LATIN AMERICA

Chile asks Washington to extradite Florida car dealer for singer's murder

Víctor Jara was shot 44 times at the national stadium days after 1973 coup

Fans of the late Víctor Jara light candles in his memory in front of the stadium in his honor.
Fans of the late Víctor Jara light candles in his memory in front of the stadium in his honor.REUTERS

Law enforcement authorities in Chile believe that a car dealer living in Florida was the triggerman behind the murder of legendary leftist singer-songwriter Víctor Jara, who was killed just days after the bloody September 11, 1973 coup that toppled President Salvador Allende.

A Chilean judge has asked Washington to begin extradition proceedings against Pedro Barrientos Núñez, a retired military officer who has lived in Florida since the 1990s.

According to an autopsy report, Jara, a staunch supporter of Allende's government who sang the praises of the Marxist revolution taking place in his country at the time, was shot "at least 44 times" on September 16, 1973 at Chile's national stadium, where the military held hundreds of people considered opponents to the new dictatorship.

José Parredes, who was 18 at the time and served in the military, said in a 2009 sworn statement filed in the case that he saw Barrientos pump bullets into the body of the 38-year-old Jara while he was tied up.

"They had him sitting down, he was surrounded by cots - you know, those that were issued by the army - and they carried on shooting and shooting. [...] It was Barrientos who was doing the shooting. [Jara's] clothes were nearly burnt off of his body," Parredes said.

About eight months ago, the Chilevisión television network tracked down Barrientos, who lives in Deltona, Florida. He denies the entire affair. "That is not true. I was never at the Chile national stadium; I didn't even know who that singer Jara was at the time. We were stationed at the armory at the eastern end of La Moneda [presidential palace]," he told the network.

Interpol order

On December 28, the investigating judge, Miguel Vásquez, charged him with being Jara's murderer and issued a search and capture order with Interpol.

Vásquez also ordered the arrest of seven others in connection with Jara's murder: retired Colonel Hugo Sánchez Marmonti, and ex-officers Raúl Jofré González, Edwin Dimter Bianchi, Nelson Hasse Mazzei, Luis Bethke Wulf, Jorge Smith Gumucio and Roberto Souper Onfra. Six of the men have turned themselves in and were taken to the special Cordillera detention center, which is used for holding suspects accused of committing human rights abuses. About 20 inmates are being held there, including Manuel Contreras, the former director of Chile's secret DINA police under dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Jara's widow, Joan Turner, said that for the past 40 years she has been trying to uncover the truth behind her husband's murder. "I never really understood how the Chilean judicial system works and never believed that there would be any results," said the British-born former ballet dancer.

On the day of coup, military forces surrounded Santiago's Metropolitan University of Technology and arrested groups of students, including Jara, who happened to be there. They took them to Chile's national stadium - which was renamed Víctor Jara Stadium in 2004 - where more than 5,000 opponents of the Pinochet regime were being held.

Jara, the author of the popular song Te recuerdo Amanda, was beaten and tortured before he was shot dead, the investigative judge found. His body was found years later buried near the Metropolitan Cemetery

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