Wednesday 25 June 2008

World Cup 1978

It's thirty years since Argentina beat Holland to become football World Championships. It was a hollow victory, however, since behind the show of international cooperation and friendship and national cameradie, the regime was torturing and murdering its own people.

Here we can see junta leader Rafael Videla celebrating a goal. The prisoners in the ESMA, held blindfolded and tortured with electric shocks, were just 700m from the River Plate Stadium, and could hear the cheers and yells after a team scored.

There are photos and videos available on Clarin's site:

Aquella final del Mundial 78
(Clarin, also photo credit)

Wednesday 18 June 2008

Blogging the Disappeared

Two blog posts examine art exhibitions focusing on the disappeared: on Global Voices, Renata Avila on the memory of victims of state terror in Guatemala*, and Erika Diettes on her work remembering the Colombian missing.

*Thanks to The Latin Americanist for drawing my attention to this one.

Sunday 15 June 2008

Argentina: Headlines

A statue of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara has been unveiled in his birthplace of Rosario. Che is a towering icon of Latin American culture whose image has been appropriated to sell almost anything you can imagine all over the world. had to be curtailed because of widespread protests by truck drivers and farmers blocking Argentina's roads.

Che would probably have approved of that kind of radical action far more than his new statue and certainly more than today's ubiquitous Che merchandising.
Yep, I think the writer has a point there.

Statue for Che's '80th Birthday'

And, on Father's Day, Clarin carries an article about the fathers of the disappeared in Argentina, pointing that while the mothers and their organisation the Madres of the Plaza de Mayo are better known, male relatives were also active in the search for their loved ones. One of the reasons the men were not more obvious is that the families thought - wrongly, as it turned out - that perhaps women would be less subject to violent harrassment by the junta, ie, seen as less of a threat. But the fathers were still visiting state institutions, seeing lawyers, serving writs of habeas corpus, writing letters, looking after children, holding down a job, and supporting their wives through their more public fight for justice.

Siempre estaras en mi (Clarin, photo by Enrique Rosito)

Friday 13 June 2008

Peru: BBC reports from Putis

The BBC has picked up on the story of the exhumations in Putis and includes a short video on its website. It gives a good overview in English and also includes very moving footage of the relatives weeping and praying by the mass grave.

Peruvians seek relatives in mass grave (BBC)

Wednesday 11 June 2008

Peru: Keiko 'would pardon father'

As Alberto Fujimori recovers from surgery to remove a pre-cancerous lesion from his tongue, his daughter, Congresswoman Keiko Fujimori, has said she would pardon him if she became President in 2011.
"I trust that my father will be declared innocent, but if the time comes, and if I am president, I won't hesitate to grant amnesty to any person that I believe is innocent and punish those who are criminals".
(Congresswoman Keiko Fujimori says she wouldn't hesitate to pardon her father if she's elected president in 2011, Peruvian Times)

She is now facing a negative reaction to the comments:
"The congresswoman must be reminded that people who have committed crimes against humanity and have violated human rights, crimes for which her father will be condemned, cannot be pardoned or amnestied nor can they receive any type of political, penitential, or legislative benefit. This is the core of the matter," said human rights lawyer Carlos Rivera.
(Fujimori's daughter faces criticism for saying she would pardon him if elected president, Peruvian Times)

Tuesday 10 June 2008

How far is too far?

The BBC is running an article about the continued prosecution of suspected human rights abusers in Chile, pointing out that some people think that bygones should be bygones and minor military figures should not be prosecuted for crimes committed during the Pinochest dictatorship.
They accuse the judiciary and the centre-left government of conducting a witch-hunt of the armed forces, in a vindictive bid to put everyone associated with the Pinochet regime behind bars.
A witch-hunt? Vindictive? That's a bit rich, surely, when you consider the persecution levelled at the left during the military regime and the limited and rather feeble legal responses since redemocratization.
When, if ever, does one draw a line under the horrors of history in the interests of reconciliation?
Well, this is the big question of course. But it's my belief that you can't achieve true reconciliation without first acknowledging the extent of the events, the memory of which you are supposed to become reconciled to. (Or, in the words of Eelco Runia, by asking, "who are we that this could have happened?"). While steps have been taken in this direction, there are still sectors of society in Chile that do not accept that crimes were committed during the dictatorship.
...these days, for the most part, the only men left alive to try are the "youngsters", Pinochet's foot soldiers who were on the bottom rung of the military ladder at the time of the coup.

Some say it is unfair that they should bear the brunt of the investigations.
I suspect there is an element of unfairness here. Still, it is "unfair" that political progress was so slow and legal proceedings so protracted that Pinochet died without being committed of a crime. It is "unfair" that young men and women of the left were tortured and killed by a murderous regime and that their families do not even have the cold comfort of seeing the perpetrators jailed. Just because there were people out there who committed greater crimes, does not mean that somewhat lesser crimes should go unpunished.

The military figures interviewed in the article are now attempting to portray themselves as the victims, driven into the underground and even to suicide by the vicious, vengeful behaviour of crazed human rights activists. I'm not surprised that they see themselves in this way - after all, they desire gratitude for "saving" Chile from socialism - but I do not see that the rest of us need to buy into it. It's quite sick to hear the language of human rights coming from the mouths of perpetrators who are still trying to get out of facing their pasts. Even the language of the BBC article seems to support this, choosing a violent metaphor for its headline, 'Pinochet's foot soldier's in firing line'. Actually, there will be no one facing a firing squad in this round of prosecutions, jail will be the maximum punishment, and given many of those accused's advanced ages, I'd be surprised to see many very lengthy jail sentences handed down in the near future. This is very far from a witch-hunt.

Sunday 8 June 2008

Photographs and Memory in Peru

Two different perspectives on photographs and memory in Peru:

La Republica features an article on post-mortem images, in particular of children. These intimate and poignant photographs show a dead child carefully posed in their best clothes, sometimes with their family around them. One can imagine that at a time when most people did not own a camera or possess large numbers of images of their offspring, such objects would have held a huge sentimental value.

At first thought, photographs of the dead may seem somewhat macabre to us nowadays, but we can surely empathise with the desire to embody the lasting memory of the loved one in an image. In any case, it seems to have been quite widespread in the nineteenth century, and not just in Peru (see, for example, Meinwald's Memento Mori: Death and Photography in Nineteenth Century America, and Goldberg's Photography View: Death is Resurrected as an Art Form). La Republica points out that some of Lima's most renowned photographers were engaged in this particular type of memorial photography.

Para que no me olviden (La Republica)

On a different note, weekly magazine Caretas commemorates the twentieth anniversary of the murder of one of its photographers, Hugo Bustios Saavedra. Ayacucho's prosecutor believes that the reason for Bustio's assassination was the shot that the photographer snapped of the local army commander at the time, Victor La Vera Hernandez. Bustios surprised the military leader with a camera in 1988, at a time when the number of forced disappearances in the area was very high, and the army didn't take too kindly to the monitoring of its activities. Photographs of the commanders were important in enabling local inhabitants to identify the perpetrators of human rights abuses. Five months later, Bustios was ambushed and killed. Last year, La Vera was sentenced to 17 years jail for his involvement in the murder.

La foto que le costo la vida (Caretas)

Wednesday 4 June 2008

Chile: Jara Case Re-opened

A Chilean judge has re-opened the investigation into the death of folk singer Victor Jara:

New Probe into Victor Jara Murder (BBC)

Tuesday 3 June 2008

Latin America: Human Rights Progress

Although it is proceeding "at a very slow pace," the current trend in the Americas is towards a "strengthening of human rights," said activist Maria Victoria Fallon ahead of the 38th General Assembly of the Organisation of American States (OAS), taking place in Colombia.
Interest in such progress is strengthened by certain significant anniversaries, which often seem to serve as catalysts, or at least milestones, for memory work.
in 2008 and 2009, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man turns 60, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights turns 50 and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights turns 30.
RIGHTS-AMERICA: Slow Progress Along a Difficult Road (IPS)

Monday 2 June 2008

Argentina: Founding Abuela Dies

One of the founding members of the human rights organisation Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo), and its first President, Alicia Zubasnabar de De la Cuadra ("Licha") has died aged 92. Despite a thirty year struggle for truth and justice, she was unable to find her granddaughter Ana Libertad, born in captivity in 1977.

"Una luz que nos marque a todos" (Pagina/12)

Sunday 1 June 2008

Argentina: Acts of Memory

I missed this article a couple of weeks ago but it's worth linking to now: a look both at the development of the ESMA, Argentina's largest former clandestine detention centre, and the intimidation of witnesses in recent human rights trials.

Argentina's dirty war: the museum of horrors (Telegraph)

The presence of a Madre de Plaza de Mayo in the protests from the agricultural community on 25 May have generated debate, with other Madres apparently distancing themselves from her action:

Los panuelos que dividio el campo (Pagina/12)

In Cordoba, an archive of memory is now operating in a former detention centre, but activists are also seeking to develop a space for memory in the iconic detention centre, La Perla.

Cordoba no pierde la memoria (Pagina/12)

And the Haroldo Conti Cultural Centre has opened its doors in the former ESMA building:

"Este es un espacio en construccion" (Pagina/12)