Saturday, 29 November 2008

Peru: Violence against Women

Peruvian women's groups have distributed matchboxes embossed with pictures of men accused of violence against women, in a consciousness-raising exercise for International Non-Violence Against Women Day.
Among the images embossed on the matchboxes of wife murderers and rapists is former President Alberto Fujimori, who during his 10-year, authoritarian rule in the 1990s implemented a policy of coercing thousands of poor Andean women into undergoing sterilization surgery.

Full story:
Face on a milk carton? Peruvian NGO distributes thousands of matchboxes stamped with the faces of male assassins and abusers (Peruvian Times)

Related post here.

Peru: Visual Icons

"To dissolve, to dissolve, organisations which attack order and security..."

Today's cartoon at LaRepublica depicts Peruvian prime minister Yehude Simon and draws visual parallels with former President Alberto Fujimori, and specifically, the announcement of the "selfcoup" (autogolpe), when Fuji went on TV to announce the dissolution of congress with the famous words "dissolver, dissolver temperalmente el Congreso de la Republica...". Here he is:

And you can hear the words here, subtitled in English too (begins at 1:10):

This is all a reference to the government provocative use of the word "disolucion" in this context.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Political Violence in Peru

On Wednesday, Shining Path guerrillas ambushed a police convoy and killed 5 police officers (early reports say 4, but the number has apparently risen) and injured others.

Suspected Shining Paths guerrillas kill 4 police in ambush
(Peruvian Times)

Aumenta a cinco el numero de policias muertos en emboscado en Huanuco (La Republica)


Based on information from a laptop computer belonging to Colombian guerrilla leader Raúl Reyes, Peru’s anti-terrorism police have requested arrest warrants for 14 leftist politicians and trade unionists from Peru for supposed ties to Colombia’s FARC guerrillas.

[...] But two of the people targeted by DIRCOTE -- the secretary general of the Communist Party of Peru-Red Fatherland (PCP-PR), Alberto Moreno, and the leader of the Peruvian Communist Party-Unity (PCP-U), Renán Raffo -- say the request for arrest warrants is part of a government plan to jail opponents.

The PCP-PR and PCP-U are legal political parties that have even held seats in both houses of Congress at one time or another, and which are registered with the national election authorities.

Leftist Leaders Targeted by Anti-Terror Police

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Argentine: Children of the Disappeared

A new book relating the experiences of the children of the disappeared has come out in Argentina, "De vuelta a casa. Historias de hijos y nietos restituidos" (Back Home: Stories of Recovered Children and Grandchildren). It sounds fascinating, and it's definitely time to hear the very varied stories of the found grandchildren (for more on the work of the Grandmothers' group, a good start is Rita Arditti's Searching for Life).

Children of the 'Disappeared' Tell their Stories (IPS)

Monday, 24 November 2008

Argentina: "Malevo" Ferreyra

After the suicide of Mario "Malevo" Ferreyra, here are the verdicts on him:

"He did it to live on, to become a part of history. En Tucumán, after the character of [Antonio Domingo] Bussi and the dictatorship, a lot of people have internalised the theory of the 'firm hand', of law and order. And in this context, for a lot of people, "Malevo" Ferreyra wasn't a murderer, he administered justice."
- a journalist, who didn't want to give his name

"He wasn't a murderer like the human rights people say"
- a member of the police

"When we went into one of the dangerous areas, the criminals respected us, because he knew how to get respect"
- another police officer, presumably recalling how extradjudicial executions got things done in the barrios

"I'm going to make sure that there is justice. If I have to kill the son or the grandchild I'll do it"
- Ferreyra's widow

"The atmosphere is very tense and everyone knows that the people who surround el Malevo are people of action. The situation is complicated because, before he died, Ferreyra had threatened those who were accusing him."
- Laura Figeroa, human rights lawyer

All taken from:
La ultima amenaza del Malevo (Pagina/12)

Could there be a better illustration of the deep divisions in Argentine society?

Sunday, 23 November 2008

El Comercio has an article on the military headquarters where part of the APEC summit is taking place. It's interesting although rather too optimistic at the end, to my mind. Here's my translation:
The Pentagonito, the military bunker in Lima in which the APEC summit is taking place, has a history of terror behind it. According to witnesses, various people were murdered there during the Fujimori regime (1990-2000).

The Ecuadorian sergeant Enrique Duchicela was one of them. As a worker at the embassy of his country in Lima, he was a spy. The Peruvian military discovered him and, with the help of torture carried out in the Pentagonito, obtained his confession. In the same location, he was incinerated, without complaints from Quito, for obvious reasons.

This story was told by Intelligence agent Jesús Sosa, one of the participants in the execution, and it, among other cases, is related in detail in the book "Death in the Pentagonito", by renowned investigative journalist Ricardo Uceda.

The Pentagonito is, in fact, the headquarters of the Peruvian Army. It got its popular name because of its pentagon-shaped perimeter. In its place for the summit has appeared the euphemistically named Convention Centre of the Ministry of Defense, because it was the location which could offer the most security for the important visitors.

During the government of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), which was so closely allied to the armed forced, it was a strategic centre. Even the head of state had an apartment there, in the tower from which there is a panorama over much of the city.

According to the testimony of Sosa, who is now in jail, there were Army Intelligence Service cells in the basement of the Pentagonito, where the baker Justiniano Najarro and students Keneth Azualdo and Javier Roca, who were suspected of being to the extremist armed group Sendero Luminoso, were held, tortured and murdered.

Their bodies were never found because, according to Sosa, they were cremated there too. In fact, this was the speciality of Sosa, an ex-member of military organisation the Colina Group, who was known in military circles by his alias "Kerosene".

After Fujimori's "self-coup" in 1992, prestigious opposition journalist Gustavo Gorriti and Samuel Dyer, a businessman who had clashed swords with presidential aide Vladimiro Montesinos, were taken there. Some say that their captors intended them to disappear, but they did not succeed as the case was made public and their location was leaked.

In any case, the illegal detention of Gorriti and Dyer has been classed as abduction and is part of Fujimori's trial on human rights charges.

But times have changed. Peru, with all its limitations, is now a democratic country, and the Pentagonito and its occupants are no longer feared [Ed. I wouldn't be so sure about that]. In fact, the site, in the middle-class district of San Borja, is favoured by hundreds of athletes who spend their weekends practicing in its grounds.

El Pentagonito, una historia con ingredentes de terror (El Comercio)

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Argentina: Wanted HR Abuser Kills Himself on TV

This sounds incredible, but it's true. Former police chief Mario Ferreyra, who was about to be apprehended by his own former subordinates as he was wanted on charges of kidnapping and torture during the dictatorship, climbed on top of a water tank on his roof to give an interview to TV cameras. He then expressed love for his wife, produced a gun and shot himself in the head while the cameras kept on rolling. Um, wow.
The victims' families say the suicide was part of a pact of silence - that the ex-police chief would not testify against former colleagues accused of kidnapping and killing some of the tens of thousands of Argentines who died during a period that became known as the "Dirty war".

This may sound excessively cynical to outsiders, who would perhaps also suspect that few people would kill themselves rather than talk. But for the families who have spent the past thirty years battling repression, bureaucracy, impunity, and a wall of silence - sometimes at risk of their own lives - this is a soberly realistic judgement. Ferreyra was obviously heavily involved in the human rights abuses of the military regime, and he has effectively cheated the victims' families out of the chance to hear him testify in court.

Argentine man kills himself on TV (BBC)

And the Argentine media:
Un final a toda sangre para la television (Pagina/12)
Perseguido por la Policia, se suicido "el Malevo" Ferreyra ante la television (Critica Digital)


Oh, by the way, this weekend is the annual vigil by School of the Americas Watch and friends, aimed at closing WHINSEC, formerly known as the SOA, in Fort Benning, Georgia. Just sayin'. There's a rather nice article on the subject linked to below, which does give both sides of the debate. I'll just leave you with this piece of astute analysis from the institution's public relations officer:
When asked about the negative aspects of WHINSEC, Rials said, "I don't believe there are any negatives."
Controversial school raises human rights questions, concerns (Marquette Tribune)

Related posts here and here.

Peru: Legacy of Forced Sterilizations

Peru's health ministry, known as Minsa, is to carry out a campaign focusing on the mental health of women who were forcibly sterilized during the Fujimori regime. The campaign, centred around the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, will enlist the help of Quechua-speaking medical personnel. According to congresswoman Hilaria Supa Huamán, there are many cases of women presenting symptoms of depression and resentment, as well as indications that the victims are discriminated against for not being able to conceive.
Realizarán campaña de salud a favor de víctimas de la anticoncepción forzada (La Republica)

Yes, I think I would feel pretty depressed and resentful if I had been tricked into a tubal ligation or a hysterectomy during a Caesarian section, or because I had been ordered to sign a blank consent form, or because I was desperately poor and the local health centre had promised me gifts if I underwent the procedure, or because the powerful local doctor had told me I had "too many children already". All these were reasons given why impoverished, highland women were sterilized. Some of them testified that they were literally physically forced into the operating theatre, but more commonly they were pressurised, coerced or deceived. They described not finding out what the operation meant until later. Again, it's no coincidence that the main targets of the sterilization campaign were indigenous women, whose very existence as poor, non-Spanish speaking, and with a tendency to have large families made them a problem for the State. In a widespread or systematic form, forced sterilization is classed as a crime against humanity.

Using gifts as bait, Peru sterilizes poor women
(NY Times)
You can also watch a full half-hour documentary on the subject on Youtube here.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Peru: Fujimori Update

It is with a tired sigh that I report that Alberto Fujimori isn't feeling too well, again. This time,
A report from a medical team in the National Institute of Neoplastic Illnesses (INEN) was read in court, indicating that Fujimori has vascular insufficiency and high blood pressure, as well as risks of developing thrombosis and severe gastritis.

OK, a few more vague diagnoses and "risks", resulting in the usual recommendations that sitting in court isn't good for the poor baby. I seriously am getting impatient with this, mainly because if the court case somehow fell through at this stage it would be a disaster.

And, possibly for connected reasons, Fuji didn't show up for old pal Montesino's trial this week either, where he has been called as a witness. The trial is postponed until next week though, because Montesino's lawyer didn't turn up either(!).

Fujimori's defense begins presentation of evidence and medical report indicates health complications (Fujimori on Trial)

Fujimori is no-show at former spy chief Vladimiro Montesino's trial (Peruvian Times)

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Argentina: Ulises Gorini on the Madres

"The Madres de Plaza de Mayo movement marks a before and after in Argentina history, in many respects. In this sense, you could say that its role is underestimated in our history. Perhaps the fact that it is a political movement which is still active, and that the history is too recent, leads certain political factions to obscure or underestimate the role played by the Madres de Plaza de Mayo in the last thirty-odd years."
This comment [trans. mine] is from Ulises Gorini, who has just published a second volume of his research into the Argentine Mothers. This book, La otra lucha (The Other Struggle) will continue the story from the transition to democracy in 1983 to 1986, when the Madres split into the two organisations which exist today.

Here's an extract from an interview with Gorini published in Pagina/12 and translated by me:

- What impression did the Madres have of the new era which began with the return to democracy, understood as the postdictatorial period?
- The Madres remain on alert, because when Alfonsín takes over he isn't a new character for them. They know him well. They also know his policies quite well. As well as the national government, they also know many members of parliament. And they also know that the judiciary will continue to be made up of an enormous majority (over ninety percent) of the same people were in office during the dictatorship. It was practically an unchanged judiciary, with some exceptions which Alfonsín introduces in the Federal Court in the capital city, which is going to be responsible for the famous Trial of the Junta. Therefore, they are on alert because they notice that there are a lot of people, too many, who they know how they acted under dictatorship and fear that ties and complicity remain. And so they remain in a state of alert. And what does this mean? Well, this is what they say during the last march under the dictatorship. They announce that the next week when they meet in the Plaza again, with Alfonsín in the Casa Rosada, "another struggle" will begin.

- Did Alfonsín's government see it as a contradiction that, under democracy, there was a resistance movement that was looking for "the impossible"?
- In the first place, Alfonsín's government - including before it even was the government - begins to put pressure on the Madres movement, with the idea that when the new constitutional authorities assume their offices, the Madres must change its role, its behaviour in politics. That, from when the new authorities take power, the Parliament, judiciary, and national government are those charged with managing the problems and legacy of State terrorism in Argentina. And, in any case, the Madres may play an accompanying role to these institutions, supporting the actions of these institutions.

- And how do the Madres react?
- The Madres aren't going to agree with this, on principle, because this pressure begins before the assumption of power and the Madres are not at all sure how Alfonsín is going to act. They aren't sure if they are going to agree with his policies or not. And in fact, the differences do show themselves very soon. Therefore, they plan for the resistance to continue. [...]

- What was the debate that occurred around the term "Aparición con vida" [literally "appearance with life", one of the Madres' main slogans]
"Aparición con vida" is born in the middle of the dictatorship. And it is born as a literal demand. That is to say, in the face of the all the dictatorship's announcements that all the disappeared were dead (sometimes, these were informal announcements, leaks, and at other times more formal attempts to establish the death of the disappeared), the women coin this phrase. But at the same time its meaning changes over time. When Alfonsín takes power, the Madres are aware that the majority of the disappeared have been murdered. But they were not trying to claim something absurd, impossible. Rather, this slogan stated the necessity of reconstructing everything that had happened and not simply using the word "dead" as the only word which is used for a situation which is much more complex, in which there had been abductions, tortures, oppression, hiding of bodies, and above all, people who had committed these crimes. Therefore, “Aparición con vida” raises the possibility, at this early moment, that the Conadep commission will end up by saying simply "they are dead" and will not take account of a much more complex reality.

"Se sigue subestimando el rol cumplido por las Madres" (Pagina/12)

Seriously, ladies and gentlemen, I've been messing with this translation all week and it's still rough around the edges and incomplete, but I think if I don't post it now the moment really will have passed. So here you go, and if you speak Spanish why don't you follow the link and read the bits I didn't get to translating...

Peru: Round-Up

Lots of notesworthy stuff being written about Peru this week:

At the start of the APEC summit in Lima, Otto reflects on South America's most charming capital city... ok, so that's not exactly how he puts it. He's right though. Lima has some good things going for it but it is an acquired taste, and if you want to see blue skies every now and then - well, I'd just give up and go to Quito instead. Also, a man has been apprehended with 36 grenades in his backpack...oh dear. Let's hope the Shining Path don't manage to make a grand entrance among all the international visitors.

Because, three police officers were killed in an ambush in Ayacucho on Sunday. The perpetrators are described as "narcoterrorists", which seems to be the new form of Sendero in many areas.

Fujimori on Trial comments on the proposed amnesty bill.

And Upside Down World reports on the exhumation work in Putis.
"Things have not changed…people feel that all they get from the state is repression," he said. "Putis is not one place. There are many Putis in Peru."

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Peru: More on that Amnesty

The words 'military amnesty' just make me go a bit cross-eyed. Here's a another article from IPS illustrating why this is such a bad idea.
The Congresswoman’s [APRA representative Mercedes Cabanillas] proposal would create a pardon committee to release from prison those who -- she argues -- were "unjustly" convicted.

And she knows who these people were, does she?
Aurelio Pastor, spokesman for the APRA legislators, told IPS that the ruling party will back the draft law for a pardon, and may also support the proposed amnesty.

"What we want is for (President Alan García) to receive proposals for pardons for members of the police and military who did not violate human rights and are facing trial or have been sentenced," said Pastor. "This is a measure to strengthen the process of reconciliation. Obviously we aren’t suggesting that those who are guilty be pardoned."

Again, according to who? This seems to be based on the premise that Peru's justice system cannot distinguish between the innocent and the guilty.... but politicians who weren't party to all the evidence can. Peru's judicial system may not be perfect, and then reform is of course a possibility, but the problem is hardly solved by convicting people and then just pardoning them en masse.
Cabanillas and Núñez argue that hundreds of members of the security forces who fought the leftist guerrillas from 1980 to 2000 have been tried and sent to jail "merely on the strength of accusations by the victims."

Really - testimony by the victims convicted these people? Unbelievable.
To illustrate their point, the two legislators cite supposed legal proceedings against the members of the Chavín de Huantar commando, which carried out a spectacular rescue of 72 hostages held for four months by the insurgent Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) in the Japanese ambassador’s residence in 1997.

But both Defence Minister Ántero Flores Aráoz and National Ombudswoman Beatriz Merino clarified that not a single member of the Chavín de Huantar commando has been tried, let alone jailed.

So the APRA members lied to prove their point then.
When Congresswoman Cabanillas was asked in an interview by the press to mention an emblematic case of judicial bias against a member of the security forces who deserved to be pardoned, she was unable to name any single case, and merely said that all of them were important.

It's no laughing matter though. Peru, don't go down the terrible road that Argentina did, and is only just starting to reverse the damage now that its human rights abusers are dying of old age. Publicity and public outrage is one of the best weapons against impunity, so let's hope that Peru's human rights groups are mobilising at this stage while the draft law is still being discussed (from a glance at Aprodeh's web site, they are).

Activists Warn of "Impunity Measures"

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Blog Round-Up

Some shocking pictures in
Police Repression and Presidential Promises: The Fight for Social Justice in Paraguay (Upside Down World)

IPS on the military massacre in Bogota in 1985, in which 11 Supreme Court magistrates and at least 80 others died. The killings were a botched response to the capture of the building by guerrillas.
The Truth Is Slowly Coming Out

Ecuador Protests Colombian Paramilitary Incursion, Documents CIA Infiltration (Ecuador Rising)

Peru: Resurgence of Shining Path

After years in relative obscurity, the Shining Path, one of Latin America's most notorious guerrilla groups, is fighting the Peruvian military with renewed vigor, feeding on the profits of the cocaine trade and trying to win support from the Andean villagers it once terrorized, according to residents and Peruvian officials.

There's been a flurry of articles recently about the Shining Path's 'comeback'. I wonder what the belief in guerrilla strength actually contributes to it. It's pretty hard to count underground leftist groups, you know. I've read wildly differing accounts of the number of members of Shining Path in their heyday. People who are trying to bring down a state don't exactly stick around to put their job titles down on census forms, and moreover, are you counting armed combatants, supporters, sympathisers, or something else? From this perspective you gain some insight - if little sympathy - into the Peruvian military view that indigenous villagers in general counted as terrorists.

With this in mind, I do ask myself how a belief in Shining Path's resurgence, and media focus on this, actually bolsters the activities of such a group. Fear is stirred up, people change their daily lives, the media is paying attention, the government is put on the defensive... It certainly does seem as if SP has carried out a few more audacious attacks in the past few months, and I'm not suggesting this be swept under the carpet. A year or two I heard several people at Peruvian conferences saying that since the conditions that led to Shining Path's initial growth have not changed, there is space for them to stage a comeback. Then they generally paused for dramatic effect, but since the situation was hypothetical no one was that shocked. I'm now both horrified and curious about this resurgence process. Should we stop speaking of Shining Path in the past tense?

In Peru, a Rebellion Reborn (Washington Post)

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Here's the result of my playing with my blog front page and the simple yet strangely addictive wordle.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Argentina: Referees and Repression

I think this is the first time I've got one of my articles from the sports section... here's the gist:

Their names were José Francisco Bujedo and Angel Narciso Racedo, they were football referees in the '70s, but history will remember them more as agents of the dictatorship. They officiated in the Mar del Plata league; Bejedo as the principal referee and Racedo as his assistant. By contrast, when they carried out clandestine operations from the naval base (both belonged to the Navy Intelligence Services) these roles were reversed: Racedo was the boss, going by the alias Comisario Pepe, and Bujedo was his subordinate. The former was remanded in custody in the prison of Batán in the cases 4446 and 4447 concerning crimes against humanity under investigation by the Federal Court No. 3 in Mar del Plata. His comrade and fellow referee remains at large, although the families of disappeared people have already served judge Rodolfo Prada with a petition for his detention.
The referee is now 73 and his linesman 68.
Represores de negro y pantaloncitos cortos (Pagina/12)

Thoughts on WHINSEC/SOA

This blog doesn't get too many comments at this stage. You quickly learn that there is a high view to comment ratio, and that's ok. So when I saw that a very brief, linky post of mine had garnered a comment, I was interested. It was a post on Colombia and the commenter was Lee Rials, who describes himself as public affairs officer at WHINSEC, the US military training academy formerly known as the School of the Americas.

I felt privileged to have attracted the attention of a representative of a US state institution!* But a few seconds on Google deflated my pride, since it seems I have just joined the ranks of the many blogs to have been graced by the commenting ability of military public relations. Rials makes a habit of this: see here, here, and here. And in fact, if you google 'moral libel' in quotes the vast majority of the results are comments about WHINSEC/SOA from Rials. The comments are not particularly well tailored to the exact article, which explains why I got the standard 'moral libel' treatment even though I had expressed no judgement or causal link in my tiny post.

But ok, ok, we're on the subject now, so what DO I think of SOA/WHINSEC? Well, first things first: I'm not a US citizen or resident, so it's not my tax dollars paying for its existence, which may or may not be relevant. Second, can we just look up for a second? Yep, that's right, right up there - the title of the blog: Memory in Latin America. Because a lot of what I do is news compilation, and because I believe that the power of traumatic memory is its prevalence in the present, yes, I talk about the here and now. But ultimately, what brought me here is my interest in the past military dictatorships of Latin America and their aftermath. So really, I'm not so much coming from the WHINSEC direction, but am rather interested in the SOA and its legacy (lost by the acronyms? Get background here). The point being, I am still allowed to talk about what SOA may or may not have done wrong in the past even if the current institution is blameless.

You can read a lot about the activities of members of the Latin American military who had at some time attended a course or courses at SOA. They include two members of the Argentine junta (Galtieri and Viola); Ecuadorian dictator Guillermo Rodriguez; Peruvian spymaster Vladimiro Montesinos and several perpetrators involved in the Cantuta massacre; and many, many, more. I'm not saying that the SOA caused every one of those people to become a torturer, a murderer, or a human rights abuser. That would be a nonsense. What I'm saying is that evidence suggests that the SOA was part of the machinery with which the US maintained its influence in the hemisphere, and that this influence did not have human rights as a priority - this is putting it about as mildly as you possibly can. The US throws its weight behind regime change when it considers this advantageous (Nicaragua, Chile); the democratic status of a country is not decisive in this, but rather the attitude of the country towards the Northern superpower. I don't think I have ever met a person who knew anything about Latin America who believed that US had anything other than its own interests - and solely those interests - at heart in its dealings with the hemisphere.

WHINSEC is the child of SOA, and a name change does not wipe away the past. Military violence against civilians is the plague of Latin America and it is not in the past, unfortunately, but continues despite democratic governments. We read daily of deaths, Peruvian villagers driven from their homes, Colombians lured with offers of job interviews, dressed as guerrillas and shot, politicians openly classifying human rights organisations as terrorists. I don't think that the efforts of Lee Rials' or those like him will ever be able to convince observers that continuing to train military officers in this institution is wise, effective, or a good use of funds, just as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo were never going to be satisfied with the military continuing to control the ESMA, even though it was no longer a torture centre. Moral libel? Well, we're talking about crimes against humanity and the influences that surround them, so I think I'll take my chances with the thought crimes.

There is lots more information on this subject than I can include here, but I can give a few leads:
A Visit to WHINSEC (Plan Colombia and Beyond)
Torture is Un-American: The SOA and its Devastating Legacy (COHA)
WHINSEC transparency amendment today (Plan Colombia and Beyond)
SOA Watch
Lesley Gill's The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas [partly available free to view on Google books; not a perfect book, but informative]

*Not as privileged as the people whom the CIA drop in on, obviously.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Colombia: Military Violence Update

Two Numbers
Plan Colombia and Beyond reminds us that many Latin American human rights abusers have trained at WHINSEC, formerly the School of the Americas.

The same blog gives us a reality check on Colombia's progress against impunity.

Plus, from IPS, Right Groups Want "Body Count" General Investigated

Peru: Military Amnesty Call

I'm trying to think of an example when a blanket military amnesty is ever a good thing; I haven't managed it yet.

The chairman of the congressional committee on defence and internal order in Peru, Edgard Núñez, has introduced a draft law to grant an amnesty to members of the military and police facing trial for human rights violations.

"There are members of the military and the police, especially rank-and-file troops, who have spent more than 36 months in prison and have not yet been sentenced," Congressman Núñez told IPS.

"Some have been persecuted by the justice system for 20 years. For how long are they going to persecute these people? The only thing they did was to stick out their necks to save us from terrorism and offer us peace and democracy. My draft law is aimed at putting an end to this situation," he said.

Two issues here. One is the length of time which it takes cases to be processed and how long people wait before they come to trial; this may well be a valid point and something that needs sorting out. Is it the right solution to simply set alleged criminals free? Surely not.

"Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) live off of persecuting the brave people who defeated the subversives," Núñez told IPS. "All they do is defend the human rights of terrorists."

Oh no, not this tired old argument again.

"Why follow international standards or the guidelines of the San José Court? They aren’t familiar with the reality here. The country has to be grateful to its soldiers and should automatically amnesty them," he argued.

Right, right, international law doesn't apply to Peru.

I don't have to go too far into this mess, do I? Impunity. It's not pretty. Let's not talk military amnesties.

Peru: Pressure to Amnesty Military, Police (IPS)

Argentina: Sentencing Update

I think I may have celebrated too soon with my last post, probably partly a consequence of being too busy this week to do more than skim the LatAm media.

Three Sentenced and No One Goes to Jail, said Pagina/12 the next day. Retired colonel Barda will continue to live under house arrest, while Mariani and Comes will remain free until their sentences are confirmed. Moreover, the media was not allowed free access to the trial, in spite of Supreme Court rulings that this would be granted.

It's slow progress in Argentina again...

Tres condenas y nadie va a la carcel

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Argentina: Human Rights Abusers Sentenced

Alberto Barda has been sentenced to life imprisonment, and Hipólito Mariani and César Comes to 25 years each for their parts in illegal deprivation of liberty, torture and homicide in the clandestine detention centres Mansión Seré and La Cueva.

Mariani and Comes continued to protest their innocence, while Barda remained tightlipped before the sentencing. They are the first members of the armed forces to undergo oral trials.

I know it's all thirty years too late, and not enough, but I do a little mental victory dance every time I read that another of the military perpetrators is going where he belongs - behind bars.

Mansion Sere: perpetua para Barda y 25 años para Mariani y Comes (Critica Digital)

Blogging Update

Just a notification of small adjustments to the blog; if you look to the right I've installed a gadget which feeds in from my google reader shared items. The point of this is to provide quick links to pieces I've particularly liked but haven't specifically blogged about - either because I don't have time or because they don't quite fit with the slant of the blog (which, just in case you didn't know, is how the events of the past - in particular dictatorships - shape the present in Latin America) or because I just didn't have time. I'll still be drawing attention to articles in the main blog as well, as compiling information is actually one of the main things I do here.

Further down there's also a button to click if you'd like to subscribe to the blog in a reader, which makes it easy to keep up with new posts.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Argentina: Fugitive Perpetrator Arrested

Jorge Antonio Olivera is accused of the kidnapping of French-Argentine Marianne Erize and torture of current judge Margarita Camus, among others. He was arrested in 2000 in Italy but escaped, apparently by used false documents, and has been on the run ever since, until he was detained today in the region of Buenos Aires.

Detienen a un represor argentino que llevabo ocho años profugos (Clarin)

Peru: Military Justice and Impunity

The prosecutor in the Fujimori trial has asserted that the military justice system contributed to the impunity surrounding the Cantuta massacre in Peru in the 1990s. The military justice system and the national intelligence service (SIN) formed a "strategy of impunity" which served to protect the intellectual authors of the crime, Vladimiro Montesinos and army leader Nicolás de Bari Hermoza Ríos.

Fiscal: Justicia militar contribuyó a la impunidad de responsables de matanzas (La Republica)

Sunday, 2 November 2008

- Alfonsin's getting a lot of attention isn't he?
- Well, the thing is all the Argentines like him... some of them because he came after the dictatorship... others, because he stepped down early... others, for trying the military.... others, for introducing the amnesty law.

(from today's Pagina/12)

Cultural Sunday

Venezuela: How Children Show their Community through Photography (Global Voices Online)

Stuart Archer Cohen's new novel imagines the rise of an urban insurgency in the United States and looks to Argentina for inspiration:
Argentina: The Creation of an Urban Guerrilla (Upside Down World)

And a documentary looks at one of the founders of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Chicha Mariani (the mother and mother-in-law of Daniel and Diana in Laura Alcoba's The Rabbit House)
Dolor y esperanza (Pagina/12)

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Chile: El Mercurio & the Coup

Left-wing Argentine daily Pagina/12 runs an article on documentary El diario de Agustín (dir. Ignacio Agüero), which deals with the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio and its relationship to the Pinochet regime.

One of the most shocking parts of the documentary is when it is mentioned that when Salvador Allende won [the election], Agustín Edwards, the newspaper owner, met Henry Kissinger and the director of the CIA, Richard Helms, with the aim of making it impossible for the socialist leader to take up his post. What interest did El Mercurio have, so that it involved itself in this operation? Agüero explains, "The interest has to have been the defense of their own newspaper because they thought that Allende's government was totalitarian, that it was going to expropriate the paper. In the end, Agustín Edwards was defending his own economic interests...."

Agüero concludes, "we are showing El Mercurio's criminal anticommunism. That is to say, El Mercurio has the right to be opposed to the Communist Party, but what the paper did during the last forty years is a direct action of repression which resulted in deaths among the opponents of the dictatorship".
(Translation mine)
Una historia escrita con sangre

More information on El Mercurio and the coup:
Daniel Brandt writes,
On the day that Helms received his instructions from Nixon, the owner of El Mercurio, wealthy Chilean businessman Agustin Edwards, conferred with top officials of the Nixon administration.61 The El Mercurio network consists of newspapers, radio station, ad agencies, and a wire service; it dominates the Chilean media in audience, size, and prestige, and includes the three principal newspapers of Santiago and seven provincial papers.62 In the seven-month period from September 9, 1971 to April 11, 1972 the CIA spent $1.5 million on El Mercurio,63 but the funding also preceded and followed this period. [...] The El Mercurio network was used by the CIA to "launder propaganda, disinformation, fake themes and scare stories which were then circulated through 70 percent of the Chilean press and 90 percent of the Chilean radio. The USIA and the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) in turn circulated these stories all over the world."67

U.S. Responsibility for the Coup in Chile

Peter Kornbluh points our that declassified documents have shown that,
  • Even before Allende was inaugurated as president of Chile, Edwards came to Washington and discussed with the CIA the "timing for possible military action" to prevent Allende from taking office.
  • President Nixon directly authorized massive funding to the newspaper. The White House approved close to $2 million dollars - a significant sum when turned into Chilean currency on the black market.
  • Secret CIA cables from mid-1973 identified El Mercurio as among the "most militant parts of the opposition" pushing for military intervention to overthrow Allende.
  • In the aftermath of the coup, the CIA continued to covertly finance media operations in order to influence Chilean public opinion in favor of the new military regime, despite General Pinochet's brutal repression.
The El Mercurio File

By the way, El Mercurio is still going strong, and if you want to read it, it's here.

Argentine Image: Alfonsin & Kirchner

Pagina/12 published the above image in one of their articles surrounding the 25th anniversary of the return to democracy (here). Is it just me, or is this a very odd picture? It shows Argentine President Christina Kirchner clasping the face of former Argentine President Raul Alfonsin, who headed the first legitimate government after the end of the dictatorship in 1983. Therefore he's been receiving all sorts of attention in the past few weeks, including having a bust unveiled at the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace in Buenos Aires.

We don't see much of Christina's face here, but her pose seems inherently patronising to me. What is she doing, squeezing the cheeks of this old man? This is not a child or someone to be pitied. Alfonsin may, at 81, be getting on a bit, but he practised as a lawyer before having the bravery to take on the Presidency of Argentina at a time when it had been ripped apart by state terrorism, humiliated by a lost war, and impoverished by rampant inflation. He was not a wizard - later in his term, he gave in to military pressure (possibly genuinely believing that another coup was imminent) and introduced amnesty laws and he also ultimately lost the battle against inflation. Nevertheless, most commentators seem to judge him as a basically honest man, he introduced the vitally important truth commission CONADEP and governed during the history-making trial of the junta. So, instead of making coochy-coo noises, perhaps we could afford him some genuine respect?

Peru & Paraguay: Unearthing the Truth

IPS has two stories which caught my eye this morning.

In Peru, three more bodies have been exhumed at Accomarca, site of one of the notorious massacres of the 1980s.
The men were among the 69 people murdered in August 1985 in one of the army’s bloodiest operations against civilians during the 1980-2000 "dirty war" against the Maoist Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrillas.

So far, 36 bodies have been recovered. In another mass grave discovered this year, the remains were so damaged and intermingled that it is still not known how many people were buried there.

The articles also comments that,
To dig up the remains of civilians is also to dig up the truth.

Three More Bodies Found at Accomarca

Meanwhile, in Paraguay, documents have been discovered which could shed further light on that nation's bloody dictatorship (1854-1989). A tip-off from a former military cadet led to the find in Asuncion.
The basement is dark, and there is water on the floor and mildew on the walls. By smashing a hole in the wall, the investigators found another lightless room where files containing the names and records of political prisoners were discovered in a pile of garbage.

According to Almada, winner of the 2002 Right Livelihood Award -- also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize -- Paraguayan, Argentine, Brazilian, Uruguayan and Chilean political prisoners were tortured in the basement, victims of Operation Condor, a coordinated plan among the military governments that ruled those countries in the 1970s and 1980s that was aimed at tracking down, capturing, torturing and eliminating left-wing opponents.

New 'Archives of Terror' Unearthed