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Chile court sends elderly ex-soldiers to prison over singer’s 1973 murder

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A Chilean court on Monday confirmed jail terms for seven elderly ex-soldiers for the 1973 murder of beloved folk singer Victor Jara in the aftermath of the coup d’etat that installed dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The soldiers, aged between 73 and 85 and free men until the ruling, will now have to report to prison to serve sentences of between eight and 25 years.

Jara, then 40, was arrested the day after the September 11, 1973 CIA-backed coup that overthrew Salvador Allende.

His body was found days later, riddled with 44 bullets. He had been held, along with some 5,000 other political prisoners, in a sports stadium where he was interrogated, tortured and killed.

Former detainee Hector Hipolito Alvarez poses for a photo inside the dressing room of the National Stadium in Santiago, Chile, which was used as a prison and place of torture in 1973. Singer Victor Jara was also held prisoner there before his murder. Photo: AP

Among other horrors, the singer-guitarist’s fingers were crushed – broken by rifle butts and boots.

Jara was a member of Chile’s Communist Party and a fervent supporter of the Popular Unity coalition that backed Marxist president Allende, who came to power by popular vote in 1970.

The body of a fellow detainee, Littre Quiroga, 33 – national prisons director and a Communist Party member – was found with signs of torture near that of Jara and three other political prisoners.

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Monday’s ruling – the outcome of an appeal by the convicted men – confirmed sentences of 15 years for the murders of Jara and Littre and another 10 years for the kidnapping of each, for ex-army officials Raul Jofre, Edwin Dimter, Nelson Haase, Ernesto Bethke, Juan Jara and Hernan Chacon.

Rolando Melo received eight years for his role in covering up the crimes.

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The men had first been convicted in 2018 and saw their sentences increased by an appeal court three years later – prison terms confirmed in large part by the Supreme Court on Monday in what is the final ruling in the matter.

Jara, a pacifist singer whose lyrics spoke of love and social protest, became an icon of Latin American popular music with songs such as The Right to Live in Peace.

He inspired musicians from U2 to Bob Dylan, and at a 2013 concert in Santiago, Bruce Springsteen paid tribute to him.

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Pinochet ruled Chile until 1990 and died in 2006 without ever being convicted for the crimes committed by his regime, believed to have killed some 3,200 leftist activists and other suspected opponents.

In 2009, Chilean authorities ordered the exhumation of Jara’s remains. He was buried in an official ceremony that year attended by then-president Michelle Bachelet.

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Today, the stadium where Jara was held and suffered bears his name.

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