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Statement by President Higgins on the death of Joan Jara

Date: Tue 14th Nov, 2023 | 17:28

“There will be so many throughout the world who will have heard with the greatest of sadness of the death of Joan Jara, widow of the great Chilean singer and poet Victor Jara, who was murdered in the stadium by the forces of Augusto Pinochet after the overthrow of Salvador Allende 50 years ago.

I was privileged to be invited to launch Joan’s book, “An Unfinished Song: The Life of Victor Jara”, and to speak with her at its launch in Liberty Hall. I described it as a book of such strength as to ensure that Victor’s life in song and struggle will never be forgotten.

While many people’s knowledge of poetry from Chile will be through the work of Pablo Neruda, in Chile itself the voice of the people was experienced through the songs and performances of Victor Jara, from the time of his first introduction to performance by Violeta Parra.

I recall reading Joan’s book as I travelled to Chile to serve as an international observer in the 1988 plebiscite which led to the end of the military dictatorship led by General Pinochet. The book spoke of the extraordinary cruelty of the Pinochet torturers in the stadium, for example the smashing of the fingers of Victor in front of others because of his being a singer. Joan’s book did not deal of Victor’s treatment in isolation, but rather as an example of what the Chilean people in general were suffering.

I met Joan on that same 1988 visit in Santiago, to which she had returned after Victor’s death to continue her work in culture and particularly in dance.

I had the privilege of meeting with her again in Santiago 24 years later in October 2012, when as President of Ireland I had the honour of meeting with her following my address at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in the same city.

Throughout her life, and in her 50 year search for justice, Joan Jara demonstrated the power and dignity of the search for truth.

It is good that she knew before her passing of the extradition of a person involved in the torture and death of her husband.

May I extend my deepest sympathies to Joan’s daughters Amanda Jara and Manuela Bunster, and to all of her family, friends and fellow activists across the world.”