Family of slain Chilean singer seeks justice in U.S.

Civil lawsuit accuses former Chilean army lieutenant of firing shot that killed singer

By Frederick Bernas and Luis Andres Henao
Associated Press Writers

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — The family of Victor Jara claims to have solved the 40-year-old mystery of who killed the revered folk singer during Chile’s 1973 coup, and they’re preparing to prove it in a federal courtroom in Jacksonville, Florida, invoking rarely used U.S. laws that address human rights violations committed elsewhere.

The family’s civil lawsuit accuses former Chilean army Lt. Pedro Barrientos Nunez of ordering soldiers to torture Jara, and it says Barrientos personally fired the fatal shot while playing a game of “Russian roulette” inside a locker room in Santiago’s Estadio Chile, where some 5,000 supporters of socialist President Salvador Allende were being detained.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday, and the family’s legal team said Thursday that Barrientos was served notice when he opened the door at his home in Deltona, Florida, where he now lives as a U.S. citizen. Repeated calls to his home were not answered Thursday.

Barrientos, part of a group of officers who also face criminal charges in Chile related to the folk singer’s killing, has denied all involvement, saying he wasn’t there and didn’t even know who Jara was at the time of the coup.

Last December, Barrientos and another officer were charged in Chile with murdering Jara, while five other former military officers were named as accomplices. Most were detained, but Barrientos, who left Chile in 1989, has yet to face justice.

The criminal case has yet to be tried in Chile, but this civil suit claims that Barrientos led the “criminal enterprise.” It makes seven civil claims, including torture, extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity.

The suit invokes two U.S. laws, the Torture Victim Protection Act and the Alien Tort Statute, that give U.S. courts standing to judge allegations of rights violations committed in other countries.

Jara, whose songs tackled social and political issues, was swept up with thousands of other Allende supporters as Gen. Augusto Pinochet consolidated power in September 1973.

The lawsuit alleges that the folk singer was pulled from the crowd and was taken to a locker room inside the stadium where Barrientos ordered soldiers under his command to torture him.

Eventually, “Lieutenant Barrientos put a pistol to the back of Victor Jara’s head and proceeded to ‘play’ rounds of ‘Russian roulette.’ Lieutenant Barrientos loaded one bullet in the chamber of his pistol, spun the chamber and pulled the trigger, knowing that each shot could be lethal.”

Finally, Barrientos “shot Victor Jara in the back of the head at point blank range,” and then “ordered five military conscripts under his command to repeatedly shoot Victor Jara’s corpse” at least 40 times before dumping the body outside, the lawsuit says.

The suit doesn’t identify any witnesses, but attorney Almudena Bernabeu with the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability, which is assisting the Jara family, told The Associated Press that Barrientos’ responsibility was verified by two witnesses who corroborated information supplied by former conscript Jose Paredes, who himself was originally charged with Jara’s murder.


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