On Monday, June 13th, CJA and pro-bono co-counsel Chadbourne & Parke, LLP began presenting evidence and testimony against former Pinochet Lieutenant Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez (“Barrientos”), a current resident of Deltona, Florida, for his role in the torture and death of Chilean social icon Víctor Jara. On Monday, June 27, a jury found Barrientos liable for his role in Jara’s 1973 death, ordering him to pay $28 million in damages. Read a full summary of the trial’s proceedings below.
After a jury was selected, Mark Beckett, Chadbourne & Parke, LLP partner, delivered the opening statement on behalf of the Jara family. Among the statements he made were:
- “Victor Jara passionately believed his music could change the world.”
- “This case is about some measure of real justice.”
- “Victor’s only weapon was his guitar.”
- “Victor was targeted because he was a symbol of the democratically elected government.”
- “This case is as much about his life as it is about his death.”
The day began with testimony from Manuela Bunster, one of Victor Jara’s daughters. She told the jury, “[My father’s] songs helped me through the pain of his loss.” Ms. Bunster emphasized that “we weren’t the only ones who this was happening to” in Chile, noting, “my fellow students had been beaten.”
Erica Osorio Araya, who was a student at the State Technical University in Santiago where Victor Jara taught, gave testimony. She described the day that the military laid siege to the university during the Pinochet coup. She along with Victor and others at the university had taken refuge in a dining hall below the gym. Soldiers entered, forced them against the walls and beat them with their pistols.Once out doors in the courtyard, she witnessed a soldier approach Victor and tell his commander, “’This is Victor Jara!’” Soldiers threw him to the ground and Ms. Osorio could hear loud blows being delivered to Victor’s body.Osorio described the environment inside Chile Stadium. An announcer said, “’Attention, human sewage pipes. Human squalor. You are war prisoners. And you may all die here.‘” Osorio heard that death threat multiple times. She watched as several prisoners were killed.Ms. Osorio was presented with a photo array of six young men in uniform and asked if she recognized any. She circled one. It was Barrientos. She says she saw him talk to the announcer, after which the announcer proclaimed, “Now I know what we are going to do with you.”Ms. Osorio’s riveting testimony was bookended by testimony of four conscripts who served at the Engineering School of Tejas Verde, in both the same regiment and company as Barrientos. They all confirmed that Barrientos was at Chile Stadium.One saw him arrive with a briefcase on multiple occasions when he would have meetings at the Stadium. He also saw Barrientos every day at formation. He confirmed the violent atmosphere inside the Stadium testifying that prisoners were beaten with weapons. He saw corpses being delivered to ambulances. He said about 40 prisoners were ordered to run out of the Stadium down the main street of Santiago where they were shot dead. He says he saw Victor Jara at the Stadium.These testimonies underscore the role and responsibility Barrientos played at Chile Stadium.
A survivor the Chile Stadium detainment center testified that he was removed from the same University where Victor Jara worked by the military. He testified that while he was detained in Chile Stadium, Victor Jara was subjected to multiple beatings–the subject of Jara’s last poem, composed during his final days in military custody. The highlight of Day 4 was the testimony of Boris Navia Perez who was Chief of Personnel at the same university where Victor taught. He was taken with Victor to Chile Stadium, and like Victor was tortured. Mr. Navia saw Victor Jara several times, and Victor Jara gave him one of three copies of his last poem. The soldiers tortured Mr. Navia when they found the poem in his possession. A copy survived which he identified in court. Part of the poem says:
How hard it is to sing
when I must sing of horror.
Horror which I am living,
horror which I am dying.
To see myself among so much
and so many moments of infinity
in which silence and screams
are the end of my song.
What I see, I have never seen
What I have felt and what I feel
Will give birth to the moment
On September 15th, 1973, before being transferred to National Stadium, Mr. Navia saw Victor Jara’s dead and tortured body, among a pile of some other 20-30 bodies near the entrance of the stadium.
An ex-military conscript testified to seeing officers beat detainees in the locker rooms of Chile Stadium in the days after the Pinochet coup. When at Chile Stadium, the conscript was asked by an officer to kill a young public servant from the Allende government, to which he refused. The officer then said, “This is how you kill” and proceeded to shoot the young man.
The conscript then testified that Lt. Barrientos’ ex-wife tricked him into signing a false declaration which he could not review because of his illiteracy. Barrientos’ wife, the conscript testified, contacted him and asked “for the truth.” The conscript agreed to dictate a declaration to her, which she recorded. During the conscript’s deposition, he discovered that the declaration he had dictated was unrecognizable from the one that Barrientos’ ex-wife had notarized and submitted as evidence. As a result, the conscript expressed fear that the military—due to the conscript’s involvement in this case—would try to get back at him by harming him or his family.
In the afternoon, a deposition of the defendant Barrientos was presented to the jury. In the deposition, Barrientos claimed that he can’t remember a single name of a soldier who had been under his command, including his former body guards. He also claimed that he did not know what Chile Stadium was prior to 2009, although he studied in Santiago prior to 1973. Furthermore, he alleged that he did not know who Victor Jara was prior to 2009. Finally, he stated that he did not know that torture took place in Chile Stadium, prior to 2009.
Barrientos was also confronted with the transcript of a sworn FBI interview he participated in 2012 as the result of an investigation in Chile pertaining to his role in Victor Jara’s death and torture. Plaintiffs pointed out that he had given the FBI very different facts (conflicting accounts) of who he was with and where he from Sept. 12-17, 1973 in comparison with his sworn deposition for this case. For instance, in the FBI statement, he claimed that he stayed with his entire company plus another at the Ministry of Defense during the relevant time frame, meaning that he was with 180 men. Yet in his deposition, he claimed that he was just with his bodyguards—just four more people.
Barrientos also lied on his immigration application because he stated that he had never participated—directly or indirectly—in the violent overthrow of an elected government. After the FBI interview, he also took several measures to hide and/or protect all of his assets, admitting that he was afraid they would be taken from him if found liable for Victor Jara’s death and torture.
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Trial proceedings resumed on Monday morning with the presentation of expert Steve Stern, a professor of Latin American history at the University of Wisconsin. Stern spoke about the political tensions which preceded the Pinochet coup in 1973, which targeted Communist Party affiliates, rural populations, workers and perceived supporters of the democratically-elected Allende government. Stern also spoke about the torture practiced at Tejas Verdes before, during and after the September 11, 1973 coup, including electrocution, hanging, damage to the eardrums, and sexual violence.
The next testimony was delivered by Hector Herrera, a former Chilean civil servant. As an employee of the Ministry of Justice’s Passport and Identification Department, Herrera was ordered to work at the State morgue on September 15th, 1973, days after the Pinochet coup, where he was tasked with fingerprinting the dead bodies. Herrera estimated seeing between 150 and 200 bodies of Chilean men, women, and children in the morgue on his first day, all of them civilians, with dozens of others dropped off by military trucks as the days went by. On his second day at the morgue, a co-worker of Herrera recognized the body of Víctor Jara, swollen and badly beaten. Herrera discretely confirmed Víctor’s identity through his fingerprints at Ministry of Justice the following day.
Herrera testified that, on September 18th, he went to Víctor Jara’s home and notified his wife, Joan, of his death. Together, Herrera and Joan Jara went to the morgue, where Joan immediately recognized the body of her husband. She knelt down, kissed him, crying silently, trying to clean the dirt off his face with her tears.
Herrera, Joan Jara and a close family friend removed Víctor’s body from the morgue. Only the three of them and a grave digger were present for the funeral. Herrera remembered beginning to cry as Víctor’s casket was placed in a small niche. Joan Jara hugged him, and told him that people would not remember the terrible nature of Víctor’s death, but people would continue to love and cherish Víctor Jara through his songs.
The final testimony for the plaintiffs was delivered by Víctor and Joan’s daughter, Amanda Jara Turner. Ms. Jara Turner testified to the profound impact the loss of her father has had on her life, saying that his death was “a dark, painful experience that you never forget [a]nd it is very difficult to live when justice isn’t done.” At the end of her testimony, Ms. Jara Turner told the jury that she forgave her father for leaving for the University on Sept. 11, 1973, stating that she understood why he went, “[b]ecause he was true to himself and to his convictions that he wasn’t just one individual [but rather] that he was part of something bigger than him.”
The first witness called for the defense was Barrientos’s first ex-wife, Maria Theresa Castro Barrientos. She said that she was familiar and fond of the neo-folk song movement in Chile in the 1960s and 70s—of which Víctor was a major figure—but she testified that she had never heard of Víctor Jara until 2008. Castro also claimed that she had not heard of Chile Stadium until 2008, and that the first time she heard of any atrocities associated with the Pinochet coup was in 1987. In 1987, Mrs. Castro Barrientos read a book describing atrocities committed by members of the Pinochet regime, three of whom were people she and Barrientos knew. She called him immediately to confront him with this information, but he assured her his hands were clean. When the lawsuit against her ex-husband was filed in 2013, Castro took it upon herself to investigate the case in Chile. She contacted four former conscripts, took their testimonies and then took the declarations to a notary in order to notarize them.
It was noted that one of the declarations of one of the former conscripts is in direct conflict with that conscript’s deposition, shown earlier in the trial. That conscript has stated under oath that he cannot read and that he trusted Mrs. Castro Barrientos to write down his words accurately.
The day began with the cross-examination of Ms. Castro Barrientos. She disclosed in the examination that she had collaborated with one of the defendants in the Chilean criminal case concerning the death of Víctor Jara. She said it would have been impossible for Barrientos to report to a Captain Enriotti at Tejas Verdes in October, 1973, claiming that he was in the south. This directly conflicted with a statement by Barrientos, in which he disclosed that he reported to Captain Enriotti at Tejas Verdes in October 1973. Ms. Castro Barrientos further denied any knowledge that Captain Enriotti had run a concentration camp in the south later that year, despite it having been described in the book that had caused her to confront her husband over atrocities.
The cross-examination was followed by a former conscript who testified on behalf of the defendant. The conscript claimed that he was stationed nearly an hour and a half away from Santiago and Chile Stadium during the coup and its aftermath in 1973. This conscript testified that he had boxed in a military boxing championship at Chile Stadium a couple of months before the coup. Barrientos congratulated him for coming in second on behalf of the Tejas Verdes. The conscript also testified to driving Lt. Barrientos to Chile Stadium in the months following the coup. The defendant has claimed not to have heard of Chile Stadium until 2009.
Next, a second ex-conscript, who served as a bodyguard for Barrientos during the coup and its aftermath, testified on behalf of the defendant. He testified that during that week of the coup in September 1973, neither he nor Barrientos set foot in Chile Stadium. During the conscript’s cross-examination, however, the plaintiffs’ lawyers presented a declaration the conscript gave to Chilean authorities in 2009, in which that conscript claimed that he could not say whether or not Barrientos had been to Chile Stadium during the relevant time period. The conscript acknowledged the inconsistencies in his declaration and testimony.
The day began with testimony from Barrientos himself. Barrientos made no attempt to address the allegations against him regarding the death of Víctor Jara. Instead, he focused on defending himself against the allegation that he began hiding his personal assets after he was interviewed by the FBI on behalf of Chilean authorities in 2012, as part of the Chilean investigation into the death of Víctor Jara. Barrientos asserted that he had hidden his assets to protect them from the present lawsuit. During Barrientos’s cross-examination, the paperwork to transfer his house to a trust was revealed to have been signed and dated one day after the 2012 FBI interview, long before he had ever been served with this lawsuit.
The day continued with closing arguments from both sides. Mr. Mark Beckett of Chadbourne & Parke delivered the closing argument on behalf of the Jara family, calling attention to the eight former soldiers who testified on the plaintiffs’ behalf throughout the trial. Beckett concluded that Barrientos was spotted in Chile Stadium more than 20 times over the course of four days in September 1973. Finally, Mr. Beckett spoke of the profound and irreversible harm suffered by the Jara family, including having to have lived with impunity for almost 43 years. He also drew the jury’s attention to Víctor Jara himself, saying, “Think about this man. This remarkable man, how immensely popular he was in Chile. And you’ve heard testimony about that. He was the forefront of a popular musical movement. Think of what he could have done if he continued his life. Think what he could have been as an artist and as a reformer. Think of him and his family as they grew older, remembering the picture we saw, what it would have been like. What it would have been like to see the children grow up, to see them come into their own, that’s a blessing to be able to see that. He wasn’t able to see that.”
The defendant’s closing argument questioned the credibility of the conscript testimonies. The defendant’s lawyer asserted that the conscripts might be lying in their testimonies in order to avoid harassment from Chilean authorities. He also expressed his doubt of the legitimacy of one of the Chile Stadium torture survivor’s testimony, questioning whether she had ever been at the Stadium to begin with. Interestingly, the defendant admits that Víctor Jara was an iconic figure, arguing that such a figure would not be left in the hands of a low level lieutenant. Instead, the defendant argues, the decision to torture and kill Víctor Jara “[i]s going to be much higher in the chain… [t]hat’s going to be a decision made way above [Barrientos’s] pay grade.”
After the arguments, the jury began their deliberations. The jury must now decide whether the Defendant is liable under one or more of the following legal theories:
1) direct liability;
3) joint criminal enterprise;
4) aiding and abetting; and/or
5) command responsibility beyond a preponderance of the evidence.