Joan Jara, a British dancer, choreographer, and advocate for human rights, passed away in Santiago at the age of 96. She was the widow of renowned Chilean folk singer Víctor Jara. Her death comes two weeks before the extradition of her husband’s murderer from the US to Chile.
She became a powerful figure of resistance against the Chilean dictatorship due to her unwavering quest for truth and justice for her husband. He had been cruelly tortured and murdered following the coup d’état led by Gen Augusto Pinochet.
While living in the UK, Joan Jara played a significant part in bringing global attention to the atrocities occurring in Chile during Pinochet’s violent rule. In 2016, she served as a critical witness in the civil case against former Chilean army officer Pedro Barrientos, who was ultimately held responsible for the death of Victor Jara.
On Monday, hundreds of mourners gathered at the Centro de Danza Espiral, a dance school Joan founded with her first husband, the Chilean choreographer Patricio Bunster, where her body lay before a burial on Wednesday.
The left-leaning president of Chile, Gabriel Boric, commended her as “a woman who fought for justice for fifty years, leaving us with an enduring legacy in the arts and human rights advocacy.”
The government spokesperson, Camila Vallejo, expressed that the fight and resilience for truth, justice, and reparation will be remembered forever.
Joan Alison Turner was born on July 20, 1927 in London. In the mid-1950s, she relocated to Chile and became a soloist with the Chilean National Ballet. She later became a dance instructor at the University of Chile and in 1960, she met Víctor Jarain.
The pair wed and, with Víctor being a devoted communist with close connections to socialist president Salvador Allende’s administration, brought up two daughters amidst the turmoil of political unrest.
On September 11, 1973, the anticipated coup d’état that Jara had predicted was carried out with support from the US. Joan and Víctor sat at home and listened to Allende’s last words being broadcasted from Chile’s presidential palace.
Víctor left for a local university to wait for events to unfold with fellow Allende supporters in a final act of defiance, where he was arrested and taken to Estadio Chile, a small covered stadium in downtown Santiago.
On September 16, he was subjected to humiliation, torture, and beatings before being fatally shot 44 times and discarded on the street from the changing rooms below the stadium.
Joan received a notification from bystanders and had to retrieve her spouse’s remains from a group of dead bodies that were discarded at a morgue in Santiago.
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After living abroad for several years, Joan came back to Chile in the 1980s. Following the country’s transition to democracy in 1990, she established the Fundación Víctor Jara with the goal of seeking justice for her deceased spouse.
In 2009, Michelle Bachelet’s government granted her Chilean citizenship in recognition of her contributions to human rights and efforts in restoring democracy in Chile.
Joan received Chile’s national arts award in 2021.
During her continued involvement in the arts scene in Chile, Jara managed to reach out to individuals who had been at the stadium, now known as Estadio Víctor Jara, and gather accounts of the singer’s assassination.
In 1999, the investigation into Víctor’s death was reopened. In 2016, a civil court in Orlando, USA held Barrientos responsible for the torture and unlawful killing of Víctor Jara. The court ordered him to pay $28 million in compensation to the family.
In 2018, an additional eight ex-officers were given a 15-year prison sentence for their involvement in the murder of Jara.
Barrientos, who fled Chile in 1989 and became a US citizen through marriage was arrested in Deltona in October and is due to be extradited to Santiago on 28 November to face a criminal trial. His US citizenship was revoked earlier this year for failing to disclose his links to the Pinochet dictatorship.
Jara’s legacy is carried on by her two daughters, Amanda Jara and Manuela Bunster.