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Sunday 18 February 2018

President revisits past with wife of slain musician

Majella O'Sullivan

Majella O'Sullivan

IT was only the second time they had met but the embrace between them was one of two old friends coming together who had shared each other's pain.

Joan Turner Jara warmly embraced President Michael D Higgins following his address at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, Chile, while his wife Sabina looked on with pride, wiping tears from her eyes.

Mr Higgins had just spoken movingly about her husband, Victor Jara, the Chilean folk musician and songwriter who was tortured and murdered during the first week of the military coup of 1973 and who became a symbol of the struggle for human rights and justice across Latin America.

Now 85 years of age, Mrs Jara has lived for almost 40 years not knowing exactly what happened to her husband but hopes to learn the truth before she dies.

What is known is that Jara, who was a supporter of former socialist president Salvador Allende, was rounded up with thousands of others and brought to a stadium where he was tortured and shot 44 times before his body was dumped in a shanty town of Santiago.

Mr Higgins said it would be "immoral and deeply offensive" to say to anyone who had lost a loved one, whether in Chile or Northern Ireland, to put it behind them.

"There are things that must never be allowed to be forgotten and we should never suggest to those who were so wounded or the survivors of those who were disappeared, who were tortured or who were murdered and humiliated, 'you should forget or you should put it behind you'," he said.

President Higgins said his first introduction to Jara was a book written by his wife after he had died, 'Victor Jara -- An Unfinished Song' which he had read on the plane on his way to Chile when he was part of an international team of observers of the 1988 plebiscite that lead to end of the regime of General Agusto Pinochet.

He first met Mrs Jara, who never remarried, during that visit. He said he had returned to Chile to express his gratitude for the gift of Victor Jara, for his inspiration and songs.


Mrs Jara said she had been taken by surprise by the passion with which Mr Higgins spoke about her husband, human rights and what had happened in Chile.

"I think it's extraordinary that the President of Ireland would . . . make this impassioned speech which refers exactly to our history," she said.

"For us it's so important, not for the past but for the future and for the sake of our children and our grandchildren, who today are fighting for a better society that they can know that justice can happen."

And on the anniversary of the plebiscite he had observed 24 years ago, President Higgins presented the 'Report of the Irish Parliamentary Observers to Plebiscite in Chile' to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights that bears witness to over 3,000 victims of a bloody regime.

Irish Independent

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