Just days after a 1973 CIA-supported coup overthrew the democratically elected socialist coalition government of Salvador Allende with the brutual dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Jara was tortured and killed in a football stadium which had been turned into a detention centre.
The NYT reports:
Judge Miguel Vásquez charged two of the former officers, Pedro Barrientos and Hugo Sánchez, with committing the murder and six others as accomplices. Mr. Sánchez, a lieutenant colonel, was second in command at the stadium. Mr. Barrientos, a lieutenant from a Tejas Verdes army unit, currently lives in Deltona, a city southwest of Daytona Beach, Fla., and was interrogated by the F.B.I. earlier this year at the request of a Chilean court. Attempts to reach Mr. Barrientos for comment were unsuccessful; his two listed telephone numbers had been disconnected. Judge Vásquez issued an international arrest warrant against Mr. Barrientos through Interpol Santiago and ordered the arrest of the other seven, who were in Chile. Those charged as accomplices are Roberto Souper, Raúl Jofré, Edwin Dimter, Nelson Hasse, Luis Bethke and Jorge Smith. (...) Judge Vásquez established that Mr. Jara was recognized by military officers, separated from the rest of the detainees and taken to the basement dressing rooms, which were being used to question prisoners. There, he was interrogated, beaten and tortured by several officers, according to the court.Victor Jara grew up in a poor family near Santiago -- his father began working by the age of six. As a student in Catholic seminar Jara came in contact with the popular social struggles and movements of his times.
Jara became involved first in theatre and then folk music, inspired by the artistic and cultural vibrancy of contemporary Chile with progressive artists like Violeta Parra, Atahualpa Yupanqui and the red poet Pablo Neruda. Jara became one of the leaders of the Nueva Canción (Spanish for ‘New Song’) movement – a movement based around “socially committed” music that takes a clear stand for freedom, against poverty, against imperialism and against human rights abuses.
Nueva Canción gave voice to the millions of peasants, workers and indigenous peoples of Latin America who were being crushed under the weight of US economic and political dominance.
Jara also joined the Communist Party of Chile, becoming an outspoken leftist in his country as well as an internationally famous artist. Like modern-day troubadour, he travelled across Latin America including Cuba, as well as Europe and the Soviet Union. Jara strongly supported the "Popular Unity" government of Allende, in which the Communist Party of Chile was an active participant. The social reforms enacted by the Allende government brought it friendship from the socialist world including Cuba and the USSR but the wrath of imperialism.
Soon after the election, the CIA stepped-up its work with ultra-right and neo-fascist forces inside Chile to overthrow the people's government. The CIA paid between $6.8 to $8 million USD to right-wing opposition groups to "create pressures, exploit weaknesses, magnify obstacles" against the elected government. It is not well known but the Canadian government also supported the US actions against Allende’s Chile, like the pre-coup embargo attempting to destabilize the country.
(In a sad chapter of history, China under Mao's leadership actually lined-up with the CIA and actually recognized Pinochet's Chile after the coup).
As for Jara, he was quickly arrested in the early days of the fascist junta by the military -- captured, along with hundreds of students, teachers and staff members, at the Santiago Technical University where he was a professor and researcher.
The detainees were bused to Chile Stadium, since then renamed Víctor Jara Stadium, and held in the bleachers for long days with thousands of other prisoners, in the custody of army units brought in from various parts of the country.
The soldiers tortured and electrocuted him, breaking his wrists and the bones of his musicians hands. They then reportedly taunted him to play the guitar. Instead, Jara played the anthem of the Allende's coalition -- Venceremos or We Will Win. In this spirit of resistance, Jara wrote his very last song while held in the stadium:
We are five thousandOn 16 September, Victor Jara was machine-gunned to death. His body, and four other victims, were later found dumped near a railroad track outside a cemetery (one of the victims remains unidentified).
Confined in this little part of town
We are five thousand
How many of us are there throughout the country?
Such a large portion of humanity
With hunger, cold, horror and pain
Six among us have already been lost
And have joined the stars in the sky.
One killed, another beaten
As I never imagined a human being
could be beaten
The other four just wanted to put an end
To their fears
One by jumping down to his death
The other smashing his head against a wall
But all of them
Looking straight into the eyes of death.
We are ten thousand hands
That can no longer work
How many of us are there
Throughout the country?
The blood shed by our comrade President
Has more power than bombs and machine guns
With that same strength our collective fist
Will strike again some day.
Song, How imperfect you are!
When I most need to sing, I cannot
I cannot because I am still alive
I cannot because I am dying
It terrifies me to find myself
Lost in infinite moments
On which silence and shouts
Are the objectives of my song
What I now see, I have never seen
What I feel and what I have felt
Will make the moment spring again.
According to the autopsy report, he had been shot 44 times.
The special military unit who massacred Jara and many other political activists became known as the "Caravan of Death" and flew across the country in helicopters executing trade unionists, leftists and members of the Communist Party of Chile, and many other progressives like liberation theology priests. More than 3,000 people were killed or went missing during the US-supported military dictatorship in Chile, from 1973 to 1990.
(While the Canadian government welcomed tens of thousands of families fleeing socialist governments from Europe and South-East Asia, only two thousand political prisoners were accepted from Chile. You can read more about that story in an review we ran earlier in the year, here.)
While Jara's bones may now be dust, his memory is alive in well in the hearts and minds of the Chilean people and progressives around the world. An official investigation into Victor Jara's death began in 2008 when army conscript José Paredes Marquez was charged with the killing. In 2009 his remains were reburied in a massive public funeral.
Rebel Youth notes that article has combined reports previously published on the New York Times, The Gaurdian, Wikipedia, Beatknowledge.org and other websites.