Later on this week is International Human Rights Day. To coincide with this and for my 5th week of videos, I would like to share the song ‘Victor Jara’.
I first heard it sung beautifully in a folk club a couple of years ago (either Frodsham or The Hungry Horse in Ellesmere Port) by one of the club’s residents, Gordon. It was one of those powerful moments when something affects you so much you feel your stomach turn. Interestingly, it was around the time I was getting into the music and work of the Chilean folk musician Violeta Parra, via the song ‘Gracias A La Vida’ – more on Violeta later on this week.
Written by the English poet Adrian Mitchell and put to music by Arlo Guthrie, it tells the very moving story of Victor Jara; a Chilean poet, musician, songwriter and activist who was executed in 1973 by the regime of the dictator Augusto Pinochet.
This is a difficult song to get through and listen to in troubled times, however I believe it is an important reminder of the cruel injustices which take place in oppressed and occupied states. Recently I came across the following statement by James Bradfield of The Manic Street Preachers, who, earlier on this year, released an album inspired by Victor Jara:
“If you just focus on his death, you ignore the journey, you ignore the ambition, you ignore the songs, and you kind of ignore Chile…”
Please do focus on his life, especially the music.
I can remember being fascinated by Chile when I was a little girl. I think mostly because of my Dad’s work friend, Juan, a Chilean refugee from the Pinochet years, who had come to live in Scotland. Not quite understanding why, aged 6 or 7, I have the vague memories of being told it was something to do with Pinochet and Thatcher.
Of course it did have a lot to do with Margaret Thatcher, and her close affiliation with and support of Augusto Pinochet throughout the 70s and into the 80s.
There is an additional concluding verse to Mitchell’s poem:
“Now the Generals they rule Chile
And the British have their thanks
For they rule with Hawker Hunters
And they rule with Chieftain tanks…”
Declassified documents revealed that, by June 1982, Thatcher’s government had sold the dictatorship: two warships, 60 blowpipe missiles, 10 Hunter Hawker bomber planes, naval pyrotechnics, communications equipment, gun sights, machine guns and ammunition.
The 1973 military coup that brought Pinochet to power has been classified as one of the most violent events in the history of Chile.
In the wake of his death, Jara became a national icon in Chile. The stadium in which he was killed was renamed Víctor Jara Stadium in 2003 and in 2012, eight retired Chilean army officers were charged with, and later found guilty of Jara’s murder.
Jara’s wife, Joan Jara, currently lives in Chile and runs the Víctor Jara Foundation, which was established on 4 October 1994 with the goal of promoting and continuing Jara’s work.
She publicised a poem that Jara wrote just before his death about the conditions of the prisoners in the stadium. The poem, written on a piece of paper that was hidden inside the shoe of a friend, was never named but it is commonly known as ‘Estadio Chile’. Joan also distributed recordings of her husband’s music, which were banned throughout the coup but have since become known worldwide.
For a full account of his life and work, there are plenty of articles online such as this:
BBC Culture also did a write up about James Bradfield’s recently released album ‘Even in Exile’, inspired by the life and work of Victor Jara:
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoy the music, appreciate the story and will join me in celebrating the life of a truly inspiring Human Rights Activist.