Skip to Content


« Previous Page  Page 2 of 2  
December 10, 2014

Brazil truth commission issues damning report against country’s former military dictatorship

December 9, 2014

Héctor Tobar’s book named among the “Notable Books of 2014” by the New York Times

DEEP DOWN DARK: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free. By Héctor Tobar. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Tobar graphically recounts the quandaries faced by the victims of Chile’s 2010 mine disaster.

Read the review here!

New York Times “100 Notable Books of 2014

December 17, 2013

Ex-president Michelle Bachelet wins Chile poll run-off

Left-wing candidate Michelle Bachelet has been elected Chilean president for a second time by a wide margin.

BBC America

With almost all the votes counted, Ms Bachelet had 62% against 38% for Evelyn Matthei, a former minister from the governing center-right coalition.

Ms Bachelet first served from 2006 to 2010, but under Chile’s constitution she could not stand for a second consecutive term.

She narrowly missed out on outright victory in the first round last month.

BBC Mundo’s Ignacio de los Reyes said that hundreds of people applauded Ms Bachelet when she took to the stage outside the headquarters of her coalition in the center of Santiago, some even cried with joy.

Many of them were women, members of the gay and lesbian community and environmentalists – some of the core groups that supported Ms Bachelet throughout her campaign.

In her victory speech, Ms Bachelet, 62, said she would carry out “deep reforms needed in Chile”, but she assured voters she would do so “responsibly”.

“Today in Chile we’re in the majority and it’s time we moved forward to fulfill the dream we all have, to again believe in ourselves, and to believe that there’s strength in unity,” she said.

“I am proud to be your president-elect today. I am proud of the country we’ve built but I am even more proud of the country we will build.”

Ms Bachelet is now set to become the first leader in Chile to serve two terms since the military rule of Gen Augusto Pinochet from 1973 to 1990.

Upon hearing the news, her supporters took to the streets to celebrate, waving flags and sounding car horns in the capital, Santiago.

Her rival, Evelyn Matthei, 60, conceded defeat and congratulated Ms Bachelet in person.

Coming close to tears, Ms Matthei told her supporters that her “deepest and honest desire is that things go well for her [Michelle Bachelet]”.

“No one who loves Chile can want anything else,” Ms Matthei said.

Ms Bachelet said she and Ms Matthei shared the will to serve their people

Ms Bachelet thanked Ms Matthei for her good wishes and said that both shared a love for their homeland and a willingness to serve its people.

‘Radical’ manifesto

A pediatrician by training, Ms Bachelet won 47% of the vote in the first round on 17 November. Ms Matthei secured 25%.

Ms Bachelet leads an alliance of her Socialist Party, Christian Democrats and Communists and has campaigned on policies designed to reduce the gap between rich and poor.

Chile is one of the richest countries in Latin America, but millions have staged protests over the past few years to push for a wider distribution of wealth and better education.

Ms Bachelet wants to increase taxes to offer free university education and reform political and economic structures dating from the dictatorship of Gen Pinochet.

Her manifesto this time is much more radical than before, the BBC’s Gideon Long in Santiago reports.

Ms Bachelet was constitutionally barred from serving a second successive term but was very popular when she left office.

Ms Matthei entered the race after two candidates of the center-right alliance resigned earlier this year – one for alleged financial irregularities, the other one after struggling with depression.

She called for a continuation of the policies of outgoing President Sebastian Pinera, asserting that Chileans are “better off” now than when he came to power four years ago.

Shared childhood

As children in the 1950s, the current rivals were neighbours and used to play together on the airbase where their fathers, both air force generals, worked.

Ms Matthei’s father, Fernando, rose through the ranks to run a military school.

Michelle Bachelet’s father, Alberto, had a job in the Socialist administration overthrown by Gen Pinochet in the 1973 coup.

He died in 1974 of a heart attack while in custody. An investigation concluded that the 51-year-old general had probably died of heart problems aggravated by torture at the military academy.

A judge ruled earlier this year that Gen Matthei had no knowledge of or involvement in the torture.

November 18, 2013

Glimmers of Hope in Guatemala

Stephen Kinzer

From Silence to Memory: Revelations of the Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional

with a foreword by Carlos Aguirre and a preface by Kate Doyle

University of Oregon Libraries, 476 pp., available at

New York Review of Books, December 5, 2013

Larry Towell/Magnum Photos

The Kaibiles, a special counterinsurgency force of the Guatemalan army that has been accused of human rights violations, Guatemala City, 1988

A few weeks ago in Guatemala, I participated in a long-overdue commemoration. September 14 was the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of President Jacobo Árbenz, a former army officer who was elected in 1950, then ousted in 1954 in a coup organized by the CIA, and replaced by a military junta. His name has been taboo in Guatemala for most of the time since then. Many in the ruling elite still consider the causes he championed—land reform above all—repugnant and mortally dangerous. September’s commemoration included speeches, conferences, and a vote by the city council in Quetzaltenango, where Árbenz was born in 1913, to name the local airport in his honor.

This commemoration unfolded at the end of a year during which Guatemalans’ attention was focused on a very different period of their history, the horrifically violent 1980s. In May a Guatemalan court convicted General Efraín Ríos Montt, who was head of state from 1982 to 1983, of genocide. A higher court quickly annulled the verdict, but nonetheless it was a spectacular triumph for victims of the thirty-six-year civil war that broke out soon after Árbenz was overthrown.

While I was in Guatemala, I visited a chilling police archive that reflects yet another aspect of this country’s attempt to confront its past. It came to light after investigators entered a Guatemala City police compound in 2005 and found, piled in moldy and vermin-infested heaps, nearly 80 million documents comprising a minute history of the National Police from 1882 to 1997. I was led past teams of archivists who, wearing gloves and hairnets, are meticulously digitizing this collection. They have scanned about 15 million documents so far. A single-volume collection of highlights was published in Guatemala two years ago, and an English translation,From Silence to Memory, has just appeared. It is a cold but intimate self-portrait of the terror state.

This is an almost unimaginable chain of events for Guatemala: discovery of the police archive and publication of its contents; a genocide verdict against General Ríos Montt; and the reemergence of Árbenz from historical oblivion. It cannot be taken to mean that Guatemala has matured as a nation. Guatemala is no longer at war, but its democracy is one of the weakest in the hemisphere. Its politics is corrupt. The range of choices at election time is narrow, and Congress is splintered and frozen into immobility. Drug gangs have penetrated government. Violence is endemic. Entire populations of indigenous people are still suffering from the effects of political violence. Millions subsist in acute poverty.

Yet as the civil war fades into history—peace accords were signed in 1996—Guatemala’s old power structure is losing its grip. All three of the institutions that have run the country as a virtual triumvirate for most of its existence—the army, the wealthy elite, and the Catholic Church—are weaker than at any time in the last half-century. Revelations about the army’s crimes have cost it much of its political prestige. The traditional ruling class, dominated by old coffee-farming families, is being challenged by new groups that have become rich through drug trafficking or by winning Internet and cell phone contracts. Catholicism is weakening as evangelical sects grow in size and influence.

In this fluid environment, new social forces are emerging. Members of the postwar generation seem eager to learn about Guatemala’s past and help guide its future. The middle class is growing. Movements advocating for the rights of indigenous peoples are active and growing. New forms of communication and social media have made it impossible for the repressive apparatus to function with the impunity it has enjoyed for generations.

One public discussion about Árbenz during the September commemoration was held in Guatemala City at the Sophos bookstore, which has become a center of intellectual life. As the audience gathered, the owner, Philippe Hunziker, told me that this is an “interesting moment” for his country. “The power of the traditional elite is no longer absolute,” he said. “It’s still strong enough to prevent any left-oriented political force from competing for power in elections, but we are seeing possibilities that have not existed in Guatemala for a long time.”

The overthrow of Jacobo Árbenz in 1954 was among the most ill-conceived CIAoperations. In the hypercharged atmosphere of the early cold war, President Dwight Eisenhower, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and his brother, Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles, decided that Guatemala threatened the United States. The United States had an army 140 times the size of Guatemala’s, a territory ninety times larger, and a population fifty times greater. Nonetheless the land reform program Árbenz advocated, his friendship with Guatemalan Communists, and opposition to him in Washington from the powerful United Fruit Company convinced the Dulles brothers—who had represented United Fruit as private lawyers at Sullivan and Cromwell—that he was too dangerous to be tolerated.

Árbenz had been drawn to Marxism before and during his presidency. The head of Guatemala’s Communist Party, José Manuel Fortuny, was among his closest advisers. He ordered weapons from Czechoslovakia after the United States cut off supplies to his army. Though he may have wished to stay out of the cold war, he seemed to have no understanding of the intense fear of Communist expansionism that gripped the United States in the 1950s. He never realized how his actions would look from Washington’s cold war perspective.

The overthrow of Árbenz led to protests, repression, rebellion, and civil war. Several guerrilla groups emerged. Many of their leaders were inspired by Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba, and Castro gave them various forms of help over the war’s long course. Some groups drew support from indigenous people, including the Ixil Maya, who have been known for rebelliousness since the days of the Spanish conquest. At the rebellion’s peak in the 1970s and 1980s, Guatemalan guerrillas considered themselves allies of the Sandinistas of Nicaragua and leftist rebels in El Salvador.

This conflict produced a series of dictators, of whom Ríos Montt is now the most notorious. His trial marked the first time a former head of state has been convicted of genocide in his own country. Hundreds of Guatemalans, many in the clothes of indigenous people, attended the trial. Dozens wrote blogs or sent tweets from the courtroom. Ninety-four witnesses testified, often in gruesome detail. Damning documents were projected onto a large screen in the courtroom. Ríos Montt watched it all. Many others, nearby and far away, followed the trial on a live video feed. The conviction was met by an outpouring of jubilation—but also a quick backlash.

Leaders of Guatemala’s notoriously reactionary business elite did not seem troubled when prosecutors indicted Ríos Montt for directing a genocidal campaign against the Ixil Maya. He was never part of their inner circle, and they felt no urge to rescue him. As the verdict approached, however, Zury Ríos, the daughter of Ríos Montt and a member of Congress, and several other children of retired military officers met with powerful business leaders. They warned: if you allow Ríos Montt to be convicted, you may be next.

Prominent businessmen had been members of the Council of State, a body Ríos Montt created to help him run the country in the early 1980s. After talking with Zury Ríos and her associates, several of them commissioned a study to determine if they might be held responsible for collaborating with genocide. The analyst they employed told them it was possible. “If you follow the chain of command to the president, the Council of State could also be put on trial,” he told a Guatemalan journalist. “Anyone who collaborated with the army in any way could be forced to answer in court.”

In view of this threat, twelve business leaders, including six former cabinet ministers and two former vice-presidents, issued a declaration asserting, “The charge of genocide is a legal fabrication that has nothing to do with the wish of victims to dignify their lost loved ones.” They followed this with a sustained publicity campaign using the slogan “Guatemala Is Not Genocidal.” President Otto Pérez Molina, a retired general, said former guerrilla leaders should be on trial instead of Ríos Montt because “it was the guerrillas who brought war to the Ixil triangle,” referring to a region where guerrillas hid and many thousands of Indians were killed. But he did not stop the trial from proceeding.

The guilty verdict, which came on May 10, with an eighty-year prison sentence, was a judicial affirmation of Ríos Montt’s role in one of the most murderous military campaigns in Latin American history. An estimated 200,000 people were killed, and a limited United Nations–sponsored commission later concluded that 93 percent of them died at the hands of government forces. Ten days after the verdict was pronounced, the Constitutional Court, citing an error in legal procedure, annulled it. That pleased business leaders who had been members of Ríos Montt’s Council of State. It also calmed the fears of dozens of well-to-do Guatemalans who, during the 1980s, flew combat support missions and carried out bombing raids for the army in their own planes and helicopters.

Yet the annulment barely dampened the sense of victory that activists felt at the conviction. They had secured a legal judgment of genocide, underpinned by a 718-page verdict citing an overwhelming array of evidence. Their legal victory was canceled, but their moral triumph remains clear.

Much of the best news coverage of the Ríos Montt trial, including the first published account of how and why the business elite became involved, was produced by a remarkable new online journal called Plaza Pública. Founded in 2011 and now employing ten full-time reporters, it does not rely on advertising; most of its expenses are paid by the Rafael Landívar University in Guatemala City, where it is based, with contributions from George Soros’s Open Society Foundations and a Dutch foundation, Hivos. Its director, Martín Rodriguez Pellecer, who is thirty years old, has emerged as one of the country’s leading reporters. He and his colleagues reject the codes of silence that paralyzed Guatemalan journalism for decades. In September, Rodriguez Pellecer participated in the Árbenz commemoration. Afterward I asked him how he saw his country at this moment. He told me it still suffers from “deep problems that are the result of inequality and the absence of the state,” but is also changing—thanks in part to the emergence of peasant cooperatives organized by groups ranging from weavers to coffee growers. “There is a growing middle class,” he said,

both in Guatemala City and in the interior, much of it organized in prosperous and democratic cooperatives. These cooperatives are producing 10 percent of our gross national product, and have political influence. The other area where there has been improvement is the justice system…. We now have important people in prison, including drug traffickers, corrupt government officials, major business figures who committed tax fraud, and soldiers responsible for responsible for massacres.

A good part of our society is ready to confront our history, but the circles of power are not. That’s why the verdict against Ríos Montt was annulled. It was a judgment about a crime that permeates our society, since genocide is the ultimate expression of racism. In the end it was a positive step. Guatemala is still plagued by racism and machismo, but much less than in the past.

If the young generation of Guatemalans seems one promising force born out of the conflict, newly invigorated indigenous movements are another. Descendants of Mayan Indians make up much of Guatemala’s population. Since the era of Spanish conquest they have been subject to continued oppression, and they were the principal victims of the civil war. Today they are demanding rights with a fervor never before seen in Guatemala. During the last few years, foreign-operated mines have been a focus of their protests.

One conflict is over the Marlin mine, two hundred miles northwest of the capital. It is operated by a Canadian company, Goldcorp, under a concession granted by the Guatemalan government. In 2010, according to Goldcorp, the mine produced its millionth ounce of gold, and it “continues to generate significant cash flow.” On its website, the company asserts that it is guided by “a desire to work for the mutual benefit of all stakeholders” and seeks “to conduct our business in a socially, economically and environmentally respectful and responsible manner.”

Protests against mining have emerged in several Latin American countries in recent years. Those in Guatemala are notable for their intensity, the participation of indigenous communities, and the international attention they have attracted. A film about this conflict, Gold Fever, had its premiere at the Teatro Nacional in Guatemala City in April and has since been shown at festivals, theaters, and campuses in more than twenty countries. In 2011, after visiting Guatemala, the United Nations rapporteur for indigenous people, James Anaya, expressed “grave concern” over the “alarming lack of legal protection for the rights of indigenous people over their traditional lands and territories, which leaves Guatemala lagging behind other countries in the region that have made progress in that regard.”

Currently in Guatemala, the business activities underway in the traditional territories of the indigenous peoples have generated a highly unstable atmosphere of social conflict, which is having a serious impact on the rights of the indigenous people and threatening the country’s governance and economic development.

The repercussions include numerous allegations concerning the effects on the health and the environment of the indigenous people as a result of the pollution caused by the extractive activities; the loss of indigenous lands and damage to indigenous people’s property and houses; the disproportionate response to legitimate acts of social protest, and the harassment of and attacks on human rights defenders and community leaders.

Mining provides the government with desperately needed tax revenue. Few benefits, however, trickle down to people who live near mines. They say mining contributes to disease and environmental destruction, and exacerbates social tensions. In April and May a protest against silver mining in San Rafael Las Flores, fifty miles southeast of the capital, escalated into violence and the death of a police officer and a protester, leading President Pérez Molina to impose a thirty-day state of siege in the region, limiting residents’ right to meet and move freely. The political elite continues to view protest movements as antigovernment subversion rather than legitimate expressions of grievance.

Because the country is still not a safe place to live, the recovery of history is difficult. Yet the legacy of terror is on full view at the Historical Archive of the National Police. This archive is a deeply impressive symbol of Guatemala’s fitful effort to deal with its past.

Documents from the archive reproduced in From Silence to Memory offer a terrifying look at the inner workings of a murderous police force. A postmortem card bears fingerprints of a victim called XX, the name under which thousands were buried. A one-sentence note introduces a list of “individuals known to collaborate with guerrillas or subversive delinquents in the Quiché region.” A surveillance photo of a student demonstration on September 20, 1978, has a cross identifying the twenty-three-year-old student leader Oliverio Castañeda de León; he was killed a month later.

In a preface to From Silence to Memory, Kate Doyle of the Washington-based National Security Archive writes:

The report also explains how an institution charged with fighting crime and guaranteeing public order could be radically re-engineered to become an instrument of terror. The decisive moment came in 1954, when the United States supported a coup against Guatemala’s democratically elected president in favor of dictatorship…. In short order, the importance of the National Police’s counter-subversive mission overcame their ordinary law enforcement functions, fatally infecting the culture of the institution.

This is the largest police archive to have emerged from Latin America. Smaller ones have been opened or found in several other countries, but access to them is restricted. In Argentina, for example, considerations of privacy prevent the release of many documents to researchers. The Guatemalan archive is open to any citizen. Documents found here have led to trials in which former police officers, including some of high rank, have been given long prison terms for political killings and other offenses.

From Silence to Memory is divided into four sections, each in the form of a richly documented essay. The first traces the history of the National Police and its degeneration into an instrument of political repression. The second describes the police force’s relations with its security partners, including the army and United States advisers. The third documents the tactics police used to control the population. I was struck by the final section, which presents the detailed cases of nine victims. One of the nine was my first Guatemalan friend.

During my visits to Guatemala in the late 1970s, I came to know a dynamic and ambitious politician, Manuel Colom Argueta. As a student he had organized protests against the military regime the United States supported after overthrowing Árbenz. He formed a left-leaning political party called the United Revolutionary Front, served four years as mayor of Guatemala City, and planned to seek the presidency in 1980. Pleased that an American had taken an interest in his country’s politics, he spent hours talking to me about its history, the nature of the conflict into which it had fallen, and his hopes for its future. On March 22, 1979, he and his two bodyguards were shot dead as they drove through Guatemala City. He was forty-six years old.

From Silence to Memory reports that researchers at the Historical Archive of the National Police have found 117 documents showing that the police were “involved in a political persecution of Manuel Colom Argueta that lasted 22 years.” They include surveillance reports, notes about Colom’s foreign travels, license plate numbers of motorcycles that he reported as having followed his car, and notes describing him as Communist and a terrorist, neither of which he was. An account of his murder says that the death squad was composed of at least three cars and two motorcycles, and that Colom fled from the scene but was killed when “a well-built young man carrying a machine gun dismounted in order to finish the victim off.” The report concludes that Colom was marked for death because of “his role as a political leader with roots in broad sectors of the population,” and because he “seemed to be capable of achieving electoral success by offering a different option on the political spectrum of that era.”

This assassination and others allowed generals to maintain their control of the presidency. With help from Argentina, South Africa, Taiwan, Israel, and the United States—President Reagan praised General Ríos Montt as “a man of great personal integrity” who had been given “a bum rap” as a human rights abuser—the army launched a scorched-earth campaign against rebels and their presumed supporters. Nearly all of the estimated 200,000 victims were civilians, and according to the UN investigating commission, 83 percent of them were indigenous people. This murderous campaign became possible after security forces cut down virtually the entire class of emerging civilian leaders, symbolized by Colom Argueta.

Although no documents in the police archive contain orders to kidnap or kill, some are damning enough to have led to convictions and jail sentences. There is no direct evidence of who abducted the labor leader Edgar Fernando García in 1984, for example, but an order was found citing four officers for commendation after an “operation” launched at a particular time and place in Guatemala City. Investigators knew that García was abducted at that time and place. Two of the implicated officers were found and convicted, along with two of their superiors, one of whom had been director of the National Police. All were given forty-year jail sentences.

Documents found in the police archive, according to the conclusion of From Silence to Memory, trace the roots of Guatemala’s tragedy to the CIA intervention of 1954:

Several decrees issued between 1954 and 1956 are a reflection of the growing anti-communist current, bringing about the creation of various agencies of repression that were gradually integrated into, and their functions taken over by the police institution. It was then that it evolved into the National Police as it was known during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s….

The documents in the [police archive] attest to the close working relationship between the various State security forces. These coordinated activities were especially common in the context of the international struggle against communism led by the United States. In Guatemala, this persecution intensified in 1954 after the overthrow of the elected president Jacobo Árbenz and alignment with the dictates of the US respecting hemispheric security policies as laid out in the National Security Doctrine.

It is still easy, as it has been for most of the last half-century, to see Guatemala as a dark place with no exit. The deep inequality that has plagued the country since the days of conquest continues. So does the culture of violence that has enveloped Guatemala since the 1954 coup. Yet the opening of the police archive, Ríos Montt’s conviction, and the commemoration of Árbenz can be seen as a historical sequence, testifying to the resilience of a devastated society and offering glimmers of hope that were all but unimaginable just a few years ago.

November 17, 2013

Armed Men Burn Records of El Salvador War Missing

Nov. 14, 2013, 3:46 p.m. PST

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — Armed men broke into a nonprofit agency that works to locate children missing from El Salvador’s civil war and set fire to the group’s archives, national fire officials said Thursday.

The intruders also stole computers during the early morning attack that damaged four offices of the Probusqueda Association for Missing Children. Investigators could smell combustible fluid at the scene, fire Sgt. Armando Pineda said.

While authorities provided no motive for the attack, Probusqueda said earlier this year that it had documented at least a dozen cases of children stolen by members the military during the 1980-92 war between the Salvadoran government and leftist guerrillas. Some were sold or given away for adoption, or raised by the men who took them, the group said. Efforts to investigate those cases have been hindered by the military’s refusal to turn over DNA records.

The group has also received nearly 1,000 complaints about children separated from their families during the U.S.-backed war. It says it has helped at least 235 people, many adopted in the United States or Europe, locate their birth parents.

“This is clear sabotage of our work,” director Ester Alvarenga said, adding that she had not yet been allowed to check the burned offices. “We don’t know what documents they destroyed or took, but this is an attack against our work.”

One of the office’s guards said the attackers stormed in before dawn by forcing another guard arriving for work to act as decoy and get him to open the door. The first guard, who refused to be quoted by name for fear of reprisal, said he and the other guard were beaten and tied up, then their assailants appeared to open cabinets and throw objects around before setting a fire.

“They told us that if we moved, they would kill us,” he said.

Official human rights prosecutor David Morales suggested the attack could be related to an appeal before the country’s Supreme Court that would eliminate amnesty for people who committed grave war crimes, and he asked the attorney general to make a priority of investigating the attack.

“They have the responsibility to look at the possibility that this was a politically motivated attack intending to intimidate Probusqueda because of their work in defending human rights,” Morales said.

The 1993 amnesty law has protected military commanders from being prosecuted for crimes committed during the civil war, including the murder of six Jesuit priests. But last year the Inter-American Court of Human Rights said the law goes against an international treaty.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has found the government was responsible for the abductions of at least six children also documented by Probusqueda. It ordered El Salvador to open government archives and meet other requests for action, such as providing medical and psychological support to victims, naming schools after the abducted, locating those still missing and apologizing publicly.

The nation has fulfilled only the last part of the order, holding a ceremony last year at which a Cabinet member asked for forgiveness from families.

The case recalled the experience in Argentina, where the military kidnapped hundreds of children of political opponents, and the prosecution of those responsible three decades later led to the indictment of top officers, including army Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla, then-head of Argentina’s military junta. Some of the kidnapped children were adopted by military families.

In most of Probusqueda’s cases in El Salvador, children were separated from their families during the confusion of war and were turned over to the Red Cross in the belief their parents were among the 75,000 people killed in the conflict. Such children were placed in shelters and offered for adoption, mostly to families in the U.S. and Europe.

Shaken human rights activists and relatives of civil war victims gathered outside Probusqueda’s offices.

“They are doing the same thing they did in the 1980s,”said Apolonia Guillen, a 72-year-old who said she lost relatives in the war. “They don’t like justice; they don’t want justice.”

September 25, 2013

Víctor Jara’s Family Files Suit in U.S. Over His Torture and Death in ’73

By Victor Ruiz Caballero for The New York Times

SANTIAGO, Chile — A former Chilean Army officer charged with murdering Víctor Jara, a popular folk singer, shortly after the 1973 military coup has been sued in a Florida court under federal laws allowing legal action against human rights violators living in the United States.

Mr. Jara, then 40, was a member of the Communist Party and an accomplished theater director and songwriter whose songs of poverty and injustice remain vastly popular. He was arrested with hundreds of students and employees at the Santiago Technical University, where he was a professor, a day after the Sept. 11 coup that ushered in 17 years of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

The detainees were taken to Chile Stadium, used to hold thousands of prisoners. There, Mr. Jara was singled out with a few others, beaten, tortured and shot. His body, with 44 bullet wounds, was found dumped outside a cemetery with four other victims. The arena was later renamed Víctor Jara Stadium.

The lawsuit against the former officer accused of his murder, Pedro Pablo Barrientos, comes as Chileans take part in a number of cathartic, emotionally charged events leading up to the 40th anniversary of the coup.

It was filed Wednesday by the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability in a Jacksonville district court on behalf of Mr. Jara’s widow and daughters under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991. Mr. Barrientos, 64, moved to the United States in 1989 and became an American citizen. He lives in Deltona, Fla., southwest of Daytona Beach.

Last December, a Chilean judge charged Mr. Barrientos and another officer, Hugo Sánchez, with committing the murder. Six other officers were charged as accomplices.

“Although ideally justice should be achieved in the home country, international justice efforts are at the service of the victims and by pursuing them, we can support and invigorate justice at home,” said Almudena Bernabeu, a lawyer for the center.

Mr. Barrientos was found in Deltona last year by a Chilean television crew and denied having ever been in the stadium. But a dozen soldiers from his regiment have testified that he was in charge of the companies sent there. One of the soldiers, José Paredes, said in legal testimony that he had witnessed Mr. Barrientos and other officers beat and torture Mr. Jara and other prisoners.

“After that, Lieutenant Barrientos decided to play Russian roulette, so he took out his gun, approached Víctor Jara, who was standing with his hands handcuffed behind his back, spun the cylinder, put it against the back of his neck and fired,” Mr. Paredes stated. The gun went off and Mr. Jara “fell to the ground,” he added. The other officers fired as well, he said.

Although the Chilean Supreme Court authorized the judge’s request to extradite Mr. Barrientos from the United States in January, the Chilean government has not sent the extradition request to American officials. The 543-page legal file is still being translated, according to the Foreign Ministry.

After Mr. Jara’s death, his wife, Joan Jara, a British-born dancer who moved to Chile in 1954, left the country with her two young daughters. She returned 11 years later and has dedicated the past 40 years to “rescuing Víctor from being merely a victim.”

Since she first filed a criminal lawsuit in Santiago in 1978, the case has been handled by half a dozen judges; it was closed and later reopened; Mr. Jara’s remains were exhumed for forensic analysis and reburied in 2009; and the details about his killing have been coaxed out of witnesses drop by drop.

“All of the information that has been dug out about the officers who were in the stadium has been discovered without the help of the army,” she said.

The legal action against Mr. Barrientos seeks damages for torture; extrajudicial killing; cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; crimes against humanity; and arbitrary detention. The plaintiffs are requesting trial by jury. The ultimate goal, Ms. Jara said, was not monetary compensation, but to use the only available legal tool in the United States to hold Mr. Barrientos accountable. Mr. Barrientos could not be reached for comment.

“There’s no money that can cure the damage that has been suffered,” she said in a recent interview. “I’ve had two lives: one before and one after 1973.”

Pope Condems Idolatry of Cash in Capitalism

Pope Condemns Idolatry of Cash in Capitalism

by Lizzy Davies for the The Guardian

Head of Catholic church condemns economic system and calls for society with people, not money, at its heart.

Pope Francis has called for a global economic system that puts people and not “an idol called money” at its heart, drawing on the hardship of his immigrant family as he sympathized with unemployed workers in a part of Italy that has suffered greatly from the recession.

Addressing about 20,000 people in the Sardinian capital of Cagliari, the Argentinian pontiff said that his parents had “lost everything” after they emigrated from Italy and that he understood the suffering that came from joblessness.

“Where there is no work, there is no dignity,” he said, in ad-libbed remarks after listening to three locals, including an unemployed worker who spoke of how joblessness “weakens the spirit”. But the problem went far beyond the Italian island, said Francis, who has called for wholesale reform of the financial system.

“This is not just a problem of Sardinia; it is not just a problem of Italy or of some countries in Europe,” he said. “It is the consequence of a global choice, an economic system which leads to this tragedy; an economic system which has at its center an idol called money.”

The 76-year-old said that God had wanted men and women to be at the heart of the world. “But now, in this ethics-less system, there is an idol at the center and the world has become the idolater of this ‘money-god’,” he added.

Sardinia, one of Italy’s autonomous regions with a population of 1.6 million, has suffered particularly badly during the economic crisis, with an unemployment rate of 20%, eight points higher than the national average, and youth unemployment of 51%.

Last summer the island’s hardship became national news when Stefano Meletti, a 49-year-old miner, slashed his wrists on television during a protest aimed at keeping the Carbosulcis coal mine open.

Urging people not to give up hope even in the harsh economic climate, Francis also called on them to fight back against the “throwaway culture” he said was a by-product of a global economic system that cared only about profit. It was, he said, a culture that saw the most vulnerable society become marginalized.

“Grandparents are thrown away and young people are thrown away,” he said. “And we must say no to this throwaway culture. We must say: ‘We want a fair system; a system that allows everyone to move forward.’ We must say: ‘We do not want this globalized economic system that does so much harm.’ At the center has to be man and woman, as God wants – not money.”

His own father, he recalled, had suffered great hardship after moving from northern Italy to Argentina in the 1920s. He went “a young man … full of illusions” of making it in the new world, but soon found there was no work to be had. “I didn’t see it; I had not yet been born. But I heard of this hardship at home … I know it well,” said Francis.

« Previous Page  Page 2 of 2