Friday, 30 December 2011
Peru Appoints Garcia-Sayan to Lead Memory Museum Commission (Peruvian Times)
In addition, a new name for the project, initially called the "museum of memory" and then the "place of memory", has been announced: "Lugar de la memoria, la tolerancia y la inclusion social" (Place of memory, tolerance and social inclusion).
While tolerance and social inclusion are certainly worthy causes, this messing around with the name makes me a bit weary. For Spanish speakers, the blog Genocidio Ayacucho explains very clearly why it is uncomfortable with these changes and I have to agree. Come on Peru, keep focused, give us a museum and stop tinkering with the name.
Oficializan denominación de 'Lugar de la Memoria, la Tolerancia y la Inclusión Social' (La Republica)
The law has been criticised by Abuelas' president Estela de Carlotto, their lawyer Alan Iud, human rights group CELS, and others.
Tougher Argentine terror laws concern opponents (AP)
Anti-Terrorism Law Upsets Harmony Between Government and Activists (IPS)
Argentine human rights reference openly criticizes the Anti-Terrorism law (Mercopress)
Argentina: Fears Over Terror Law (NY Times)
Bignone was found to have personally overseen the takeover of the hospital in Buenos Aires province 35 years ago, leading soldiers in tanks and helicopters in search of medical personnel who allegedly treated leftist guerrillas. Various hospital staff were tortured.
He's got 15 years, which was less than the prosecution asked for, but considering he's 85 and already jailed for other crimes, I think we can be reasonably satisfied with that result. The year ends on a high note for human rights in Argentina.
Argentine dictator guilty of torture in hospital (AP)
Argentina: Ex-President Gets 15 Years (NY Times)
Condenaron a 15 años al ex dictador Bignone (La Nacion)
Represión: tercera condena para Bignone (Clarin)
Chile closes Allende case after confirming suicide (AP)
Mystery over Chile ex-president's death solved (BBC)
Justicia chilena cierra investigación sobre muerte de Allende (Prensa Latina)
Wednesday, 21 December 2011
Chile's Supreme Court elects new president (Santiago Times)
Rubén Ballesteros, una carrera marcada por fallos polémicos (La Tercera)
Congressman Alberto Beingolea, who heads the justice and human rights commission, said that the indigenous people wanted justice and the right to give the dead a dignified burial. It will now be up to the public prosecution service in Ayacucho to open investigations into the case(s).
When thinking about this story, I'm struck by the casual horror of the photo used in La Republica, of people just kneeling beside a heap of bones and skulls. On the other hand, I think it's positive that people now feel able to report such findings to the authorities and demand action - local people are generally well aware of the location of such graves but for many years were too afraid to speak up about them.
Denuncian hallazgo de 14 fosas comunes en Ayacucho (RPP)
Campesinos denuncian haber hallado 14 fosas comunes en zona del VRAE (El Comercio)
Revelan existencia de 14 fosas con más de 100 cuerpos en Ayacucho (La Republica)
Friday, 16 December 2011
"Dirty War" mass grave discovered in Argentina (video, BBC)
Argentine judge receives images of 1970s victims (AP)
Argentina planning a Malvinas war museum for the 30th anniversary (Mercopress)
Disclosed documents reveal Brazilian strong support for the Pinochet regime in Chile (Mercopress)
Monument to Brazilian general triggers controversy with human rights groups (Mercopress)
Guatemalan President Colom apologises for 1982 massacre (BBC) (This is getting to be a habit)
Many indifferent as Noriega returns to Panama cell (AP)
Peru judge grants Berenson NY holiday (AP)
Sunday, 11 December 2011
Here's the original:
Opposition calls for law prohibiting pro-Pinochet monuments to be pushed through
On Thursday, opposition members of parliament criticised the lack of progress on the draft law which would ban the exhibition of images and public monuments which honour the memory of the late general Augusto Pinochet.
The legislators believe that the human rights committee of the lower house needs to resume discussion of the initiative presented a few months ago, following a series of court rulings that established the existence of a conspiracy by government agencies.
The MP for the Democracy Party (PPD), Tucapel Jimenez, son of the iconic trade union leader of the same name murdered during the military regime, explained that the decisions of the courts confirmed the crimes committed by repressive bodies such as DINA or CNI, which were acting on Pinochet's direct orders.
The National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) was the first repressive apparatus of the state and was replaced years ago by the National Intelligence Centre (CNI) with the aim of reducing the harsh criticism which the former body had attracted because of its serious violations of human rights.
In fact, its mentor and director, retired general Manuel Contreras, is serving successive sentences totaling around 300 years for the deaths of dozens of opponents who were detained and in the majority of cases disappeared by that agency.
Jimenez said that "no one would imagine that, for example, in Italy there were public monuments or statues in honor of a drug lord or a criminal."
He said that approving the law, which prohibits the display of any image that honors the memory of Pinochet, "will be a very strong signal to show that Chile does not accept or honour the criminals who participated in a conspiracy."
The bill specifies that "images, statues, plaques or shields honouring or remembering the former commander in chief of the Chilean army, General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, are prohibited in public spaces, institutions and educational establishments".
The text also specifies that this applies to "all members of the military junta that ruled our country from September 11, 1973 until March 11, 1990".
The document clarifies that the law will not apply to instances of strictly private memory, however, this rule shall apply also to the army, navy and air rorce of Chile.
If the initiative is approved in parliament, the complete removal of all pictures, plaques or shields in which Augusto Pinochet appears must take place within 90 days from the publication of the law.
Oposición pide apurar trámite de ley que prohíbe monumentos en honor a Pinochet (La Tercera)
I live in Germany - a country where it is illegal to display a swastika except in certain educational contexts (ie in a museum exhibition) or own Mein Kampf or make the Heil Hitler salute - so this concept is very familiar to me. Of course, to some extent it may be regarded as a suppression of free speech (Holocaust denial is illegal here too) but given Germany's history, I don't think it is too much to ask that its public institutions and armed forces do not display any pro-Nazi imagery, and the same applies to Chile. I was also reminded of Argentina's move to change the names of certain streets which commemorated dictatorship figures.
Friday, 9 December 2011
Human rights agenda has expanded (IPS)
IPS takes the conference of human rights defenders organised by CELS in Buenos Aires as its cue to survey the state of human rights in the region. It finds that the range of issues has expanded from a focus on authoritarian regimes to include environmental and other concerns. However, there is a broad range of threats as well:
"Today it is not only the state that violates human rights, but also companies, para-state agencies and organised crime," said [Gastón] Chillier [of CELS].Human rights activism is still potentially deadly in Latin America, and I take my hat off to all those brave people who do it anyway.
US donation to help Paraguay fight guerrillas (Guardian)
U.S. Government to Help Paraguay Fight Guerrillas (Americas Quarterly)
The US government is giving Paraguay more than $1 million in equipment and training to help it combat a small guerrilla group, the Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (Paraguayan People’s Army–EPP. I know practically nothing about this group, which is estimated to have just 20 armed members, but will keep an eye out for more detail.
Keiko Fujimori: "Quizás está llegando ya el momento de solicitar un indulto" (El Comercio)
Keiko Fujimori: Moment Is Coming To Request Pardon For Father (Peruvian Times)
Keiko says her father is very ill and the time is coming to pardon him because "it would be terrible if he died in prison". My sympathy is limited, I have to say.
Thursday, 8 December 2011
Artemio unmasked: Peru's Shining Path commander comes in from the cold (Guardian, this is the Dan Collyns piece and includes the video embedded above, which is Spanish with English subtitles and voiceover)
Peru guerrilla leader pledges no more attacks (AP)
The Mercopress link unfortunately got kicked out of this round-up for misspelling the world "Shining" in its headline. Ridiculous.
Wednesday, 7 December 2011
For the non-Spanish speakers, here are some highlights:
- Initially, they describe the arduous journey to the camp in the Huallaga valley and how the journalists slept, fully clothed and guarded by armed guerrillas. Incidentally, they were accompanied by, among others, Dan Collyns who writes for the Guardian, so maybe we will see an English-language article on this soon - I've searched and haven't found it at the time of writing.
"Artemio" gave his real name as José ‘Pepe’ Flores Hala and his age as 47 - both these facts have been disputed by others who have investigated him.
Do you agree that the war that you initiated on 17 May 1980 has ended in failure for you?
Yes, that's true. We're not going to deny it.
So, the sort of actions which you are carrying out now are not the actions of an insurrection which seeks victory, but merely defensive.
The political objective is the same as when we took up arms, although practically speaking, today it is not possible. I think that is easy to understand. Secondly, we maintain an armed force to guarantee our position with respect to our imprisoned comrades - and I think that that may be easily understood. We do not have the least intention of brandishing our arms, of armed struggle. No. Honestly, we want to point out that we want a political solution; we want it to come to an end, using the methods of the negotiating table.
You want to demobilise.
Of course. The issue is that is happens via a military ceasefire.
A ceasefire. That's not the same thing as demobilisation.
Right, but it's the first step. A military ceasefire which gives the space and the corresponding guarantees in a particular are with the aim of starting up talks moving towards negotiations. It depends which decision the State and the government in power takes.
That is to say, demobilisation and the handing over of weapons as the final result of negotiations?
The demobilisation and putting weapons out of use publicly.
To destroy them?
To destroy them. Publicly. I think that there have to be mediating organisations such as the International Red Cross or the Church which have intervened in cases like this to verify what happens. But it all needs... the political will of the State and the government if they really want to solve this problem of the armed comflict and for it not to be like what happened before with previous governments.
[He then goes on to discuss secret talks which took place with previous governments]
But, do you still believe that violence is the only way to end class war?
We have Marxist principles. We think that the only form of power is to change the capitalist system into a socialist system. But at this time, that isn't possible. And if it isn't possible, what has to be done now is to end what started yesterday.
What will you do if you manage to give up your weapons?
I'm a politician, I will take up politics, I will work on the land, I could study agriculture, something that would be useful in the current reality. Or, I don't now, you can't know what you will do tomorrow.
The Huallaga front has been one of the most violent of the war, in general, and it has also been one in which there has been most murders or "selective eliminations" carried out by your group. This was the case in the '80s and '90s, and also in the first decade of the 21st century. How do you explain that and how would you explain it to the relatives of the victims?
[...] I repeat [sic]: we committed excesses, we made mistakes, in the case of Lucanamarca, Tarata, and some cases in which we eliminated innocent persons considered to be informers. I understand the pain which this caused and sometimes self-criticism is not sufficient, but it is necessary to ask forgiveness of the families which we bereaved, believing them to be enemies, when really they weren't.
And, while you are not demobilised, what military activity are you going to carry out? Are you going to continue with ambushes, attacks, annihilations, assassinations?
No, nothing like that. We will restrict ourselves to organising political work. To carrying out politics. We will maintain an armed force for security, to defend ourselves. If we are attacked, we will defend ourselves. We will respond in kind.
That is to say, you maintain a strictly passive position.
A defensive position, militarily speaking.
There will no sort of attacks?
There will be no sort of attacks. I can guarantee it. We are not going to attack.
Does that include selective annihilations?
Yes it does.
Incredible stuff. Spanish-speakers, read the whole thing, and look out for part two tomorrow:
Entrevista a "Artemio" en el Huallaga (IDL-Reporteros)
Pass notes No 3,091: Pablo Neruda (Guardian)
For anyone not familiar with the Guardian's "Pass Notes" column, it takes a wry look at current issues in a question-and-answer format. This is a good one, though it overstates the importance of this latest call for Neruda's exhumation.
In pictures: Colombia protests (BBC)
Interesting images of the anti-FARC protests.
Peru women fight for justice over forced sterilisation (BBC)
I always welcome international attention on this important issue. This article contains one of the most vile quotes I have seen:
"You give birth like pigs or hamsters!"
Tuesday, 6 December 2011
The Pablo Neruda Foundation, which guards the poet's legacy, said in a statement in May that there is "no proof whatsoever that suggests Pablo Neruda died of causes other than cancer". (BBC)I'm not giving much credence to these allegations at this point, I think that it probably was just a coincidence that Neruda's death occurred so soon after the coup, but given some the circumstances, his fame and the long uncertainty surrounding the fate of Salvador Allende, it's hardly surprising that some questions can resurface.
Chile Communists request poet Pablo Neruda's exhumation (BBC)
Party asks to exhume Neruda's remains in Chile (AP)
Monday, 5 December 2011
Ex-official in Argentina found guilty of journalist's death in 1976 (Journalism in the Americas)
Brazil Takes Steps on Truth, Human Rights, and the Right to Know (Unredacted)
Chile requests extradition of former US Army officer allegedly involved in the 1973 killing of two US citizens (Mercopress)
Chile seeks Ray Davis extradition over 1973 coup murder (BBC)
Int'l Mission Says Dire Situation Getting Worse (IPS)
Worse than Fiction (IPS) [about the "false positives"]
Spain asks extradition in Salvador priest killings (AP)
The El Mozote massacre - 30 years later (Tim's El Salvador blog)
Astonishing Discovery of Remains of Guatemalan Death Squad Diary Victims (Unredacted)
Archives on Decades of Police Terror Accessible Online (IPS)
Former Paraguay guerilla Marciano Villagra dies (AP)
Government expands scope of military activity (IPS)
Uruguay identified military torture victim Julio Castro (BBC)
Friday, 25 November 2011
I'm not going to summarise his lifestory, because I already did that here. Suffice it to say that an icon of repression in Argentina has passed away. It's also worth noting that 1) Bussi's involvement in human rights abuses started before the 24 March 1976 coup and 2) he was not just giving the orders - he killed personally as well.
Let's take a little look at the response.
Pagina/12 goes for the headline "Terror in hell", and certainly the image of Bussi, his profile not softened by the oxygen tube in his nose, is well-chosen to illustrate this.
Torturado, represor, asesino, dictador y fusilador (Pagina/12)
Spanish paper ABC comments that the general "had the dubious honour of being the pioneer of the systematic plan of disappearances which characterised the last Argentine dictatorship". It notes that despite his conviction, he "died in bed surrounded by his family" - more than he allowed his victims, eh?
Muere el general Bussi, brazo ejecutor de la represion argentina (ABC.es)
Almost all the Spanish-language media are highlighting Bussi's role as a "symbol", an "icon" or an "archetype" of horror.
Murió Bussi, símbolo de la represión ilegal (La Nacion)
Murió Bussi, símbolo de la tortura y el horror en tiempos de la dictadura (Clarin)
La Nacion further comments on his "iron fist":
Acusado de atrocidades y de un estilo feroz (La Nacion)
President of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Estela Carlotto, laments that Bussi will take his secrets to his grave and comments that his family is very lucky to be able to bury and mourn him openly. Quite. Bussi's son says that the ex-general is now "at peace" and that "in time he will be remembered as one of the great men in this country's history". Seriously?!
Estela de Carlotto lamenta que Bussi se llevara "secretos a la tumba" (EFE)
The only English language report I can find at the time of writing is AFP:
General in Argentina's 'dirty war' dies (AFP)
Guatemala: War Victims Found (NY Times)
Guatemala identifies victims from death squad ledger (Reuters)
At the same time, a debate has broken out about a proposal to allow the over-80s to serve jail sentences under house arrest, rather than in prison - something which would obviously affect the aging human rights abusers in the country. This has been an issue in Argentina as well, and some of these supposed incidences of "house arrest" were so lax that the retired generals in question barely needed to adjust their social lives despite being convicted of the most serious crimes. I'm always opposed - a standard prison cell for the lot of them, regardless of age, I say. Nevertheless, I agree with Mike from Central American Politics that getting convictions at all must be the priority.
Guatemala proposal for aged inmates draws anger (AP)
Meanwhile, Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz has called for justice for the victims of the war.
"We want it to be clear that you can't use terror as a control mechanism," Paz y Paz said.She also mentioned the problem of financial resources in battling organised crime.
Top Guatemala prosecutor warns on war crimes cases (Reuters)
Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Today - 23 November - is the International Day to End Impunity, which focuses on crimes against journalists and others "who have been killed for exercising their right to freedom of expression".
The Committee to Protect Journalists' 2011 Impunity Index highlights 13 countries where violence against people working in the press is a particular problem. Three of them are in Latin America - Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. Colombia is described as improving, but with much work still to do, while the situation in Mexico is worsening and in Brazil, the picture is mixed.
Friday, 18 November 2011
On 1 November, AFP reported that human rights group IELSUR had filed a complaint "against some 100 troops in the name of 90 people detained in a decade-long crackdown against communists launched in 1975". The plaintiffs allege "torture, cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment during the entire period of their detention," according to IELSUR lawyer Jorge Pan. 28 women had also filed complaints of sexual abuse during the period.
The following day, German Catholic news agency KNA reported that the 28 women had made their statements on 28 October, followed by another 170 dictatorship victims on 29 October and about 140 on 30 October. It pointed out that female members of the military were implicated in torture for the first time.
Folteropfer der Militärdiktatur erstatten Anzeige (KNA)
On 10 November, Prensa Latina referred to a report from Uruguayan daily La Republica stating that a dozen military men would appear in court as part of the investigations conducted to clarify a crime committed during the dictatorship. Judge Mariana Mota will interrogate three military men on Monday in the case of Aldo Perrini, who was tortured to death after being arrested by soldiers of the 4th Infantry Battalion of the department of Colonia, the agency wrote.
Uruguay: Soldiers Summoned for Crimes During Dictatorship (Prensa Latina)
Finally, the Journalism in the Americas blog picked up on the case of Rodolfo Porley, who has filed charges for torture he suffered during the 1970s. More detail is provided by El Comercio of Ecuador, which reports Porley's claims that his motivation is the memory of the victims and a desire to prevent similiar incidents happening again.
Journalist in Uruguay sues for torture he suffered under military dictatorship (Journalism in the Americas)
Periodista uruguayo denuncia torturas y crímenes de lesa humanidad (El Comercio, Ecuador)
See more here.
Wednesday, 16 November 2011
I did not know that UN special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, was a victim of the Argentine junta:
Argentina's Dirty War lessons for the world (BBC)
Reuters profiles new Guatemalan president Otto Perez and discusses his role in the country's civil war
Special report: Guatemala's new leader faces questions (Reuters)
Colina victims laid to rest
Nineteen Years Later, Death Squad Victims Given Burial in Santa (Peruvian Times)
Sunday, 6 November 2011
I had an email from the guys at EPAF, the Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team, bringing my attention to their campaign "Not one, but 15,000 voices", which focuses on the more than 15,000 Peruvians that were “disappeared” during the period of political violence (1980-2000). It includes a series of videos, of which I've embedded one above, with some relatives telling their experiences in their own words, subtitled in English and with images by photographer Jonathan Moller (whom I've written about before).
The clips are sobering, but it's also important to hear people testifying about their experience. In the English-speaking world, I think we still don't really have an idea of Peru as a country particularly affected by "disappearance" - Argentina, perhaps, yes, but Peru? - and we also don't have much opportunity to hear people speaking directly about what happened, especially Quechua speakers. Check out more of the videos and information at EPAF's English-language page: Not one, but 15,000 voices.
Friday, 4 November 2011
Obama asked to declassify documents on children’s disappearance in Argentina (Mercopress)
Congressman to Obama: Declassify Argentina files (AP)
And here's the official website of Congressman Maurice Hinchey
Colombia: Spy Agency Dissolved (New York Times)
Forced Disappearances in Colombia (COHA)
The Guatemalan Government’s Apology for the 1954 Coup (Americas Quarterly)
Guatemalan journalist receives threats after reporting on forced disappearances (Journalism in the Americas)
Mejia too sick to stand trial (Central American Politics)
Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Fallece fotógrafo Carlos Bendezú (La Republica)
El batallón de los heladeros (La Republica)
Sunday, 30 October 2011
The vote was 50-40 and the bill is now expected to be signed by President Jose Mujica in the nick of time - the statute of limitations would have kicked in on 1 November.
Human rights activists, naturally, have welcomed the move. It was still a difficult decision in Uruguay, as illustrated by the fact that the congressional debate lasted 12 hours. While Luis Puig, a deputy with the ruling Broad Front coalition, called the measure an end to impunity, opponents have presented it as ignoring the will of the people since the amnesty law has been upheld in two referendums. It's a little more complicated than that though; for a start, the country's supreme court had ruled the law unconstitutional. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights had also insisted that Uruguay must remove the law. The referendum result had also been close, around 48%, narrowly missing the required 50%.
We will have to see what the end to the amnesty brings. The military is attempting a pre-emptive strike and already calling for prosecutions for former guerrillas.
Uruguay overturns amnesty for military-era crimes (BBC)
Uruguay Lawmakers Revoke Dirty War Amnesty (Time)
Uruguay scraps 'dirty war' amnesty (Aljazeera)
Saturday, 29 October 2011
There is often mention of one specific case, Maria Mamerita Mestanza, who died following a tubal ligation in 1998. Important though her case is, it is merely emblematic of a much wider scandal involving many thousands of women, the majority of whom were poorly literate or illiterate, rural, and Quechua-speaking, and were either pressured, coerced or deceived into undergoing sterilisation procedures.
Just in case this problem doesn't seem particularly severe in the context of the violence that Peru was experiencing at the time, it's worth remembering that the UN Genocide Convention (1948) classes imposing measures intended to prevent births within a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as genocide.
Good background information is provided by Jocelyn E. Getgen in Untold Truths: The exclusion of forced sterilisations from the Peruvian truth commission's final report, full text available here in PDF form.
Peru to reopen probe into forced sterilization of women (LA Times blog)
Peruvian prosecutors reopen investigation of forced sterilizations during Fujimori government (Washington Post)
Brazilian Senate approve investigation of human rights abuses during military dictatorship (Washington Post)
Brazil will look into its harsh political past but the military are safe (Mercopress)
Brazil creates truth commission to probe rights abuses (BBC)
Here is a small selection of coverage of the issue:
Astiz, el Tigre y el grupo de tareas de Massera (Pagina/12)
Quiénes son los enjuiciados (Pagina/12) - recommended as a "who's who" of the accused
Primera condena por los crímenes de lesa humanidad cometidos en la ESMA (CELS via Proyecto Desaparecidos)
Life sentence for Argentine "Blond Angel of Death" (Reuters)
Argentina's 'Angel of Death' jailed for crimes against humanity (Guardian, includes video embedded below)
Argentine Navy captain ‘Angel Face’ Astiz sentenced to life imprisonment (Mercopress)
France praises Argentina justice system over the sentencing of Astiz (Mercopress)
Argentina: 12 Given Life Sentences for Crimes During Dictatorship (New York Times)
Tuesday, 25 October 2011
Hey, it's an iconicity piece, so I'm going to link to it. Of course I agree that the region has icons (and I can't believe there's no mention of Che!) but I'm unconvinced that Latin America is obsessed with the past or indeed that this is a negative thing. In other circumstances we are always pointing out that countries are in a hurry to "move on" and sweep their pasts under the carpet. See also Greg's far more considered comments on the article.
In Latin America, dead leaders become icons (Washington Post)
The Argentine election was so predictable that I've found nothing new to say about it. Here is just a tiny quirk from crooked ex-president Carlos Menem, himself just re-elected as a senator, stating that all he needs now is to be named pope. Shame about that whole arms-trafficking thing.
Menem re-elected senator says the only post he's missing is 'Pope' (Mercopress)
Two pieces on Robert Funk's blog about political pressure on judges and voter registration. The key stat as far I'm concerned:
In the 21 years since democracy, more than 90% of people aged over 45 vote, but just 20% of those aged under 30 do.Colombia
A judge in Manhattan has sentenced two Colombian men involved in the kidnapping of an American citizen in Latin America, but the pair claimed to have been themselves abducted by the FARC as minors. The judge apparently believed them and criticised rigid sentencing guidelines.
FARC members convicted in American's kidnapping (NY Times)
In the new gangland of El Salvador (New York Review of Books)
Alma Guillermoprieto's piece is fantastically well-written.
You know, one of the reasons that it's the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and not the parents is because the relatives in Argentina made a conscious decision to keep the group women-only in the hope that the State would respect the sanctity of motherhood (supposedly held in high esteem by the Catholic, ultraconservative junta) and not dare to attack the members. You only need to read about the infiltration of Alfredo Astiz and the murder of the original leader of the Madres, Azucena Villaflor, to realise that that was wishful thinking. Yet decades later, in Mexico, women continue to battle for human rights in the face of considerable risk.
Ninety percent of the non-governmental organisations in Mexico are founded and run by women, says journalist and women's rights activist Lydia Cacho RibeiroWomen reject normalisation of gender violence (IPS)
Uruguay finds bones of possible dirty war victim (CBS)
Saturday, 22 October 2011
In short, it seems that many babies were taken from new mothers during the Franco regime and sold. The women were told their babies were stillborn or had died shortly after birth. Although they were not disappeared people as in Argentina, there are a number of startling parallels, such as:
- The involvement of the Catholic church. Several witnesses said that they had bought babies from priests or were told of their child's "death" by nuns working in the hospitals.
- An ideological aspect in which children were taken from "unsuitable" (left-wing, unmarried) parents and placed with more "appropriate" (pro-regime) parents.
- A fear of/respect for authority which made it difficult to question what was said by doctors and other professionals, coupled with a certain amount of turning-a-blind-eye from certain sectors. In Spain, the situation has been complicated by the fact that mothers did not have to enter their names on the birth certificate - this was supposed to "protect" unmarried mothers - and that adoptive parents could be entered as biological parents. That makes DNA testing the only hope for a clear answer, and as I'll note below, that's not so easy either.
There was some mention that the number of children taken from their biological parents could run into the hundreds of thousands. That is a truly huge figure and there was little indication of how it was arrived at, so I'll reserve my judgement until I see some proof on that, but really, it doesn't matter. The stolen children of Argentina are a huge issue and there are "only" around 400-500 of them. Even if there was only a handful, it would still be a big scandal.
Unfortunately, as yet the Spanish government has resisted opening a full investigation into the stolen children. As the BBC points out, data protection laws prohibit DNA banks from sharing or cross-referencing data and the Spanish government has yet to fulfil its promise to set up a national DNA database. It sounds like the Spaniards affected need to take a leaf out of Argentina's book and protest very, very loudly to get this situation changed.
Spain's stolen babies and the families who lived a lie (BBC)
Friday, 21 October 2011
For some the commission, or CNV, that was approved by a Senate committee on Wednesday Oct. 19 is a watered-down or weak version of what is really needed, while others see it as the best that can be achieved at this time.Another important point is that the CNV will cover the period from 1946 to 1988, despite pressure from human rights groups and the families of victims of the dictatorship, who want it to merely apply to the 21-year dictatorial regime, in order to avoid a dispersion of efforts. This huge length of time for a commission that does not even have its own budget is a lot to ask. The proceedings may also not be fully open. Some human rights activists have strongly criticised the plans.
The CNV will not have the power to punish those responsible for human rights violations committed during the 1964-1985 de facto regime, and its conclusions will not give rise to court cases.
I'm usually a "it's better than nothing" type person, and Brazil has been notable as one of the few countries on the subcontinent that has not had a TRC; nevertheless, this proposal as it stands does sound very weak.
Brazilians Get Ready to Dig Up the Truth (IPS)
Colom announced on Thursday that he will name a federal highway after Arbenz, notes the Associated Press. Not to make light of an absolutely serious issue, but that does seem a slightly odd tribute.
The New York Times, which calls the ceremony "muted", takes the opportunity to remind readers of a little of the history surrounding the Guatemalan coup.
The Eisenhower Administration painted the coup as an uprising that rid the hemisphere of a Communist government backed by Moscow. But Mr. Arbenz’s real offense was to confiscate unused land owned by the United Fruit Company to redistribute under a land reform plan and to pay compensation for the vastly understated value the company had claimed for its tax payments.
Arbenz's grandson also said that the family would like an apology from the US for its role in the coup.
Guatemala apologizes to ex-president's family (AP)
An Apology for a Guatemalan Coup, 57 Years Later (New York Times)
Mike from Central American Politics has also blogged on the issue and rightly points out that such state apologies are no replacement for real responsibility-taking by the perpetrators. Of course, I agree, and a "sorry" in itself is not justice. However, I always like to note these steps taken and I find the public engagement with memory issues interesting - even further afield, if you think of examples like the NY Times.
Wednesday, 19 October 2011
There have been fresh reports of discoveries of possible victims of Peru's internal conflict recently. At the weekend, workmen at the university of La Cantuta discovered human remains when digging on a building site. There are said to be at least eight bodies. Of course, the very name of "La Cantuta" is emblematic of memory issues in Peru, as one of the most notorious crimes of the conflict was the murder of nine students and a professor from the university by the paramilitary group Colina. Their remains were found at Cieneguilla.
Another body, this time of a middle-aged woman, was found some days ago at the beach known as La Tiza which is known to have been a training ground of the Grupo Colina.
Frecuencia Latina is reporting that the university authorities have so far not commented officially on the latest discovery, but that they will have the final word on determining the age of the remains and what to do with them. I don't honestly understand why this isn't a matter for the police to decide, but perhaps this will be cleared up soon.
Restos óseos encontrados en La Cantuta reviven el fantasma del Grupo Colina (El Comercio)
Tuesday, 18 October 2011
Alldén said that experience had shown the European countries that "without memory, a country has no future". Roncagliolo expressed regret at de Szyszlo's intention to resign from the museum commission for personal reasons but said that the museum's loss would be art's gain. 86-year-old de Szyszlo has said he wishes to concentrate on painting.
Cancillería evaluará a comisión del Lugar de la Memoria (El Comercio)
Peru, EU & UN Sign Agreement for Memory Museum (Peruvian Times)
Sunday, 16 October 2011
There are 26 people on trial - and one of them was never a member of the armed forces. Jaime Smart was a civilian member of the military government of Buenos Aires between 1976 and 1979. His defence is that he claims that he knew nothing of the repression that took place during this period. In fact, all he knew was "what was reported in the papers" - which was, of course, almost nothing at all. He is facing charges of illegal deprivation of liberty and aggravated torture against 61 people in eight detention centres. The court will have to decide whether it is reasonable to believe him that he could have known nothing.
Circuito Camps: el dilema judicial por el único civil acusado (Clarin)
Los crímenes del Circuito Camps (Pagina/12)
Saturday, 15 October 2011
From Vice, via Guardian
According to Astiz,
Esto no es justicia, esto es un linchamiento. (...) No nos perdonan que hayamos intervenido y derrotado al terrorismo",Yes, this murderer of nuns and betrayer of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo believes that he is a martyr. Unfortunately I suspect that his attitude is quite typical of those involved with the military regime, and I don't suppose there's any way of persuading them differently. Which really matters little if they are behind bars; the problem is the section of Argentine society in general which agrees with them.
This isn't justice, this is a lynching. (...) [The government] won't forgive us for having intervened and defeated terrorism."
Symbol of Argentine repression claims persecution (AP)
El criminal Astiz ahora dice que es víctima de una persecución política (eldiario24.com)
Update: Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo say that Astiz is "insulting the memory" of their children.
Taty Almeida: Astiz "insulta la memoria de nuestros hijos" (Pagina/12)
Update 2: Pagina/12 is running this cartoon.
Translation: Reporter: Astiz... You said your trial is a lynching.
Astiz: Yes, and I mean, I'm not against lynching.
Update 3: It actually gets more brazen: Adolfo Miguel Donda (uncle of congresswoman and found grandchild Victoria Donda) says he feels like "a persecuted Jew". Nice.
Donda: “Me siento un judío perseguido” (Clarin)
Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Thanks to the Memoria Documental blog for drawing my attention to this trailer; as it rightly points out, the trailer is quite mysterious and you don't get much information from it. Nevertheless, I can add a few words about its subject, Elsa Sánchez de Oesterheld. She was the wife of Argentine journalist Héctor Germán Oesterheld, whose most famous work was El Eternauta. Her husband and all four children were disappeared by the military regime.
In Antonius C. G. M. Robben's "Political violence and trauma in Argentina", he quotes her as saying,
"I believe that disappearance is one of the most brutal things that can exist in today's war. It is the inhumane of the inhumane. I don't know how to express it. It's one of the most horrendous things because from one moment to the next a child disappears, a loved one, son, father, brother, whatever, husband and this person has vanished into thin air without ever knowing what happened to him. It's very difficult to come to terms with. That's the anxiety, the despair, that in my personal case will obviously die with me."Yet she did not give in to this despair, but got involved with the Grandmothers and last week was named a Distinguished Person of the City of Buenos Aires in recognition of her work for human rights.
Sunday, 9 October 2011
Angela Urondo is the daughter of Argentine writer Francisco “Paco” Urondo and Alicia Raboy. Her father was killed in 1976 and her mother remains disappeared. Last week, five former members of the military received lengthy prison sentences for their part in crimes including the murder of Paco Urondo: Juan Agustín Oyarzábal, Eduardo Smaha Borzuk, Alberto Rodríguez Vázquez, Celustiano Lucero and Dardo Migno.
Angela herself was kept in detention centres as a small child for around a year after the disappearance of her parents, an experience she says she remembers in recurring dreams. She notes, "There's plenty of talk about appropriated children, but no one mentions detained-disappeared children".
“Todos me preguntan cómo me siento después del juicio y siento alivio --dice Angela-- Pero también me pasa... hasta ahora el Estado siempre me había quitado: asesinó a mis padres, me quitó mi nombre y me quitó la posibilidad del resarcimiento porque había sido adoptada. [...] Siento que el Estado me está devolviendo algo y eso de alguna forma desvictimiza. Si hubo dos crímenes, los asesinatos y las desapariciones y la impunidad, el primero no tiene forma de ser resuelto, el segundo sí, no por los 35 años que pasaron pero sí para el futuro”.
Everyone asks me how I feel after the trial, and I feel relieved," says Angela, "But also I think... until now, the State has always taken away from me: it murdered my parents, it took away my name and it took away the chance of compensation because I had been adopted. [...] I feel like the State is giving me something back and in some way stopping me from being a victim. If there were two crimes, the murders and the disappearances on the one hand and the impunity on the other, there is no way of resolving the first of those but the second, there is - not for the 35 years which have already passed, but for the future."
Angela Urondo is currently in the process of having her formal adoption dissolved and officially taking the name of her father: this is the other side of the coin to the disappeared child who wants to keep his name.
"Por primera vez el Estado me esta devolviendo algo" (Pagina/12)
Brought up by a military father who recounted his involvement in "battles" against "subversives", Montenegro eventually had to learn that he had been involved in the killing of her biological parents and she ultimately testified against him in court.
“I grew up thinking that in Argentina there had been a war, and that our soldiers had gone to war to guarantee the democracy,” she said. “And that there were no disappeared people, that it was all a lie.” [...]This is a good illustration of why the Grandmothers support compulsory DNA testing, I would say. It's all very well for us to say that adults should have the right to choose; but people who have been indoctrinated their entire lives by people they believe to be their parents cannot very easily just turn around and change that point of view. Obviously, they are likely to see DNA testing as a betrayal of their "parents".
By 2000, Ms. Montenegro still believed her mission was to keep Colonel Tetzlaff out of prison. But she relented and gave a DNA sample. A judge then delivered jarring news: the test confirmed that she was the biological child of Hilda and Roque Montenegro, who had been active in the resistance.
Slowly, she got to know her biological parents’ family.
“This was a process; it wasn’t one moment or one day when you erase everything and begin again,” she said. “You are not a machine that can be reset and restarted.”
Daughter of Argentina's "Dirty War", raised by the man who killed her parents (New York Times)
Saturday, 8 October 2011
Progress was made on another case in Argentina this week. Alejandro Duret had fled to Chile in an attempt to avoid a lengthy jail sentence - and Chile sent him back. Duret, a retired Argentine colonel, is linked with the kidnapping, torture and ultimate disappearance of political opponent Carlos Labolita in 1976.
"He simply came into the country and was expelled," a Chilean foreign ministry spokeswoman told CNN.Well, that's admirably efficient - it doesn't always work like that. Pagina/12 reported yesterday that he is already in prison.
Chile expels Argentine military involved in crimes against humanity (Mercopress)
Argentine presses forward with human rights trials (CNN)
Chile entrego al represor Duret en el Cristo Redentor (Pagina/12 via Projecto Desaparecidos)
Chile entrego al ex coronel (Clarin, also photo source)
Duret ya esta preso en Marcos Paz (Pagina/12)
The extradition petition was judged "inadmissible" on the perfectly reasonable grounds that Astiz is already on trial in Argentina for crimes involving the same victims. This is as it should be: if Argentina is unable or unwilling to deliver justice, then it's the next-best option that other countries including France, Germany and Spain step in - but the priority must be for trials to take place in Argentina itself. Incidentally, the once "blond angel" makes a pretty miserable impression these days.
Argentina highest court rejects French request to extradite the "blond angel of death" (Mercopress)
Argentina nixes extradition in 1970s French nun case (Reuters)
La Corte rechazo la extradicion de Astiz (Pagina/12)
Tuesday, 4 October 2011
Villa Grimaldi uploaded this video of commemorative events which took place at the park in September.
Sunday, 25 September 2011
The Guardian picks up on the case of Hilario Bacca, who was born to a detainee in the ESMA and illegally adopted. He was another instance of the law which allows compulsory DNA testing of suspected "disappeared children".
"I was born in a death camp, then the dictators killed my parents, then during a democracy they entered my home at gunpoint and took a DNA sample without my consent and opened a court against my adoptive parents," Bacca said. "And now they want to change my name."Yes, you can see his point.
For Bacca, the knock on the door at his Buenos Aires apartment three years ago was a traumatising experience. "I didn't want to deal with the story of torture and murder I suspected lay in my past," he said. The sample showed conclusively what the Grandmothers had long suspected, that Hilario Bacca, as he was named on his falsified birth certificate, was actually Federico Cagnola Pereyra.Bacca has appealed against the changing of his name. I was actually unaware that there was even a legal provision for forcing a person to change their name; I knew that the found grandchildren generally do change their names, but I had no idea this was compulsory. The response of the Grandmothers;
"This had never happened to us before in the about dozen cases of compulsory DNA testing we've pursued," said Alan Iud, a lead lawyer for the Grandmothers. "But there is no way we can allow the courts to validate a false surname that is the result of an aberrant crime against human rights."But is Bacca opposed to the Grandmothers' work? Well, no:
Despite the legal battle, Bacca has joined the Grandmothers organisation, moving to work at its office in the resort of Mar del Plata south of Buenos Aires and establishing a solid bond with his birth grandmothers.Yes, "a little complicated" is one way of putting it. I actually disagree with the Grandmothers on this one, even though I'm generally sympathetic to the idea of the DNA testing. The man is an adult, he's had this name for over 30 years, he does know where he comes from and who his parents were, but why should be forced to change his name as well?
"The relationship gets a little complicated sometimes," Bacca said. "I'm the black sheep among the recovered grandchildren."
Child of Argentina's 'disappeared' fights for right to keep adoptive name (Guardian)
Saturday, 17 September 2011
“We are rescuing the memory,” said Luisa de Peña Díaz, the director of the museum and one of its founders, whose father was killed in 1967 as he plotted an insurrection against the president at the time, Joaquín Balaguer.
Meanwhile, however, this version of history is facing a new challenge from a virtual competitor to the museum: the Museo Generalisimo Trujillo.
The counter-museum is the brainchild of L. Ramfis Domínguez-Trujillo, grandson of the dictator, who acknowledges his forebear was a “military dictator who did not tolerate freedom of speech” but believes that the death toll ascribed to him is inflated and includes killings by collaborators he was unaware of.
[...] “Did he commit a number of excesses? Absolutely. He was human. Was he a monster? Absolutely not,” Mr. Domínguez-Trujillo said in a telephone interview from Miami, where he lives.
It's an odd website, I have to say, with chirpy Dominican music and a layout more suited to a video game than a serious academic endeavour - not particularly user-friendly and takes a while to load even on my super-fast internet. A video clip explains that the memory of Trujillo and his rule has become "distorted" and the museum - currently only online, but with ambitions to become an actual place - wants to set the record straight. Well.
The "official" museum sounds like a well thought-out exhibition which will be useful, particularly for the younger generations who might not otherwise learn a great deal about their country's recent history.
A museum of repression aims to shock the conscience (New York Times)
transitional countries — those moving from authoritarian governments to democracy or from civil war to peace — where human rights prosecutions have taken place subsequently become less repressive than transitional countries without prosecutions, holding other factors constant. [...]What is more,
Of 100 countries that underwent a transition from 1980 to 2004 (the period for which extensive data is available), 48 pursued at least one human rights prosecution, and 33 of those pursued two or more. Countries that have prosecuted former officials exhibit lower levels of torture, summary execution, forced disappearances and political imprisonment.
trials seem to project deterrence across borders. If a number of countries in a region pursue prosecutions, nearby countries also show a decrease in the level of repression, even if they have not held trials. [...] In Latin America, young military officers need only look to Argentina and Chile, where 81 and 66 individuals, respectively, have been convicted for crimes during previous dictatorships, to absorb the lesson that the possibility of punishment is much greater than it was in the past. This may help explain why military coups are now so rare in the region.This is important stuff; let's have more cross-border comparison of post-dictatorship and post-conflict democratisation processes, please.
Making tyrants do time (NY Times)
Friday, 16 September 2011
Looking down into this mass grave is incredible, as is the presenter's casual tone when she says "The team try to ignore the death threats...".
Thanks to Mike at Central American Politics for posting this.