A former Chilean military officer recently discovered living in Florida has been found responsible for the torture and murder of famed Chilean folk singer Victor Jara more than 40 years ago.
Pedro Barrientos Nunez stood accused of personally killing Jara in a game of Russian roulette in a Santiago soccer stadium in the immediate aftermath of the coup that began the rule of infamous Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in September 1973.
A civil lawsuit filed by Jara’s family against Barrientos in 2013 says Jara was one of thousands of civilians rounded up and thrown in the stadium, where he was held for three days, during which he composed a poem about the “horror [he was] living.” Then, one day “soldiers under Lt. Barriento’s command blindfolded, handcuffed, interrogated, brutally beat and otherwise tortured” him, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit said that Barrientos oversaw the torture and then put a revolver with a single bullet to Jara’s head, pulling the trigger until the weapon fired, killing Jara.
After executing Jara, Barrientos purportedly ordered his men to riddle Jara’s body with bullets.
The lawsuit said Barrientos was one of a handful of Chilean military commanders in charge of the detention of approximately 5,000 civilians in the stadium, many of whom were tortured and killed.
“They — ‘they’ being the leaders of the coup — rounded up a number of people, including intellectuals, political opponents and social icons, and Victor Jara was one of those,” said C. Dixon Osburn, the executive director of the Center for Justice and Accountability, whose attorneys are representing the Jara family in the case. “[He was] an iconic folk singer who sang about social injustice in Chile, and that was very threatening to Gen. Pinochet ... [the stadium] was a place where people were tortured and a place where their loved ones never saw them again.”
Barrientos told The Daytona Beach News-Journal on Friday that he had no choice but to take Pinochet’s side in the coup and that he was nowhere near the stadium at the time of Jara’s death.
“I did not know who Victor Jara was until details of his death were made public,” Barrientos said.
Barrientos has been in the U.S. since 1989 and is now an American citizen, according to local reports and the family’s lawsuit. But it wasn’t widely known that he was living in the U.S. until a Chilean news program tracked him to a suburb of Orlando, Florida, in 2012. The family members filed their lawsuit the next year.
Today a Florida jury sided with the Jara family and ordered Barrientos to pay $28 million in damages, according to the Center for Justice and Accountability.
Joan Jara, the singer’s 88-year-old widow, attended the Florida trial and said afterward, “It has been a long journey seeking justice for Victor’s death.”
“His songs continue to be sung today and inspire both artists and those who seek social justice,” she said in a press release from the CJA. “Today there is some justice for Victor’s death and for the thousands of families in Chile who have sought truth. I hope the verdict today continues the healing.”
Barrientos has been indicted for Victor Jara’s murder in Chile, and in January, Chile’s Supreme Court reportedly approved a judge’s request that the country move to extradite him from the U.S.
The U.S. and Chile have an extradition treaty, but earlier this month officials at the U.S. Justice and State departments declined to comment on any potential extradition for Barrientos.