Jara v. Barrientos
On September 15, 1973, the famed poet and singer Víctor Jara was killed at Chile Stadium by members of the Chilean Armed Forces in the days following the infamous coup d’état of General Augusto Pinochet. On behalf of Mr. Jara’s surviving wife and children, CJA filed a civil suit on September 4, 2013 against Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez, a former Lieutenant of the Chilean army and one of the alleged perpetrators of Víctor Jara’s extrajudicial murder. Read the press release in English and Spanish. The case against Barrientos alleges claims under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA).
In the days after General Augusto Pinochet’s coup d’état in September 1973, the Chilean Army launched a campaign of repression against perceived enemies of the new military dictatorship. Pinochet’s dictatorship defined elements of the Chilean population as an ideological enemy –the “subversive” – and violently targeted individuals who fit the profile.
On September 11, the day of the coup, troops from the Arica regiment of the Chilean Army took control of the State Technical University (UTE) in Santiago – perceived to be a center of leftist sentiment – and prevented people from entering or leaving. On September 12, military personnel entered the university and detained hundreds of UTE teachers, students, and administrators who were perceived to be supporters of deposed President Salvador Allende. Among those detained was Víctor Jara, a nationally known singer-songwriter, poet, and political activist who was a theater director and professor at UTE at the time of the coup.
Hundreds of students, professors, and staff from UTE were soon transferred to Chile Stadium, one of the first mass detention centers run by the new dictatorship. Chile Stadium quickly became the site of widespread human rights abuses. In the days following the coup, approximately 5,000 individuals were detained there. Among the thousands held at the stadium, some were selected to be taken to underground changing rooms, where they faced interrogation and torture. Teams of Army personnel conducted interrogations, beat and abused suspected socialists, and murdered hundreds. Prisoners were shot, then left for dead or dumped in deserted areas of the Mapocho River. Most others were transported to the larger National Stadium, where they were subject to further mistreatment. On September 15, 1973, as the detainees were being moved from Chile Stadium to National Stadium, Mr. Jara was separated from the group and taken to an underground changing room in the Stadium, an area reserved for interrogation and torture. According to statements made as recently as 2009 by soldiers in the stadium, Mr. Jara was put in the custody of Lieutenant Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez. While detained, soldiers under Barrientos’s command blindfolded, beat, and brutally interrogated Mr. Jara. Following the beating, Barrientos shot Mr. Jara to death and then ordered that the body be shot several dozen times by Army conscripts and dumped in the vicinity of the Metropolitan Cemetery in the outskirts of Santiago de Chile.
In the years since the horrors perpetrated by the Pinochet dictatorship in the aftermath of the coup, Víctor Jara has become a well-known symbol of peace and human rights. Chile Stadium, the one-time site of the torture and death of civilians, is now known as Víctor Jara Stadium. Yet many of the perpetrators of the violence at the Stadium remain unidentified and unpunished. In Mr. Jara’s case, it was only in 2009 – a full 36 years after his death – that statements surfaced identifying Barrientos as the shooter. Another three years passed before Barrientos’s identity was revealed to the general public in 2012. Though prosecutors in Chile indicted Barrientos and seven other individuals in Víctor Jara’s death that same year, Barrientos – the man accused of firing the fatal shot – currently resides in Florida and presently beyond the reach of Chilean courts. However, the Chilean Supreme Court approved an extradition request the following year, which could result in Barrientos being extradited to Chile to face a criminal investigation or trial. CJA believes that the Chilean government submitted the extradition request to the United States government in October 2013, but the United States has not yet acted publicly upon the request.
CJA and pro bono co-counsel Chadbourne & Park filed Jara v. Barrientos before the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in September 2013. Brought on behalf of Joan Jara, Amanda Jara Turner, and Manuela Bunster – Víctor Jara’s wife and daughters – the complaint accused Pedro Barrientos of: (i) arbitrary detention; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; extrajudicial killing; and crimes against humanity under the ATS; and (ii) torture and extrajudicial judicial killing under the TVPA. The complaint alleged that Barrientos is directly liable for Víctor Jara’s death as a direct perpetrator, as well as indirectly liable as a commander and a collaborator to the crimes at Chile Stadium. See the complaint here.
In November 2013, CJA filed a motion for default judgment based on Barrientos’s failure to appear to defend the case. CJA also requested a judgment as to liability for the claims alleged and a hearing on damages. In January 2014, the court conducted a case management conference with CJA and pro bono co-counsel and heard argument on a range of issues, including the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. Read more about the issues raised by the Kiobel ruling here. See the amended complaint, which CJA crafted in response to the court’s request for additional briefing, here.
On April 22, 2014, CJA and pro bono co-counsel filed a motion for default judgment on the amended complaint. On June 30, 2014, the court dismissed the amended complaint without prejudice, holding that the plaintiffs’ claims under the ATS did not survive the presumption against extraterritorial application of the law set forth in Kiobel, because the relevant conduct occurred in Chile. The court acknowledged that plaintiffs adequately pled their claims under the TVPA, but it ordered the plaintiffs to file a second amended complaint clarifying the issue of standing of Victor Jara’s daughters to claim damages for the death of their father under Chilean law, which would affect their standing as claimants under the TVPA. CJA’s second amended complaint clarified the proper standing of children and step-children to bring wrongful death claims under Chilean law. Read the second amended complaint here.
On November 20, 2014, the court again dismissed the ATS claims but granted plaintiffs’ motion for default judgment on all TVPA claims. Plaintiffs will still be permitted to present evidence on damages relating to the ATS claims in the event that the ATS claims are reinstated on appeal. CJA was scheduled to present evidence against Barrientos at damages hearing on February 23, 2015, but on January 27, 2015, Barrientos retained legal counsel and field a motion to set aside the default judgment. On February 17, 2015, CJA filed a brief accepting the defendant’s motion to set aside the default judgment--Mr. Jara's family welcomed Barrientos’s motion, which would allow the case to proceed to a full trial and bring to light the events that transpired surrounding their loved one’s death. On February 24, 2015, the judge granted Barrientos's unopposed motion to vacate default judgment. CJA expects this case to go to a full trial this upcoming year.