For Victor Jara, Chile's Nueva Cancion Martyr, Justice Might Finally Come

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I have followed the nueva canción (new song) movement for a long time. It championed human rights and freedom against the backdrop of dictators and police brutality in Argentina and Chile in the 1970’s. Mercedes Sosa was exiled to Spain after being threatened by the Argentine junta with death. Sosa gave us immortal anthems like “Soy Paz, Soy Pan, Soy Más” and the great version of Violetta Parra’s “Gracias a la Vida.” An earthmother of peace being threatened with death? Unbelievable.

Victor Jara got it even worse. A Chilean folksinger who influenced Bruce Springsteen and Joan Baez, Jara was rounded up by the military police in 1973 after democratically-elected Chilean President Salvador Allende was deposed by the military with the assistance of–you guessed it–the C.I.A. I remember listening to Pacific Radio station KPFK at the time this was happening. Jara was herded into Santiago’s National Stadium and held there. I recall that he took his guitar with him and sang. Soldiers broke the bones in his hands. He said he could still sing, at which point he was murdered. He was shot 44 times. Such is the threat of music that speaks of peace, freedom, and justice, especially for totalitarian dictatorships like this one. Or Afghanistan. Iran. The former U.S.S.R.

Mural of Victor Jara in Santiago, Chile. By Rec79 (CC BY-SA 3.0,

Now, 43 years later, his widow Joan Jara and family have forced his executioner and other military men into a Florida courtroom seeking justice. Pedro Pablo Barrientos, now 67 and the man who shot Jara, plus eight other retired military officers are finally facing trial. Surviving witnesses say Barrientos bragged about killing the famous singer-songwriter, then 40 years old, in his prime and at his height as champion of the New Song movement. This was all so long ago. I just read this past week that a Florida jury found Barrientos guilty, awarding Jara’s family $28 million in damages. Sometimes justice is done; in Jara’s case, it was a long time coming.

According to a recent New York Times article, Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz has said that if the U.S. grants a Chilean extradition request, Barrientos will be brought to Chile “with alacrity.”

Here is Jara’s complete album “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz” (The Right to Live in Peace”):

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