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News > Chile

Joan Jara Died Without Seeing Extradition of Victor's Murderer

  • Joan Jara (L), her daughter (C), and Victor Jara (R).

    Joan Jara (L), her daughter (C), and Victor Jara (R). | Photo: X/ @ConchaWrites

Published 13 November 2023

For 50 years, the British artist fought for justice for her husband Victor Jara, the Latin American music icon who was murdered during the coup d'état in Chile in 1973.

On Sunday, Joan Jara, the wife of Chilean singer-songwriter Victor Jara, who was murdered and tortured by the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, passed away in Santiago, Chile, at the age of 96.


Campaigns for the Constitutional Plebiscite Begin in Chile

Since the discovery of her husband's mutilated body in September 1973, Joan dedicated her life to the pursuit of justice. Unfortunately, she died just two weeks before the extradition of retired Chilean Army lieutenant Pedro Barrientos to Chile.

Barrientos had been convicted in the United States as the mastermind behind the singer's crime and torture, along with the director of prisons during Salvador Allende's government, Littre Quiroga.

Joan's family informed that the funeral services would begin on Monday, but the details of the event were still being finalized, causing sadness among all those close to her, especially at a time when the long-awaited extradition of Barrientos, for which Joan had worked her entire life, seemed imminent.

The Singer and the Dancer

Born in 1927 in London, Joan Alison Turner de Jara, better known as Joan Jara, was initially a dancer and later became the devoted partner of one of South America's most famous singers.

Their bond was forged through active political involvement against the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990) and in support of the memory of her husband and all those tortured, murdered, and detained during the repression.

Her love for dance began at the age of 15 during a visit to Haymarket Theatre with her mother. There, she met choreographer Kurt Jooss, who discovered her talent.

Two years later, she entered the newly opened Sigurd Leeder School of Dance, and three years after that, she joined Ballets Jooss in Germany, performing in Western Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, England, Scotland, and Ireland. It was during this time that she met Chilean choreographer, dancer, and actor Patricio Bunster, whom she would later marry.

Upon arriving in Chile, Joan won a spot in the National Ballet of Chile through a competition, first as a dancer and later as a choreographer. She also began teaching at the university, where she would meet another musician and theater director named Victor Jara.

The bloody coup d'état in 1973

After a divorce and with a daughter, Joan began a relationship with Jara, with whom she had a child before the fateful day of Sept. 11, 1973. On that day, the Chilean Army, led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, performed a coup against the democratically elected government of socialist Salvador Allende.

Victor Jara, renowned for his politically and socially charged songs, was arrested on the same day at the university, taken to the national stadium with thousands of others, and tortured for five days before being left mutilated and shot in Santiago City.

On Sept. 20, Joan had to identify the body, and after the burial, she had to leave for exile in Great Britain with her two daughters, adopting her husband's last name. She did not return to Chile until the mid-1980s, intensifying her political activities and establishing the Spiral Dance Center, pivotal in shaping several generations of dancers and choreographers.

Trial and Identification of the Culprits

Her efforts to clarify Victor Jara's death and find the culprits only bore fruit in 2009 when the perpetrator was identified. Four years later, Chilean judge Miguel Vasquez determined that Victor Jara died on September 16, 1973, from "at least 44 gunshot wounds," fired by, among others, Lieutenant Barrientos, who, according to one of his subordinates, would often brandish his official weapon, claiming, "with this, I killed Victor Jara."

On June 27, 2016, a federal court in Orlando, United States, ruled that the former Chilean military officer, who had fled to the U.S. on a tourist visa and was naturalized after marrying an American, was guilty of torture and extrajudicial murder of Victor Jara.

He was ordered to pay US$28 million in damages to the family. However, he was not arrested by the United States' National Security Investigations Office in Tampa, until October.

Days ago, it was reported that Barrientos would be extradited to Chile on November 28, on American Airlines flight number 957 departing from Miami, —an event Joan had fought for her entire life but would not live to see.

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