The U.S. verdict convicting former Chilean army officer, Pedro Barrientos, accused of the murder of singer-songwriter Víctor Jara, has opened the way to continue investigations into the events which occurred during the country’s 1973 military coup.
On June 27, a jury at the civil trail in Orlando, Florida, found Barrientos guilty of the torture and extrajudicial killing of the popular Chilean musician, poet and political activist, during the early days of the military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet against President Salvador Allende, 43 years ago.
The jury awarded Jara's family 28 million dollars in punitive and compensatory damages, while Barrientos could now also be extradited to face criminal murder charges in Chile.
Barrientos is the subject of an arrest warrant issued by Judge Miguel Vázquez, on several charges including murder and aggravated abduction and obstruction of justice, also linked to Jara’s murder.
The 67 year old criminal, now a U.S. citizen residing in the town of Deltona, near the city of Daytona Beach, Florida, has lived in the country since 1989. The suit was first brought against him in 2013, under theAlien Tort Statute and Torture Victim Protection Act, designed to prosecute human rights abusers living in the U.S. before eventually going to trial in an Orlando court.
According to U.S. immigration service records, the former army officer, failed to declare his ties to the military coup plotters, and his participation in the acts of torture and murder committed in Santiago de Chile's stadium.
The civil suit filed by Joan Jara, the musician’s widow and his daughters Manuela and Amanda, was represented by the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) a California-based human rights group, and New York law firm, Chadbourne & Parke.
During the trial, Barrientos denied knowing the popular singer-song writer and having been in the Santiago Stadium, used as a torture center, at the time of Jara’s murder.
The prosecution refuted the former army officer's claims, presenting testimonies recorded in Chile of six former soldiers loyal to the military government led by Pinochet, who all stated that they had seen Barrientos at the sports complex at least 20 times over the days before and after the murder.
The prosecution called attention to former solider José Navarrete Barra’s statement, in which he claimed that Barrientos even boasted about his crime. “He repeatedly said that he had killed Víctor Jara," stated the solider in a video recording.
Joan Jara never lost faith that her husband’s murderer would be brought to justice. Despite having filed a criminal complaint in Chile in 1978, she was obliged to wait over 40 years before she was to hear the verdict delivered in a Florida court.
“It’s the beginning of justice for all those people, those relatives in Chile who are waiting to learn the fate of their loved ones, who have been for years and years, just like us, seeking justice [and] knowledge,” stated Jara’s widow speaking to British newspaper, The Guardian.
For her part, Almudena Bernabéu, CJA lawyer who led the case investigation, expressed her satisfaction following the verdict. “This verdict is not the end, but rather the beginning of work to extradite or expel Barrientos from the country and achieve full justice for the Jara family,” she noted.