Sunday 31 August 2008

Peru: Attacks on TRC

The former commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are coming in for further criticism from various quarters.

Let's get this straight; a legitimately-elected government decided on the need for a TC, it appointed the commissioners, it received and accepted the final report. Were the recommendations implemented? To a large extent, no. The report is good on paper (indeed, it is very good, you can read it in English and Spanish here) but in practice, little has changed. Note that the report apportioned almost as much blame to the Peruvian armed forces and police as to the guerrilla groups. Obviously, certain people don't like to hear that.

Now, five years on, voices are coming from the government saying that the commissioners need to keep quiet about the continuing lack of progress in implementing the report's recommendations; well, I don't know, but I imagine that if you've heard all those testimonies which led you to come to the conclusion that you are dealing with the murder of 70,000 people, it's not so easy to just forget about it.

Now Cardenal Juan Luis Cipriani has added his criticism to the mix. During a sermon on the occasion of the festival of Santa Rosa de Lima (patron saint of Lima, and indeed Latin America), he stated:

"It has become fashionable in the past few years to attack the armed forces and the police. Therefore, today we ask Santa Rosa for help, that our Fatherland accepts the presence of a member of the police and some of the armed forces with respect, with gratitude, without ideology and without hate. Human rights are too important to be left in the hands of a small ideological group."

Cipriani entra a debate sobre CVR y defiende a las FF.AA (Peru21)

Wikipedia has a good summary of Cipriani's political views here.

Peru: Exhibition of Clothes in Putis

The authorities in Putis have displayed around 500 items of clothing in the local civic centre, in an attempt to identify some of the over 100 bodies recently exhumed from a mass grave there. Local people can go and attempt to recognise some of the garments their loved ones may have been wearing when they were shot by the armed forces 24 years ago.

Buscan a sus familiares desaparecidos a través de singular exposición de ropa (La Republica)

Saturday 30 August 2008

Blog Round-Up

Death in Peru from Inca Kola news

Images of Peru's commemorations, five years after the TRC report, at APRODEH's Construyendo Memoria [Spanish, but you can just watch the slide show as well]

And videos about the TRC, compiled by Lapicero Digital [all in Spanish]

Guatemala: The forgotten spirits of Rabinal at Upside Down World - this is long but worthwhile. I have a collection of 'unbelievable quotes' from the Argentine generals, but this one is as bad as anything I've read:
The guerrilla is the fish. The people are the sea. If you cannot catch the fish, you have to drain the sea. – Guatemalan President Efrain Rios Montt, 1982
Amnesty International's reaction to Bussi and Menendez's sentence, in Argentina

Subversive Memory
, on summary executions in Colombia, by Community Action for Justice in the Americas

Peru: 5 Years after the TRC

It is now five years since Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission submitted its final report. At a ceremony to mark the occasion at the memorial called El ojo que llora (the eye that cries) in Lima, a small group of Fujimori supporters caused a disturbance, shouting political slogans and trampling on the candles and photographs laid out to remember the dead. (I always thought it was a given that interrupting funerals and memorial services was a pretty low act... seriously, once you stoop to that kind of tactic you are only an inch away from Fred Phelps and loonies like that).

Anyway, La Republica claims to have identified the ringleader of the protest, Jose Luis Conteras Jimeno (pictured left), with the headline "This is the bully".

Matón que atacó ceremonia de la CVR es el fujimorista José Luis Contreras Jimeno (La Republica)

Reconcilation in Peru still uncertain on five-year anniversary of Truth and Reconcilation Commission report (Peruvian Times)

You can also see the disruption of the ceremony in this Youtube clip (it has been uploaded by a fujimorista and the description insults the TRC commissioners, but the clip is just taken from the television news)

International Day of the Disappeared

Today is the 25th International Day of the Disappeared.

Friday 29 August 2008

Argentina: Bussi and Menendez Sentenced

It's not such a good time to be a prominent human rights abuser in Argentina, and that has to be good for the rest of us.

Former Generals Bussi and Menendez were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Ex-generals convicted of killing Argentine Senator (Yahoo)

Condenan a perpetua a Bussi y a Menendez
(Clarin, also images above)

Meanwhile, Reynaldo Bignone, the last de facto President of the junta, has been remanded in custody to await trial on charges of illegal deprivation of liberty during the dictatorship.

Prision preventiva y embargo de 1 million de pesos para Bignone (Pagina/12)

Peru: Cantuta Exhibition

Micromuseo ("al fondo hay sitio")* has an exhibition about La Cantuta starting today; something to check out for those in Lima.

*Non-Spanish speaker and curious about the name? A "micro" is the name of the minibuses which are used for a lot of public transport in Peru. "Al fondo hay sitio" means "there's room at the back!" and is what the bus conductors will yell at you when you look dubious that you can possibly squeeze into their already-overloaded vehicle.

Wednesday 27 August 2008

Peru: Commissioners Should Keep Mouths Shut

An astonishing attack on the members of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission by Defence Minister Flores. Here's a (quick) translation of La Republica's article:

He rejects suggestions that the Armed Forces should apologise to the victims of violence. He says this would force the State to its knees.

The Minister of Defence, Antero Flores-Araoz, yesterday as good as told the ex commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to stay quiet and stop talking about their recommendations.

"The ex-members of the TRC are acting as if they had power now. They are 'ex', they already completed their mission, they already submitted their report, and yet, every day they are pontificating and pointing out virtues and defects, and asking the State to comply with their recommendations", stated Flores-Araoz.

Moreover, responding to the request that the Armed Forces apologise to victims for the excesses in the struggle against subversion, the Minister of Defence maintained that this would be a grave mistake and would bring the State to its knees.

The calls for the State, and in particular, the military to apologise for the abuses committed during the conflict between 1980 and 2000 are coming on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the submission of the TRC Final Report, on Thursday.

Seriously - how rude! And moreover; I'm sure the Commissioners, some of the best brains in Peru, would be more happy to sit back and get on with other things if their recommendations had been followed. It's not as if the government rejected their findings. They nodded and preached about how very worthwhile it all was and since then there has been a lot of foot-dragging in the process of actually getting out there and making amends for the shattered lives caused be the conflict.

The Defence Minister emphasised that the military had acted "in reaction" to the violence provoked by others, to save the country "from the chaos that was terrorism, which had caused thousands of deaths, thousands of widows, destruction, chaos, and bereavement."


Death. The TRC found that the civil conflict which the State fought with Shining Path and the MRTA caused around 70,000 deaths.

Responsibility. The TRC report stated that 54% of deaths were caused by Shining Path and the other 44.5% was attributed to the reaction of the security forces and paramilitary groups. The military say that this figure is exaggerated.
[italics mine]

The State caused almost half of all deaths, and these were in no way all Shining Path guerrillas. The great majority were highland indigenous people caught between the army and guerrillas. We're talking around 30,000 people. But the thought of an apology would "bring it to its knees"?

Antero Flores cuestiona reclamos de los comisionados de la CVR (La Republica)

(Also sorry for not translating the complete article... I wanted to, but it's past my bedtime...)

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Peru: Photos of Photos

While researching a previous post I stumbled across a photo slide show of relatives of the disappeared in Peru, and it was no real surprise to me that they were depicted holding images of their missing relatives. This has really become the motif of the relative left behind. I have a particular interest in photos of photos, so here's the link: Lillo Rizzo photos.

Peru: Unwritten Orders

It is not necessary to provide written orders to prove responsibility in grave violations of human rights, according to Colombian Federico Andreu-Guzman, expert witness in the Fujimori trial. "Nobody orders killings in writings", reports La Republica.

Written orders not needed to prove command responsibility, says international expert (Fujimori on Trial)

Las ordenes pueden ser implicitas (La Republica)

Sunday 24 August 2008

Museums of Memory

Recent articles on the ESMA have got me thinking about the various museums and commemorative sites that have been set up throughout Latin America to remember the periods of dictatorship and civil conflict. A quick search reveals that there are more than I was aware of; more than can be dealt with in one post, other than in a basic list. So, to start with, the museums that I do have some prior knowledge/personal experience of:

The ESMA itself is a museum-in-progress; the process of getting hold of the site - which is basically the most meaningful in Argentina for survivors of state terrorism, with the possible exception of the Plaza de Mayo - took years and is documented here. In brief, the government gave over the site for the creation of a museum in 2004. As far as I understand, the ESMA is now open to the public and is functioning as a cultural centre, but not yet as a fully-equipped museum. (I stood outside the ESMA in early 2004 and took the photo above, but at that time it was still used by the Navy and I couldn't go in.)

In Lima, Peru, the photographic exhibition Yuyanapaq (Para recordar/for remembering) organised at the behest of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has found a permanent home on the sixth floor of the Museo de la Nacion. This is a really important exhibition which owes its existence to the hard work of curators Mayu Mohanna and Nancy Chappell.

Also in Peru is the Museo de la Memoria in Ayacucho. The small town of Ayacucho (also called Huamanga) now has a certain quiet charm which almost makes it hard to believe it was the violent heartland of the Shining Path. The brave relatives of Anfasep, who have all lost family members in the conflict, have set up a small but very valuable museum. The tourist information in the main square can direct you to it, or take a mototaxi. There is no set entry fee, but they ask for donations, and really, it is worth giving generously.

News Round-Up

A lot going on in the news and blogs this morning, and so much of it I would love to comment on more, but I would be here all day, so here is a kind of list, and if time permits I'll come back to the most striking articles and write a bit more:

In Argentina, Clarin has images of the ESMA from the 1970s and beyond, marking its designation as a national monument.
Postales de la ESMA, que el Gobierno declaro Monumento Historico (Clarin)

Meanwhile, Pagina/12 is marking tomorrow's 30th anniversary of the abduction of Laura Carlotto, daughter of Estela Carlotto, founder of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. In 1987, on the tenth anniversary of her disappearance, Carlotto senior put an advert in the newspaper marking the occasion, and has done so every year since then.
Registros de la ausencia (Pagina/12)

Tyler Bridges at Inside South America has a very interesting piece on the land mines that Pinochet laid around Chile's borders; I had no idea that this had occurred.
Chile: Land Mines

I stumbled across The New World Lusophone Sausophone for the first time and was pleased, because as a non-Portuguese speaker Brazil is a really big gap in my knowledge of South America. Here's the kind of thing that interests me:
Brazil is the only nation on the continent that has not overturned its amnesty law and engaged in the sort of truth and reconciliation process we have seen in Chile and Argentina (and more recently, in the Fujimori case, in Peru.)
"Scenes from an Old Folk's Home for Traumatized Cold Warriors"

The LA Times recalls a US citizen who fought and died in the conflict in El Salvador through his diaries (hat tip to Tim's El Salvador blog for drawing the link to my attention).
An American Adventurer's Death in El Salvador

In Peru, the lawyer representing the victims of Barrios Altos and La Cantuta has asked the authorities and citizens in general to be vigilant during the final phase of Fujimori's trial.
Piden a la ciudadania estar alerta en etapa final de juicio contra Alberto Fujimori (La Republica)

Friday 22 August 2008

Argentina: News

The ESMA building, Argentina's largest clandestine detention centre which was designated as a museum of memory in 2004 (still in development), has now been declared a historical monument. The decree has been signed by President Christina Kirchner.

"In naming the building a Historical Monument, it was taken into account that the ESMA was 'one of the most important centres' of state terrorism, where 'crimes against humanity such as torture, disappearance of persons and appropriation of minors' were committed".
La ESMA fue declarado Monumento Historico (Pagina/12)

Meanwhile the Abuelas (Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo) have been having success with their broad range of measures designed to raise awareness of the issue of disappeared children. 'Children' is a little misleading, as the individuals in question are of course still offspring of the disappeared, but are now themselves in their late twenties and early thirties. They were born in captivity as their mother were held and tortured by the military regime. The mothers were then usually murdered and the children adopted by military or complicit families.

The Grandmothers described their theory as "relying on the doubts of the child to continue the search". In other words, their publicity campaigns reach out to the affected generation and ask them to consider their origins. Unanswered questions, for those born between 1976 and 1983 (above all in the latter years of the 1970s) might lead to the suspicion that they could be illegally adopted. On the high tech front, the Grandmothers also work with a bank of genetic material which can be used to perform DNA testing and confirm or deny these inklings.

The number of disappeared children now identified is given in the article as 92, but I don't know if that number includes the newest woman found, the news of which was announced on the Grandmothers website today (here's the website, no direct link unfortunately).

El beneficio de la duda

The Past in the Present

The intention of this blog was to follow the developments of Latin America's memory culture, and in particular the memory acts connected with the military dictatorships and civil conflicts of the past decades, whether they are legal proceedings, truth commissions, publications, cultural productions, and so on. Current human rights abuses were not really in my remit (a remit defined, obviously, only by myself - but let's face it, I'm looking at a pretty wide topic already by not limiting myself to just one nation). But you can't always separate past human right abuses from continuing ones. In part, this is because the urgency of crimes occurring right now tends to overtake the imperative to remember the past. In part, it's also because there is a direct connection between those rupturing events of the past - undemocratic regimes, internal conflicts with huge loss of life - and the events of the present; impunity, corruption, defective justice systems, inequality, violence against women, and so on. Just as violations such as forced disappearance and torture did not come from nowhere the day the military took power in Argentina, for example, so they did not end the second elections took place.

All of which is a way of saying, here are two examples of current atrocities which have grown out of the violent pasts of their respective nations.

Femicide in Guatemala: A Link Between Past and Present (COHA)
[See also my previous post which made the connection which explored here in a much more thorough and satisfactory way]

Colombia military atrocities alleged (LA Times)

Paraguay: Sexual Slavery during Stroessner Dictatorship

Julia Ozorio Gamecho was the first woman to come forward and testify to the Paraguayan Truth and Reconcilation Commission about her experiences of sexual violence during the Stroessner dictatorship.

Girls as young as seven are believed to have been snatched from their homes and "groomed" to serve high ranking military officials.

Ozorio's testimony helped the Commission to confirm details about a location where girls were taken after they had been snatched from their families. There they were forcibly prepared for their sexual enslavement to high ranking members of the military.

Yudith Rolón of the Commission said: "We value and admire her courage in telling us what happened to her, events which have left her with irreparable trauma, from both the physical and psychological torture she suffered".

"She corroborated events that the Truth and Justice Commission had already been investigating. We had heard of many cases but no-one had wanted to give testimony, as she has done".
Full story here:
Major step forward in Paraguay's investigations into sexual slavery of girls (Amnesty International)

Peru: Reflections on the Trial

Blog tip: at Fujimori on Trial, Christina Prusak reflects on the process of the trial and on the proceedings of a seminar at the Catholic University in Lima discussing this topic.

International Seminar: Those reponsible for human rights violations

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Peru: ICHR Upholds Judgement

The Inter American Court of Human Rights has upheld its condemnation of Peru for the massacre at the prison known as Castro Castro in 1992, in which 41 prisoners died. The Peruvian state had requested a review of the sentence, but the Court maintained its view that the state was responsible for the deaths, which occurred during the violent repression of an uprising by incarcerated members of Shining Path.

Corte Interamericana mantiene condena a Peru por masacre en carcel
(La Republica)

Tuesday 19 August 2008

Argentina: Julian Corres Captured

One of the fugitive military officers I mentioned earlier has been captured in Argentina. After 23 days officially 'on the run', Julian Oscar Corres was captured in his mother's house in Villa Constitucion in central Argentina (in his mother's house, seriously? Exactly how hard were they looking for this guy?).

Corres escaped from a police station in Bahia Blanca, and Pagina/12 is reporting that it is suspected that the police there let him get away.

He is wanted in connection with 47 abductions, 38 instances of torture, 17 homicides and 7 forced disappearances from his time at clandestine detention centre La Escuelita (The Little School).

Una trampera en el placard para atrapar al Laucha (Pagina/12)

Police capture fugitive in dictatorship-era abuses (Yahoo)

Monday 18 August 2008

El Salvador: Police Academy Controversy

NACLA has run a long article on a new US-run police training facility in El Salvador which has revived memories of the infamous School of the Americas, where a number of human rights abusers in the Latin American military dictatorships were trained.

It's hardly surprising that the United States and their plans for an International Law Enforcement Academy weren't exactly welcomed with open arms in Central America... plans in Panama, and then Costa Rica, fell through. Eventually the institution was located in El Salvador. It's also no wonder that in a region scarred by civil war marked by severe human rights abuses, there is suspicion about a military training facility which is not completely transparent in its work.
... the ILEA’s top official, Hobart Henson, who spent 24 years with the Indiana State Police before coming to El Salvador, assures me, “This isn’t the SOA. We’re not teaching torture or water boarding or anything like that. I wouldn’t be involved in something I didn’t feel good about.” When I ask to see course materials, Henson equivocates, at first saying he doesn’t have them in the office, then that it is school policy not to give them out.

[...] A Freedom of Information Act request for ILEA course materials, filed in October, has also gone unanswered. [Editor's note: In March 2008, the Department of Homeland Security rejected the FOIA request. Releasing such materials, according to the rejection letter, “could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law.”]

As Lesley Gill, an anthropologist at American University and author of the book School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas, explains, “The use of human rights discourses­ in U.S. military and police training is something that started with the SOA. After the SOA was criticized for promoting violence and torture, they started to include a human rights course in their curriculum, and to use human rights language to describe what they were doing.” She continues, “This human rights talk is more aimed at an outside, domestic audience—at the school’s potential critics—than it is indicative of any effort by the U.S. to reform the military or police forces they are involved with. It is designed to stave off criticism."
(Just to be clear, that Editor's Note in the quote is from NACLA, not me... the ellipsis is mine, showing where I cut the article).

Waaaay more detail here:
Another SOA? A police academy in El Salvador worries critics

Also, updated with a letter protesting against the criticism of human rights activist Benjamin Cuellar contained within the original article:
Getting Personal: Cuellar and the ILEA Controversy (NACLA)

And School of the Americas Watch is a site which opposes the existence of the SOA/its new incarnation WHINSEC.

Blog Round-Up

Another great installment from Ash Kosiewicz, working with a forensics team in Peru. In this blog post he publishes the videos of an interview with Gisela Ortiz, human rights activist and sister of one of the Cantuta victims. I had to delay linking to this post as I somehow couldn't get the videos to work, but I've seem them now. From the video:
What does the act of remembering mean to you?

It is a mix of emotions. On the one hand, there is the pain and anguish that we lived through, not knowing where our loved ones were. To be denied before the justice system, the indifference under the dictatorship of Alberto Fujiori, the way we found their remains, images that are still vivid in our memories. But on the other hand, there are feelings of hope, that in one moment there will be justice, of the solidarity of those who came to know and accompanied us and shared our pain. This was the strength we needed to continue this fight over so many years.
See more: The Fujiori Trial and Human Rights - Take Three

Also in Peru, Fujimori on Trial reports that Session Suspended due to Fujimori's Health. Apparently,
Fujimori had a severe gastroenterological condition, which could cause the former president to suffer a severe abdominal colic resulting in diarrhea.
I don't get this; does the man have the runs or doesn't he? 'Cos it seems to me that could get diarrhea isn't so very sick. But there we go.

And from the Mexico Reporter, there was so much good stuff I honestly couldn't choose between Mini-Skirts Banned to Stop "Provoking" Rape in Mexico (don't-even-get-me-started...), Immigration Explored as a Concept in Mexico City Exhibition (photography!), and Waiting for a Man to Die. So basically, I just recommend the whole blog.

Guatemala: Photos of Femicide

Argentine photographer Walter Astrada has documented violence against women in Guatemala.

Guatemala, a small central American nation with 13 million inhabitants (slightly smaller than Tennessee, the CIA World Factbook informs me), holds the dubious position of the country with the second-highest rate of female murder victims in the world (the first is Russia).

Just the bare statistics of the legacy of Guatemala's brutal civil war are horrifying: 200 000 dead, 50 000 disappeared, and 1 million internally displaced - let me repeat that this is a country with just 13 million people. The word 'desaparecido', in its Spanish usage as a person forcibly abducted by state agencies, developed in Guatemala, although it gained notoriety during the military dictatorship in Argentina.

Every year, 500 women are murdered in Guatemala. More than one a day on average. The vast majority of their killers will go unpunished by the overstretched, underpaid, and corrupt criminal justic system.

Walter Astrada's photographs, at time beautiful and at times horrifying, can be viewed on his website here. The World Press Photo profile of the photographer is here. In addition, the article that drew my attention to his work and from which I have taken the above statistics is:

El pais del silencio

Peru: Barrios Altos Survivors Want Justice

The survivors of the Barrios Altos massacre want their innocence to be publicly acknowledged, as Benedicto Jimenez did last week. The partial translation which follows is mine:
For almost 17 years, the survivors of the Barrios Alto massacre have tried to banish not only the unforgettable memories that left bullets in their bodies, but also the stigma of being "terrorists", which the members of the Colina group used to justify their criminal activities.


Alfonso Rodas Alvitez is one of the four survivors of the military operation. On the night of 3 November 1991, he saved himself by "playing dead", when eight bullets pierced his body. He spent a month in the Dos de Mayo hospital, where he was treated, not as a victim, but as if he were a terrorist.

"There were police inside and outside the room. One was from Intelligence and he insulted us, he searched people who visited us, our things, even our beds. He didn't respect our suffering", he recalls.

When he left hospital, the police continued to pursue him. Rodas remembers how they would turn up at his house and take him to Dincote [Peruvian anti-terrorism police department] and other police statons, until just after the autogolpe [Fujimori's dissolution of Congress, or 'self-coup'] in April 1992, they detained him, charged him with terrorism and transferred him to the prison Castro Castro.

"I spent 13 months in jail, with the terrorists. I tried to keep my head down, not say anything so that they didn't harass me. In the end, a faceless trial [court with officials who wore masks to protect them from retribution by guerilla groups] found me not guilty and I could go free", he says.
Rodas was "lucky" in this last fact, at least... many, many people were found guilty by the "faceless courts" with very dubious evidence, or after unfair trials (for example, by not providing interpreting services for indigenous people who did not speak Spanish). But the lack of a guilty verdict didn't erase the stigma of being associated with the Shining Path.

Rodas and other survivors and family members of victims are asking for a public apology by the government, which they hope would go some way to mitigating the suspicion they still face.

Sobrevivientes de masacre de Barrios Altos demandan desagravio publico del Estado
(La Republica)

Sunday 17 August 2008

News Round-Up

Former Argentine President Menem is under investigation for his part in a 1995 explosion.

Prosecutors say Mr Menem was responsible for the blast that killed seven people at an arsenal.

They allege Mr Menem was trying to cover up proof of illegal arms trafficking to Ecuador and Croatia in the 1990s.

(It's long been suggested that Argentina was supplying arms to Ecuador during its border conflict with Peru, which it wasn't allowed to do since it was a guarantor of the peace agreement signed during a previous incarnation of this war. See for example the NY Times from 1995, 'Argentine Arms Sold to Ecuador During War With Peru'.)

Argentine police have also raided the offices of the German firm Siemens over alleged bribes that were paid to win contracts in the 1990s.
Menem probed over 1995 explosion (BBC)

Also, former Chilean military judge Alfonso Podlech has been extradited from Spain to Italy in connection with the disappearance of a Chilean-Italian priest, Omar Venturelli, during the dicatorship of the 1970s. Naturally, he's denying the accusations.

Ex fiscal militar se declara innocente en Roma (La Nacion)

Saturday 16 August 2008

Peru: State of Fear

UPDATE FEBRUARY 2011: Spanish-language version of State of Fear/Estado de Miedo can now be viewed online here

If you're interested in Peru/human rights/'terrorism', and you get a chance to see this film, take it. I can't say clearer than that. If it was available on a standard DVD I'd buy it immediately - actually, I'd already have bought it. But sadly, it's not, but it is shown on some television channels and at independent film festivals, etc.

The stories told here are unbelievably strong, heart-breaking, and true. I'm personally not so keen on the labels used in this trailer ("the witness", "the terrorist", etc), but that doesn't detract from the overall quality. I'm particularly taken by the man near the end who, standing surrounding by armed soldiers, shouts, "Film this, film this! So that everybody sees!".

Argentina: Memory of Gardel

Could it be... no... surely not... was Gardel, the legendary Argentine tango singer, born in URUGUAY???

"Who cares where he was born?" I hear you ask. "Just listen to the music and watch where you flick that tango heel."

But this dispute goes to the heart of Argentine and Uruguayan national identity.

Serious stuff. Well, ok, it's not, but most countries have a neighbour that they feel a particular rivalry with, and sometimes it manifests itself in interesting ways.

Argentina and Uruguay's Tango Row (BBC)

Latin America: Justice and Censorship

Two important background articles from IPS, which is really such a great source for English-language Latin American news and goes deeper than the standard media sites.

Firstly, the triumphs and challenges of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights:

Tortuous Road to Justice in Inter-American System

And secondly, the story of 'soft' censorship in the Latin American media, often by the offer/implied threat of withdrawal of advertising revenue. (I was aware of this issue to some extent, but I did NOT know that it goes so far that some journalists, especially radio journalists, are effectively not paid, but earn their living by selling advertising space, mainly to large companies or government agencies. It's pretty obvious how this means that stories unfavourable to those advertisers simply aren't told).

Behind-the-Scenes Censorship (IPS)

Friday 15 August 2008

Peru: One Year after the Earthquake

One year after the earthquake that killed more than 500 people and devastated the town of Pisco, the people affected claim that not enough has been done to reconstruct their shattered homes and lives.

At the end of 2005, I took this picture in the main square of Pisco. You can see the same point from the same perspective at 1.22 in the photo slideshow here: Kleph. Apparently the hotel I stayed at was spared from damage and became a base for rescue workers and NGO officials.

Miles de damnificados marchan exigiendo celeridad en la reconstruccion de Pisco (Peru21)

Un año despues, la ciudad de Pisco paso del lamento a la indignacion (La Republica)

More photos at: Una herida que aun no cierra
(El Comercio blogs)

Wednesday 13 August 2008

Latin America: Forced Disappearances

The Inter-American Court on Human Rights is dealing with cases of forced disappearance from Honduras, Colombia, Bolivia, Panama and Argentina.
"In the history of human rights abuses, disappearances are not new. But the systematic and reiterated manner in which they have been used as a weapon designed to bring about not only the actual disappearance of certain persons but to generate a generalised state of anxiety and insecurity is a relatively recent development," said Ventura.

In Latin America, forced disappearance has been used with "exceptional intensity" in recent decades, he added, clearly referring to the military dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s.
This is the key to the practice of forced disappearance: it controls the whole of society by making people afraid to agitate, afraid to protest, afraid to gather even for peaceful reasons, to mention anything controversial, to walk the streets at night... in short, it creates fear of public life and tears apart the social fabric. Although the figures for disappearances are nothing like they were in the horror years of the late 1970s, any number is clearly too high, and this is a practice which, as this article proves, persists across the continent.

Inter-American Court Focuses on Forced Disappearances (IPS)

Tuesday 12 August 2008

Peru: Victims "Not Terrorists"

Benedicto Jimenez was head of GEIN, Peru's special intelligence group, and in charge of the 1992 operation that caught Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman. He is currently testifying in Fujimori's trial and has claimed that the victims of state violence were not terrorists or insurgents. Specifically, he is convinced that the Cantuta students were nothing to do with the attack on Calle Tarata.

[I'm hardly an expert, but from what I've read it seems to me that Jimenez was both high up in the Peruvian authorities, and a good guy; which is not a particularly common combination. While Fujimori, Montesinos, and their cronies were busy persecuting indigenous peasants and insisting that they needed to dissolve the democratic state in order to win the war, he was off capturing the terrorist's main chief without even telling the president until afterwards. Some suggest that this was because he wanted to avoid a situation where Fujimori simply had Guzman executed on the sly, without going through a trial. Whatever, it seems that Fujimori wasn't all that thrilled with the method of capture - you'd think that the GEIN team would've been made for life, since they had just caught the Peruvian Osama Bin Laden without even a fight, but no. Soon afterwards some of them were quietly demoted. Anyway, it's clear that Jimenez is not a Fujimorista.]

"Las victimas de La Cantuta y de Barrios Altos no eran terroristas" (La Republica)

Peru: Japanese-Peruvians Seek Redress for Internment

This story was, I have to say, my first introduction to the subject of the over 2,000 Peruvian-Japanese and other Latin American-Japanese people interned in the US after Pearl Habor. Latin American governments handed over immigrants of Japanese ancestry to be stripped of their citizenship, interned in camps, and in some cases returned to a 'homeland' they had never seen before. While Japanese-Americans received compensation and an apology two decades ago, this was not extended to their kin south of the border.
'This was a big violation of human rights and they don't want to recognize that,'' said Kague, now 78. "We just have to keep waiting. I've been waiting a long time already.''
Japanese-Peruvians Seek Redress for U.S. Imprisonment (Miami Herald)

Sunday 10 August 2008

Argentina: Fugitives from Justice

An article about the military perpetrators of human rights abuses who have fled from justice in Argentina:

Buscados (Pagina/12)

And a list, which contrary to my usual practice I shall publish in full.

Capital. Juez Sergio Torres. Causas ESMA-Walsh (7) - Díaz Smith, Jorge Manuel,Prefectura *(también en causa por apropiación de menores, por orden de la jueza Servini de Cubría).- González, Roberto Oscar, Policía Federal. - Linares, Juan Carlos, Policía Federal - Pittana, Claudio, Policía Federal. - Salvia, Pedro Norberto, Policía Federal. - Sánchez, Gonzalo, Prefectura. - Vildoza, Jorge Armada *(también en causa por apropiación de menores, por orden de la jueza Servini de Cubría). Rosario. Juez Marcelo Bailaque. Causa Feced (4). - Altamirano, Carlos Ulpiano, Policía de Santa Fe. - Moore Basini, Carlos, Policía de Santa Fe. - Peralta, César, Policía de Santa Fe.- Revechi, Eduardo, PCI del Ejército.

Rosario. Juez Marcelo Bailaque. Causa Quinta de Funes (4) - Cabrera, Jorge Andrés, Ejército. - Gertrudis, Héctor, Gendarmería. - Isach, Carlos, PCI del Ejército. - Scilabra, Francisco, Policía de Santa Fe.

Capital. Juez federal Daniel Rafecas. Causa Cuerpo I (4) - Baraldini, Luis Enrique, Ejército. - Cendón, Néstor Roberto, SPF. - Cruz, Eduardo Angel, Policía Federal. - Godoy, Pedro Santiago, Gendarmería.

Bahía Blanca. Juez federal Alcindo Alvarez Canale. Causa Cuerpo V (2) - Alvarez, Aldo Mario, Ejército. - Corres, Julián Oscar, Ejército.

La Plata. Juez federal Manuel Blanco. Causa Unidad 9 (2) - García, Jorge Luis, SPB. - Guerrero, Pedro César, SPB.

Neuquén. Juez federal Guillermo Labate. Causa La Escuelita (2) - Di Pasquale, Jorge Héctor, Ejército. - Mendoza, Héctor, Policía de Neuquén.

San Juan. Juez Leopoldo Rago Gallo. Causas Marie Anne Erize y Margarita Camus (2) - Vic, Eduardo Daniel, Ejército. - Olivera, Jorge Antonio, Ejército.

Capital. Jueza federal María Servini de Cubría. Causa por apropiación de menores (2) - Grimaldos de Vildoza, Ana María, Civil * (Esposa de Jorge Vildoza, prófugo también en causa ESMA)

Capital. Juez federal Rodolfo Canicoba Corral. Causa por apropiación de menores (1) - Vázquez Sarmiento, Juan Carlos, Fuerza Aérea

Capital Juez federal Norberto Oyarbide. Causa Triple A (1) - Romeo, Felipe, Civil

Capital. Juez federal Daniel Rafecas. Causa Masacre de Fátima (1) - Martínez, Luis Alberto, Policía Federal

Capital. Juez federal Daniel Rafecas. Causa Hospital Posadas (1) - Cocteleza, Juan Máximo, Civil.

Chaco. Juez federal Carlos Skidelsky. Causa Masacre de Margarita Belén (1) - Tozzo, Norberto Raúl, Ejército.

Córdoba. Jueza federal Cristina Garzón de Lascano. Causa Comando Libertadores de América (1) - Antón, Herminio Jesús, Policía de Córdoba.

Corrientes. Juez federal Carlos Soto Dávila. Causa Panetta (1) - Cao, Leopoldo Norberto, Ejército.

Formosa. Juez federal Marcos Bruno Quinteros. Causa Carrillo (1) - Domato, Horacio Rafael, Gendarmería.

La Plata. Juez federal Arnaldo Corazza. Causa Raffo (1) - Vidal, Jorge Héctor, Policía de la provincia.

Rawson. Juez federal Hugo Sastre. Causa Masacre de Trelew (1) - Bravo, Roberto Guillermo, Armada.

Salta. Juez federal Abel Cornejo. Causa Masacre de Palomitas (1) - Arrechea Andrade, Antonio, Ejército.

Tucumán. Juez federal Daniel Bejas. Causa Vargas Aignasse (1) - Villegas, Norberto Ricardo, Ejército.

Los cuarenta profugos (Pagina/12)

Update: Julian Oscar Corres Captured

Argentina: All the accusations were true

Another important article from Pagina/12, this time by Eduardo Luis Duhalde, the national secretary for human rights. Duhalde lists the relevant points, and they bust a lot of "dirty war" myths which persist in hanging around even 30 years after the end of the dictatorship, so I think it's worth translating(/paraphrasing) them in part. In sum, in the course of his trial Bussi acknowledged (with pride, by the way, not shame):
1. That the repression was systematic, that it functioned through the chain of command, that the horror was not improvised.
Right, so this destroys the "bad apples" argument (also known as "isolated abuses"), which has already been conclusively destroyed many times over, but sometimes still pops up.
2. That in this supposed "war", there was no rule of law, no adherence even to international humanitarian law which covers true wars. He [Bussi] alleged that during those years "there was no time to comply with legal requirements".
This summarises the problem with referring to the dictatorship/period of state terrorism as the "dirty war", a term coined by the dictators themselves which leads to the false understanding that this was a war with two, more or less equal sides.
3. That there were hundreds of clandestine detention and extermination centres, including "more than 20 in Tucuman".

4. That "special teams, sent periodically by the commander in chief of the Army, conducted practical interrogations". This was an oblique reference to torture.

5. That prisoners were killed, although naturally, Bussi says that they "fell in combat".

6. That "the armed forces worked on 45 day rotation periods and operated in different places with different infrastructure, mostly public buildings (police stations, schools, etc) for the interrogations of detainees". It was this rotation system that involved most of the officials of the three armed forces in crimes and torture. The pact of silence today is based on the blood pact of yesterday.
Important truths about the dictatorships from the mouths of one of its worst perpetrators. Not to be forgotten.

Argentina: Bussi Confirms Extent of Dirty War

Today's Pagina/12 carries an interview with Marta Rondoletto, of the relatives' of the disappeared group in Tucuman.
In this very house, in November 1976, a task force abducted six members of the Rondoletto family: the parents, Pedro and Maria, the children, Silvia and Jorge, and Azucena, Jorge's wife, who was five months pregnant. Marta Rondoletto was the only survivor; she was 28 and leader of a journalists' union.
Rondoletto describes the impact of the Bussi judgement.

"Bussi confirmo todo con una impudencia total" (Pagina/12)

Saturday 9 August 2008


Nice post here from Maggie in El Salvador.

And a request, anyone out there: got any recommendations for good blogs about Ecuador? Ecuador was my first introduction to Latin America and has a special place in my heart, but has rather taken a back seat in my attentions recently and I'd love to refresh my knowledge about what's going on there, and maybe indulge in a bit of reminiscing. I'm thinking of people focusing on travel, photography, human rights, politics, or just plain life in the Andes. I'll read Spanish and German as well, but English would be preferable. If you have any ideas (or even if you want to plug your own, relevant blog), go ahead and leave a comment, it'd be appreciated.

News Round-up

From The Latin Americanist, remembering the dark side of the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968, The massacre at Tlatelolco.

More details on the revocation of Argentina's military code of justice which I mentioned yesterday: Last Vestiges of Capital Punishment Abolished (IPS).

Also, an Argentine connection to the German Siemens corruption scandal - apparently former President Carlos Menem had his finger in this particular pie: Bribes in Argentina? (Spiegel International)
[Here's a bit of background on Siemens, and on Menem]

And finally, Peruvian human rights activist Olenka Ochoa has been awarded one of the 2008 Women PeaceMakers Prizes for her work in Lima's shantytowns, so congratulations to her (Peruvian Times).

Friday 8 August 2008

Argentina News

A little late, since my internet connection had hiccups.

Tucuman's feared general, Antonio Domingo Bussi, who presided over a reign of terror in his region of Argentina in the 1970s and was, incredibly, democratically elected as mayor several decades later, was stretchered out of his trial for human rights abuses after complaining of chest pains. Families of the disappeared insinuate that he is faking illness to delay the trial.

Bussi dice que tiene corazon y le duele ('Bussi says he has a heart, and it hurts', Pagina/12)
Further background: Argentina Revisits 'Dirty War': Will General Be Tried? (NY Times)

On a related note, the Argentine Senate voted unanimously to revoke the system of military trials for members of the armed forces. Pagina/12 uses the headlines 'To Tribunales [the Argentine high court], like everybody else'. After the dictatorship came to an end in 1983, the junta leaders were initially going to be tried in military courts, but these institutions delayed and obstructed the course of justice until eventually the cases were removed from them and handed over to civilian courts, so it's easy to see why this is regarded as a step forward for justice and human rights.

A tribunales, como todo los demas (Pagina/12)

Monday 4 August 2008

Peru: Interview with Gorriti

IPS have interviewed Peruvian journalist on the occasion of the reprint of his book, The Shining Path: A History of the Millenarian War in Peru (which I own and recommend, by the way; it's a thoroughly-researched volume by someone almost unparalleled in his experience of the Peruvian conflict. My only reservation is that it focuses chiefly on the early 1980s - I wonder if the reprint has been updated? I notice that when asked if the book is still relevant, Gorriti replies that it's selling well, which is not quite an answer. It is still relevant for its wealth of background, but much more could be said about the later years, at least in my edition).

'All political violence is not terrorism' (IPS)

Peru: Special Treatment for Fujimori?

Today's La Republica returns to the subject of preferential treatment for Alberto Fujimori during his stay in prison (before the changes to his regime):
"Shameless: Thanks to the aprista government, he is visited by artists, drawing teachers, politicians, friends, advisors, and even witches"
It's a serious subject, but the Fujimori saga often seems to reach soap opera proportions, and I had to smile at the last on the list. In fact, I am being rather disingenous translating "brujas" as "witches", as in this context a shaman or traditional healer is presumably what is meant, but it was what popped into my mind as I read the headline. I wonder if they can magic him out of his current situation?

Full story: 'Ex dictador tenia privilegios carcelarios antes de la renovacion de su regimen' (La Republica)

Argentina: Another Grandchild Found

Another disappeared child has been found in Argentina, to the joy of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, and largely thanks to the efforts of his siblings. An interview with Emilio Goya, the brother of Jorge Guillermo Goya, appears in today's Pagina/12, and I'll translate some quotes from it here (I've been a little loose with some of the speech, but I hope that it captures what was said):
"I knew I would find him"

Emilio Goya is 33 and has two daughters and two siblings. One of them was disappeared for almost 30 years and recovered his identity last week. On Wednesday, the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo announced the discovered of Jorge Guillermo Goya, son of Lourdes Martinez Aranda and Francisco Goya, but Emilio, who had searched for him in Argentina, Mexico and Spain, preferred not to take part in the public announcement. He had just met him and preserving this relationship was - and is - his priority.
- How did you find out that you had located your brother?
- I found out on Monday. Perhaps a few hours before he did, from the court. I want to keep the details of the meeting to myself for a while. These aren't easy things to talk about. A lot of very emotional things are happening to me, but they definitely don't even compare to what he is going through. We talk a lot about respecting the other's privacy.
- What was the search like, all these years?
- Very difficult. Very hard.
[Emilio then discusses the story of his disappeared father at some length]
- Did you have doubts or were you sure that you would find your brother?
- I was convinced. When I was certain that he had been born and I started looking for him I knew I would find him. [...]
- And, if you can tell us, do you see yourself in parts of Jorge Guillermo?
- It was incredible. I recognised myself every second, in every anecdote, every look. We're definitely of the same bloodline. [...] We also look very alike and we could talk about things we have in common. We did some similar things in our childhoods. I feel as if I'm reflected [in him].
Full article in Spanish: "Sabia que lo iba a encontrar" (Pagina/12)

Sunday 3 August 2008

Blog Round-Up

Pieces I've enjoyed recently have included Tim's El Salvador blog on the Monument to Memory and Truth in San Salvador; and Inca Kola News delivering a sound rebuff to gentle coverage of Christina Kirchner and simultaneously paying tribute to the late Argentine artist Perez Celis. And I bid a fond farewell to Robert Wrighton's line of sight, my absolute favourite Buenos Aires blog. If you haven't feasted on his archives of photographs of the Argentine capital, I highly recommend it.

Saturday 2 August 2008

Peru: Memories of Tarata

A little after the fact, but I came across this commemoration of the Tarata bombing, from 16 July. The trucks packed with explosives were blown up in Calle Tarata in Miraflores, Lima, in 1992, in Shining Path's deadliest single attack. 24 people were killed and around 200 injured.

Anamaria McCathy's photographs of old photographs, debris, and newspapers notices for memorial services can be viewed at the Micromuseo site, and they are quite beautiful. For me, they are a very fitting tribute, perhaps more so than the rather overgrown monument that stands on the site today, which I photographed a couple of years ago: