Sunday, 23 September 2012

Brazil: Truth commission only to investigate military crimes

News that the Brazilian truth commission will focus only on military crimes from the dictatorship-era, and not guerrilla crimes, has sparked a lively debate this week. I have little to add to Colin Snider's argument in Americas North and South. For more, see in particular:

Thoughts on Brazil’s Truth Commission and the Investigation of State Crimes Only (Americas North and South)
More Thoughts on False Equivalency and Brazil’s Truth Commission (Americas North and South)
Brazil Truth Commission (Two Weeks Notice)
Brazil probes crimes of the military junta (Central American Politics)

Peru: Life after the GEIN

Caretas magazine runs another "Where are they now?" article on the team from the GEIN that caught Shining Path supremo Abimael Guzmán.

One interesting point is that the majority of them were fairly young, as 70% of them are still working 20 years on. Another is that, as I've mentioned before, they did not receive much gratitude or recompense for their achievement. In fact, many of them are still working a second job, presumably to make ends meet. This, despite the fact that their intelligence operation took down Peru's most-wanted fugitive ever and contributed massively to the collapse of Sendero.

José Luis Olano, Dennys Cotera and Carlos Iglesias went through the rubbish in the Lima district of Surquillo and came across the medication that Guzmán used for his psoriasis. Olano now works for the police in Huancavelica, Cotera works for the Dircote (ie he is still in police intelligence) but in administrative tasks, and Iglesias works in the Miraflores district of Lima. On his days off from the police, he works as a security guard.

The GEIN members were essentially victims of Vladimiro Montesinos and his desire to promote the intelligence agency he himself led, the SIN. It's a shame that this situation has never been rectified.

La Vida Después del GEIN (Caretas)

Peru: Photo of the day

Here's a picture of Abimael Guzmán on 13 September 1992, the day after his capure, alongside partner Elena Iparraguirre and Alférez Olano of the GEIN. The standard picture of the arrest of Guzmán is the much better known one of him, caged, in the stripy suit in which he was paraded to the press. This looks more like a souvenir snapshot and features a comparatively smart "Presidente Gonzalo" and a bizarrely cheerful-looking second-in-command. Caretas describes Iparraguirre as "euphoric", while Guzmán looks stoical and both are doing their obligatory, fisted salute for the camera. 

See more here.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Philip Gourevitch on memory

Thanks to Lauren for sending me the link to this interview with Boston Review ran with Philip Gourevitch, author of the book on the Rwandan genocide, We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families

Telling Stories About the Stories We Tell (Boston Review)

Although it's not strictly about the Latin American context, Gourevitch has some interesting thoughts on collective memory:
There’s a kind of fetishization of memory in our culture. Some of it comes from the experience and the memorial culture of the Holocaust—the injunction to remember. And it also comes from the strange collision of Freud and human rights thinking—the belief that anything that is not exposed and addressed and dealt with is festering and going to come back to destroy you. This is obviously not true. Memory is not such a cure-all. On the contrary, many of the great political crimes of recent history were committed in large part in the name of memory. The difference between memory and grudge is not always clean. Memories can hold you back, they can be a terrible burden, even an illness. Yes, memory—hallowed memory—can be a kind of disease. That’s one of the reasons that in every culture we have memorial structures and memorial days, whether for personal grief or for collective historical traumas. Because you need to get on with life the rest of the time and not feel the past too badly. I’m not talking about letting memory go. The thing is to contain memory, and then, on those days, or in those places, you can turn on the tap and really touch and feel it. The idea is not oblivion or even denial of memory. It’s about not poisoning ourselves with memory.

So one of the things I’m interested in is how a measure of forgetting can also be helpful—societally or politically—in getting from a state of violent destruction to one of habitable coexistence. I’m not talking about reconciliation, whatever exactly that is. I mean a condition where you’ve reckoned with the demons adequately to hold them enough at bay that you can have security and act for the future instead of simply reacting to the past.
 I think he's probably right, the mourning and remembering can't become all-consuming and go on forever. The problem comes when countries try to leap ahead and brush their traumatic past under the carpet, accusing opponents of this policy of bitterness and revenge, when the work has not even been done. And, on a practical level, how this fits in with justice for victims and prosecution of rights abusers. I'm not sure that most countries, on a societal level, are in danger of remembering too much, although some sections of society may be, but certainly, there needs to be a degree of selection and compartmentalisation. We need to make up stories to live with our idea of the past, and the tensions involved in doing this is one of the things that interests me here. 

Monday, 17 September 2012

Peru: CVR's Salomón Lerner interviewed by Caretas

Caretas magazine has run an interview with the former president of Peru's truth commission, Salomón Lerner Febres. It's looooong, but it seemed to me worth translating, so here we go - I've put some care into this but as I say, it is very extensive, so please excuse any errors. It also assumes a lot of background knowledge which the magazine's Peruvian readers can be expected to have; if anything is particularly unclear, feel free to ask in the comments and I'll do my best to explain.

Here is the original:

Lerner Febres Contraataca (Caretas)

The former president of the truth commission (CVR) responds to the new offensive against the final report published nine years ago.

The death of Comrade "William" sparked a new offensive against the Final Report of the CVR, which has just celebrated its ninth anniversary. In the end, the critics were wrong, but the barrage was accompanied by successive headlines in the newspaper “El Comercio” and reached a high point on the Sunday front page, which claims that the former commissioners had acknowledged "errors" .

Salomón Lerner Febres, former president of the CVR and rector emeritus of the Catholic University (PUCP), defended the document as "a solid starting point for reflection. What a nerve some people have to say that we spoke as the ultimate authority and we said that it is the truth that cannot be moved!".

Surrounded by Ayacuchan retablos in his office, he talks in his usual leisurely tone, but with almost unprecedented frankness.

-[Former commissioner] Sofia Macher said on Canal N that it was a mistake for the Commission not to invite members of the armed forces to the public hearings. What do you think?
-Sofia Macher should think more before she speaks. We did not call on the actors of war to testify, but on those who were victims. And they included relatives of police and military who suffered. There was even a police officer who had ended up blind. So what she says is not true. Annex 5 of the Report is the ratio of fatalities of the Armed Forces. The fact that among the former commissioners there is also a lack of memory is alarming.

- Did they walk into a trap?
-Yes. Enrique Bernales should not have given statements to El Comercio that, given the circumstances, were going to be distorted. I was called by phone and refused to talk to them because they are reporting in such a biased way. That very day, without knowing whether it was true, they ran the headline that we had been wrong in the case of "William". That morning I was called by Peru.21, which is the same group, I gave them a 15 minute interview, and the next day the only thing that appears is in a photo caption that reads "curious statement from Lerner saying that the terrorism had been brainwashed”. And yesterday El Comercio was casting doubt because I don’t make a statement. It's really despicable what they have done. It smells bad.

- Why do you think the articles in El Comercio coincided with the fujimorista attempt to revise the CVR?
- It's not a newspaper. It’s the El Comercio group. It's a deliberate issue and the million-dollar question is why that is. You know what's funny? That in this country, where committees are formed each week and committee reports last as long as the mood of the people, we have marked the ninth year since the presentation of the report, 11 years since the Commission began work, and are still talking about it. That is something for the psychoanalysts. The main people keeping awareness on the report are those trying to discredit it because they do not have a clear conscience, they have skeletons in their closets. It's there, like a pebble in the shoe. I think it will eventually become clear that history will take a negative view of people who wanted to become part of the country’s history in a positive light.

Three years ago you pointed out in an article in CARETAS that Hugo Guerra, former editor of El Comercio, had acknowledged to the CVR the errors of the paper in its editorial line over issues like the anti-terrorism legislation with which Fujimori justified the self-coup .
-Right. But in a recent column, he has shown himself to be absolutely opposed to the CVR that he once praised. I think that besides the personal stories, there are corporate designs and in some media, certain issues cannot be addressed or are addressed in some way in which the journalist is just a simple worker who can be fired. I wonder why there were changes at Perú.21 affecting the orientation and direction.

- Why did Augusto Alvarez have an agenda which was favourable to human rights?
-And that was something that a newspaper like El Comercio could not be allowed. On the other hand, there are personal stories. I understood that Hugo Guerra was a political adviser to admiral Luis Giampietri, and being a very polite and friendly person, he cannot fail to express an attitude of not understanding that an institution reaches the highest levels of excellence when it recognizes its mistakes and purges its bad elements.

-Former commissioner Luis Arias Graziani also criticized the commission this week.
-He demonstrates very poor memory.

- But did he not sign the report with reservations?
-What the general did not endorse was that there had been systematic violations by the armed forces, and he also objected to reparations. Otherwise, we worked shoulder to shoulder. What he does not remember is the letter he sent to me on 27 August 2003, in which he recognizes that the CVR fulfilled "its mission seriously and with commendable dedication." Now there is no mention of the recognition which we gave to the armed forces because they defended us, of the homage which we paid to the heroes.

- Does the criticism really hide the responsibility of fujimorismo?
- I think so. And the APRA regime is like its little brother. I think [Alan] García does not like the Yuyanapaq exhibition in which he appears looking at the corpses in Los Molinos. We recall that he opposed the Place of Memory, which eventually succeeded thanks to Mario Vargas Llosa, and hopefully it will turn out well. But, when they attack the CVR, the fujimoristas do not realize that the argument of the report itself convicted Abimael Guzmán, because he did not kill anyone with his own hands.

- What do you think of the persistence of Sendero Luminoso via movements like Movadef?
-They don’t educate, they don’t inform, they don’t debate. They insult. That's the worst that can happen. They deny the past in such a blunt way that it opens up a niche for the followers of Sendero to position themselves as the victimized, the persecuted.

-The fact is that we have not been able to defeat them as a society.
-The fact is that we did not want to remember. Some people say "we don’t look back", we are growing, we are on the up. This is fujimorismo and all those who believe in a certain political orientation, ways of thinking about government and society: authoritarianism, a strong hand, pragmatism, the value of money, the ends justify the means, the economy has priority, and the big gap between rich and poor doesn’t matter.

-Now there’s a lot of talk about inclusion, the final report is actually a history of exclusion.
-When he was a candidate, president Humala endorsed the report of the CVR. I would remind him that his former vice president Omar Chehade signed a document pledging reparations for victims of terrorism.

-That budget has not been spent.
-Before leaving office, Alan García issued a decree which set very complicated conditions to register victims. These conditions were not changed by the then-minister of justice, who is now prime minister, who knew very well how the CVR worked and who (when interviewed last February in El Comercio) said it gave political status to Sendero Luminoso. [Juan] Jiménez has a poor memory. But each has their own fears and ambitions.

- What do you think of the recent judgment of the Colina Group?
-I think it's a very unreasonable judgment and inconsistent with what has been the position of the judiciary. (Javier) Villa Stein cannot, with some blood on his face, say that there are no crimes against humanity when they kill people because they are suspected terrorists. It is an admission of state terrorism. The prestige won by the Peruvian justice system with Fujimori's sentence has been diminished. More with the debacle of the Interamerican Court. The political contacts and friends of Villa Stein have influenced a biased judgment.

- And what about the government's change of strategy in the Chavín de Huantar case, abandoning the thesis of the “vultures”?

-They're comparing apples and oranges. I think there is ample evidence pointing to action which was different to the commands. A minister like Aurelio Loret de Mola said so, and there are also several testimonies.

-There has been speculation that the cardinal's anger with the authorities of the Catholic university has to do with the CVR.
-If there is a sector that is not in favour of the PUCP it is because they consider it "caviar". The CVR, for those who do not want to look in the mirror, is also "socialist" and progressive. There's a man out there, who does not do honour to the craft of journalism, who has come to say I'm “the king of the caviar”.

- Aldo Mariátegui of the newspaper “Correo”?
-Yes, of whom I do not say I have not had the pleasure, but that happily I do not know him. That man has been criticizing me since the time of the Commission. “Salomón Lerner is even thicker than fat Macher”. It does not surprise me that somehow my role as rector here has been linked to my work in the CVR in which I had to, with pain, point out those institutions and individuals who did not live up to what was expected of them. We said that the Catholic Church did well in parts of the southern Andean country but it was not the same in Ayacucho. There are sins of commission and omission. When you can do something and save lives and do not, you share part of the responsibility. I guess that can influence the stubbornness and malice which is going on behind the university. Sometimes hate can blind us or you want to control an institution to take not only assets but, above all, the prestige and history which is not theirs so that they can celebrate the centenary in five years. Let’s hope not.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The week in Peru

Former candidate for the Peruvian presidency, Lourdes Flores, has criticised proposed legislation dealing with negacionismo, i.e. the denial or playing down of terrorism. In a radio interview, she said she did not think the law would be effective and that it would restrict freedom of expression. If passed, the law could lead to jail sentences for those minimising Peru’s internal conflict and in particular the violent acts committed by the Shining Path. This is the latest in a chorus of voices doubting the wisdom of the legislation.

Two contrasting tendencies can be observed during Peru’s recent commemorative activities. One of them is the attempts by fujimoristas to discredit the country’s truth commission report. One manifestation of this is claims that “Comrade William”, the Shining Path leader recently killed in the VRAEM, featured on a list of missing persons compiled by the CVR. The government counters that this was not the case, and also that “William” was originally incorrectly identified as Rolando Cabezas. But Fujimori supporters will seize on any shred of doubt to undermine the report as it deals extensively with the incidents for which Alberto Fujimori was jailed (Barrios Altos, La Cantuta and the abductions of Samuel Dyer and Gustavo Gorriti). Ex-head of the CVR, Salomon Lerner Febres, has rebuffed the criticism and called demands for the report to be revised “short-sighted”.

“I would ask how many of those asking for the review of the [report] have read the report by the commission?” Lerner Febres said. “No one from the commission pretended to have the absolute truth, we said that from the beginning,” he added. “If one would take the time to read it, it is an open truth, perfectible, where there could be some things that have to be further sharpened, but the broader question is a moral truth.”

By contrast, the 20th anniversary of the capture of Abimael Guzmán seems to have been the focus for a general effort to rehabilitate the members of the GEIN involved in the operation. It has long been generally accepted that instead of heaping rewards on the police intelligence unit following their spectacular arrest, Fujimori quickly split up the team and attempted to brush their role under the carpet. Now, some of the members are to support counter-terrorism activities in the VRAEM.

La Republica has also done a couple of rather nice "Where are they now?" type stories about the members of the GEIN. Of course, the fact that two of them fell in love while staking out Guzmán's house is good for the human interest angle.

¿Qué pasó con los cazadores? (La Republica)
La historia secreta de ‘Ardilla’ y ‘Gaviota’; los primeros agentes del GEIN que capturaron a Abimael (La Republica)

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Colombia: Photo of the Day

The Guardian has a great slideshow of grafitti images in Colombia by Tom Feiling - not surprisingly, a lot of them are to do with the country's violent past/present.

See more here. (Yes, it's Mafalda!)

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Peru: Photo of the Day

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the capture of Abimael Guzman, La Republica has published some iconic images of atrocities committed by the Shining Path. Here is one, of an attempt on an army bus in 1989:

See more here:

Los años de la barbarie (La Republica)

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Traces of Operation Condor

"The trace of Condor" is the headline of an article by Argentine daily Pagina/12 which deals with the identification of several disappeared persons in Uruguay. The pernicious collaboration between various South American states and the US in human rights abuses known as "Operation Condor" has been in the news again this week.

Argentine forensic anthropologists have identified the remains of a Chilean citizen, Luis Guillermo Vega Ceballos, who was abducted in Buenos Aires in 1976 and whose body later washed up on the coast of Uruguay. He was presumably a victim of the death flights.

Vega Ceballos' wife, Laura Gladis Romero, was also disappeared and was pregnant at the time, making the case of interest to the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. The child, who has not been found, would now be almost 36.

Two Argentines who were also found in Uruguay have also been identified; Horacio Beledo and Roque Montenegro. The latter is the father of found grandchild Victoria Montenegro.

In related news, Argentine prosecutor Miguel Osorio has been visiting Chile in an attempt to step up collaboration between the two countries on human rights abuse investigations. The Santiago Times quotes Osorio as saying,
Crimes against humanity need to be dealt with, even if it means going outside one’s own borders... We have to unite against persecution and impunity.

Argentina torture victim identified as Chilean (AP)
La huella del cóndor (Pagina/12)
Chile, Argentina talk collaboration in human rights investigations (Santiago Times)
Autoridades chilenas y argentinas analizan avances en caso “Operación Cóndor” (Radio U Chile)

Friday, 7 September 2012

Peru in the news

It's approaching the 20th anniversary of the capture of Abimael Guzman AKA Presidente Gonzalo, supreme leader of the Shining Path.

The Economist has spoken to his partner, Elena Iparraguirre, who "remains a dogmatic communist, but [...] accepts that the Shining Path was defeated militarily". The magazine explains the origins of MOVADEF and quotes Iparraguirre as saying that she "does not know" who the Shining Path remnants in the VRAEM are. Other than that, it's not really an interview, despite calling itself that, as we get very little of Iparraguirre's views.

Still smouldering (The Economist)

No word on if Iparraguirre knows him, but Peru has killed another Shining Path rebel, going by the alias Comrade Williams. President Ollanta Humala announced on Wednesday that he had been killed by security forces. Prime minister Juan Jiménez has denied media reports that Williams, whose real name is apparently Rolando Cabezas,was listed among the victims of the internal conflict (this is a point of contention in Peru).

Peru Shining Path rebel Comrade Williams killed (BBC)
Alto mando de Sendero Luminoso murió tras operación de fuerzas combinadas en Vraem (El Comercio)
Cabinet Chief: Killed Shining Path Leader Not On List Of Terrorism Victims (Peruvian Times)

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Book review: Hector Abad's Oblivion

Oblivion: A Memoir, by Hector Abad, translated by Anne McLean and Rosalinde Harvey

Hector Abad's Colombian family memoir Oblivion was recommended to me from a couple of different quarters recently, and I'm very glad it was. I want to tell you that this book is both bleak, almost despairing, and uplifting, and you're going to tell me that makes no sense, but honestly - try it.

Abad's father, who had the same name as him, was a doctor, a passionate public health advocate, and a human rights campaigner. It was these last two which brought him unwelcome attention and ultimately led to his murder on 25 August, 1987. 20 years later, his son sets out to tell his father's story and thus stave off the inevitable oblivion which ultimately awaits us all.

We remember our childhood not as a smooth timeline but a series of shocks. Memory is an opaque, cracked mirror; or, rather, memories are like timeless seashells scattered over a beach of oblivion. 
 The book delays the inevitable description of violence, meandering around childhood stories and a privileged youth lived among the upper-middle class of Antioquia. Then it draws in the horror of living in a country at times branded the most violent in the world. The father's death looms ahead, but there is another family tragedy which is almost as shocking and less expected. At times, Abad eulogises his father with exaggerated accounts of his virtues; at others, he highlights the human flaws. When at last the murder comes, the reader knows instantly, just as the children in the family did: "Is it dad? Have they killed him?"

I would like to read this book in the original but I didn't find a copy easy to get hold of, but I was more than satisfied by McLean and Harvey's fluid, Colombian-infused translation. I also expected to like this book - but "like" is not the right word for something so poignant and so gripping. It leaves you, as I said, despairing of the violence people do to each other and at the same time uplifted by the strength of family ties and the bonds of friendship. 
His murderers remain at large: every day they grow in strength; and I cannot fight them with my fists. It is only with my fingers, pressing one key after another, that I can tell the truth and bear witness to the injustice. I use his own weapon: words. What for? For nothing; or for the most simple and essential reason: so it will be known. To extend his memory a little longer, before the inevitable oblivion.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Peru round-up

And so it goes on:
“...battles over memory are not won by punishment and bullets, but by arguments, offering specific testimonies, communicating the pain of the widows and orphans, transmitting the impotence of the wounded and the women who were raped, and above all, ensuring that the victims obtain justice.”
The Peruvian Times summarises coverage of the proposed law against negacionismo in English
Executive Sends Bill To Congress To Create Prison Terms For Downplaying Terrorism

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas draws attention to the confiscation of a magazine alleged to support Sendero Luminoso
Peruvian authorities confiscate copies of magazine accused of supporting armed group Shining Path

IPS discusses the slow pace of identification of victims of the conflict
Peru Identifies Civil War Victims – at Snail’s Pace

Finally, Silvio Rendon discusses flaws in the TRC's methodology for counting the number of victims and argues that the true number was far lower than estimated. His detailed analysis can be read in Spanish on his blog, here, or downloaded in full in English from here. (Incidentally, the number of victims in a situation like this is often contentious and difficult to determine, as I discussed with reference to Argentina some time ago, here.

Colombia reading

News that Colombia is holding peace talks with the FARC is important, although it's clear there will be no quick or easy solution to the country's prolonged and bloody conflict.

Colombia to Seek Its Own Oslo Accord (IPS)
Analysis: No easy path to peace in Colombia (AP)
Colombia Explores Talks With FARC (NY Times)
Farc leader confirms Colombia peace talks under way (BBC)

Chile reading

So, I'm trying to clear a little of the backlog in my "starred articles" folder of Google Reader, and first up are a few interesting pieces on Chile.

Richard Seymour has a comment piece in the Guardian online:
Chile, the country Pinochet terrorised, is no longer afraid (Guardian)

Robert Funk has a response to some points raised in the article:
The Guardian on Chile (Robert L. Funk)

And IPS interviews student leader Camila Vallejo, who, among other things, explicitly links her aims to addressing the legacy of the Pinochet dictatorship:
“Another Chile Is Possible, with Greater Democracy and Social Rights” (IPS)

Monday, 3 September 2012

Peru: The sound of the disappeared

This is a translation of a comment piece in La Republica by Jorge Bruce, which I felt it was worthwhile putting here:
Many of the misunderstandings that have plagued us in recent times are linked to our inability to process the terrible truths told in the report of the TRC, which was submitted nine years ago. These include the growth of MOVADEF and its unsettling amnesia, and the decision of the court led by Villa Stein to remove the character of crimes against humanity for the atrocities of the Colina group, and indeed the disgrace of the Peruvian State before the CIDH, which all come from the same reluctance to accept the complexity of what happened during two decades of devastating violence.

No one who has read the report or at least the summary of it, and done so in good faith, can doubt the historical importance of this document and its obvious room for improvement (is there any interpretive text which cannot be improved?). However, after reading it, it is impossible to ignore the deep and ancient social fractures that allowed the timing and extent of these violations against the most vulnerable people in our country. Or rather, it should be impossible, but the negacionismo [denial], to use a term in vogue, attacks from different ideological extremes.

I was present that day in 2003, at the Government Palace, listening to the words of Salomón Lerner, who gave that historic document to the nation. Several years later I had the privilege of meeting several women in the region of Huamanga and Huanta, relatives of disappeared people. The point is that these people are still waiting, until today, for news of the remains of their loved ones. The perpetrators of these crimes were Sendero, the Armed Forces or the rondas [peasant patrols], I was told. In none of them did I notice a grudge against anyone in particular, just an unquenchable desire to know and be able to achieve closure for this pain that never stops. We're talking about disappearances over twenty years ago, in many of these stories. In fact, several of those relatives have now died.

August 30 was the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. After more than a decade devoted to clarifying cases of enforced disappearances in our country, the Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team (EPAF) reminds us that there are more than 15,000 victims of this crime. That after three regimes, very little progress has been made "with respect to truth, justice and reparations for survivors of violence and the families of the victims." This is the most blatant proof that there is a stubborn desire not to know, because that would force us to accept the obscene inequality which our social contract is based on.

While the disappeared are members of the lower "castes", political noise is very faint and there are many interested in seeing that this remains so. This is the basis of a privilege system that interfaces with situations as seemingly remote as the imposition of mining concessions in the face of regional opinion or low wages (cholo barato). Where racism functions as a vital support. However, there are laws such as that against negacionismo which will enable us to confront these unsettling truths. Until there is a critical mass of informed citizens, able to discuss things instead of attacking, willing to tolerate the existence of complex and even contradictory truths, we will continue to be seduced by economic growth indicators, ignoring the bones of corpses on which we build our fragile prosperity.

Here's the original again: El ruido de los desaparecidos (La Republica)