Chile: The Indelible Legacy of Victor Jara

By Alejandra Garcia on September 10, 2023

“The blood of our comrade President

hits harder than bombs and shrapnel.

Thus, it will strike our fists again.”

-Victor Jara

In August 1973, Chilean singer-songwriter and theater director Víctor Jara portrayed, perhaps as a premonition, the convulsive moments that Chile was living on the eve of the September 11 coup, a month before being tortured and assassinated by the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The song Manifiesto was born “from the deepest part of his heart”, according to those close to him, and in it he expressed definitively the reasons why he wielded the guitar: “That song makes sense/ when it throbs in the veins/ of the one who will die singing/ the true truths”.

Víctor Jara was arrested on September 12, one day after the US backed coup, led by Army General Pinochet (1973-1990), overthrew Socialist President Salvador Allende (1970-1973), initiating a 17-year dictatorship. At the time of his capture, Jara was at the State Technical University (UTE), where he used to work, after hearing a call from president Allende for everyone to defend the Popular Unity (UP) government.

Along with 5,000 others who were rounded up, he was transferred to the Chile Stadium in Santiago de Chile, which today bears his name. There he was tortured and shot by the Chilean dictatorship. Besides the beatings and burns, his fingers were broken, both wrists were fractured, and his tongue was cut out, as a symbol of outrage to his talent for singing and playing the guitar. He was then 40 years old.

The last hours of the life of the author of El derecho de vivir en paz and Te recuerdo Amanda that September 16, have gone down in history not only for being a painful reflection of the dictatorship’s cruelty, but also because the artist was able to express himself with a poem that went down in history at his most anguished moments: “Somos Cinco Mil,” which became and remains a symbol of resistance.

The artist wrote the poem secretly from the stadium before he was shot 44 times. Shortly before, he had asked his friend Boris Navia Pérez for a piece of paper. Navia was also arrested at the State Technical University on September 12, the day after the bombing of La Moneda Palace. In that text, he also spoke to Cuba.

My conscience hits me suddenly,

and I see this tide without a heartbeat,

and I see the pulse of the machines,

 and the military showing their motherly faces, full of sweetness.

And what about Mexico, Cuba, and the world?

Let them cry out this ignominy!

We are ten thousand hands,

that do not produce.

The poem eluded in irony the military, thanks to Navia and other fellow detainees who risked their lives so that the poem “would go free,” as his friend recounted years later. Fifty years on, there will be justice. Last week, it was reported that seven ex-military personnel involved in Victor Jara’s murder will face will surely be life sentences in jail.

The sentence was issued by the Chilean courts for the kidnapping and murder of the first martyr of the Pinochet dictatorship. Justice falls on the perpetrators when they are between 73 and 86 years old. One of them, the oldest, retired Brigadier Hernán Chacón, committed suicide when the police went to notify him to enter prison past August.

Today, Jara’s last poem lives on. Thanks to Artificial Intelligence, Jara intones the lyrics of that text of resistance he could not put to music. His voice sounds again 50 years after he saw with his own eyes “How frightening is the face of fascism/ They carry out their plans with artful precision/ without caring about anything./ For them, blood is medals./ Killing is an act of heroism.” The pain is still intact.

The regime left 3,200 dead and disappeared, some 30,000 tortured, and tens of thousands exiled. But the news rekindles hopes for justice and recalls the song of Cuban singer-songwriter Pablo Milanés, when he sang to Santiago de Chile in 1976: “Books and songs will return/ Those that were burned by murderous hands/ My people will be reborn from their ruin/ And traitors will pay for their guilt.”

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano – English