The widow and the two daughters of Víctor Jara, an emblematic Chilean folk-singer, have filed a civil lawsuit in Florida against the man who is accused of torturing and killing Jara during the first days of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.
The plaintiffs seek punitive and compensatory damages in a federal court for the musician’s murder, which was carried out by eight men, according to a Chilean court’s investigation published last year.
According to the lawsuit, Pedro Barrientos, a former Chilean officer mentioned in the enquiry who has been living in Florida for more than a decade, tortured Jara and forced him to play a game of Russian roulette, which ended in the singer’s death.
"The Chilean Armed Forces … arrested, tortured, and violently executed Victor Jara as part of its mass roundup of intellectuals, political leaders, and perceived supporters of democratically elected President Salvador Allende Gossens," the lawsuit states.
Jara, a musician known across Latin America for his songs of social protest and his poems about love and peace, was murdered shortly after Salvador Allende was killed during a CIA-backed coup de état on Sept 11, 1973.
The day after Allende’s death, Chilean military police arrested Jara, a staunch supporter of Chile’s socialist party, and took him to the Estadio Nacional, the country’s national soccer stadium in Santiago, along with thousands of others prisoners.
Inside the stadium, Jara was beaten and interrogated for days. Soldiers broke the musician’s hands, and then, on Sept 16, Pedro Barrientos, a Chilean officer, played Russian roulette while pressing a gun to the back of Jara’s head.
Barrientos shot the singer at point blank range, and then told five other men to repeatedly shoot the corpse, the lawsuit states. Jara’s body was found days later with 44 bullets and clear signs of torture by a morgue employee, who alerted the musician’s wife.
A Chilean judge has issued arrest warrants for the eight men allegedly involved in Jara’s death. He requested an international arrest warrant for Barrientos, who had left Chile in the early 1990s, and who was found last year working as a cars salesman in Florida by the journalists of a Chilean television program called La Mira.
Barrientos, now an American citizen, has denied the charges. "That is not true," Barrientos told Chilevision last year. "I was never in Chile Stadium, I don't know the singer Jara or who he was back then."
“This lawsuit will contribute to the extradition request,” Nelson Caucoto, a Chilean lawyer who represents Jara’s family told AFP.
For Latin Americans and musicians around the world, Jara has become a symbol of art’s fight against repression. Musicians such as Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Lila Downs, U2, The Clash, and Roger Waters have mentioned or dedicated songs and performances to Jara’s memory.