I lived through the Allende years before the military junta seized power in Chile on September 11, 1973. The next day, along with countless others, my brother, some friends and I were arrested and led to Santiago’s Estadio Nacional. That same afternoon, Victor Jara, Chile’s most popular folk singer was taken into custody and dragged to Estadio Chile. In this structure which became the scene of abominable torture and death, Jara who dedicated his musical talents to the Chilean working people and their struggles, was the first to be slaughtered.
On September 11th, Jara was scheduled to sing in Santiago University. Instead, with the U.S. backed coup of General Augusto Pinochet underway, he was arrested and led along with five thousand others to the stadium. For the next four days, he was tortured, beaten, electrocuted, his ribs, hands and wrists broken, before he was finally machine-gunned to death. Fellow political prisoners have testified that when his captors mockingly suggested he play guitar for them as he lay on the ground, he defiantly sang part of a song supporting the Popular Unity coalition. “Venceremos, venceremos, mil cadenas habra que romper…”
His body, riddled with 34 bullet wounds, was found in a Santiago morgue on a heap of corpses.
He was 38. A fellow communist party member recognized him and secretly notified his wife, who came to identify him and arrange for his burial in the General Cemetery of Santiago where the poet Neruda is also buried.
The contrast between the themes of his songs, on love, peace and social justice and the brutal way in which he was murdered transformed Jara into a symbol of struggle for human rights and justice across Latin America. His last poem was written in the stadium where he was so brutally tortured and murdered. The scraps of papers where it was written on were smuggled out by those who survived. The song remains unfinished. The lyrics literally stop mid-sentence as he was led away to the changing rooms of the stadium and was shot repeatedly through the chest.
“Silence and screams are the end of my song”
Canto, qué mal me sales
How hard it is to sing
cuando tengo que cantar espanto.
when I must sing of horror
Espanto como el que vivo
Horror which I am living
como el que muero, espanto
Horror of which I am dying
De verme entre tantos y tantos
To see myself among so many
momentos de infinito
moments of infinity
en que el silencio y el grito
in which silence and screams
son las metas de este canto
are the end of my song
Lo que veo nunca vi
What I see, I’ve never seen
Lo que he sentido y lo que siento
What I have felt and what I feel
harán brotar el momento…
will give birth to the moment….
Estadio Chile – Septiembre 1973
Victor Jara is widely recognized as one of the leaders of the New Song Movement in Chile which began in the 1960s and continued through the 70s. Other artists who defined the New Song Movement include folk singer Violeta Parra and the groups Inti-Illimani and Quilapayun. The New Song Movement had strongly identified itself with the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende’s (Unidad Popular), and the music lent inspiration and cohesiveness to the supporters of the Unidad Popular. After September 11, 1973, all music by these artists was declared subversive and the discovery of possession of such recordings would lead to certain arrest.
Yo pregunto a los presentes
Si no se han puesto a pensar
Que esta tierra es de nosotros
Y no del que tenga más
Yo pregunto si en la tierra
Nunca habrá pensado usted
Que si las manos son nuestras
Es nuestro lo que nos den
A desalambrar, a desalambrar
Que la tierra es nuestra
Es tuya y de aquél
De Pedro y María
De Juán y José
Si molesto con mi canto
A alguien que no quiera oír
Le aseguro que es un gringo
O un dueño de este país
A desalambrar, a desalambrar……
“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”
— Henry Kissinger
“Not a nut or bolt shall reach Chile under Allende. Once Allende comes to power we shall do all within our power to condemn Chile and all Chileans to utmost deprivation and poverty.”
— Edward M. Korry, U.S. Ambassador to Chile, upon hearing of Allende’s election.
“Make the economy scream in Chile to prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him.”
— Richard Nixon, orders to CIA director Richard Helms on September 15, 1970
“It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup. It would be much preferable to have this transpire prior to 24 October 1970 but efforts in this regard will continue vigorously beyond this date. We are to continue to generate maximum pressure toward this end, utilizing every appropriate resource. It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG and American hand be well hidden.”
— A communique to the CIA base in Chile, issued on October 16, 1970
This entry is dedicated to Frantz Voltaire and Michel Vieux.
michèle voltaire marcelin