Chile court upholds jail term for retired soldiers over Victor Jara murder

The soldiers were convicted in 2018 for the 1973 murder of beloved folk singer in the aftermath of the coup d’etat that installed Augusto Pinochet.

victor jara chile
Teacher and singer Victor Jara, seen here on a poster, was tortured and shot to death during the Chilean dictatorship in 1973 [File: Javier Torres/AFP]

A Chilean court has confirmed jail terms for seven elderly retired soldiers for the 1973 murder of beloved folk singer Victor Jara in the aftermath of the coup d’etat that installed Augusto Pinochet.

The soldiers, aged between 73 and 85 and free men until the ruling, will now have to report to prison to serve sentences of between eight and 25 years. The defendants had approached the Criminal Chamber of the Chilean Supreme Court to review their conviction in 2018.

Jara, then 40, was arrested the day after the September 11, 1973, CIA-backed coup that overthrew socialist President Salvador Allende.

He had been held, along with some 5,000 other political prisoners, in a sports stadium where he was interrogated, tortured and killed. His body was found days later, riddled with 44 bullets.

Among other horrors, the singer-guitarist’s fingers were crushed – broken by rifle butts and boots.

Jara was a member of Chile’s Communist Party and a fervent supporter of the Popular Unity coalition that backed Marxist President Allende, who came to power by popular vote in 1970.

The body of a fellow detainee, Littre Quiroga, 33 – national prisons director and Communist Party member – was found with signs of torture near that of Jara and three other political prisoners.

Monday’s ruling confirmed sentences of 15 years for the murders of Jara and Littre and another 10 years for the kidnapping of each, for ex-army officials Raul Jofre, Edwin Dimter, Nelson Haase, Ernesto Bethke, Juan Jara and Hernan Chacon.

Rolando Melo received eight years for his role in covering up the crimes. The case concludes as Chile is set to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the coup d’etat on September 11.

The men had first been convicted in 2018 and saw their sentences increased by an appeals court three years later – jail terms confirmed in large part by the Supreme Court on Monday in what is the final ruling in the matter.

Jara, a pacifist singer whose lyrics spoke of love and social protest, became an icon of Latin American popular music with songs like The Right to Live in Peace.

He inspired musicians from U2 to Bob Dylan, and at a 2013 concert in Santiago, Bruce Springsteen paid tribute to him.

Pinochet ruled Chile until 1990 and died in 2006 without ever being convicted for the crimes committed by his regime, believed to have killed some 3,200 left-wing activists and other suspected opponents.

In 2009, Chilean authorities ordered the exhumation of Jara’s remains. He was buried in an official ceremony that year attended by then-President Michelle Bachelet.

Today, the stadium where Jara was held and suffered bears his name.

Source: AFP