Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Latin America: Identifying the Disappeared

The focus of this post is the Latin American Initiative for the Identification of the Disappeared (Iniciativa Latinoamericana para la Identificación de Desaparecidos, website in Spanish only).

What is the initiative?
It's an attempt to increase the numbers of those forcibly disappeared in Latin America to be identified and is a joint project of the forensic medicine teams from Peru, Guatemala and Argentina.

In Argentina, the focus is on those disappeared between 1974 and 1983 - this is acknowledging the fact that while the coup occurred in 1976, political disappearances began before this. The Initiative has been collecting and analysing blood samples of Argentine relatives - taken not just at home in Argentina but as far away as Sweden and Spain. This is similar to, but not the same as, the blood bank founded by the Grandmothers to identify the appropriated children. The result is the first 42 sets of remains definitively identified and returned to their families for burial.

The majority of Google results for the LIID still come from Argentina, as this seems to be where the first results have come from, but perhaps this will change in future. Pan-Latin American initiatives make perfect sense for a multitude of reasons; it's an opportunity to share good practice from countries like Argentina, which has been working on forensic issues for thirty years, to nations such as Peru which are just setting out to identify their disappeared; people move and are exiled and hence restricting activities to one country risks excluding them; and last but not least, the repression itself was Pan-LatAm (Operation Condor), so it requires a concerted response.

I don't think the importance of identifying the disappeared can really be underestimated for the families. Pagina/12 today quotes Ana Feldman, the sister of a newly identified disappeared person,
For Ana, as hard as it sounds, identifying Laura was "the most marvellous thing" to happen in her life. "The most important thing for a human being is to know," she explained. "For thirty years I've been talking in the present tense, saying 'my sister is disappeared'. Now I say 'they shot my sister: they abducted her, disappeared her and shot her'. I know what happened. I don't like it, but I have the final word. I have her remains and I can prove that there was no trial, they killed her and I know how they killed her."
Primeros resultatos de campaña latinoamericana para identificar desaparecidos en dictadura argentina (EFE)
Argentine Team Identifies 42 Bodies of People that Disappeared during the Military Junta (Americas Quarterly)
El pasado en tiempo presente (Pagina/12)

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