A former Chilean military officer was found liable for the murder of famed folk singer and political activist Victor Jara immediately following the military coup that installed former dictator Augusto Pinochet. Jara's widow
Joan Turner Jara was awarded $28 million in civil damages.
"Today, there is some justice for Victor's death, and for the thousands of families in Chile who have sought truth," Joan Jara, who attended the trial, said in public statement. "I hope that the verdict today continues the healing."
Former lieutenant Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez was accused of carrying out Jara’s torture and murder over the latter's support of socialist President Salvador Allende, ousted from power in a U.S.-backed coup by the army in 1973.
In his defense, Barrientos, 67, claims he did not know the folk singer, nor that he had died, nor that the Pinochet regime engaged in torture—until a 2009 conversation with his wife, who testified in his favor.
WATCH: US Court Indicts Alleged Killer of Victor Jara
Jara and thousands of other political prisoners were rounded up and tortured in a sports stadium in Santiago, now named in honor of the murdered folk singer, immediately following the 1973 coup. His tortured body was found with 44 bullets outside the complex.
The first hearing was launched Monday in a court in Orlando, Florida, where Barrientos has lived for over 20 years after fleeing Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship. Jara’s widow, Joan, gave testimony in court in the first session, the first of about 20 witnesses in the case.
"Victor could never have imagined that justice for his case would occur in the United States," Joan Jara said Monday.
The California-based Center for Justice and Accountability, which filed a civil suit against Barrientos in 2013, has called the action an historic attempt to seek truth and justice for heinous crimes committed during the Pinochet regime.
“We believe that perpetrators of the worst human rights crimes should be held to account, no matter how long it takes or where they try to hide. We must strive for a world where all can live freely, unafraid to speak up or sing out for equality, opportunity and responsibility," said C. Dixon Osburn of the Center for Justice and Accountability. "We hope that the verdict today provides some measure of justice and accountability for those who have fought so hard to see this day.”
The trial marks the first time that Barrientos, a dual U.S. and Chilean citizen, has appeared in court for his role in Jara’s death. A 2012 indictment against Barrientos and seven others by a Chilean judge has moved slowly, while the U.S. has not formally responded to an extradition request from the Chilean government.
Jara has become one of the most prominent symbols of Chile’s U.S.-backed “dirty war” against leftist artists, intellectuals, and activists in the 1970’s and 80’s. His politically-charged music has inspired a generation of political activists and musicians.
It is estimated that anywhere between 3,000 and 10,000 victims were tortured, killed, or forcibly disappeared under Pinochet’s bloody campaign against opponents as part of the regional U.S.-backed Operation Condor aimed at wiping out “insurgents” and stabilizing dictatorships in South America.
According to AFP, 11 other former military men have been prosecuted in connection with Jara’s murder. But Barrientos’ trial is nevertheless very significant because the former lieutenant is considered the ultimate mastermind behind the singer’s murder.