After claiming Víctor’s body at the morgue — he was shot 44 times after enduring 56 fractures, including two broken hands — Mrs. Jara (pronounced “hara”) declared she would spend the rest of her life seeking justice for her husband and the thousands of others killed or “disappeared” by Pinochet’s regime.
In court that day, Mrs. Jara faced Pedro Barrientos Núñez, a former Chilean army lieutenant living near Orlando who witnesses identified as her husband’s killer. Mrs. Jara, who died Nov. 12 at 96, sued him under a federal statute allowing torture victims or their estates to hold perpetrators accountable in U.S. courts.
“It was a very hushed courtroom,” L. Kathleen Roberts, one of her attorneys, said in an interview. “The story she had to tell was horrific and sad. She really had everybody’s attention.”
Mrs. Jara, a dancer, grew up in England and joined the Chilean National Ballet in the 1950s. She met Víctor, then a theater student, while teaching at the University of Chile.
“He showed me where he was born and where he was brought up,” Mrs. Jara testified, according to a transcript. “And it was a tiny, tiny peasant house, not in Santiago, way in the country. And this was very typical of Víctor because he never lost his peasant roots.”
Víctor became a theater director and poet. But it was his music, the songs he sang about the working class, that made him a star.
“He was beyond the Pete Seeger of Chile,” said Peter Kornbluh, director of the Chile Documentation Project at the National Security Archive nonprofit research group in Washington, referring to the American folk performer. “He was one of Chile’s foremost and renowned musicians inside the country and out.”
Víctor Jara and his wife were both leftists and supported Allende’s socialist government.
On the day of the coup, Mrs. Jara testified that Víctor was supposed to sing at Technical University, where he taught, during an event Allende was to attend. After dropping her children at school, she heard radio reports about air raids and other military activity. She turned around to pick up the children.
Back at home, Víctor decided to leave for the university to be with his fellow workers.
“He went out,” Mrs. Jara said, “and that was the last time I saw him.”
During the four decades after his death, Mrs. Jara pieced together what happened to her husband by working with human rights lawyers and other families to track down witnesses and government documents. She filed lawsuits and spoke at political rallies.
Pinochet’s military, she testified, surrounded the university and took everyone into custody on Sept. 12, 1973. Víctor and the others arrested were brought to a soccer stadium. Soldiers quickly recognized him, singling him out for brutal beatings and, ultimately, a barrage of gunfire that killed him.
They dumped his near-naked body in the streets. A few days later, a morgue worker came to the Jara home.
“Perhaps you can tell me what color are Víctor’s underpants?” the man asked Mrs. Jara.
“What a strange question,” Mrs. Jara said on the witness stand. “But it wasn’t, because lately we had been on a journey to London. And so I was able to answer, ‘They are blue.’”
Blue underwear was not sold in Chile. Víctor had bought them on his trip.
“And then the young man said, ‘Well, I’m afraid to tell you that Víctor’s body has been recognized in the morgue,’” Mrs. Jara explained.
They went there together to claim the body.
“His eyes were open,” Mrs. Jara testified. “One eye was bloody and bruised. His hands were hanging in a strange angle from his wrists in front of his chest and covered in blood. … I think I saw 20 large bullet holes in his abdomen and an enormous wound in the center of his body, a really enormous wound.”
That moment, “Literally I feel it was the end of my first life,” she said.
She later created the Víctor Jara Foundation to honor his legacy and seek redress. Despite difficulty hearing and seeing, Mrs. Jara sat through days of testimony in 2016 watching witnesses describe the atrocities Barrientos Núñez allegedly committed.
The jury found him guilty.
On the courthouse steps, a reporter asked Mrs. Jara if she was happy. “Perhaps happy in a sense that what we’ve been trying to do for more than 40 years, today has for Víctor become true,” she said.
Barrientos Núñez is facing extradition later this month as part of separate court proceedings in Chile, where several military members have been convicted of charges connected to Víctor’s death.
Mrs. Jara didn’t live to see Barrientos Núñez board a plane in handcuffs.
“But she knew about it,” Roberts, her lawyer, said. “She knew it was coming.”
Joan Alison Turner was born in London on July 20, 1927. Her father managed a typewriter company and later sold antiques he bought from the homes of the recently departed. Her mother was a homemaker.
“The shape of my life was decided one day in July 1944, at the height of the flying bomb attacks on London, when my mother took me to the Haymarket Theatre,” Mrs. Jara wrote in “Víctor: The Life and Music of Víctor Jara.”
There, they saw a performance by Ballets Jooss, a German modern dance company whose members had emigrated to England. Joan almost instantly decided to become a dancer. She attended the Sigurd Leeder School of Dance in London and eventually joined Ballets Jooss in 1951, performing with the company around Europe.
In 1953, she married her Chilean dance partner, Patricio Bunster. They moved to Chile the following year but divorced in 1960 while she was pregnant with their daughter Manuela. Depressed and now caring alone for a baby, she spent most of her days in bed.
One day, there was a knock on her door.
“Wondering who it might be,” she wrote, “I opened the door and found myself looking at a white-toothed smile which gleamed at me out of the dark passageway.”
It was Víctor. He handed her a bouquet of flowers. They married in 1965 and had a daughter, Amanda.
“I think the first thing that I’d like to tell you about Víctor was that life with him was fun,” Mrs. Jara said in the 1975 documentary “Compañero: Víctor Jara of Chile.” “We found a little house and we made it our own. We planted trees and a garden and this was Víctor’s little island full of love.”
After her husband’s murder, she fled to England with Manuela and Amanda. In the 1980s, she moved back to Chile and started a dance company. Pinochet, who relinquished the presidency in 1990 and was placed on house arrest several times, died in 2006.
The stadium where Víctor was tortured and killed was renamed after him in 2008.
Mrs. Jara’s death was announced by the Víctor Jara Foundation. No other information was provided.
Survivors include her daughters.
In the hours before his death, Víctor wrote his final poem.
when I must sing of horror.
Horror which I am living,
To see myself among so much
and so many moments of infinity
in which silence and screams
What I see, I have never seen
What I have felt and what I feel
will give birth to the moment …