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Family of Chilean singer slain during coup files suit in Florida

September 05, 2013|By Chris Kraul
  • Victor Jara was a folk singer in Chile. His family has filed a civil lawsuit that accuses former Chilean army Lt. Pedro Barrientos Nunez of participating in the torture and murder of Jara.
Victor Jara was a folk singer in Chile. His family has filed a civil lawsuit… (Patricio Guzman / Associated…)

BOGOTA, Colombia — With the 40th anniversary of the overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende approaching, it’s evident that scars from the violence and human rights abuses committed during and after the military coup are still raw.

The family of folk singer Victor Jara, one of the best known of the more than 4,000 people who were killed and disappeared in the Sept. 11, 1973 coup, filed a civil suit Wednesday night against one of his alleged killers, a former Chilean army lieutenant now living in Florida.

In the suit filed in U.S. federal court in Jacksonville, Joan Jara and the couple’s two daughters, Amanda and Manuela, allege that Pedro Barrientos Nunez participated in the torture and murder of Jara at a soccer stadium in Santiago, the capital, a few days after the coup.

Victor Jara, who was also a theater director and professor at the State Technical University, was detained on the day of the coup and taken to the stadium along with thousands of other detainees. He was killed on or about Sept. 15, according to the civil suit.

Barrientos was served with the complaint at his home in Deltona, Fla. He moved to the United States in 1989 and subsequently became a U.S. citizen, said Almudena Bernabeu, an attorney with the Center for Justice and Accountability public interest law firm in San Francisco.

Calls by the Associated Press to Barrientos’ home on Thursday went unanswered. In a 2012 interview with Chilean TV reporter, he denied having murdered Jara.

In December, Barrientos and several other former officers were indicted in a Chilean court for alleged crimes against humanity in connection with Jara's murder, said Bernabeu, who is also a law professor at UC Berkeley. An extradition request for Barrientos was approved by the Chilean Supreme Court but has not yet been sent to the U.S. authorities, she said.

“My clients are not seeking money damages. Jara’s widow and daughters would never put a price on torture and killing. More than anything they are seeking justice, and a civil suit like this one is the only avenue to justice open to them in the U.S. legal system.”

The Center for Justice and Accountability, which receives financial support from U.S. and European foundations, is pursuing legal action against other alleged human rights violators, including Carlos Jimenez, alias “Macaco,” a former Colombian paramilitary leader now in a U.S. prison.

Several events are scheduled in Chile next week to mark the 1973 overthrow led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who ruled until 1989. Former President Michelle Bachelet, herself a torture victim and a favorite to win the November presidential election, is expected to take part.

In an unusual gesture Wednesday, Chile’s National Assn. of Magistrates of the Judiciary, the largest group of judges, issued an apology for not having better defended human rights during and after the coup.

“The time has come to ask for forgiveness from victims and Chilean society,” the judges said in a statement.

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Kraul is a special correspondent.

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