Victor Jara! Presente!

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Victor Jara. Image Credit: listenrecovery

September 11 has perhaps been remembered in history for the wrong reason. Yes, it was on that day, in 2011, that the Frankstein monster unleashed by capitalism two decades earlier in the mountains of Afghanistan came back home; and yes, it was a terrifying homecoming. Perhaps more importantly, it was on this day, in 1973, that a murderous regime climbed the stairs of power after toppling Chile's democratically elected civilian government. For millions of ordinary Chileans and for the supporters of democracy worldwide, that date is a constant reminder about the fragility of freedom. It was on that day that the Allende dream ended and the Pinochet nightmare began. On September 16, 1973, a bullet strewn body was discovered on the outsides of the Chilean capital Santiago. It belonged to Victor Jara - poet, singer,theatre artist and political activist. The body was strewn with 44 bullets and bore the marks of torture. He was murdered by cronies of General Augusto Pinochet's despotic regime.

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Lyricist, singer: Victor Jara

Victor Jara was born into a poor peasent household on September 28,1932 near Santiago, the Chilean capital. Victor's father was a violent alcoholic who sought to see his children as cheap labour. Thus he was sent to work on a farm by the time he was 6. His mother, Amanda was self-taught labourer and was known as a singer in the village. She frequently opposed her husband's ways and saw to it that her children had a dignified upbringing and a proper education. Her death in 1947 left Victor to fend for himself. After trying a variety of jobs he soon moved to a seminary to train for priesthood. Disillusionment with the church soon followed and he left the seminary for the army. After quitting the army, Jara moved to his hometown where he was primarily involved with Chilean theater. His works ranged from local folktales to international classics. He was one of the founders of the Nueva canción (New Song) movement in Latin American music. The movement, drawing heavily on Latin America's folk traditions, sought to make music more socially committed and focused on themes such as justice, brotherhood and love. This was to be Victor Jara's signature style.

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Lyricist: Daniel Viglietti
Singer: Victor Jara
gringo- White farmers who were traditionally better off in Chile
dueño- Rich landowner.

Victor Jara soon joined the Chilean Communist Party and became an active member. He married the British born Joan Turner who was working as a dance instructor in Chile. Chile at the time was undergoing radical political changes. The social inequalities that had accumulated in the country side over years of Spanish imperialist rule had reached a crisis point. Large sections of the Chilean population, particularly in the countryside, felt left out. This considerably strengthened the position of the progressive forces.In 1970, Salvador Allende was nominated as the presidential candidate of the 'Popular Unity' alliance. Victor Jara's stood firmly in support of Allende and his peaceful path to socialism. Allende got elected into power and set out on his promised programme of land reforms and nationalisation of multinational mining companies. However, the United States of America was not very keen to see a democratic progressive government with a clearly socialist agenda and felt it represented a threat to American interests. The Nixon administration feared that this would set an example for all of South America to emulate and thus started actively supporting and financing the right wing forces in Chile, including a section of its army. The Commander in Chief of the Chilean Armed Forces , General René Schneider, was murdered in 1970. He was a committed constitutionalist and had refused to support a coup attempt against Allende. These turbulent times are perhaps best expressed in Jara's own words:

Once more they want to stain
my country with the blood
of working people.
Those who talk of liberty
but whose hands are marked with guilt;
who want to separate
mothers from their children
and want to reconstruct
the cross that Christ bore.

The inevitable happened on September 11, 1973. A violent military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet ousted President Allende who chose to end his life rather than surrender. Victor Jara was on his way to the Technical University in Santiago where he worked as an academic.

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Lyricist: Atahualpa Yupanqui, based on traditional folk song.
Singer: Victor Jara
Chacapumba- imitating the sound of chewing

Victor, his colleagues and his students were trapped in the university campus. Soon they were shifted by the military to the Estadio Chile (which was renamed as the Estadio Victor Jara in 2003) which had been converted into a makeshift prison camp At the stadium ,he was recognised by the military forces. Perhaps sensing his end was near, he got hold of paper and pencil from his friend and started composing a poem. It was to be Victor Jara's last poem: El Estadio (The stadium). The poem is unfinished as Victor was taken for interrogation before he could complete it. He never returned. Jara was beaten, tortured and then murdered. His body was then dumped in the slum area near Santiago. Joan Jara was persuaded by friends to go to the morgue and claim Victor's body lest it be cremated in a common grave. She would describe what she saw there in a manuscript that was smuggled out of Chile and published as The Unfinished Song: "His eyes were open and they seemed still to look ahead with intensity and defiance, in spite of a wound on his head and terrible bruises on his cheek. His clothes were torn, trousers round his ankles, sweater rucked up under his armpits, his blue underpants hanging in tatters round his hips as though cut by a knife or bayonet…his chest riddled with holes and a gaping wound in his abdomen. His hands seemed to be hanging from his arms at a strange angle as though his wrists were broken."

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Neither was he the first, nor was he to be the last to be murdered. His crime was that he gave the oprressed and tormented of Chile a voice; his voice. His murderers had hoped to silence the voice that had promised the people a more dignified existence. In doing so, they had just made Victor Jara immortal. Under the Pinochet regime, gross human rights violations became order of the day. Immediately after the coup a select team of army personnel nicknamed the Caravan of Death flew by helicopter to the various prison camps to murder political prisoners. American interference in Chilean economic policies became routine. A group of Chilean economists nicknamed the Chicago Boys (they were trained or influenced by University of Chicago professors). Chile became a testing laboratory for neo-liberal economics. With the aid of American intelligence, the dictatorships of South America (Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil) chalked out a plan to eliminate what they called 'Marxist subversion'. The operation was codenamed Operation Condor and resulted in atleast 60,000 deaths. The forces that murdered Victor Jara had not understood that those who make peaceful revolutions impossible, will make violent revolutions inevitable.

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La Higuera: village near which Com:Che was captured.
Bolivar: Simon Bolivar, Venenzuelan independence hero.
Lyrics:Rubén Ortiz
Singer:Victor Jara

¡Hasta la Victoria Siempre!

  • The title is a famous slogan of the Chilean progressive forces. Literally translated it means: “Victor Jara! Present!”