SANTIAGO – UK-born former ballet dancer, dance teacher and rights activist Joan Turner, widow of iconic Chilean folksinger Victor Jara, was honored Friday by her adoptive homeland with a prestigious award for artistic and cultural merit.
In a ceremony at the La Moneda presidential palace to bestow the Pablo Neruda Order for Artistic and Cultural Merit, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet thanked the 89-year-old Turner “for her wise words, for her diligent search for truth, justice and reparations.”
“Thank you for your unbreakable energy and will … Thank you for the foundation that bears his name. Thank you for training several generations of dancers and choreographers,” the president said.
Bachelet especially highlighted Turner’s work to keep alive the memory of Jara, a theater director, folk singer and political activist who was brutally murdered at the age of 40 in the U.S.-backed military coup that overthrew socialist President Salvador Allende and brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power.
“‘Victor lives in the hearts of his people,’ Joan told us,” Bachelet said, recalling her words at a mass and belated funeral for her slain husband seven years ago.
Bachelet’s father, an air force general who served in Allende’s Cabinet, died at the hands of Pinochet’s secret police, and the future president was herself detained and tortured before she and her mother were allowed to go into exile.
“Let me add that there’s also a warm and welcoming corner in the heart of the Chilean people for Joan Turner. She is and always will be there,” Bachelet said.
Turner was honored with the Chilean government’s top cultural order for her contributions and commitment to human rights and to dance in working-class sectors during the time of the dictatorship.
A U.S. federal court jury in June found retired Chilean army Lt. Pedro Barrientos Nuñez guilty on charges arising from Jara’s murder and ordered him to pay $28 million in damages to Turner and the couple’s two daughters, Amanda and Manuela.