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 & Parke 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.
During the first year after the case was filed, Defendant Barrientos did not make a single appearance before the court and did not responded to a single court document. As a result, Plaintiffs filed a motion for default judgment on September 22, 2014 requesting that the court find Defendant Barrientos liable for claims brought under the ATS and the TVPA. On November 20, 2014, the Judge Dalton granted the motion for default judgment in part; finding that Plaintiffs sufficiently pled torture and extrajudicial killing under the TVPA, but dismissing Plaintiffs’ ATS claims in light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., prohibiting claims under the ATS involving foreign conduct unless they sufficiently “touch and concern” the territory of the United States. Read more about the issues raised by the Kiobel ruling here. The court's order permitted Plaintiffs to present evidence on damages relating to the ATS claims in the event that the ATS claims were reinstated on appeal. CJA was scheduled to present evidence against Barrientos at a damages hearing on February 23, 2015, but on January 27, 2015, Barrientos retained legal counsel and filed a motion to set aside the default judgment.
On February 17, 2015, CJA filed a brief stating that Plaintiffs were not opposed to setting aside the default judgment and providing Defendant Barrientos with another opportunity to defend himself in court. On February 24, 2015, the judge granted Barrientos's unopposed motion to vacate the default judgment. Mr. Jara's family welcomed the opportunity for a full and defended trial which will bring to light the events surrounding their loved one’s death. On March 3, 2015, Defendant Barrientos filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ complaint, arguing that the claims were barred by a ten year statute of limitations, and that the Supreme Court decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. barred Plaintiffs’ ATS claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiffs responded that extraordinary circumstances in Chile prevented them from discovering the identity of Victor Jara’s killer until 2009, so the statute of limitations should not begin to run until that time. Plaintiffs also asked the court to reconsider its stance on the ATS claims, arguing that claims against a U.S. citizen and longtime U.S. resident, who is unreachable in any other forum, deeply touch and concern the U.S. and therefore survive the Kiobel test. An oral argument on these issues is currently scheduled for April 10, 2015 in Orlando, Florida before Judge Roy B. Dalton, Jr.
CJA expects this case to go to a full trial this upcoming year.