Chilean torture center becomes shelter

Just days after Chile

In this May 24, 2013 photo, Ana Luisa Villarroel, 78, center right, waits in line to be one of the first to enter the homeless shelter at the indoor stadium Estadio Victor Jara in Santiago, Chile. This is her first night at the shelter after she left what she described as an abusive situation at her family's home. This emblematic stadium, which hosts sporting events throughout the year, was where Chilean folk singer Victor Jara was tortured and killed on Sept. 14, 1973, just days after the military coup. �For me, it's a miracle to be here where they are now giving shelter and food to everyone and where they killed Victor Jara,� said Ana Luisa Villaroel, 78, who lived through the dictatorship. (AP Photo/Brittany Peterson)

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Just days after Chile's bloody 1973 military coup, popular songwriter and theater director Victor Jara was dragged down to the basement of an indoor stadium that had been converted into a detention and torture center.

The new government considered Jara, a member of the Communist Party, an enemy. Many people believe he could have served as a powerful voice against the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

But Jara's life was cut short inside the scraped concrete walls of a locker room now guarded behind a heavy red door. Pinochet's agents beat his head and shot his body with 44 bullets.

Four decades later, eight former army officers have been charged with Jara's murder. And the infamous Chile Stadium, now renamed Victor Jara Stadium, has become Chile's largest homeless shelter, housing about 500 people a night during the biting Chilean winter.

"For me, it's a miracle to be here where they are now giving shelter and food to everyone and where they killed Victor Jara," said Ana Luisa Villaroel, 78, who lived through the dictatorship.

The shelter is also used as venue for table tennis, indoor soccer and basketball and until a few years ago it was also used for concerts.

On a recent night, Ivan Martinez Acuna, an unemployed 52-year-old, played guitar and sang underneath a plaque dedicated to Jara marking the spot where dead bodies were piled up during the dictatorship.

The plaque with a carved image of Jara included some lines of the last thing he wrote while in captivity here: "How hard it is to sing, when I must sing of horror. Horror in which I'm living, horror in which I'm dying."

A census of the homeless says 12,225 people were living on the street last year. The number of homeless people who died on the street because of the cold fell from 150 in 2010 to 28 last year.

"I think Victor Jara would be happy to know that this stadium bears his name and that it's helping alleviate the undignified conditions that many Chileans live through because of poverty," said Lorena Fries, the director of Chile's official Human Rights Institute.

"He was a man of the left and this is a center-right government, but it's still an act of solidarity regardless of who takes the decisions. He was always involved in the social struggles of those in need, so he would approve this."


Luis Andres Henao on Twitter:
Associated Press
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Join the Conversation!

To comment, the following rules must be followed:

  • No Obscenity, Profanity, Vulgarity, Racism or Violent Descriptions
  • No Negative Community Comparisons
  • No Fighting, Name-calling, or Personal Attacks
  • Multiple Accounts are Not Allowed
  • Stay on Story Topic

Comments may be monitored for inappropriate content, but the station is under no legal obligation to do so.
If you believe a comment violates the above rules, please use the Flagging Tool to alert a Moderator.
Flagging does not guarantee removal.

Multiple violations may result in account suspension.
Decisions to suspend or unsuspend accounts are made by Station Moderators.
Links require admin approval before posting.
Questions may be sent to Please provide detailed information.

powered by Disqus


6450 Papermill Drive Knoxville, TN 37919 Phone - (865) 450-8888; Fax - (865) 450-8869
Copyright © 2014 WVLT-TV Inc. - Designed by Gray Digital Media - Powered by Clickability 211847331 -
Gray Television, Inc.