Friday, July 8, 2016

Former Chilean army chief charged over 1973 killing of activists // Former military official found liable for killing of folk singer Victor Jara

A former commander-in-chief of the Chilean army has been arrested and charged with complicity in the killing of 15 leftwing militants at the start of the country’s military dictatorship in 1973. Retired general Juan Emilio Cheyre was taken into custody on orders from Judge Mario Carroza, one of several judges who investigate human rights crimes in Chile. Cheyre, the army’s commander from 2002-06, has repeatedly denied the charges levelled against him, including claims last month from two former political prisoners that he had tortured them. But Cheyre has acknowledged that human rights abuses occurred during the 1973-90 dictatorship of Gen Augusto Pinochet. Cristian Cruz, a lawyer who represents the families of the 15 activists who died, welcomed the arrest. “My clients are deeply excited,” he said. “We continue to believe in justice. It is difficult to understand all that they, and those they were close to, have gone through, so we are very pleased for what has happened here in the light of hope.”

The case is one of several linked to what Chileans call the “Caravan of Death” – a group of military officers that moved around the country holding summary trials of dissidents under orders from Pinochet. Judicial investigations conducted after the return of democracy have said the group left behind a trail of dead and “disappeared”.  The inquiries established that many prisoners held by the military were taken into the desert where they were stabbed or shot to death and their bodies blown up with dynamite. At least 3,095 people were killed during Pinochet’s rule, according to government figures, and tens of thousands more were tortured or jailed for political reasons. Pinochet died in 2006 under house arrest without being tried on charges of illegal enrichment and human rights violations.

In Chile, a fascist junta in 2 years, wiped out 30,000 of the population, imprisoned another 200,000 and left 22,000 widows and 66,000 orphans...the operation under the management of Augusto Pinochet, was fired off by a collective comprising the CIA, the State Dept & American business interests.

Former Chilean military official found liable for killing of Victor Jara
Florida jury on Monday found a former Chilean army officer liable for the 1973 torture and murder of the folk singer and political activist Victor Jara, awarding $28m in damages to his widow and daughters in one of the biggest and most significant legal human rights victories against a foreign war criminal in a US courtroom. The verdict against Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez after a two-week civil trial in Orlando’s federal court could now also pave the way for his extradition to face criminal murder charges in Chile related to his conduct during a CIA-backed coup that led to Augusto Pinochet’s 17-year military dictatorship and the deaths of almost 3,100 people.

Accusers said Barrientos, 67, who now lives in Deltona, Florida, shot dead Jara, 40, in September 1973 after three days of beatings while the socialist-leaning theatre director and university lecturer was among thousands of suspected communists and subversives detained in Santiago’s soccer stadium. Barrientos, who fled Chile in 1989 and became a US citizen through marriage, was one of nine retired army officers indicted for murder in his homeland four years ago but the US Department of Justice has not responded to a request by the Chilean government for his return.

Kathy Roberts, legal director of the Center for Justice and Accountability, the California-based human rights group that brought the civil action on behalf of Jara’s British-born widow, Joan Turner Jara, and daughters Amanda Turner Jara and Manuela Bunster, believes the Florida jury’s ruling could now increase the pressure on the DoJ. “It’s a step on the path towards justice for our clients and for Victor but also for the many other families who lost someone at Chile Stadium so many years ago,” she said after the verdict. “We presented evidence that started to shed light on what happened there, and we hope that process will continue in Chile and we hope that the United States will extradite Mr Barrientos to face justice in the country where he committed these crimes.”

Joan Jara Turner, 88, testified during the trial that her husband’s death in a stadium locker room had “cut my life in two”, and has previously spoken of the horror of having to identify his tortured and mutilated body in a morgue after he was dumped outside the stadium with 44 bullet wounds. “[I’m] happy in a sense that what we were trying to do for more than 40 years, for Victor, has today come true,” she said through tears on the steps if the Orlando courthouse. 

“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. “It’s been a long journey. For Victor, art and social justice were one and the same. His songs continue to be sung today and inspire both artists and those who seek social justice.”

Daughter Amanda Turner Jara, who thanked lawyers from the CJA and pro bono counsel from New York legal firm Chadbourne & Parke, said it was crucial that Barrientos was extradited. “He ran away. He’s been hiding here for so long, and it’s time he faces that now in Chile,” she said. The jury of five women and one man deliberated for nine hours before determining that Barrientos, a Pinochet loyalist who commanded the Chilean army’s notorious Tejas Verde brigade, should pay $6m in compensatory damages and a further $22m in punitive damages. The jury found him liable on both counts of the civil indictment, for torture and extrajudicial killing.

The Jara family, however, are unlikely to see any payment. Barrientos’ lawyer Luis Calderon painted a picture during the trial of a poor retiree who lives in a modest two-bedroom house and drives around in a decade-old car, and who was forced to work as a cook at a fast-food restaurant for years just to make ends meet. Barrientos, who remained impassive as the verdicts were read, did not comment afterwards but Calderon said he was disappointed. “We will explore all our options regarding an appeal,” he said.

Dixon Osburn, executive director of the CJA, told the Guardian that one of the biggest challenges was proving that Barrientos, who also worked for a time as a landscaper during almost three decades in the US, was the same violent army officer who beat, tortured and shot Jara. “These cases are always difficult because a lot of time has passed and because of the silence that has encased this matter for so long,” he said. “Trying to break through that silence and lift the veil on what happened in those days was enormously difficult. “One of the things the Jara family has been pursuing for 43 years is just the truth. Barrientos said in deposition he knew nothing of Chile Stadium, he knew nothing of Victor Jara, but we had conscript after conscript saying he was there and he was responsible for what took place.”

One of the conscripts, Jose Navarette Barra, said during the trial in video testimony from Chile that Barrientos boasted of what he had done. “He said many times that he killed Victor Jara,” Barra said. “He talked about killing a communist, and he didn’t want a communist in Chile.” The ruling marks the latest victory in the CJA’s pursuit of overseas war criminals and human rights abusers living in Florida. In August 2015, El Salvador’s former defence minister Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova was extradited to El Salvador after a lengthy legal battle. Vides, an army general in the country during the bloody civil war in the 1980s, was accused of covering up a number of atrocities, including the rape and murder of four American churchwomen.