Chilean torture center becomes shelter

Associated Press
In this May 29, 2013 photo, a picture of Victor Jara hangs on an indoor stadium named for the folk singer, Estadio Victor Jara, that opens its doors to the homeless during the winter in Santiago, Chile. Just days after Chile's bloody 1973 military coup, Victor Jara was dragged down to the basement of this indoor stadium that had been turned into a detention and torture center. Four decades later, eight former army officers have been charged with his murder. And the infamous Estadio Chile has been renamed Estadio Victor Jara and is now Chile's largest homeless shelter, housing about 500 people per day during the biting Chilean winter. (AP Photo/Brittany Peterson)
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In this May 29, 2013 photo, a picture of Victor Jara hangs on an indoor stadium named for the folk singer, Estadio Victor Jara, that opens its doors to the homeless during the winter in Santiago, Chile. Just days after Chile's bloody 1973 military coup, Victor Jara was dragged down to the basement of this indoor stadium that had been turned into a detention and torture center. Four decades later, eight former army officers have been charged with his murder. And the infamous Estadio Chile has been renamed Estadio Victor Jara and is now Chile's largest homeless shelter, housing about 500 people per day during the biting Chilean winter. (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."

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Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao

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