Florida verdict in Victor Jara case resurrects ghosts of Pinochet era in Chile

Pedro Pablo Barrientos, right, leaves federal court in Orlando, Fla., Monday with his attorney, Luis Calderon.
(John Raoux / Associated Press)
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The decision by a Florida jury to hold a former Chilean military official liable for the killing of folk singer Victor Jara in 1973 has boosted the hopes of human rights groups here that he might finally be extradited to face criminal charges at home.

Pedro Pablo Barrientos, 67, a former army lieutenant, was found liable in an Orlando, Fla., civil trial Monday and ordered to pay the late singer’s family damages of $28 million. Barrientos moved to Florida in 1989 and is now a U.S. citizen.

The Jara family sued him in Florida in 2013. While victims’ rights groups have backed the case, they have also pushed for justice at home and criticized the Chilean government for not being more aggressive in trying to extradite him.


“We have watched how a U.S. courtroom has taken on a cause in which they had no obligation to be involved, finding the officer liable,” said Lorena Pizarro, who heads the Santiago-based Group of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared. “It raises hope for a possible extradition. But it also infuriates us over the slow pace of the case in Chile.”

In September 1973, days after a military junta led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet overthrew the socialist president, Salvador Allende, Jara and thousands of other Allende sympathizers were corralled into a sports stadium in the capital.

Barrientos, who was stationed at the stadium immediately after the coup, is accused of torturing and shooting Jara at close range there. When Jara’s family claimed his corpse, both wrists were broken and his face was disfigured from beatings. He had been shot 44 times.

During its 17-year reign, the junta is thought to have killing 3,197 people and tortured 30,000. Barrientos belonged to the “Tejas Verdes” army regiment known for silencing Pinochet’s political opponents.

Jara’s murder became a symbol of the viciousness of the Pinochet dictatorship.

His protest songs inspired musicians including Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. In 2003, as Chile struggled to make peace with its past, his place of death was renamed Victor Jara Stadium.

Chilean justice officials formally asked for Barrientos’ extradition in 2013, but the U.S. has yet to respond.


The effort to hold Barrientos and others responsible for the post-coup deaths has been complicated by a 1980 blanket amnesty law that absolved government officials of wrongdoing in the bloody takeover.

Human rights advocates, however, say the Florida decision could put more pressure on the Chilean government to follow up on the extradition request.

The advocates say that when Barrientos filled out his application for U.S. citizenship, he left out details of his role in the Pinochet regime and that the omissions could make it easier for the U.S. to return him to Chile.

The U.S. State Department declined to comment on the status of the extradition request. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for information about the citizenship application.

After the verdict was read in the Orlando case, Jara’s widow, Joan Jara Turner, and the couple’s two daughters, Amanda and Manuela, issued a statement saying, “There is still much to do.”

“The criminal case in Chile continues and we expect Pedro Pablo Barrientos to be extradited and face justice in our country,” it said. “Many people were killed at the stadium and we will continue in the pursuit of justice for all.”


Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz said in a radio interview this week that he was glad to hear of the U.S. court’s decision and that if the U.S. grants the extradition request, Barrientos will be brought to Chile “with alacrity.”

News of the Florida verdict was largely overshadowed in Chile by celebrations of the country’s victory Sunday in the Copa America soccer tournament.

Special correspondents Poblete and Kraul reported from Santiago and Bogota, Colombia, respectively.