On June 27th, 2016, former Chilean army lieutenant Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez was found “liable” by a U.S. District Court for the murder of revered Chilean folk singer, Victor Jara, killed in 1973 during the coup against the socialist government of Salvador Allende.
Jara’s murder, just days after the military putsch, became a symbol of the brutal regime that would span 17 years and leave a traumatized nation in its wake. Jara was held at Estadio Nacional Julio Martinez Prádanos (Estadio Chile) along with thousands of others who had been rounded up by the far-right junta. The popular troubadour was singled out by his barbaric captors and his hands broken to send a message. According to eyewitness and former Tejas Verdes conscript José Paredes, Barrientos played a game of “Russian Roulette” with Jara, which culminated with a kill-shot to the back of the head. Jara’s tortured and bullet-ridden body was saved from disappearing into a mass grave by a civil registry clerk who recognized the legendary folk singer’s corpse among the hundreds that were brought in for processing and took it upon himself, at great personal risk, to inform the late singer’s wife. His body was clandestinely recovered from the morgue and buried in a nearby cemetery.
The 67-year old Barrientos emigrated to the United States in 1989, ostensibly working as a landscaper and short-order cook, eventually becoming a U.S. citizen. Barrientos belonged to the “Tejas Verdes” army regiment (led by Manuel Contreras Sepulveda who later headed the DINA) known for silencing Pinochet’s political opponents. Barrientos now resides in Deltona, Florida. He was tracked down by a Chilean TV show in 2012 and interviewed on camera, where he denied ever being present at the stadium where Victor Jara was detained, claiming he was stationed east of the Moneda Palace at the time of the coup.
Many of the brutal regime’s known torturers and oppressors have escaped prosecution for decades as a result of a blanket amnesty law passed by Pinochet’s dictatorship in 1978; a law that has not been repealed by the Chilean parliament to this day. Pinochet himself was arrested during a visit to London in 1998 under an international warrant for human rights abuses, but was able to avoid any repercussions citing health problems. The amnesty law, however, has not been invoked in any Chilean courtroom since 1998 and 280 cases have been prosecuted following a ruling by Chile’s Supreme Court in 2013 stating that the law should not apply to human rights violations.
The civil suit against Barrientos was filed on September 4th 2013 before U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida on behalf of Jara’s widow Joan Jara (88) and her two daughters by the Center for Justice & Accountability, a San Fransisco-based legal advocacy group, and pro-bono counsel Chadbourne & Parke. Barrientos is also a defendant in a criminal prosecution in Chile, whose official request for extradition has so far gone unanswered by the United States government.
The suit was brought forward under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991, a statute that allows for the filing of civil suits in the United States against individuals who, acting in an official capacity for any foreign nation, committed torture and/or extrajudicial killing. It is also worth noting that the U.S. Supreme Court blocked overseas human rights criminal cases from reaching U.S. courts in a unanimous decision in 2013, leaving the Torture Victim Protection Act as virtually the only recourse for such cases. Several former conscripts testified via videotaped depositions against Barrientos in the trial that lasted just 8 days before a jury produced a guilty verdict, awarding $20 million in punitive damages and $8 million in compensatory damages.
The $28 Million Question
Col. Gerardo Huber was found lifeless, skull shattered on the banks of the Maipo river in Chile in 1992, days before he was to testify about illegal weapons sales to the newly formed Croatian government, then under a United Nations embargo.
Colonel Huber uncovered the furtive arms deal as director of logistics for the Chilean army, a post he had held for barely one year. The deal had originated with former British spy Sydney Edwards, who along with Vladimir Secen were in Chile attempting to procure armaments for Croatia, and Yves Marziale, a representative of Ivi Finance & Management Incorporated. In November of 1991, Marziale signed a contract worth over $6 million for 370 tons of armaments with FAMAE, a nominally independent concern run by one of Pinochet’s most trusted associates, General Guillermo Letelier Skinner. According to María Inés Horovitz, of Chile’s Council for the Defense of the State, FAMAE was part of a “an entire apparatus of paper companies that allowed the payment of bribes for arms purchases and sales.”
Huber’s death was ruled a suicide, but the truth partially emerged years later thanks to the work of judge Claudio Paez who won convictions against general Victor Lizárraga and brigadier Manuel Provis for the colonel’s murder in 2006. Claudio Paez’ investigation into Huber’s death was brought on by sudden revelations of Pinochet’s illicit enrichment through bribes and arms trafficking, estimated at $28 million. An inquiry into terrorist financing by the United States Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations revealed foreign accounts in excess of $8 million held by Pinochet at the infamous, Washington D.C.-based Riggs Bank. Members of the Chilean army based in the United States held personal bank accounts at Riggs Bank since the mid 1960’s; a common practice according to the former head of Pinochet’s secret police, Gen. Manuel Contreras.
Chile’s own investigation into FAMAE and the illegal arms trafficking case determined that Pinochet was indeed the ringleader of the operation and further disclosed that several companies had been created in offshore havens such as the Isle of Jersey and used to open four separate bank accounts in Coutts International of Miami. These brass plate companies – Cornwall Overseas Corp, Berthier Investment Inc., Lego Corp, Tasker Investment and Eastview Finance – were all headed by members Pinochet’s high command.
General Pinochet died of a heart attack in December of 2006 while facing indictments for human rights abuses, corruption and tax evasion. He was never convicted of any charge. His wife, Lucia Hiriart, and the couples five children were charged with corruption in Chile following the disclosures by the investigation by the U.S. Senate, but all charges were later dropped. Another inquiry into the involvement of Pinochet’s relatives in illegal activities was also terminated in 2013 by Chilean judge Manuel Valderrama.
In January of this year, the state prosecution service in Chile (CDE) began to seek the re-opening of the probe into the general’s massive fortune.
Victor Jara’s murder was only one among hundreds of targeted political and ideological assassinations carried out by a transnational covert intelligence and operations network created in the 1970’s called Operation Condor. The network was comprised by members of the military from 8 South American countries, including Chile, Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil. It facilitated cross-border persecution, disappearance and execution of the states’ political opponents and was underpinned by principles of the Cold War/National Security Doctrine espoused by the United States at the time.
Documents declassified in 2000 show how the U.S. National Security apparatus sponsored and supported Condor operations, not only through direct coordination with the totalitarian regimes by the CIA, FBI and diplomatic channels, but also as lynchpin of the network’s communication system. In a stunning discovery by researcher J. Patrice McSherry, a 1978 cable transmitted by then U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay, Robert White, he identifies the Panama Canal Zone U.S. Military base, which also housed U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), U.S. Special Forces, and the notorious School of the Americas, as the secure transnational communications center for Condor. In September 2000, the CIA itself admitted that Pinochet’s own intelligence chief, Manuel Contreras, was a CIA asset between 1974 and 1977.
Washington’s role in the creation of a transnational system of political repression in Latin America in the 60’s and 70’s, that has left a legacy of weak civilian governments throughout the region, is now beyond question. The first decade of the 21st century was shaping up to be a watershed for revelations about American policy transgressions during the post-war era. But, on the very day that Henry Kissinger was sued by the family of Chilean military Commander Rene Schneider, for orchestrating a series of covert activities that led to his assassination and on the very day that marked the 28th anniversary of the U.S. sponsored coup that brought Pinochet to power, a group of 19 muslims and their cave-dwelling leader were tragically introduced to the world in a horrific event that would bring the curtain down on more than 50 years of Cold War, anti-communist policies and ideologies and begin a new chapter of geo-political maneuvering focused on maintaining an economic advantage in a multi-polar world.