Saturday, 31 January 2009

Peru: Putis Update

I wrote several posts about the exhumations at Putis a while back (they can be seen here). Now I've found a new source for updates (in Spanish). Unfortunately, the latest report claims that the reparations work promised to the families of the victims hasn't even started.

Peru: More Police Torture

The blog of the National Coordinator of Human Rights has a post which really deserves to be translated into English in full, but since I don't have time right now, I'll give the gist:

It reports that on 15th January, Teobaldo Ventura Rodríguez, a social activist from the Amazonian town of Bagua Grande, was tortured in his local police station.

He was beaten while police taunted him about his political activities. They also inflicted on him the technique known as waterboarding ("sus agresores lo sumergieron repetidas veces en un cilindro con agua, mientras le amenazaban con ahogarlo" - "his attackers submerged him repeatedly in a tank of water, while threatening to drown him").

The following police officers have been identified as the alleged torturers:
- Capitán Gabriel Ramírez Quijandría
- Sub Oficial Técnico de Tercera Segundo Suyón Alvarado
- Sub Oficial Técnico de Tercera Marino Morales Rivas
- Sub Oficial Técnico de Tercera Carlos Frías Centurión

The family of the victim complain that when they complained about his treatment, they were not treated well by the local prosecutor.

And the reason for Ventura Rodríguez's arrest? The police claimed he had been involved in a traffic accident, which he denies.

Read the whole thing in Spanish and see the pictures here.

News Round-Up

Some positive news from the last few days:

is moving ahead with legal proceedings against some perpetrators of human rights abuses in its civil war.
Guatemala files 3,350 human rights complaints (AP)

Sentences against former Chilean intelligence chief Miguel Conteras will stand:
Chile upholds life terms for ex-intelligence chief (AP)

And the Colombian government declares its desire to beat extortion:
Colombia - Task Force Set Up to Combat Extortion (NY Times)

And the not so positive: Upside Down World discusses the parallels between the forced disappearances of the Argentine dictatorship and the continuing human trafficking of women:
Argentina: Women Keep Disappearing (Upside Down World)

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

News Round-Up

More on commemorations of the Uchuraccay massacre (in which protesters correctly criticise the woefully inadequate Vargas Llosa report, but seem not to address the far more measured and comprehensive Truth Commission report on the incident):
Peru journalists remember fallen colleagues on 26th anniversary of Uchuraccay massacre (Peruvian Times)

In Colombia, a group of soldiers suspected of involvement in murder are now wanted men:
13 More Arrest Warrants for Extradjudicial Killings (Impunity Watch)

Oh, and I've also been reading about Tim's meeting with the US ambassador.

Peru: Release of Alleged Death Squad Members

I mentioned yesterday that two alleged members of the Grupo Colina had been released. The Associated Press has reported on the issue today:

A Peruvian court freed two men accused of belonging to a military death squad linked to several massacres in the early 1990s, after the suspects completed six years in prison without a conviction, a court official said Tuesday.
Under Peruvian law, prisoners must be freed after 32 months in prison if the have not been convicted. Luna said the court extended the term to six years for the two men because of the violent nature of the alleged crimes.

The Barrios Altos case went to trial in 2005 and a verdict is expected this year, Luna said.

[emphasis mine]

Look, it's clear to me that Peru is a country where there isn't always a huge amount of spare cash flying around. In addition, it's a highly bureaucratic sort of place. And on top of that, we are talking about extremely complex cases with multiple witnesses, which are naturally going to drag on. But the tortoise-like pace of the legal system is leading, by default, to miscarriages of justice. It's wrong that these people were imprisoned for such a long time without a conviction, but it's also wrong that they haven't faced a court to answer for the the crimes of which they are accused. There have been several similar examples that I've seen recently. Processing cases with an acceptable level of efficiency must be made a priority if there is to be any hope for justice.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Peru News

Drawing my attention today: Otto has picked up on the news that Peru may be looking for a way to kick out Monterrico Metals, the company involved with the Majaz torture case.

Meanwhile, prosecutor Avelino Guillén has claimed that Alberto Fujimori ordered the Cantuta killings in retaliation for the Tarata bombing, which had taken place shortly before. This makes a connection between two of the key events in the Peruvian conflict; the Shining Path bomb in the Calle Tarata hit city dwellers in affluent Miraflores, causing great loss of life - impossible to ignore, when those primitive Indians getting themselves killed in the highlands were more easily forgotten. Two days later, nine students and a professor from the university known as 'Cantuta' were abducted by security forces and disappeared. Their bodies were found months later. Apparently they were taken as 'terrorists', which they weren't (and even if they had been, their place would have been awaiting trial, not extrajudicial execution).

The Cantuta massacre was carried out by the military death squad Grupo Colina. Which brings me to my final piece of news: two of its members, Douglas Arteaga Pascual and Ángel Pino Díaz, have been freed. The two have been connected with the Barrios Altos massacre, but apparently, despite the evidence against them, the Human Rights Prosecutor has not acted fast enough in bringing a case. We've already seen in Argentina that not adhering to the bureaucratic rule of law is enough to get major human rights abusers out on the street again.

Blogging Note

Just a brief note to say it's great to see the number of subscribers to the blog creeping up. If you haven't checked out a blog manager like Google Reader as a way of keeping track of all your favourite blogs and news services, give it a go (and you can subscriber to this blog by clicking on the button on the right side bar or just by copying and pasting the URL into your reader). And, if you write your own blog, it'd be great to know about it either in the comments or by email - sometimes I find blogs from checking my stats or stumble across writers who are linking to me without me really being aware of it. This happened just yesterday when I came across small state and immediately thought "Great! A well-written, informed blog about Uruguay!" because you know, I've been on a day trip to Uruguay - nothing that would really qualify me to do more than post links to news about it. Blogs that fit in with the general direction of this one will, naturally, be added to the blogroll. Anyway, happy reading - I'll be back with a couple of actual content posts very shortly.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Places of Memory

There's an article on the BBC about the debate over whether to restore the Auschwitz concentration camp or to leave it to crumble. It's an interesting question which affects just about every country; everywhere has sites where painful and traumatic events took place and where people's memorial effects tend to become focused (not all on the scale of Auschwitz). The ESMA in Buenos Aires is one such example. So what should we do with such sites, particularly if there is a chance that they will fall into disrepair? Do we make an effort to keep them preserved for future generations, do we adapt them, or do we let them be forgotten? Feel free to contribute your opinions in the comments section... I'll expand on my thoughts as soon as time permits.

Peru: Uchurraccay

As a postscript from yesterday's post, it's worth mentioning that the families of the murdered journalists were presented with certificates recording the registration of their relatives in the Unique Register of Victims - Spanish speakers read about it here. The article mentions that 23,668 people are now listed on the register, which is around a third of the total of victims from the conflict as a whole. I wonder how many of the Uchuraccayan villagers are also recorded on there?

Sunday, 25 January 2009

26 Years: What Are We Remembering in Uchuraccay?

Today is the anniversary one of those days that stands out in the history of the Peruvian conflict. On 26th January 1983, eight journalists were murdered in the highland village of Uchuraccay, Ayacucho. These multiple deaths would have received media attention anyway, but in this case, the attention was sustained and, at times, hysterical because the media people were reporting on the deaths of their own. The story of what happened on that day, and before, to lead to the deaths of the reporters is one of the most controversial issues of the civil conflict in Peru.

Here's a brief history as I understand it, for those who may not be aware of the background. Throughout 1982 Shining Path guerrillas were increasing activity in rural Ayacucho, at first ingratiating themselves with local people and then provoking anger and fear through their indiscriminate violence and lack of respect for traditional ways. In Huaychao in early January 1983, peasants killed 5 Senderistas. They were publicly praised by local army commanders who recommended that villagers defend themselves against strangers arriving on foot (the military had helicopters).

In late January, a group of journalists gathered in Ayacucho city (also called Huamanga) and prepared to head into the mountains to report on the growing violence. They were Eduardo de la Piniella, Pedro Sánchez, and Félix Gavilán from El Diario de Marka in Ayacucho; Octavio Infante from Noticias, also an Ayacuchan publication; Jorge Luis Mendívil and Willy Retto from El Observador; Jorge Sedano from La República, and Amador García from the magazine Oiga; the last three publications based in Lima. They also had a local guide. They reached the village of Uchuraccay, where in uncertain circumstances they were all beaten to death and buried in shallow graves.

Amid a national outcry, the government appointed novelist Mario Vargas Llosa to head the inquiry into the massacre. It's unclear to me exactly what qualified Vargas Llosa - Peru's most prominent literary figure - for this role. His report has been criticised for its lack of understanding of Quechua culture (you can read Jean Franco's excellent critique as a PDF here, Enrique Mayer's report is even more detailed but not available online... however if anyone is really interested drop an email and I might be able to help). He concluded that the primitive peasants, mistaking cameras for weapons, killed the reporters in the belief that they were terrorists.

Several months later, a camera belonging to Willy Retto, one of the murdered journalists, was discovered near the village. The film had survived being buried in the damp earth and was developed to reveal a series of photos taken by Retto literally in the last moments of his life. The images, fascinating and tragic though they are, do not shed a great deal of light on the encounter between the villagers and the reporters, showing only a confused group of bodies. Nevertheless, some observers seized on them as 'proof' that the peasants were not authors of the massacre at all; but merely scapegoats for murders planned and orchestrated by the armed forces. In this reading, the military carried out the killings to prevent reports on their conflict with the guerrillas in the highlands (and indeed, as you would expect, journalists kept away from this area of highland Ayacucho for some time afterwards).

Eventually, three Uchuraccayans were sentenced for the murders. The victims have been memorialised as 'martyrs', the day of their death is celebrated as 'Journalism Day' in Peru, and some sectors continue to believe that the true killers were never brought to justice.

An article in today's El Comercio speaks of the 'perpetual mourning of the press'. Certainly, the incidents in Uchuraccay have assumed a particular significance in the minds of the Peruvian media. But what is going on here? Let me lay my cards on the table. I have read a great deal about Uchuraccay and I don't believe in the conspiracy theory that the killers were soldiers dressed up as Quechua-speaking villagers. I haven't seen any convincing evidence for that. The armed forces committed a great many atrocities in the 1980s but, I believe, not this one. The village was terrified by the deaths caused by Sendero and had been encouraged by the military to practise self-defence. They were well aware of the difference between guns and cameras, but they were living in a world where every outsider was a potentially deadly threat. It seems likely the killings were carried out by far more than the three men eventually convicted for the crimes. The peasants exhumed the bodies when the authorities arrived and openly admitted to killing them, a story which they stuck to.

However, in the months after the journalists' death, the Uchuraccayans became trapped between the Senderistas and the military and in the following year, over one hundred of them were killed. The village was completely abandoned and only recently reinhabited. Rather than clinging to conspiracies, imagining army fatigues beneath the ponchos, perhaps we should remember all the victims of Uchuraccay.

Spanish speakers can read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report on Uchuraccay here.

Also, I'm not sure who wrote this blog post, but good resolution images of the images taken from Retto's camera can be found here.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Colombia: Battalion Dismantled over Human Rights Abuses

On the whole, I would say that this is a good news story, or at least that you can select the positive aspects of it. Let's have a look.

A battalion of the Colombian army has been dismantled over the scandal of the killing of civilians 'dressed up' to look like guerrillas. This is quite an obvious public measure and indicates that it is no longer possible for the military to deny or ignore reports of human rights abuses.

The 15th mobile brigade was completely replaced Friday by a new unit, the 23rd mobile counterinsurgency brigade, whose 1,400 members have reportedly received training on human rights, according to official reports.

Let's hope that the 'reports' are true and this is not merely a name change.

In another battalion, 11 officers have been removed from their posts.

The 10 officers and one noncommissioned officer who were sacked Wednesday – in a decision that was not reported until Thursday – formed part of La Popa in the past but were now serving in other army units.

Armed forces chief General Freddy Padilla said legal charges have not been brought against the officers. But the conclusions of the internal military investigation will be turned over to the ordinary courts, which have received complaints of 150 civilians allegedly killed by the La Popa battalion.

So presumably the possibility of legal measures is still open, and ordinary courts, not military courts, is where we want to see them.

The article also includes a slightly weary comment on US involvement in Colombia from Adam Isacson (who writes at the excellent Plan Colombia and Beyond).

"there has been – and still is – frustration among many U.S. officials over the repeated human rights scandals in the (Colombian) armed forces.

"My impression is that, despite their indignation, they continue to move forward in the belief, in first place, that the main interest of the United States, whether it be the anti-drug or counterinsurgency struggle, is more important than these ‘side-effects’," he wrote in an email interview with IPS.

In addition, the officials believe that "contact and training with U.S. soldiers will lead to a reduction in these abuses," said Isacson.

He added that "many officials have told me that the abuses by the armed forces in the 1990s were partly due to a lack of contact with the United States. I don’t know what they blame the abuses of this decade on."

I'm of the opinion that we should applaud any progress on rooting out human rights abuses; but I'm not deluded enough to think that this will solve the problem of military violence against civilians in Colombia. It's just a tiny step. The issue was not confined to one or two battalions. We can only hope that 1) this sends a message that action will be taken against offenders, ie at a minimum they will lose their jobs, and 2) that it raises awareness of the issues both nationally and internationally.

Colombia: Entire Battalion Dismantled over Killings of Civilians (IPS)

Friday, 23 January 2009

Colombia Round-Up

The Latin Americanist notes that a Colombian general awaiting trial for the disappearance of 11 people in 1985 may hear his case in the military justice system, if a judge allows it. This is not a good idea; anyone who can give me an example of military courts processing human rights cases quickly, efficiently and fairly, go right ahead; but generally the opposite is the case. In Argentina for example, the military system procrastinated and stalled the trial of the junta until it was taken away from them.

Plan Colombia and Beyond mentions the alleged involvement of the Colombian army in skirmishes between the FARC and rival guerrilla group ELN in the Arauca region.

Meanwhile, a former mayor, Julio Cesar Ardila Torres, has been sentenced for the 2003 murder of a journalist who had publicised his connections to right-wing death squads.

Peru: Incinerating the Disappeared in Los Cabitos

I'm cautious about drawing comparisons which are not particularly helpful or enlightening; and don't worry, I'm not about to start. Nevertheless, if you feel a shiver of Auschwitz when you read this headline, perhaps there's a reason for that.

PERU: Furnaces Used to Remove Evidence of Dirty War Killings (IPS)

I first wrote about Los Cabitos here.

Over the past week, the authorities have disinterred another 11 bodies, bringing the total so far to 97, including a number of children. But the forensic experts still have a large area to excavate in the ongoing task.

Several members of the army told the CVR that commanders ordered the construction of furnaces at Los Cabitos, to cremate the bodies of detainees who were murdered, which would explain the large number of charred human remains that have been found.

In April 2008, forensic experts from the Institute of Legal Medicine (IML) found four ovens containing charred bones, which confirmed the witnesses’ testimony.

The Ayacucho provincial political military command functioned in Los Cabitos from 1983 to 1985, under Generals Clemente Noel, Wilfredo Mori and Adrián Huamán. Mori and Huamán are currently facing trial for other cases of human rights violations, and Noel is dead.
In 2004, after the CVR had completed its work, journalist Ricardo Uceda published the book "Muerte en el Pentagonito" (Death in the Little Pentagon: The Secret Killing Fields of the Peruvian Army), which included the testimony of former Army Intelligence Service (SIE) agent Jesús Sosa about an order that he was allegedly given to disinter bodies and burn them in an oven, because of the possibility of investigations on the site by legal authorities.
Read the full article here.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Peru: Majaz Timeline

Heard about the Majaz torture case but don't have it quite clear in your mind? The blog of the Peruvian Coordinator of Human Rights has a handy timeline - Spanish speakers can read it right here. For English speakers, here's a summarised translation in note form:

2002-2003 - Majaz begins exploratory activities without authorisation from local community assemblies - local people protest

2004, April - large march against Majaz - police violence, leading to death of Reemberto Herrera - some say he was hit in face by tear gas canister, others claim he was shot - little public attention - mining company claims protesters, priests and local authorities are terrorists

May - local bishops call for cease to mining activities in their diocese

November - environmentalist radio station La Poderosa, led by journalist Federico Ibáñez, destroyed by mob linked to company

December - mob beats and harasses Ibáñez and community leader Josefa Adrianzén, who are later detained by police for two months - lack of response from organisations supposed to defend freedom of press

2004-2007 - sustained campaign against mining opponents from the newspaper Correo de Piura - linked with terrorist group in television programme Panorama (Panamericana Television)

2005, August - march against Majaz - police detain many villagers - 28 are tortured, including journalist Julio Vásquez - death of Melanio García- employees of Forza, Majaz's security company, also participate in torture

2006, March - water and mining forum violently disrupted by crowd transported by Majaz representatives - beatings

2006 - Richard Ralph, the British ambassador, leaves his post - shortly after becomes Executive President of Majaz

2007 - Chinese consortium Zijin takes over Monterrico Metals and the project is renamed Río Blanco

2007, Sept - local assemblies reject presence of Majaz - company, government and some sectors of the media launch campaign against organisers, accusing them of being terrorists linked to Hugo Chávez and Al Qaeda

2008, March - organisers of local consultation, including Javier Jahncke (Fedepaz) and Julia Cuadros (Cooperacción) again accused of terrorism - Peruvian press association finds against Correo de Piura for its reporting and Panorama reporters are convicted of slander

2008, Dec - terrorism case against opponents re-opened - Ministry of Defence produces Supreme Decree which declares necessity of Majaz's intervention in the border zone

2009, Jan - photographic evidence of atrocities committed in 2005 surfaces

What do we see here? We see, again, that being interested in human rights, being involved in indigenous politics, and opposing current government policy are the kind of things that will get you called out as a terrorist. We see that calling 'terrorist' is often a way of stifling debate and crushing opposition. And we see that the atrocities of August 2005 were not isolated incidents, but were part of a concerted campaign to prevent protests against mining development in the area.

Reading Round-Up

What am I reading today? Aside from the articles indicated on the feed on the right, I'm also looking at a piece on the Brazilian army by (Notes on) Politics, Theory & Photography, and a translated opinion piece from La Republica on the Peruvian Times. I had seen the original but didn't have the chance to translate it myself. It's interesting because it links the recent news about the torture of mining protesters (see several previous posts) with the issue of military personnel moonlighting as private spies under the general topic of 'paramilitarism and parapolitics' (or, put more crudely: if you can pay, you can get people to do your dirty work in Peru).

Monday, 19 January 2009

Chile: Therapeutic Theatre

Ex-detained-disappeared Chileans are presenting a cycle of plays connected with the dictatorship:

"I think awareness of life becomes more intense when you’re facing death," said renowned Chilean actor and playwright Óscar Castro, the director of the plays being performed on Jan. 16, 17, 23 and 24.

The plays will be put on at the Teatro de la Memoria in the Villa Grimaldi Peace Park, a former detention and torture centre during the dictatorship of the late General Augusto Pinochet, now converted into a human rights memorial.

The plays are "Casimiro Peñafleta, preso político" (Political Prisoner Casimiro Peñafleta), "Érase una vez un Rey" (Once Upon a Time There Was a King), "El vuelo del Cuervo" (The Crow's Flight) and "El exiliado Mateluna" (The Exile Mateluna).

Castro wrote the first two in the Ritoque and Puchuncaví detention centres in Chile, and the last two in exile in France.

The whole article:
Ex Political Prisoners in Therapeutic Theatre (IPS)

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Peru: Majaz

I may not be able to update for a few days again, but I know that Otto will keep up his sterling work on this disgusting story about the torture of Peruvian villagers by police in coordination with a mining company. The mainstream media is slowly picking up on it too.

Waterboarding is Torture

I make an effort not to spout my opinions on purely US issues, because no one should really care what I - as a non-US citizen who has only ever spent 5 days in the country and has no great depth of background knowledge on it - think about anything. I remember my (naive) shock a few years ago though, when I looked up from my books on the Argentine dictatorship (1976-1983), full of disgust at what happened in the detention centres, and discovered that the US, my nation's 'greatest ally' and the world's 'greatest democracy', was still doing exactly the same thing in the twenty-first century!
“Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration –usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten with its use again and again.”

It was torture when they called it 'submarino' in Argentina, and it is torture now.

Waterboarding is Torture at GlobalComment)

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Argentina: Perpetrator News

One step forward and three back in the Argentine custodial system.

Ex-naval officer Randolfo Agusti Scacchi, who has been a wanted man since December, yesterday presented himself at court in Buenos Aires and was remanded in custody. He's wanted in connection with crimes at the ESMA during the military dictatorship.

Profugo en causa ESMA se entrego a la Justicia (Critica)

Oscar Meanwhile, three former police officers awaiting trial for human rights abuses were released. Pagina/12 appropriately headlines their article "More luck than Astiz", referring to another notorious human rights abuser who was to be set free until, in the face of protests, the government stepped in. The prisoners in question are Miguel Kearney, Rubén Páez and Jesús Bernabé Corrales. Here's a translation of the pertinent points of the news report:

Thirty years ago they commanded the Pozo de Arana and the Brigada de Investigaciones, two of the main clandestine detention centres in La Plata. The short arm of the law only reached them in May 2007, but they never set foot in jail. Because they were over seventy, they enjoyed house arrest. Nor were they held for too long, barely twenty months. On 22 December Court III of the Federal Chamber of Penal Cassation [which decides on annulments and releases], with the votes of Angela Ester Ledesma, Guillermo Tragant and Eduardo Rafael Riggi, decided that the men had never tried to escape justice, there was no reason to think that they might flee, and they were therefore granted the right to await their trial in freedom.


Miguel Kearney was head of the military post of Arana, where fragments of bones and a wall covered in bullet marks were found. More than two hundred prisoners passed through there, the majority of whom were disappeared. In 1986 the Federal Court in Buenos Aires ordered the detention of "Englishman" Kearney. This did not happen thanks to the Due Obedience [amnesty law]. [...] Rubén Oscar Páez and Jesús Bernabé Corrales were head and deputy of the Brigada, where they interrogated and distributed victims to other sites under [police chief] Ramón Camps.


The judge Arnaldo Carazza and the Court in La Plata refused the release of the perpetrators. The judges Ledesma, Tragant and Riggi maintained that despite the seriousness of the crimes and the long expected sentence, there was no danger of flight, the men had not obstructed the investigation, they are old with families and they have behaved well during house arrest.[...] In contrast to the case of cassation which ordered the end of the custody of Astix, Acosta, & co., the liberations of the police officers have not been appealed by the prosecutor and therefore already took place last week.

What mercy the Argentine justice system bestows on these poor old men; a lot more than they ever showed to their detainees, by all accounts. A lot of trials seemed to get held up at this stage of proceedings and, as we saw with the Astiz case, it's urgent that this does not occur. Dispiriting to think that even house arrest was 'too harsh' for people accused of participation in torture and murder.

Con mejor suerte que Astiz (Pagina/12)

Peru: New Update on Torture at Mining Development

Here's this morning's update on the case of torture and one killing at the mining development of Monterrico Metals at Majaz (now Rio Blanco). Otto at Inca Kola News continues to update here and here, and you have to agree with his assessment:
And finally someone has managed to get a squeak out of the company, so full kudos goes to the reporter, Dana Ford. And the quote might be short, but it's a real beauty. Monterrico's IR dude Andrew Bristow said it was: "One of an enormous number of things that have happened in terms of opposition activity to the project."

LOL!!! You mean this is only one of the tactics MNA.L has used over the years to beat peaceful protestors into submission? Priceless! File this under "can't-make-this-shit-up-of-the-week".


News agency Reuters has picked up on the story:

Peru protesters say tortured by police, miner

as has the International Herald Tribune, via AP:

Peru rights groups denounce torture at mine

and the number of Spanish-language articles on the subject is multiplying.

The National Coordinator of Human Rights held a press conference yesterday with some of the victims to call for sanctions for those involved; Spanish speakers can read their report and updates on their blog. La Republica reports that statements were given by Elizabeth Cunya Novillo, local radio correspondent, Julio Vásquez Calle, correspondent from the radio station Cutivalú and Marco Tabra Guerrero, the then-President of the group Frente de Defensa del Medio Ambiente (Defensive Front for the Environment).

It was dawn on the 1 of August of the same year [2005] when 29 villagers from Ayabaca and Huancabamba made up of 27 men and 2 women were submitted to physical and psychological attacks lasting 3 days.

Julio Vásquez spoke of his fear that he would be killed. In fact, he survived, but one of the group did not.

...the lawyer of the judicial department of FEDEPAZ [a Peruvian NGO], Rosa Quedena, explained that there is still much that needs to be investigated in this case since much of the "evidence" is contradictory.

"In the case of Melanio García, in the photographs it looks like the villager is alive and that he was just wounded, then in other images Melanio appears dead in the bushes, so at the moment we think that there are many things to clear up.

(Quotes taken from the newspaper article and translated by me). The crimes were not reported immediately after the attack; well, it's difficult isn't it, when it was the police who committed the crimes... Let's hope that an investigation is swiftly opened to clarify events and prosecute those reponsible.

Victimas torturadas en campamento minero en Majaz claman justicia (La Republica)

El Salvador: Spanish Judge to Investigate Massacre

A Spanish judge’s decision to investigate 14 Salvadoran military officers for the 1989 killings of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador is a "sign of hope against impunity," according to lawyers and activists.
Spanish Judge to Investigate Murders of Jesuit Priests (IPS)

There's more from Tim's El Salvador Blog (of course Tim is following this one) and The Latin Americanist.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Argentina: Case of Dagmar Hagelin

More than 30 former military personnel, including Alfredo Astiz and "Tigre" Acosta, will have to testify in the trial regarding the disappearance and murder of Dagmar Hagelin. 17 year old Hagelin (yes, that's right; she was a minor) was shot and wounded on 27 January 1977 by a man identified by witnesses as Astiz. She was taken to the ESMA and survivors reported her presence there. She was later killed.

The case of Hagelin is a prominent one because Dagmar had dual Argentine and Swedish citizenship; this meant that there was another government to protest her case, which it did, at a time when in Argentina, amnesty laws meant that most incidences of disappearance could not be prosecuted. She was also a young person who had committed no crime; in fact, her abduction was apparently a mistake, a case of mistaken identity (not that it makes it any better if the person you torture was involved in left-wing politics...).

Mas de 30 represores deberan declarar por la desaparicion de Dagmar Ingrid Hagelin (Pagina/12)

Peru: Intercepted Shining Path Document

Here's one for the dedicated Shining Path researchers and Spanish speakers, and probably not for the rest of you. La Republica has published in its entirety, as a PDF, a senderista document intercepted by military intelligence about the current counteroffensive. It's 23 pages long, and I haven't read the whole thing (may do later...don't hold your breath) and obviously can't vouch for its authenticity either, I just wanted to point it out to those who might be interested.

Balance senderista de la resistencia de las FF AA en la VRAE

Peru: Majaz and Richard Ralph

For anyone following the Majaz torture story: see also this piece by blog ten percent on the involvement of British ambassador Richard Ralph.

So here’s the rub, a UK ambassador in Peru at a time when a UK mining company in conjunction with the police is behind the kidnap and torture of peaceful protesters with a legitimate grievances against an illegal mining project. Who then goes on to head this mining company. Is it reasonably possible he was ignorant of their crimes? Of the racist component? Of their laughable attempt to call protesters terrorists even as they tortured them? At the time he was an ambassador did he uphold any commitment to human rights and look to investigate this British company and Peruvian police abuses? Surely a UK ambassador to Peru who then goes on to become chair of a UK company abusing people in Peru should do due diligence to see what the company did in Peru? Are we to believe he knew nothing of what went on in Majaz? As his history shows his personal ethics are… a tad shaky shall we say, the question is- Were human right abuses swept under the rug on behalf of a UK mining company and the host government by an ambassador who then went on to chair that company?

I should have learnt better by now, but I keep falling into the trap of thinking that people representing countries abroad should be absolutely above board in all their dealings, so as not to reflect badly on their position and, by extension, their nation. If only, eh.

News Round-Up

Otto at Inca Kola News continues to follow the Majaz torture story.

In Colombia, declassified documents have shown that the US was aware of human rights abuses, including executions, by the military as far back as the 1990s. Which mades it so doubly nice that President Uribe is to receive the Medal of Freedom from Bush.

And at the Latin America News Review, you can check out apparently the whole of John Pilger's War on Democracy, which looks like something I'll be doing when I find the time.

Monday, 12 January 2009

News Round-Up

In Peru, defense lawyers and prosecutors are to sum up in the trial of Fujimori (seems like this trial has been in its end stages for a long time already, right?)

Also, Lori Berenson has been moved to a prison in Lima because of health problems related to her pregnancy (she is married to another MRTA guerrilla whom she met in jail; they are allowed conjugal visits).

Former dictator of Panama, Manuel Noriega, is apparently currently the only prisoner of war on US soil (I didn't know that - did you?), but his fate after serving his sentence remains unclear. (Thanks to Two Weeks Notice for drawing my attention to that one).

And Impunity Watch has an article on the identification of victims of paramilitaries in Colombia.

Peru: More on Torture at Majaz

Following from Otto's post on the abuses against locals at the British-owned mining development at Majaz, here's my translation of an article on the subject by Carlos Castro from La Republica.

On the 28th July 2005, while the then-President Alejandro Toledo led the country and made new promises to the poor, police officers in the service of mining company Majaz repressed, captured and tortured inhabitants from Yanta and Segunda and Cajas, in Ayabaca and Huancabamba (Piura), causing the death of one of them. Photographs submitted to the population some days ago and published by this newspaper reveal the magnitude of the barbarous treatment which until now, more than 3 years later, continues to enjoy impunity.

The images show the villagers in the mining company's camp, cornered, with bloody faces, enmarrocados*, barefoot, with bruises on their bodies, their heads covered with bags which, according to their testimony, contained irritant powder which impeded their breathing. If these photos remind us of the prisoners of Guantanamo, the testimonies of the villagers, victims of abduction and torture, lead us to ask ourselves: how could this happen in a democracy? We have gathered some of the testimonies given in press conferences this week in Piura, and others which appear in the complaint [denuncia] presented by the National Coordinator of Human Rights and the Ecumenical Foundation for Development and Peace to the fifth provincial prosecutor's office in Piura. The testimonies and graphic documents demonstrate the power of a group of police and the privilege which some mining companies enjoy.

Mario Tabra Guerrero, President of the Ayabaca Defence Front and one of the 28 detained, says:

"We were taken to a bathroom where they tortured us for three days, accusing us of being terrorists: 'sons of bitches, you're going to die, why don't you let the company work, ignorant shitty indians'.

When the prisoners called to God, they said 'Dinoes [Peruvian special operations police] is God'. When they changed shift the relevant people approached me and asked 'which is the teacher?'. They approached me, took off my jacket, they sprayed me with irritant powder, dressed me again and beat me. The same thing happened to the detainees."

The detainee Cleofé Neyra was asked about Ramiro Ibáñez, Benito Guarnizo and Josefa Adrianzén (leaders of local defense patrols): "Why didn't those terrorists come to the march? We are going to kill you. Why didn't you stay and shag your husband? You're whores (the police said this while putting their hands between her legs) Why did you come here? This (the land) is private property."

Elizabeth Cunya complained of the cold and they told her: "You're not going to need clothes in the next life where you're going". A policeman took off Cleofé Neyra's costal* and said to her: "You, old woman, you're not going to pay. She (Elizabeth) will pay. Tell me if you're a terrorist. If you tell me, nothing will happen to you. If you don't say, we're going to rape her."

While Yony Carrión Febres was restrained [?enmarrocado] face down, they hit him with a macana [wooden weapon or truncheon]; they smashed Sinesio Jiménez's head against the floor; a police officer walked on the back of Samuel Mezones; they stuffed rotten meat into the mouth of Ricardo Ruiz and forced him to eat it.

Melanio García was killed by a shot after being tortured. "It was as if we were in a concentration camp," said one of the detainees. What do the villagers want: respect for their model of development based on agriculture, livestock and ecotourism. On the other side, the mining company breaks the law and operates without the consent of 2/3 of the community assemblies. And with all this, there are some politicians who protest when the villages make their claim.

Un crimen impune (La Republica)

* Enmarrocar, costal - Yes, a couple of words here where I wasn't completely sure of the definition, particularly in the Peruvian context. The general gist is obvious from context, but anyone who wants to help out with these bits is very welcome to do so.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Peru: Torture of Mine Protesters

Blogging on a borrowed laptop here, but just wanted to draw attention to Otto's important post on the horrific treatment of Peruvian locals protesting against a mining development in 2005. Warning: contains distressing images of police brutality. The post is here. I'll comment as soon as I can.

Updated to add: there is really little more to be said except the obvious: that the photos tell you all you need to know, and that such atrocities must be unequivocally condemned. The only positive is the actions of the Peruvian Human Rights Coordinator in publishing the images and explaining the background. They have also now translated their original post into English, and it can be accessed here.

Further update: Spanish speakers who want to follow this story should do it here.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Uruguay: Impunity Debate

Just wanted to draw attention to this article in Upside Down World which looks at the discussion surrounding the possible repeal of Uruguay's 'impunity law', which prevents prosecutions for most crimes committed during the country's military dictatorship.

Between Law and Politics: The Continuing Struggle against Impunity in Uruguay

By the way, the blog has been quiet and will remain so for the next couple of weeks, since I was away, then I got a bad cold and had no energy for anything, and on Friday I'm going away again. I will be around sporadically, and back soon.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Argentina News

"Tigre" and others maintain silence
Accused ESMA torturers Jorge "el Tigre" Acosta, Juan Carlos Rolón, Pablo García Velazco, Alberto González and Jorge Carlos Radice were brought before a judge today, where they all denied the charges against them and refused to answer further questions, according to Pagina/12's sources.

El "Tigre" Acosta y otros cuatros represores que actuaron en la ESMA se negaron a declarar

Investigation into the Triple A
Interesting - we don't hear so much now about the paramilitary right-wing death squads from before the 1976 military coup, of which the Triple A (Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance) was the foremost. It is under investigation for almost 700 cases of abduction, assassination, disappearance, threats and attacks between 1973 and 1976.

El terror antes del terror (Pagina/12)

Cavallo prosecution
Ricardo Cavallo, formerly of the Argentine Navy, is to be prosecuted for the disappearance and murder of Rodolfo Walsh, Alicia Domon and Leonie Duquet, some of the most notorious crimes of the dictatorship. Cavallo was extradited from Mexico, initially to Spain, and has been part of a legal game of ping-pong regarding the site for a possible trial.

El ex marino Cavallo, procesado por la muerte de Walsh, Domon y Duquet (Critica)

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Argentine Reading Matter

Happy New Year all... I'm off for a long weekend away, so there won't be any more posts til January 5 at the earliest. I'll leave you with some interesting Argentine pieces I found just searching around:

An interesting account of the development of the memory museum at the ESMA, and seems generally soundly informed - except possibly for the bit about the running people over with motorcycles. It may be that that is true, but I've never heard of it before and I have read a lot about the torture at the ESMA. I'd be interested to get a source on that one.
Raw Nerves at a Museum of Argentina's "Dirty War" (US News and World Report)

And a description of a tour around the ESMA as well (I wonder if the 'Victor' mentioned as the tour guide is survivor Victor Basterra?)
Argentina's Space for Memory Opens its Doors in Former Clandestine Detention Center (WIP)

Finally, a review of the work of Argentine historian Luis Alberto Romero, who as it happens spoke at the first academic conference I ever went to. There are some interesting memory/history issues brought up here.
Remembering military dictatorship in Argentina (Old Hickory's Weblog)