Judge rules in Pinochet-era case of murdered singer

A judge closed the book on the brutal murder of one of Chile's most emblematic folk singers, Victor Jara, but the family protested because only one officer from the 17-year dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet was convicted.

Judge Juan Eduardo Fuentes ruled that Jara was killed 35 years ago by retired colonel Mario Manriquez Bravo. But Jara's family's legal team say the Army is protecting a circle of others also involved in the murder.

Jara, a Chilean socialist and singer-songwriter often evoked by international music superstars, was tortured and machine-gunned to death in the early days of the coup that launched Pinochet's 1973-1990 dictatorship.

Pinochet died in December 2006 without ever facing trial for crimes during his rule, in which 3000 people died, 28,000 were tortured and about 200,000 fled into exile.

"This is incredible, I was not expecting this," Joan Jara, Victor Jara's widow, told local radio. "I am very concerned that a case so emblematic should be closed like this. What happens to the other cases from the Chile Stadium?"

Jara was reportedly taken along with thousands of others to the Chile Stadium in Santiago on September 12 1973, the day after the military coup began against the socialist government of Salvador Allende.

Witnesses say coup enforcers broke the bones in his hands and then told him to play guitar for them.

He is said to have responded by singing a socialist song to them before being tortured further and eventually machine-gunned to death.

"This has been a complicated investigation, looking at several theories, and finally all avenues of investigation have been exhausted and as such I have decreed the case be closed," Judge Juan Eduardo Fuentes told reporters on Thursday.

Fuentes had the responsibility of ruling who was responsible for the murder.

Jara's legal team said it would appeal the ruling, and said other officials in the Pinochet regime were also involved in the murder but were being shielded by the Army.

"We know there was a large circle of army officials involved," said Nelson Caucoto.

Manriquez Bravo, who was chief of security at Chile Stadium as the coup was carried out, is under house arrest and will be sentenced at a later date. The ruling can be appealed.

Chile has long grappled with bringing to justice the perpetrators of crimes committed in the Pinochet era.

The former head of Pinochet's secret service is in jail, along with some two dozen other security agents convicted of rights crimes. Hundreds of other former members of his security forces are under investigation and victims and their families say justice is dragging its feet in still other cases.

The memory of Jara, whose best-known song is I remember you Amanda – which has been revived in Chile in a reggae version – still brings tears to the eyes of Chileans who lived through the dictatorship.

Reuters