A widely acclaimed blurb from the book ‘Small Acts of Resistance’ states that “acts of defiance by common citizens, acting individually or in groups, have helped to demolish seemingly indestructible dictatorships or bring about radical change in socially and politically repressive regimes, and in doing so create a new moral order.” In these times, we are witnessing the birth of a new political thought which outlasts one’s legacy, which becomes a symbol of human dignity and liberty, all thanks to the citizens.
One such common citizen not of recent years – although a remarkable poet and musician of his time – was Victor Lidio Jara Martinez who became a victim of the military rule in his native Chile under Dictator Augusto Pinochet. Jara was part of the Nueva Cancion Chilena movement of folk music which had been instrumental in bringing the preceding Govt and Socialist President Salvador Allende to power, but was brutally killed for opposing the military coup. 39 years since the murder, a Chilean Judge has now ordered charges to be put to eight former military officers of Pinochet’s Army in the case of Jara.
Jara was born in 1932 into a peasant family in a small village close to the capital, Santiago. His mother was a folk singer and inspired him to take an interest in music and theatre. It was this love of Chilean folklore and revolutionary music that drove him into political activism. His first musical album was released in 1966 and featured songs such as ‘Plagaria a un Labrador’ (Prayer to a worker).
At the time of the military coup, Victor Jara was teaching in the technical university of Santiago. Along with other supporters of the deposed President Allende, he was arrested and taken to the national stadium where he was badly beaten, tortured and had his hands and ribs broken.
In recent years, the commission formed to investigate crimes against humanity committed under the Chilean military rule, determined that Jara had been killed by a single shot to the head in a round of Russian Roulette before he was riddled by no less than 44 bullets. His body was exhumed in 2009 for evidence and re-laid in the same place at a ceremony attended by thousands.
Many plays, movies and songs have been dedicated to his memory as has the national Stadium in Chile. His last poem, written whilst in detention, is too a source for inspiration:
“Within these four walls only a number exists
which does not progress,
which slowly will wish more and more for death.”
-Estadio Chile (1973), Victor Jara
Justice took a long journey for Victor Lidio Jara Martinez, but his sacrifice inspired many others to take a stand against the decay of poor governance. Common citizens like Jara will always live in the minds of people who have a desire to progress liberty and to stand for dignity.