Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Resistance Songs - Victor Jara

In Chile forty years ago today the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende was overthrown by a U.S. backed military coup, bringing murderous dictator Augusto Pinochet to power. Pinochet's subsequent reign of terror claimed many victims, among them singer-songwriter, political activist and theatre director Victor Jara.

Born to poor peasants, Jara used education as a means of escape from impoverishment. He went on to become a teacher and make significant contributions to Chilean theatre and music. He actively supported Allende's bid for the presidency and Unidad Popular party. 

The Nixon administration clandestinely supported Allende's ouster and Pinochet's atrocities. Originally published a decade ago, Peter Kornbluh's The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability sifts through some 20,000 pages of documents to reveal the U.S. government and its foreign policy at its worst, undermining democracy and supporting senseless bloodshed.

The day after the golpe, Jara and many other Allende supporters were arrested and taken to Chile Stadium. Jara was savagely beaten and tortured. His hands were crushed. His tormenters mocked him, chiding him to play them a song on the guitar. Later he was shot to death with a machine gun and his body was dumped on the side of a road. 

September 11, 1973 is remembered by Chileans as the beginning of a horrible 17 year nightmare of violence and terror, a nightmare that was endorsed and supported by the United States. As we North Americans remember the events of September 11, 2001, I believe it is important for us to acknowledge we're rarely the ones on the business end of a "big stick." For the last half a century, from Latin America to the Middle East, from Southeast Asia to Japan, the United States has had the biggest stick around, and seems to seek every opportunity to swing it.