Joan Jara, who found justice for her husband who was killed after the coup, dies at 96

Joan Jara, a British-born dancer and instructor who dedicated herself to finding justice for her husband, Victor Jara, a popular Chilean folk singer and songwriter killed during the military coup that brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte to dictatorial power in 1973 , died on November 12 in Santiago, Chile. He was 96 years old.

His death was announced by Victor Jara Foundationa human rights initiative she founded.

Justice came for Mrs. Jara (pronounced Hara) in two ways, more than 40 years after her husband’s death: in a civil lawsuit brought by her and her two daughters that held Pedro Barrientos Núñez, a former lieutenant of Chilean army, responsible for her husband’s death, and in legal proceedings in Chile that led to his arrest last month in Deltona, Florida, where he had lived for many years; he is expected to be extradited to Chile.

Mr. Jara, who was also a theater director and poet, sang about poverty and injustice. On “Manifyto,” he sang in part:

My guitar is not for the rich

no, nothing like that.

My song is from the scale

we are building to reach the stars.

Mr. Jara was a visible supporter of Salvador Allende, the Marxist who was elected president of Chile in 1970. On September 11, 1973, the Jaras were at home with their daughters, Manuela and Amanda, listening to Mr. Allende give a speech . Suddenly the speech was interrupted and replaced with military marches.

“There was somehow a coup in the air,” Ms. Jara said he told Democracy Now! radio program in 2013.

Right-wing military officers, backed by the CIA, had stormed the presidential palace and overthrown Mr. Allende, who was believed to have killed himself with an assault rifle that day.

Despite his and his wife’s fears that something terrible had happened, Mr. Jara went to the State Technical University of Santiago, the capital, where he taught drama and where he was scheduled to sing at an appearance by Mr. Allende.

“That was the last time I saw him,” Ms. Jara said.

The next day Mr. Jara, a member of the Communist Party, was captured along with other students and professors and taken to the Chile Stadium. Being an important supporter of Allende, he was easily recognized by General Pinochet’s soldiers. They shot him more than 40 times, twice in the head, and dumped his body outside a cemetery.

On September 18, a city morgue employee came to Ms. Jara’s home and asked her what color underwear Mr. Jara was wearing the day he disappeared.

“What a strange question,” he said during his 2016 testimony in the Florida civil trial in U.S. District Court in Orlando. “But it wasn’t, because we had been traveling to London recently. And so I was able to answer: ‘I’m blue’.”

His response helped the mortuary identify Mr. Jara’s body. When she arrived to claim him, she saw the bodies piled up outside. Inside her, among yet more bodies, she found her husband’s corpse lying face up on top of her.

“His eyes were open,” he said. “One eye was bloody and injured. His hands hung at an odd angle from his wrists in front of his chest and were covered in blood. He added: “I think I saw 20 large bullet holes in his abdomen and a huge wound in the center of his body.”

With the help of friends he bought a coffin and cemetery plot and had a hasty burial.

“There was no hope of thinking about a funeral,” he testified.

Once she arrived home, she told Manuela, her eldest daughter, that her father had been killed. “And I will never forget, I will never forget her scream, a terrible scream when she heard it,” she told the court.

However, she felt lucky.

“So many people here in Chile, so many families, still don’t know the fate of their loved ones,” Ms. Jara said in a video interview with The Times in 2018. “This is the worst fate.”

She and her daughters fled to London, where they stayed for about a decade before returning to Chile in the mid-1980s. (General Pinochet would remain in power until 1990.) There she opened a training center for classical dance, Centro de Danza Espiral, with her ex-husband, Patricio Bunster, a Chilean dancer. You created the Victor Jara Foundation in 1993.

Mrs. Jara was born Joan Alison Turner on July 20, 1927 in London. Her father ran a typewriter company and later sold antiques. Her mother was a housewife.

Joan wanted to become a ballerina when, in July 1944, she went to see the Jooss Ballets, a German modern dance company, at the Haymarket Theater in London. She attended a ballet school in London and was hired by Ballets Jooss in 1951.

Glasgow’s Daily Record and Mail wrote in 1953 that Mrs. Turner and Rolf Alexander were “the principal protagonists in the Ballets Jooss’ performance of ‘Journey in the Fog,'” a piece created by the company’s founder, Kurt Jooss.

That year she married Mr. Bunster, a dance partner of hers in the troupe. They moved to Chile in 1954 and divorced six years later when she was pregnant with Manuela.

Ms. Jara later became a dancer with the Chilean National Ballet and also taught dance at the University of Chile, where she met Mr. Jara. They married in 1965.

After his death, Ms. Jara found her voice, said one of her lawyers, Kathleen Roberts.

“When Victor was killed, he started a second life, in which he had to continually speak out for justice,” Ms. Roberts said by phone. “And not only for him but for the many victims of the coup and the dictatorship. He felt a real sense of obligation.

In 1978, Mrs. Jara and her daughters began the arduous process of trying to find out who killed Mr. Jara. They made court requests to open investigations into his death, but these went nowhere until 2009, when a former Chilean soldier said he witnessed Mr Jara being tortured and saw Mr Barrientos shoot him.

But no one knew where Mr. Barrientos was until 2012, when a Chilean television network located him in Florida. That year, the Santiago Court of Appeals charged him in absentia with Mr. Jara’s murder and requested his extradition, which has only now, after 11 years, come close to happening. Mr Barrientos insisted he was innocent.

In 2013, the Jara family, with the help of the Center for Justice and Accountability, a human rights organization representing survivors of torture and other abuse, took Mr. Barrientos to court under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991, adopted by Congress to bring accountability to human rights violators living in the United States.

In addition to holding Mr. Barrientos liable for Mr. Jara’s death, a jury ordered him to pay the Jara family $28 million in punitive damages. “Victor could never have imagined that justice would come in the United States for this case,” Ms. Jara said after the verdict.

Part of the extradition delay was due to the fact that Mr. Barrientos was a naturalized citizen. But that status was revoked this year by the district court because he concealed “material facts relating to military service in his immigration application,” according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Mr. Jara’s survivors include his daughters Amanda Jara Turner and Manuela Bunster. In 2003, the arena where Mr. Jara was killed was renamed Victor Jara Stadium.

Mrs. Jara never imagined that her husband’s song “Manifyto” would be performed in 2013 by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band as an encore at a concert in Santiago at the Movistar Arena.

“In 1988 we played for Amnesty International in Mendoza, Argentina, but Chile was in our hearts,” Springsteen told the audience in Spanish. “We met many families of desaparecidos” – the thousands of people “disappeared” under Pinochet’s dictatorship – “who had photos of their loved ones”.

He added: “A political musician, Victor Jara, remains a great inspiration. It is a gift to be here and I take it with humility.”