party of Chile at the time, and although he supported the Popular Unity front government of then Chilean President Salvador Allende, he was a pacifist who advocated peace in his songs. This of course meant nothing to the operatives of the military junta who saw him as a “threat” to the new military order that had overthrown the legitimately elected government of Allende.

The soldiers and officers who had carried out the torture and execution of Jara were tried for their crimes and sentenced to between 8 to 25 years. They appealed on the basis that this was a long time ago, that they were following orders, and they were now elderly. The courts were going to have none of it. Jara had never received a trial, was brutally murdered even though he had committed no crime, and the defendants following orders was not a valid reason for the cruelty and brutality they visited upon Jara and other innocent political prisoners in the time period when Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet ruled the country from 1973 to 1990. Further, their advanced age cannot be used as an excuse for their crimes.

The sad thing is that the dictator himself, Pinochet, escaped justice when he died in 2006 at the age of 91. He had been allowed to live a full life while 3,200 political prisoners held at a stadium by the military had not. Further, another 80,000 people’s lives had been ruined or permanently damaged because of his rule. Since democracy was restored in Chile, it has been a long and arduous process of trying to tackle Chile’s dark period under Pinochet. The former soldiers, Raul Jofre, Edwin Dimter, Nelson Haase, Ernesto Bethke, Juan Jara, and Hernan Chacon, who killed Jara, are being given what can only be called a life sentence because they are now between the ages of 73 and 85 respectively. For those who think that such elderly persons should be given a pass because of their age is not an acceptable excuse since age does not wipe out the crimes and horrors they inflicted when they were young. Justice cannot know time or statute of limitations when it involves war crimes or crimes against humanity.

The sentencing of these former soldiers is part of a process of giving the country and the Chilean people some closure of this dark period. In Victor Jara’s time he was already famous, now he is an icon in Chile and throughout South America. His name is everywhere, people listen to his music, and he is remembered for being a light of hope in an era of darkness. Most important of all, the stadium where he was held and eventually murdered is now named after him. It is a fitting tribute to a man who only wanted peace.

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