Monday, February 11, 2019

Justice Delayed for Víctor Jara (A Film Review)

This Thursday I fly from California to Chile, changing winter—last week we even had snow on our backyard deck in Oakland—for summer. It’s been hot in Santiago and, when I arrive on Friday, the predicted high is 91° F (33° C).
The year after I took this photograph, in 2015 in Santiago's Barrio Brasil, the cultural center known as the Galpón Víctor Jara closed because of a dispute with the landlord.
Not precisely in preparation, I just viewed director Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt’s “Massacre in the Stadium,” a documentary about the murder of Chile’s legendary folksinger Víctor Jara in the aftermath of the 1973 military coup that overthrew constitutional president Salvador Allende. It is presently streaming on Netflix.

A bit longer than an hour, Perlmutt’s film begins with Jara’s personal background and stock footage of the coup led by General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, whose troops herded thousands of political prisoners in Ñuñoa’s Estadio Chile (an enclosed facility that that now bears Jara’s name; it is not the adjacent gigantic soccer stadium).

The film continues with interviews, including one with former Army Lieutenant Pedro Barrientos—Jara’s presumptive killer—but a supposed eyewitness later recants his testimony. Nevertheless, supported by subsequent testimony from several conscripts who were present in the stadium, Jara’s widow Joan (a British national) and the Center for Justice and Accountability persist with a civil suit in Florida against Barrientos (who is now a US citizen through marriage).

Barrientos submits to a lie detector test–his own condition for being interviewed–but there’s an unspoken implication that he has been coached to make the test unreliable. Nevertheless, Joan Jara and her daughters won a US$28 million judgment in compensatory and punitive damages.

Meanwhile, eight Chilean officers have since been imprisoned for Jara’s murder, but the film does not mention that Chilean prosecutors have indicted Barrientos (or not), nor does it suggest he could be extradited. However, a mid-2018 article in The Guardian, cited at the previous link, says that US is considering extradition.

In my opinion, one of the film’s strengths is that it avoids name-calling and political polemic to present the evidence, even though Perlmutt may subtly suggest that Barrientos has sidestepped the polygraph judgment. For anyone interested in Chile and this controversial period, it’s well worth seeing.

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