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Thousands of people, young and old, on Saturday accompanied the remains of folk singer Victor Jara to the General Cemetery in Santiago, where he received a proper burial 36 years after his murder.
Born to a family of impoverished farm workers, Victor Jara was one of the main figures of the Chilean New Song movement. An accomplished theater director, composer and singer, his music was well-known in Chile and abroad, and continues to be played and remembered. His music spoke of poverty, injustice, solidarity, exploitation, change, hope and love.
A day after the military coup that ousted socialist president Salvador Allende on Sept. 11, 1973, Jara, a member of the Communist Party, was arrested at the State Technical University (UTE) along with hundreds of academics, employees and students. They were all taken to the Chile Stadium — renamed Victor Jara Stadium — which was used as a detention center for thousands of political prisoners for about a week after the coup.
In the stadium, he was singled out, beaten, his hands crushed, tortured and killed. His bullet-riddled body was later found in an isolated area of Santiago with two other victims. He was buried on Sept. 18, 1973 almost clandestinely by his widow, British-born choreographer Joan Turner, and two others.
Jara’s torturers and executers are still at large, although investigative judge Juan Fuentes has narrowed it down to a group of officers and soldiers. Last June, Fuentes ordered the exhumation of Jara’s remains to determine the precise cause of death. Fuentes had interrogated a soldier who admitted he was part of a group of soldiers who fired on Jara after a sub lieutenant shot him in the head playing Russian roulette.
Fuentes wanted to know if Jara died from the shot in the head or as a product of the multiple (more than 40) bullet wounds. The remains were sent to the Genetic Institute of Innsbruck, in Austria, which confirmed that Victor Jara had been tortured and the cause of death was the massive bullet wounds in his head, chest, stomach, legs and arms.
Once his remains were returned to his widow and two daughters, they and a number of organizations decided to mount a two-day vigil/wake and massive funeral for Jara, the one he deserved.
The Victor Jara Foundation, headed by Joan, opened its cultural center (Galpon Victor Jara) to thousands of people who paid their last respects between Thursday and Friday this week. Thousands flocked to the Plaza Brasil, where the center is located, standing long lines, day and night, to go in and say goodbye, touch his coffin –draped with a black poncho- and write in a book of condolences.
On Friday, President Michelle Bachelet also paid her last respects to a man she described as “so coherent with the values of social justice, humanity, respect, solidarity, the values of justice.”
A stage was mounted in the middle of the plaza for musicians, singers and artists to pay homage to Jara. Renowned musicians such as pianist Roberto Bravo, Inti Illimani and Illapu, as well as other lesser-known singers and musicians took turns performing Jara’s music as well as their own.
On Saturday, Jara’s remains were taken in a long procession to the cemetery, accompanied by thousands of ordinary Chileans, many tearful.
“Victor Jara lives in the people,” they say.
Listen to some of his songs:
(Photos by Pascale Bonnefoy)