On April 16, 2015, a U.S. District Court in Florida ordered a former Chilean army lieutenant, accused of killing Chilean singer, poet and songwriter Victor Jara, to face a civil law suit in the U.S. The Court agreed to hear the case against Pedro Barrientos Núñez, a former Chilean lieutenant who is now residing in south Florida. Barrientos is accused of having assassinated Jara just five days after the U.S.-backed September 11, 1973 coup ousted democratically elected Salvador Allende and installed General Augusto Pinochet as Commander in Chief.
The ruling comes after former soldiers told a Chilean court in 2009 that Jara was loaded onto a bus along with hundreds of university professors and students perceived to be supporters of or sympathizers with Allende, and transported to Chile Stadium (now named Victor Jara Stadium). Once there, military personnel recognized Jara, separated him from the other prisoners and placed him in Barriento’s custody. The former soldiers went on to establish that Barrientos ordered Jara’s torture and later shot him to death as part of a game of Russian Roulette. After listening to the witnesses and having Jara’s body exhumed for autopsy tests, the Chilean Appeals court determined that Jara, the man who had become an iconic symbol of the movement against Pinochet, was killed on September 16 as a result of 44 gunshot wounds. It proceeded to indict Barrientos and seven other men for Jara’s death. But Chilean media soon learned that Barrientos had fled Chile to the U.S. in 1989, in the wake of the Chilean plebiscite that voted out General Pinochet’s regime. The now 66-year-old Chilean general turned car salesman and U.S. citizen was beyond Chilean court reach.
In 2012, Chile’s Supreme Court approved an extradition request for Barrientos. This meant the former lieutenant could some day stand criminal proceedings in his native country. But Joan Jara, Jara’s wife, and their daughter decided not to sit and wait for Chile to act on the request. Upon learning Barrriento’s whereabouts, they reached out to the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), a U.S.-based human rights organization that represents survivors of torture and other grave human rights abuses against individual rights violators. Along with Chadborune & Park LLP law firm, CJA soon filed a civil law suit on their behalf in a U.S. District Court in Orlando. The lawsuit accused Barrientos of torture, extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity, and asserted claims under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA).
More than four decades after Jara’s death, the Florida court has agreed to hear the case on claims of his torture and extrajudicial killing. It however dismissed claims of crimes against humanity. CJA Attorney Almudena Bernabéu said she is delighted with the news and is pleased that the Jara family is one step closer to having their day in court. The attorney, however, expressed disappointment with the Court’s decision to dismiss the crimes against humanity claim. She stated “Victor Jara’s murder—and the thousands of crimes committed during Pinochet’s regime—ought to be named as what they are: crimes against humanity.”
For more information:
Justicia al fin para Víctor Jara (El País)