The Letter (La carta)

Music piece by:
Violeta Parra
Testimony by:
Paicavi Painemal
Experience in:

We set up a band with a group of fellow prisoners. They were young, university students. One of them had a guitar.

From what I remember, he was a music teacher and they allowed him to keep the instrument. In the band, we also played the bomboLarge bass drums used in various regions in Latin America. and the charangoA small Andean plucked string instrument traditionally made from an armadillo shell or wood.. I accompanied by singing.

The band had 22 members, all trustworthy people, left-wing. Apart from local prisoners, there were also people from Santiago, Puerto Varas, Talcahuano and Valdivia.

The gendarmes forbade us to sing and sometimes wanted to take the instruments. But we controlled the situation and sang anyway. We were in charge there.

We went to any of the prison wings and presented a show. They would look at us with a lot of respect because they knew that we were political prisoners. We had our followers.

The normal prisoners built guitars, violins and charangos in the workshops of the prison.

'The Letter' by Violeta Parra was one of the songs that we sang in the group. It touched us enormously. It reminded us of our relatives outside.

We also sang songs by Victor Jara ('Luchín'), Patricio Manns ('Arriba en la cordillera'), Inti-Illimani, Illapu, and Schwenke y Nilo. I still have the cassettes. When I listen to them the good memories come back to me.

Sometimes evangelicals would come to say a prayer and sing traditional songs. That never appealed to me.

Victims remembered in this testimony:


Published on: 22 November 2017

They sent me a letter
in the post this morning
and in this letter they tell me
that my brother is in jail
and, mercilessly, in chains
they dragged him in the street, yes.

The letter tells the crime
that Roberto has done
supported the strike
that is already resolved
If that is a good reason
please take me to jail too, sergeant, yes.

I’m so far away
waiting for news
the letter tells me that
in my country there's no justice
the hungry ask for bread
and they get bullets, yes.

In this pompous manner
they want to keep their seats
those with fans and tails
unworthy of them
they come and go to church
and forget the commandments, yes.

Ever seen such an insolence,
barbarity and treachery
to present the rifle
and kill in cold blood
those without defence
and with empty hands, yes.

The letter that I received
asks for an answer
I ask that to spread
to the entire population
that El León(The Lion of Tarapacá) Arturo Alessandri Palma (1868-1950), President of Chile in 1920-1925 and 1932-1938. is a murderer
in every generation, yes.

Luckily I have my guitar
to cry my pain
I also have nine brothers
other than the one in jail
all nine are communists
with god's blessing, yes.