Members of Chile’s military dictatorship finally convicted of the murder of Victor Jara, daughter carries on his work

Two days later, in the stadium’s underground dressing room, the soldiers mocked and tortured him, breaking his ribs and wrists. In a bloodthirsty move, one soldier cocked his gun and put a bullet in my father’s head, taking his life. Yet, he was not dead enough for the soldiers. They rained 43 bullets down upon him, ravaging his body. 

  • 4 months ago
  • December 19, 2023
9 min read
Photograph taken by Antonio Larrea in 1972 of Víctor Jara with his wife Joan Turner, and daughters Manuela Bunster Turner and Amanda Jara (left), and a photo years later with Amanda, her mother, and sister. | Victor Jara Archive Photograph taken by Antonio Larrea in 1972 of Víctor Jara with his wife Joan Turner, and daughters Manuela Bunster Turner and Amanda Jara (left), and a photo years later with Amanda, her mother, and sister. | Victor Jara Archive
journalist’s notes
interview subject
Amanda Jara is the daughter of late activists Victor Jara and Joan Turner. She studied Visual Communications and four years of Fine Arts at Arcis. As a young child, Amanda and her family fled Chile for England after her father was brutally murdered by the Chilean dictatorship. In 1983, she left London and returned to live in Chile, where she resides to this day. She works hard to promote arts and human rights through the Victor Jara Foundation.
background information
Between 1973 and 1990, Chile experienced a dictatorship known as the Military Regime. The leader of that dictatorship was Augusto Pinochet, commander in chief of the Chilean Army who carried out a coup to overthrow President Salvador Allende. On September 11, 1973, the military revolted and entered the Palacio de la Moneda, the seat of government. Allende committed suicide in his office when the military entered the palace. One of the first actions of the new government was to create the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA), an organization in charge of persecuting and repressing any type of opposition to the Military Junta that ran the country. The DINA could arrest anyone suspected of conspiring against Pinochet, but also left-wing intellectuals and politicians, students, or trade unionists. They used methods such as kidnapping, torture, and murder to terrorize the population. According to the latest data from the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) of Chile, there were more than 3,000 deaths and disappearances between 1973 and 1990. The victims of the dictatorship exceeded 40,000 people. Learn more.

SANTIAGO, Chile – I was eight years old when my father was arrested. On that eerie and chaotic day, my family and I huddled around the radio to hear the news from beyond our walls. No one imagined the events of that day would quickly turn extreme. The authorities took my father, professors, university students, and other leftist sympathizers into custody after the bloody coup that installed Augusto Pinochet as the leader of Chile. I recall September 11, 1973, as the day that created incredible confusion and fear in my life.  

My father had been preparing for an event at the State Technical University with the theme “Fight Against the Civil War in Chile.” However, on that day, his plans changed when he heard of an attack and military takeover of La Moneda, the presidential palace, over the radio. President Salvador Allende was giving his historic final speech when my father took to the streets. He quickly grabbed his guitar, said goodbye, and left for the university. There he met his students and fellow professors. They all decided to spend the night there, in resistance to the impending dictatorship. 

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Taken out of the line with a brutal blow to the head, my father fell before the soldier, who continued hitting him. They hit him repeatedly all over his body, unleashing a series of kicks with fury, nearly bursting his eyes. The officer then drew his pistol and with its barrel, cracked my father’s head open. Blood gushed out from the wound, covering his face. 

Injured and starved, my father died a horrific death: they found over 40 bullets in his body

My father served as a cultural ambassador to President Ananed. His pivotal role among neo-folkloric musicians who established the Nueva canción chilena (New Chilean Song) movement made him a target. His songs focused on peace, love, human rights, and social justice. While the new dictatorship took prisoners to a basketball court, my father remained isolated in a hallway.

Occasionally, other captive prisoners from the university stumbled passed. On Friday, September 14, 1973, in a surprise move, he got a reprieve.  They cleaned his wounds and gave him water and a raw egg – his first meal since the morning of the twelfth. That would also be his last.  

Two days later, in the stadium’s underground dressing room, the soldiers mocked and tortured him, breaking his ribs and wrists. In a bloodthirsty move, one soldier cocked his gun and put a bullet in my father’s head, taking his life. Yet, he was not dead enough for the soldiers. They rained 43 bullets down upon him, ravaging his body. 

I remember the buzz of planes, the sound of helicopters flying low, and the palpable fear as we quickly closed the window blinds to remain discreet. I saw my sister and mother crying, but no one told me anything. The tense atmosphere during that treacherous wait for news about my father remains etched in my memory. 

Days later, a body appeared in a vacant lot next to the metropolitan cemetery. My neighbors recognized it as that of the teacher, theater director, poet, singer-songwriter, Communist, and popular activist – my father. After a public notice, the Legal Medical Service contacted my mother. My father died on September 16, 1973, just five days after the military uprising that overthrew and ended the life of Salvador Allende. The stadium where he died now bears his name, Victor Jara Stadium.  

In a hurry, my mother buried my father without a tombstone and we fled to England

My mother hurriedly buried my father all by herself at the General Cemetery of Santiago. To keep the military away from his remains, he did not receive a tombstone. I remember the tole tole (commotion) in the house, in the days that followed. When the military raided our home, they found and took away many of my father’s posters. Before their arrival, my heroic mother hid many of his valuables including some of his unpublished songs.  

That same night, accompanied by a gentleman from the British Embassy and some escorts, we boarded an airplane destined for England, my mother’s birth country. As we took off, I looked down at the grey and empty space beneath us, the place where my father took his final breath.  

Arriving in London, we walked like zombies. Shocked by the events that took the life of my father, my mother remained silent. I started school without knowing a word of English. The Spanish-speaking teacher who greeted me came to my aid and made me feel welcome. In two months, my language level improved, and I began to speak English and make friends.  

Victor Jara with his daughters Manuela and Amanda at Lake Lanalhue in 1969. Photo taken by Joan Jara. | Photo courtesy of the Victor Jara Foundation Archive

Living in London introduced me to my mother’s childhood, her origins, and her story. We also lived among people from several Latin American countries, which helped me stay connected to my Chilean roots while in exile. I have great memories from the supportive community I encountered as a little girl. Those connections and divergent experiences stay with me, to this day.

For years, I thought about returning to Chile, but it took time to finally make that move. After obtaining certificates in Visual Communications and Fine Arts, I left everything and returned to the country where my father died, to live on the land my parents bought long ago. I only planned to stay for a year, but the time extended and in 1983, I fell in love with Chile. 

Chile stole my heart, and I bid farewell to London while fighting for justice for my father

Seeing Chile’s uniformity blew my mind. Everyone dressed in the same colors: gray, blue, and brown. I never saw such a thing. As I moved around in the city, I felt extraordinarily strong gazes fall upon me. The enormous anti-fascist energy and yearning for a change filled the air, and it felt disconnected from my understanding of the collective struggle against the dictatorship. I always imagined my home country as a place of annihilation – almost apocalyptic. Yet, upon arrival, I felt safe and accepted. Chile is truly where I belong. We have work to do and fights to be fought, but I made Chile my home.

In 1999, a year after Pinochet’s arrest in London for crimes against humanity, my mother met a lawyer named Nelson Caucoto who reactivated our case against my father’s killers. The case had been closed for decades. It took a long time but in August 2023, the Chilean Supreme Court sentenced seven retired soldiers to up to 25 years in prison for the kidnapping and murder of my father.

By the time the court handed down convictions the perpetrators were between 73 and 85 years old. One of them committed suicide after the announcement, moments before his arrest. Two others fled after learning of the sentence. The reconstruction of events from that period helped expose the truth and brought us the justice we sought. Family members and supportive organizations put in enormous work.  

His executioners destroyed his face and hands

The coup of 1973 not only affected the families of victims, it left a lasting impact on society as a whole.  In its wake, the Chilean people faced an inescapable economic system in which basic amenities like healthcare, energy, and public education became deplorable. Still today, salaries and pensions remain meager.  

The issues that my father sang about all those years ago still present themselves today. His music and commitment to human rights continue to impact new generations. Like a burning candle, his legacy lives on in our hearts. His magical music – like the sound of thunder or the entire cosmos – is an artform. The dictatorship destroyed his body – they shot him in the mouth – but they failed to silence his voice. His music transports us to amazing places where we feel his presence as if he walks amongst us. 

Every time I travel through Chile, men and women of all ages tell me my father lives in their hearts. They recount what he means to them. It feels amazing and reminds me how music can be a force for good. Before we got justice, the kind words from citizens in Chile served as a form of reparation for me. It meant that even though justice took 50 years, my father’s story remains in the hearts of Chileans and people all throughout Latin America. 

In November 2023, my heroic mother, Joan Jara, passed away. We remember her as a tireless human rights activist and a great promoter of art and dance in Chile. The official farewell events for my father and mother arose spontaneously and attracted huge crowds. These beautiful events, full of love, felt like a true honor. During my mother’s wake, a little eight-year-old boy played the violin. His incredible tribute inspires me to keep working on the tasks my parents set out to achieve.

My garden, my refuge, my art, and my humanitarian work

For a long time, my garden offered refuge. I love spending time painting and tending to my flowers and plants. The energy they offer give me strength to carry on in this hurting society. Going to places, interacting with people, carrying out projects, and working with little ones allow me to contribute to the well-being of others.

For me, these are vital ways of living even though the dictatorship has not ended. The actors remain part of current Chilean systems and structures; our fight is not yet over. Nevertheless, we learn to live again. As I listen to youth orchestras play my father’s songs and watch my mother’s former dance students jump in the air calling for justice, I feel pure delight.

Today, at nearly 60 years old, I work at the Víctor Jara Foundation. Having lived through my family’s struggle, through action, I free myself from anger. Shame and frustration will disable me. So, I heed the call to fight, filled with the great energy of the Chilean people. From my mother’s home in Santiago, to the mountains and to the sea, I fill the void with beautiful colors. I move out of the darkness and into the powerful light.

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