Victor Jara: Chilean singer's portrait given to Welsh union

By Mark Palmer
BBC Sunday Politics Wales

Image caption,
Artist Otto Schade (centre, with Andy Richards of Unite) called Jara's lyrics inspirational

A painting of murdered Chilean folk singer Victor Jara has been unveiled at a union headquarters in Cardiff.

Jara, a member of the Chilean Communist Party, was one of the most prominent victims of the military coup which brought General Augusto Pinochet to power in 1973.

The artwork was donated by a festival in Machynlleth, Powys, which celebrates the singer's work.

Unite said the story of Jara "strikes a chord" with trade unionists.

Torture victim

Jara came to prominence in Chile in the 1960s when he wrote protest songs against the ruling elite of his country.

He was a supporter of President Salvador Allende who was toppled and died in the 1973 military uprising.

The singer was abducted from a university in the Chilean capital Santiago on the day of the coup - 11 September - and was tortured and killed five days later at a sports stadium which had been turned into a makeshift prison.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Victor Jara was tortured before being shot dead days after a military coup in 1973

Andy Richards, Wales regional secretary for Unite, said: "Victor Jara's story resonates in Wales and it's part of our international consciousness.

"It's very much in tune with our international campaigning, industrial and political, and we believe that it's a story that has to be kept alive."

He added: "The Victor Jara story has been written about and it's been sung about by The Clash and our own Dafydd Iwan in Wales.

"It strikes a chord with Wales and trade unionists."

Festival honour

The unveiling at Unite's office in Cardiff was attended by the Chilean artist Otto Schade, who said music had been very inspirational in his work.

"Jara's lyrics are very strong and that's why I use them in the portrait", he said.

"The lyrics get people interested if they don't know them ... if they know the lyrics already, then they can feel part of it.

"I hope it opens minds."

The portrait was donated to the union by the Chile 40 Years On committee - which organised anniversary events in the UK last year - and El Sueno Existe, a festival held every two years in Machynlleth to celebrate the life and work of Jara.

Festival organiser Keith Jackson said: "He was as popular as popular singers are now and he showed how you could be part of a political and social movement that was important to people's lives and not just the kind of thing you hear in pop music most of the time today."

Rock band The Clash sang about Jara in Washington Bullets from their 1980 album Sandinista! while Dafydd Iwan wrote Can Victor Jara (Victor Jara's Song) which includes, in Welsh, the lines: "His hands were broken to stop the song but he continued to sing with his soul ablaze".

In January 2013 Chilean authorities arrested several former army officers accused of involvement in the murder of the singer-songwriter.

More than 3,000 people were killed or went missing during military rule in Chile, which lasted from from 1973 to 1990.

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