Chile: ex-soldier arrested for Víctor Jara murder

A judge in Chile has charged a former soldier in the 1973 murder of internationally renowned Chilean folk singer Víctor Jara. Up to now, the only person prosecuted in the case was the commanding officer at the temporary prison camp where the songwriter was killed shortly after the Sept. 11, 1973 coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

On May 26, Judge Juan Fuentes indicted 54-year-old José Paredes, who is now in preventive detention in the Santiago High Security Prison, where he and another former army conscript had been held incommunicado since May 22 on the judge’s orders. Fuentes charged Paredes but released the other former soldier, Francisco Quiroz, also 54, for lack of evidence.

Both men, who were 18-year-olds doing their compulsory military service in 1973, were reportedly guarding Jara in the Estadio Chile, the stadium in Santiago where more than 5,000 political prisoners were held and tortured after the coup that toppled the democratically elected government of socialist President Salvador Allende (1970-1973).

Despite the advances made in the investigation of the folk singer’s murder, the lawyer for the Jara family, Nelson Caucoto, did not celebrate the former soldier’s indictment. “It is not our aim to chase down conscripts, I want to make that very clear,” said Caucoto. “The conscripts formed part of the larger scheme of things, but they were the weakest and most vulnerable link, and cannot be held responsible. I am interested in the chiefs that gave the orders to execute Víctor Jara.”

Fuentes has not yet reached any conclusions about the participation of a mysterious officer known as “El Príncipe” (The Prince), described by a number of witnesses as the one who especially had it in for Jara, and who may have given the order to kill him.

Jara’s widow, British ballet dancer and choreographer Joan Turner, said she had no desire for revenge against former conscripts who may have been involved in the case. “Our legal action was against Pinochet,” said Turner.

During Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship, some 3,000 people were killed and forcibly disappeared, and another 35,000 were tortured, according to truth reports. Jara, often described as the “Bob Dylan of Chile,” was seized the day after the coup at the Metropolitan Technical University where he worked as a professor, and taken to the Estadio Chile (renamed the Estadio Víctor Jara in 2003). He was savagely beaten and tortured before his body was riddled with 44 bullets on Sept. 15, 1973. His corpse was dumped near a cemetery in Santiago.

An article published Tuesday by the Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIPER) attempted to reconstruct the circumstances surrounding his death. According to CIPER, an unidentified second lieutenant, in the presence of then lieutenant Nelson Haase and several conscripts, reportedly played Russian roulette with Jara in a room in the stadium until the gun finally went off, shooting the singer in the head. The second lieutenant then allegedly ordered the conscripts, including Paredes, to open fire on the folksinger.

The article says Paredes is a construction worker who never told anyone, not even his wife, of his alleged participation in the crime. Lieutenant Haase, who is today a prominent businessman, might be the infamous “El Príncipe,” CIPER says in the article. Haase denies the allegation.

The difficulty of investigating the crime committed 36 years ago led Judge Fuentes to close the probe on May 15, 2008, only accusing one person of the murder: retired Col. Mario Manríquez Bravo, commanding officer at the Estadio Chile internment camp. But Fuentes reopened the case on Jun. 5, 2008 after receiving more than 90 documents from Caucoto, the Jara family lawyer.

Government spokesperson Carolina Tohá said the judge’s decision to indict the former soldier “should be cause for satisfaction,” because Jara “is part of Chile’s identity, helped cultivate Chilean culture, brought joy to Chilean families, is a cultural icon both within and outside of Chile, and was the victim of one of the cruelest crimes committed in Chile.”

Joan Turner urged the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet to declare the Estadio Victor Jara a national monument. On May 6, the Chilean Congress granted Turner Chilean citizenship in return for her contribution to the country as a dance teacher. Turner had worked for years as a dance instructor at the University of Chile Theater School, where she met Jara, who was the theater director there. After fleeing the country when her husband was killed, she returned in 1985 to head the Victor Jara Foundation. She also founded the Spiral Dance Center. (IPS via Upside Down World, May 29)

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