Tuesday 30 September 2008

Peru: Disappeared in Canayre?

Yesterday, La Republica reported that a military operation in the region of Canayre, Ayacucho, caused villagers to flee from their homes. The area is often known as VRAE, which stands for Valle de los rios Apurimac y Ene, Valley of the Rivers Apurimac and Ene, and it's the stronghold of the remnants of the Shining Path. Local people from the small villages of Jesus de Belen and Nueva Esperanza complained that the armed forces arrived in helicopter, firing shots, burning houses, and treating everyone as if they were senderistas. Terrified, they fled. The military chief, General Raymundo Flores Cardenas, has advised them that not is not the time to return.

The same article also claims that a total of 11 villagers were reported missing at this time.

Operación militar en el VRAE obliga a pobladores a abandonar comunidades (La Republica)

Today, Peru21 takes an even starker tone:
Extrajudicial execution, murder and forced disappearance. This are the crimes which members of the military base at Canayre, in Ayacucho, are alleged to have committed against 11 citizens from the community of Río Pichis, in the district of Ayahuanco, in the court of operations which they are carrying out to eliminate the remnants of Shining Path in the zone of Vizcatán, in the VRAE.
Denuncian a las Fuerzas Armadas por nuevas desapariciones (Peru21)

The Minister of Defence Ántero Flores-Aráoz, (who I mentioned earlier here), has stated that none of the missing people are being held by the Armed Forces. Moreover, he accuses those denouncing the disappearances in no uncertain terms of being involved in the drugs trade and attempting to prevent the military from opposing terrorism.

Descartan que las Fuerzas Armadas esten detras de desapariciones denunciadas

All I can say is, will they never learn? The TRC report found the armed forces reponsible for nearly half of deaths and disappearances during the main period of conflict and still, they not only drive peasants from their villages, but also act all astonished and self-righteous when questioned about it. The monthly newsletter from the Peru Support Group that I received this morning asked, after a couple of positive examples, whether impunity was 'over' in Peru. Not quite, I suspect.

Monday 29 September 2008

Film Review: War on Democracy

John Pilger's War on Democracy is reviewed by NACLA:

Perhaps the most poignant moment in John Pilger’s latest documentary, The War on Democracy, comes during an interview with Sister Dianna Ortiz, the U.S. nun tortured by Guatemalan security forces in 1989. “I’ve heard people say that what happened in Abu Ghraib is an isolated incident,” she says, with a mix of outrage and disbelief. “And I just shake my head and say: Are we on the same planet? Aren’t you aware of our history? Isn’t history taught in the classroom about the role of the U.S. government in human rights violations?”

Cold War Terror in the Americas: A History Lesson

Here's a trailer:

Sunday 28 September 2008

Brazil: Compensation for US torture victim

The Brazilian government has promised to pay compensation to a U.S. pastor who was arrested, beaten and tortured in 1974 under the former military dictatorship.

Brazil to compensate US pastor torture in 1974 (AP via Yahoo)

Memorials: Interview with Julián Bonder

Peruvian newspaper La Republica carries in interview with Argentine architect Julián Bonder, whose work includes a monument to the victims of the AMIA bombing.

- What is the meaning of a memorial?
- It's a space which invites people to think, to reflect on the past. The word memorial comes from the Latin "memento", something which warns us about past and future topics. The term monument is very interesting, which means remember and warn. Therefore, is it possible that thinking about monuments can warn us about past events, thinking about the future? The idea is not to generate objects where memory can be deposited, but spaces which activate memory.
Yes, indeed, this is one of the principles behind this blog. You can read more of the interview at the link below, although I would have preferred to read more about the concrete manifestations of the memorial culture in Latin America, as well as the theory.

Entrevista | Julián Bonder. Promotor (La Republica)

Argentina: Dictatorship documents discovered

The head teacher of the Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires (one of the most prestigious secondary schools in Argentina) has discovered files compiled during the military dictatorship. It's a long article so I haven't translated the whole thing, but here are some good chunks of it:

In a dusty, cobweb-filled staircase, in a dark corner of the head teacher's officers of the Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires, dozens of folders with intelligence documents about students and staff were discovered, gathered by the authorities of the school during the dictatorship. There are blacklists, with details of pupils and their parents, graphs showing the organisation of the UCR* and even a list of wardens and human rights abusers under the amusing title of "National Committee on the Disappearance of Personas". The current headteacher, Virgina González Gass, who found them, plans to create an Archive of Memory with the documents.

The files were piled in several cabinets in the internal staircase of the headteacher's offices in the college - which is four centuries old. The stairs were used by the headteacher to go to what was his private quarters, which was some time ago converted into an IT office. González Gass took the post last May, replacing Horacio Sanguinetti, now director of the Colón [Theatre], appointed by Mauricio Macri. During his long headship at the Buenos Aires [college], Sanguinetti never showed much interest in the documents: they were left to gather dust, although he did allow two pupils to go through them and publish some in a book about the school during the dictatorship**.


How did the documents get there? They are geological layers of papers left behind by the headteachers. Some of them date back to the headship of Raúl Aragón, who took over in 1973 during the government of Héctor Cámpora. At this time, an aggressive group of class representatives formed, who defended Aragón by taking over the college when the Peronist right threatened the university and its associated secondary schools. During this takeover, the militants kept a wake for a student, Eduardo Bekerman, who had been shot by the Triple A. Shortly afterwards, Aragón was removed and succeeded by two other headteachers who clashed with pupils, imposed mass expulsions and were finally forced to resign: Mario Garda and Antonio Muñoz.

The next head arrived in 1975 and continued during the dictatorship: his name was Eduardo Aníbal Rómulo Maniglia, but the staff called him affectionately[!], "the Beast". He deployed a group of wardens who carried out intelligence work inside the college and enforced a discipline similar to that in a prison: they insisted on martial order and silence at all times, and the blue and grey uniforms of the students. The Buenos Aires college has 106 victims of state terrorism, among pupils and ex-pupils.

Maniglia died in 1978 and was replaced by his deputy, Icas Edgardo Micillo, who continued the constant contact with perpetrators of human rights abuses who requested information, until he left the post in 1982 to take up the job of Education Secretary of the City of Buenos Aires. And he abandoned the documents from the college, which stayed there as evidence of the persecution of pupils and staff and of the contact with the perpetrators. "They didn't let Aragón in anymore. Maniglia died, and Micillo, I don't know why he didn't take them," sums up González Gass.


A typed memo describes the "particular aspects to bear in mind in relation to the detection of subversive agents". In it, the military advised that "the authorities of educational establishments are obliged to inform military authorities of the detection of agents or presumed subversive activities originating from those under their orders."

Maniglia and Micillo had no problems complying with this instruction. In another document, the names of perpetrators with whom they communicated regularly are recorded, followed by names of the wardens (most often recorded: Tito Gristelli and Eduardo Kember Urquiza). The document is entitled "National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (educational field) CNdeBA". And it includes "Colonel: Hoffman, Amiano, Genovese, Valladares. Lt. Colonel: Guillermo Brizuela. Officer: Navarro (S.I.F.A.). Doctor: Bianchi".

Juan Carlos Amiano was responsible for the clandestine detention centres of Florencio Varela and Berazategui, while Héctor Hoffman directed the naval base at Mar del Plata. But the most significant is the Coronel Agustín Valladares, who led the "Operation Clarity" designed to search for subversives in eduction. His link with the Heads of the Buenos Aires college was the Secretary of University Coordination, Carlos Bianchi.[...]

La patota del Nacional (Pagina/12)

*I assume this acronym stands for Union Civica Radical, a political party, but I'm not 100% sure.
**The book is La otra Juvenilia, by Santiago Garaño and Werner Pertot.

See also this really nice article about class of '73 from the LA Times in 2003:
Revolution was one of their 3Rs

Cultural Sunday

The Navy Mechanics' School [ESMA] is no longer a school for marines nor a clandestine centre for torture and death. Yet each corner of the neutral military edifice, even the fragrance of the flowering magnolias, is impregnated with its history.

Musician Liliana Felipe is an Argentine who moved to Mexico in 1976 (Mexico was a popular destination for exiles, people who fled the military dictatorship. It was far enough away to be relatively safe but had the obvious advantages of a shared language, etc). She has returned to Buenos Aires to perform a concert in the ESMA, the former clandestine detention centre now turned "place of memory".

Ganarle a la ESMA a fuerza de memoria (Pagina/12)

An academic symposium and exhibition are commemorating 80 years since the publication of Seven Essays on the Interpretation of Peruvian Reality, Jose Mariategui's classic text (which, i hang my head in shame and admit I have never done more than flick through, but I should try to remedy that). Mariategui was a key inspiration for Abimael Guzman and the Shining Path - whose name is derived from a quote of his about following the shining path to revolution - but I suspect he would have utterly horrified at the interpretation of his works that led to the slaugher of tens of thousands of indigenous Peruvians.

Anyway, the symposium is taking place on the 2 and 3 October at the Universidad Ricardo Palma in Lima, and the exihibition is being run by the Universidad de San Marcos and is in their cultural centre, the Casona de San Marcos, from 2 to 23 October, with free entrance.

Siete ensayos, 80 años después (La Republica)

Finally, there is an application underway to have the Qapaq Ñan, the network of Inca roads which cover the Andean region, declared a UNESCO world heritage site. It would be the only such site to encompass six different countries - Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.

Qapaq Ñan, patrimonio de la humanidad (La Republica)

Friday 26 September 2008

Peru: Fujimori 'knew about abuses'

Newly declassified documents from the US suggest that Fujimori must have been aware of human violations committed early in his Presidency.
Fujimori is currently on trial for the murders of 25 civilians, committed in 1991 and 1992 by the "Colina Group," a death squad made up of Army Intelligence Service (SIE) agents.

"Fujimori cannot claim he had no idea about the activities of the armed forces until 1993. The declassified documents record that the former United States ambassador to Peru, Anthony Quainton, spoke to Fujimori on the subject in December 1991," Kornbluh said.
Declassified US Documents Undermine Fujimori's Claims (IPS)

Sunday 21 September 2008

Cultural Sunday

Here's a mix of cultural productions dealing with subjects relevant to this blog which turned up on my trawl through the weekend media.

Amnesty International have enlisted the help of UK celebrities for their latest campaign, and you can see a slideshow here:
Protect the Human (Guardian)

"For my generation, there were two defining historical phenomena: State terrorism, and the Falklands. While the first has found its place as the subject of art and public discussion, I always had the impression that the topic of the war was repressed. Not so much the fact that it was produced by dictatorship (the focus which texts usually take; strangely, it has been written about much more than it has been discussed socially), but what happened to those who that situation exposed to the naked experience of war. I was interested in transgressing this vague, but at the same time very harsh generalisation 'the boys from the war' - which reduced all these persons to one, negating their identity, in the same way as often happens, with the inhabitants of the indigenous towns. On the other hand, what boys? There are no boys in a war. That's why I made portraits: the image of a face, accompanied by a name and a date of birth, gives, and in this case gives back, an identity."

Juan Travnik has an exhibition of photographs of veterans from the Malvinas conflict (that's the Falkland Islands, to English speakers) on show at the Centro Cultural in Recoleta, Buenos Aires. Those not in the area can see his website and read Pagina/12's review of the exhibition:
La guerra es un lugar en la memoria

"Maybe we aren't aware, today, of the impact it had. But the intersection between a group of artists who managed to connect with a multitude to fill the city with figures which alluded to the kidnapped people - and this was during the dictatorship! - must still be emphasised as a milestone in the relationship between art and popular mobilisation."

Today is also the 25th anniversary of the silhouetazo, the "big silhouette", a publicity event organised by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo who drew attention to their disappeared children by placing lfe-size cutouts of people around Buenos Aires, symbolising the missing. To mark the occasion, Ana Longoni (cited above) and Gustavo Bruzzone have brought out a book (El siluetazo/The Silhouette, Editorial Adriana Hidalgo, 2008), the cover of which can be seen to the left, and Pagina/12 have published an article:
Cuando la resistencia es una forma de arte

In Chile, Juan Vasquez has brought out a comic dealing with the dictatorship:
El comic de Pinochet (Ciudad)

"This film isn't about good guys and bad guys, but about human beings who fight for what they believe is right, within a particular context: the civil conflict in Peru."

Finally, La Republica reports on a Peruvian film, Vidas Parallelas, which deals with the conflict with the Shining Path. The involvement of the armed forces in the film has been controversial, with some accusing it of being biased towards them (bearing in mind, they were responsible for almost half the civilian deaths which occurred). Its director, Rocío Lladó (cited above) denies this.
Da la paz a la guerra en Vidas paralelas

An example of criticism towards the film can be seen here (in Spanish).

Here's a trailer, which sadly it won't let me embed.

All translations mine, as usual.

Saturday 20 September 2008

Peru: Shining Path rejects surrender

The leader of the remnants of Shining Path has declared that they will never lay down their arms, according to the BBC. This is hardly surprising - even though the Shining Path has been decimated sinces its heyday in the early nineties, it has maintained an absolute hardline approach when it comes to negotiations.

Peru rebel rejects surrender call

Peru: Fujimori's throwing a sickie - again

Fujimori on Trial neatly debunks the pro-Fujimori lobby's constant stream of claims regarding his supposed ill-health. In a nutshell: he doesn't have cancer, the trial sessions couldn't get much shorter, and his prison regime is cushy. If they manage to 'prove' a serious enough ailment to disrupt the trial, which so far they haven't, this would be very worrying indeed.

Book Review: Laura Alcoba's The Rabbit House

I mentioned the review of this book in the Guardian on this blog recently, and then coincidentally, a friend sent me a copy. So here we go:
It all started when my mother said to me: 'So you see, we'll have a house with a red tile roof and a garden, too. Just like you wanted...'
Laura is a little girl in Argentina in the 1970s, who likes dolls, and animals, and attention from her parents. A normal little girl. But normality in Argentina in the 1970s can be terrifying.

Laura's parents are Montoneros, leftist militants who oppose the regime of President Isabel Peron, the widow of the famous General. The state fights back with clandestine death squads and the guerrillas are forced to go underground. Laura's father is imprisoned and she becomes trapped in a world of hideaways, secret rooms, changed names, and fear.
I thought of things that hurt a great, great deal, things with big rusty nails or lots of little knives hidden inside them. And the woman, who didn't open her mouth. And then I thought, deep inside, that to be a strong woman was to keep quiet like that.
This is a slight book, barely 150 pages and written in simple, flowing language from the point of view of a child. Its explanation of Laura's understanding of her situation is completely convincing and I, at least, have never read about the coup from the point of view of a child in hiding before. It's almost painful to empathise with Laura's guilt when, quite innocently, she puts the rest of the group at risk by childish slip-ups - such as being unsure which surname she is currently suppsed to be using. From that point of view I highly recommend this book.

I do wonder if it contains enough background material to be really satisfying for the general reader, but then perhaps it would serve to pique such a reader's curiosity to find out more about the Argentine dictatorship. There is little explanation of historical events here, it is purely a personal voice. The final chapter, in which the adult Alcoba discusses her eventual return to Argentina and meeting with the grandmother (and founder of the Grandmothers' organisation) Chicha Mariani, does shed some light on the connection of Laura's story with that of the stolen babies, and on the other characters in the book. So, anyone who would be tempted by the tone of the book to regard it as a novel, think again; this really happened.

Blog and News Round-up

Another human rights organisation has become the target of official suspicion in Colombia, apparently after criticising the regime:

More slime thrown at human rights NGOs (Plan Colombia and Beyond)


Paramilitaries, Human Rights, and the Trade Agreement: Questions for Colombia's President Uribe (WOLA)

A point which should be obvious but which, in Latin America, needs making again and again: the armed forces should stay out of politics:

The Salvadoran Armed Forces and the elections (Tim's El Salvador Blog)

Salvador Allende has been voted the greatest Chilean of all time in a popular television programme:

Salvador Allende - Greatest Chilean, by Popular Acclaim (IPS)

And finally, The Mex Files recalls the earthquake of September 19, 1985:

Shaken... and stirred: 19 September 1985

Thursday 18 September 2008

Argentina: Julio Lopez 2 Years

Peru: Putis

Upside Down World has an excellent article on Putis, with photos, which gives more details about the continuing process to identify the exhumed bodies:

Peru: Buried But Not Forgotten on International Day of the Disappeared

In addition, IPS reports on the continuing obstruction of the Peruvian military regarding the case. The army has refused to provide information about their personnel who were working in the area at the time of the massacre, has refused to apologise for the killings, and continues to insist that it 'saved' Peru from terrorism.

Military Wants to Keep Massacres Buried

Wednesday 17 September 2008

Argentina: Commemoration Noche de los Lapices

President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner today attended an event in La Plata to commemorate the victims of the Noche de los Lapices. She was accompanied by the President of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, Hebe Bonafini, President of the Abuelas, Estela Carlotto, survivors Emilce Moler (see yesterday's post) and Pablo Diaz, and others including current students of the Colegio Nacional de La Plata.

The President commented that the renovation of the school was "not only an architectural work, not just the recuperation of a national monument, but the reparation of our own memory".

"La reparaction de nuestra memoria" (Pagina/12)

Peru: Degregori Testifies

Carlos Ivan Degregori, one of the most respected Peruvian academics specialising in Shining Path, has testified in Fujimori's trial.

Degregori claimed there are “beyond reasonable signs” indicating that the president, Fujimori, was aware of the Colina Military Detachment as well as the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta crimes. The expert also said that these crimes did not help defeat Shining Path. “It only brought about pain and disgrace for military institutions and the government. It was a disastrous chapter in Peru’s history.”

Former truth commission member says Fujimori applied a double strategy in the counter-subversive struggle

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Argentina: Noche de los Lapices

32 years ago tonight was La Noche de los Lapices, the Night of the Pencils, in which a number of students and school kids from Buenos Aires were disappeared, tortured, and in most cases murdered by the Argentine police. Their crime? Demanding a reduced bus fare for young people.

You can watch a video of testimony by survivor Emilce Moler here (in Spanish), although warning, it takes a while to download.

(Image credit argentina.indymedia.org)

Bolivia: Comparisons with Chile's 9/11

As illustrated by the front page of Argentina's Pagina/12 today, comparisons are being drawn between the situation in Bolivia and that of Chile in 1973, with some calling the violence in the Andean nation an attempted coup. See also Abiding in Bolivia.

Monday 15 September 2008

Uruguay: Teaching the Past

An interesting look at the thorny politics of teaching the story of Uruguay's dictatorship:

Uruguay: The Politics of Recent History
(Upside Down World)

Argentina: Julio Lopez

It's two years this week since Julio Lopez, a key witness in the trial of police commissioner Miguel Etchecolatz, disappeared. Lopez, who had survived three years of captivity during the dictatorship, vanished again shortly before he was due to testify. There has been no sign of him ever since; the suspicion is that he was again abducted by agents supportive of Etchecolatz. Other witnesses and those connected with the trial also received threats.

El largo camino que le esperaba a Lopez

News: Bolivia and Chile

At least twenty-five people are dead as the result of political violence. It is unclear if the nation will be able to steer clear of open civil war. The Bolivian and U.S. governments have taken turns kicking one another's ambassadors out of the country. The Presidents of virtually every nation in South America are convening in an emergency summit in Chile on Monday morning, with one of them calling this moment the biggest threat to a democracy on the continent since the bloody coup that installed Augusto Pinochet in power there in 1973.

For updates on the situation in Bolivia, check out Abiding in Bolivia, Machetera, Inca Kola news, and the Democracy Center (where the citation above comes from).

Aside from that, the New York Times has an article on Chile's sexual revolution. It's a slightly odd article that seems to be attempt to be morally disapproving and also faintly titillating. OK, that in itself is quite a common feature of the press, but considering that teens making out is not in itself really newsworthy... Anyway, there are a few interesting points made:

“We are not the children of the dictatorship; we are the children of democracy,” said Michele Bravo, 17, at a recent afternoon party. “There is much more of a rebellious spirit among young people today. There is much more freedom to explore everything.”

The parents and grandparents of today’s teenagers fought hard to give them such freedoms and to escape the book-burning times of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. But in a country that legalized divorce only in 2004 and still has a strict ban on abortion, the feverish sexual exploration of the younger generation is posing new challenges for parents and educators.

In tangle of young lips, a sex rebellion in Chile (seriously, what is that headline?! NY Times)

Sunday 14 September 2008

Argentina: Tununa Mercado

Pagine/12 reviews a re-issue of Tununa Mercado's book En estado de memoria (Tununa la memoriosa). A search reveals that it is also available in English as In a State of Memory, trans by Peter Kahn.

Saturday 13 September 2008

Peru: News

In the Fujimori trial, Peruvian forensic anthropologists have discussed the murder of the Cantuta victims.

The EPAF worked on identifying the remains, as well as in investigating the causes of death of the La Cantuta victims. They reached the conclusion that at least three of the victims were incinerated at temperatures above 600°C (1112°F) after their murder. Furthermore, at least four of the victims received simultaneous bullet impacts from back to front from a short distance, meaning they were shot in the back.

Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team describes how La Cantuta victims were murdered (Fujimori on Trial)

Meanwhile, Montesinos (Fujimori's former right hand man) has a new book out and is demanding that the prison service (INPE) allows him to be interviewed from his cell. His lawyer says that,

“Even for his birthday. All those who visit him must have INPE’s permission.”

Aaahh, poor baby.

Montesinos is currently serving 20 years in prison on multiple convictions for everything from bribing media barons, judges and legislators to selling assault rifles to Colombian FARC guerrillas, and also faces a separate trial accusing him of directing the Colina group*.
I can't think why he isn't allowed unlimited visitors when he likes, can you? Anyway, in lieu of all these visits, Montesinos has been set up with an email address so he can communicate with the outside world, and apparently it's vmontesinos_evaldivia@hotmail.com. I am almost tempted to email him and see if I get a reply.

“He wrote the book by hand… with much enthousiasm [sic],” said Valdivia. “He is very intelligent and brilliant.”

Peru's former spy chief publishes third book and claims he is deprived press freedom (Peruvian Times)

Finally, a Peruvian radio station has raised concerns about media censorship in the country.

Freedom of expression threatened in Peru? Radio Uno claims government has "list" of bothersome stations it plans to shut down (Peruvian Times)

*The Colina group committed the Cantuta massacre

Thursday 11 September 2008

Bolivia: News

Although Bolivia is principally in the news today for expelling the US ambassador, two other stories caught my eye:

Nazi-era photos surface in Bolivia (BBC)

On September 9th a group of approximately 50 vandals entered by force, completely sacked and set on fire the offices of the Center for Juridical Studies and Social Investigation (CEJIS) in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Eastern Bolivia.
Bolivia: Violent groups take over human rights organisation
(Upside Down World)

Remembering 9/11

Chile's momentous date, the anniversary of the military coup d'etat that brough Augusto Pinochet to power, is now condemned to be known for ever as "the other 9/11", if it is even acknowledged outside Latin America at all. Fortunately, there have been some people remembering 11 September, 1973, today, like Abiding in Bolivia and The Mex Files.

Here is a clip from Patricio Guzman's Chile, Memoria Obstinada:

Wednesday 10 September 2008

News Round-Up

The legacy of the 1964-1985 military dictatorship sits as a portentous cloud over Brazil’s democratic future
The Brazilian military is back, as it fleshes out its weaponry and strategies (COHA)

At approximately 10 am, after the trial session had already begun, pro-Fujimori Congresswoman Keiko Sofía Fujimori — Alberto Fujimori’s daughter — gave a press conference in Congress, where she announced that the tumor on her father’s pancreas was not cancerous. She also said that the doctor who examined her father recommended reducing the trial’s daily duration. Trial sessions currently last less than six hours, with recesses every two hours, and are held three times a week.

US expert says that declassified documents demonstrate that state crimes were committed (Fujimori on Trial)

Argentina: 2 More Grandchildren Found

The Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo have announced the discovery of two more grandchildren, who were illegally adopted after the murder of their parents during the dictatorship. The first - found grandchild no. 94 - is the daughter of Miryam Ovando and Raúl René De Sanctis, both disappeared in 1977, while Ovando was 6 months pregnant. She gave birth to a baby girl, whom she named Laura Catalina. The Grandmothers have been searching for her since 1982.

Grandchild no. 95 is the son of Liliana Carmen Pereyra and Eduardo Alberto Cagnola, also abducted in 1977. Survivors have testified that the mother gave birth in the ESMA in early 1978 and spent around 10 days with her baby, whom she named Federico. Her mother Jorgenlina Peyreya has been active in the Grandmothers association in La Plata.

Las Abuelas anunciaron la recuperacion de los dos nuevos nietos (Pagina/12)

Monday 8 September 2008

Growing up with guerrillas

The Guardian reviews Laura Alcoba's book The Rabbit House, an account of her childhood in Argentina with her Montonero mother.

"People have said this is a story of stolen childhood," Alcoba says. "But I think it would be obscene to complain of my lost childhood when so many people lost their lives. It was violent, but it was a childhood all the same."

Growing up in Argentina's dirty war

Sunday 7 September 2008

Argentina: Death of Alleged Collaborator

An ex-disappeared person accused of collaborating with the military regime has killed himself before he could be arrested, according to Pagina/12. Their story, aptly headlined "a tragedy within the tragedy", details the life of Jose Baravalle, known as "El Pollo" (the chicken). He was abducted in 1976 and endured five days of torture before allegedly "breaking" and collaborating with the chief of police in Rosario. He is accused of then subsequently even participating in torture sessions himself.

After being located by Interpol in Italy, he threw himself off a bridge before he could be taken into custody.

Some of his former comrades condemned him; others saw him as a victim as well.

From the descriptions of torture which I have read - which included the technique known as "waterboarding", beatings, sensory deprivation, sexual assaults, and perhaps most horrifically electric torture with a cattle prod - I have no idea how many people could withstand this for any length of time. Naturally some people would have said or done anything to make the pain stop; this is, after all, the "point" of torture. I don't know how we can judge a person in such a position; even those who experienced it themselves cannot know how another person would react the same situation. There are no winners in this story.

Baravalle left a brief note which I will translate below:

I don't know what they think I know. This story will never end. I'm really sorry, but I think this is the only way to end it (...). It's terrible to go from being a victim to a villain. Some will celebrate: the true villains. I hope I'm the last victim of this barbarity(...).

My only crime is that I couldn't resist the torture. What is the human breaking point? I apologise to all my family and friends. I've already been through that and I was forgiven. I'm not going to go over it again. I'm going because this has to end. Goodbye.

Historia de una tragedia dentro de la tragedia (Pagina/12)

La carta que dejo El Pollo

Updated: here is a link to the blog of Baravalle's son. I am very touched by this story and have every sympathy for the Baravalle family.

Peru: HROs 'Hounded'

Miguel Jugo, executive director of APRODEH, has accused the government of using its 'random' auditing programme to harass non-governmental organisations which somehow cross a line and become a nuisance to the regime. I have no idea as to the truth of these claims (although it wouldn't altogether surprise me if they were true, and in any case, Peruvian bureaucracy is an effective weapon with which to harass anyone, honestly), but I wonder if they will unleash another backlash against APRODEH.

Human rights leader accuses Peru's government of hounding NGOs (Peruvian Times)

Nicaragua: Vendetta against Cardenal

Artists are protesting about an alleged vendetta by Nicaragua's Sandinista government against poet Ernesto Cardenal. Cardenal, who is 83, could now face jail after refusing to pay a fine in a defamation case which was first thrown out, then mysteriously re-opened.

Artists accuse Sandinistas of vendetta against revered poet (Guardian)

I don't know enough about Nicaragua to have a balanced viewpoint on its political life, but it is amazing to see how Daniel Ortega has gone from the darling of the left to a highly controversial figure, regarded with suspicion as a traitor, and even confronted with accusations of sexual abuse which, as he is immune from prosecution, he has not faced in court.

It seems particularly poignant given that I've just finished reading The Jaguar Smile by Salman Rushdie (first published 1987, I picked mine up in a second-hand bookshop, but it's apparently still in print), a slim account of the author's trip to revolutionary Nicaragua in 1986. I've never read any of Rushdie's more famous works (ah, confessions, confessions...), but this one is a light yet informative travelogue, highly readable, and features both Ortega and Cardenal, among others. It gives a good insight into the high hopes of the left for Nicaragua; Rushdie was unconvinced by the regime's censorship of the media but otherwise charmed by the guerrilla government. He is now among the previous supporters of the Sandinistas who have turned against their recent incarnations ('Intellectuals condemn authoritarian Ortega').

Saturday 6 September 2008

News Round-Up

So tell me, was I the last person to find out about Google Reader? I've only been using for a few weeks, but it's such a convenient way of keeping track of all your favourite blogs. Since most of the sites I'm interested in are based in the Americas, and I'm in Europe, a lot of updating goes on while I'm already in bed, so I wake up to a load of interesting new posts. This morning my Reader gave me the following gems:

- A slideshow of Pisco a year on from the devastating earthquake, from Peru21

- the prospect of Ecuador enshrining the rights of the natural world in its new constitution, from Ecuador Rising

- concerning articles and links about human rights abuses in Colombia, from IPS and Plan Colombia and Beyond

- and, (via The Mex Files) Aymara hiphop from Abiding in Bolivia (who knew?)

Friday 5 September 2008

News Round-Up

Three stories which draw connections between issues in the Latin American region:

Tim's El Salvador Blog reports on a disappointing lack of progress for justice in El Salvador, where an amnesty law blocking the prosecution of crimes committed during the country's conflict is still in place. The FMLN - one of El Salvador's major political parties - has said it will no longer push for the law to be repealed. The "no need to reopen old wounds" is a tired and disappointing one. When justice is not done, the wounds are open, they do not heal. It's not "raking over old ground" to prosecute perpetrators when that ground has never been gone over in the first place!

FMLN reverses position on Amnesty Law

In Peru, an Argentine military expert has been testifying in the Fujimori trial that orders for state terrorism are never written down (this may seem rather like stating the obvious, but it's important that it's spelled out for the case since it rests on proving Fujimori's knowledge of and responsibility for occurrences during his regime).

Argentine expert says orders for state crimes are never written down (Fujimori on Trial)

And in Argentina, the children of exiles face particular challenges fitting into the post-dictatorship society.

Children of Exile - Strangers Still (IPS)

Wednesday 3 September 2008

Peru: Remember the APRODEH furore?

Some people may remember, back in April/May, that there was controversy about the EU's decision not to class the MRTA as a currently active terrorism organisation (I blogged about it here, here and here).

At the time, one of my regular emails from the Peru Support Group promised an editorial on the subject, and I checked their website regularly for an update, and then pretty much decided it must have fallen by the wayside. But now - better late than never! - the editorial is there, and it is very good. It doesn't seem to have a unique URL, so I'm going to take the liberty of reproducing it here in full. I trust if this is an issue someone from the PSG will let me know and I'll take it right down.

Storm in a Teacup, or Something more Sinister?

European Union (EU) officials in Brussels and Strasbourg were reportedly bemused by the row created in Lima over an e-mail they received from the human rights group, the Asociacion pro-Derechos Humanos (Aprodeh), giving its opinion as to whether the Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru (MRTA) should be included in the EU's blacklist of terror organisations. After all, the MRTA has not been heard of for at least ten years or more, its last known 'operation' being the 1997 occupation of the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima.

But their missive to the EU sent shockwaves in Lima. President Alan Garcia accused Francisco Soberon, one of Aprodeh's directors and a veteran human rights campaigner, of being a traitor to the country. The government called for an immediate and full investigation of the organisation's activities. It also declared, via government decree, that 64 NGOs will no longer enjoy their observer status in the national council (CNDH), which advises the government on human rights matters. The reason given for this change in legislation was to protect classified government information.

Human rights organisations have been left in no doubt as to how they are judged and perceived at the highest levels of government. In 2006, the Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL), a well-respected organisation with a long track record of defending human rights was accused by a parliamentary commission of 'interfering' in justice (Update 117). Like Aprodeh, IDL has campaigned against the impunity of human rights crimes committed during Peru's 20-year fight against Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path).

A leading government official said to be behind the recent clampdown of human rights organisations is Luis Giampetri, Peru's first vice-president. Giampetri is a retired admiral, allegedly among those responsible for the slaughter of Shining Path captives in 1986 at the island prison of El Fronton.

The row over Aprodeh also coincides with the trial of Alberto Fujimori, currently being held on human rights and corruption charges. Fujimori is accused of masterminding the activities of a death squad which led to the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta killings in 1991 and 1992 respectively. According to the testimony of the titular head of the National Intelligence Service, himself recently convicted, Fujimori was closely involved in all 'anti-subversive' operations.

The role of Alan Garcia during his first Presidential term (1985 to 1990) has been repeatedly questioned with respect to how much he knew about notorious killings, such as the Accomarca (1985) and Cayara (1988) massacres, and the decision to kill the Sendero inmates who rioted at El Fronton and two other Lima prisons in 1986. Moreover, the murder of trade unionist Cantoral Huamani in 1989 by state agents - the Rodrigo Franco Group - was the subject of a ruling against the Peruvian state by the Inter American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) last year. The court has called upon the state, once again under Garcia's watch, to provide reparations. If Fujimori is eventually convicted on human rights grounds, who will be next?

The immediate context of the brou-ha-ha over Aprodeh has taken place while Garcia plays host to the fifth EU-Latin American summit. It is perhaps understandable that Garcia would be more than a little jumpy at the prospect of having large numbers of European and Latin American visiting dignitaries in Lima. In 1986, while the killings in the Lima jails took place, he was hosting a top-level meeting of the Socialist International involving heads of state which included Venezuela's Carlos Andres Perez. The riots and the subsequent slaughter were a deep embarrassment for Garcia at the time.

However, human rights considerations aside, the offensive against Aprodeh appears to go a little deeper. In supposedly acting as apologists for the MRTA, Aprodeh has become an important link in enabling the government to target other sources of 'anti-patriotic' support including:

NGOs supporting communities in their protests about the activities of mining companies. Government officials have repeatedly sought to connect these with the activities of supposed terrorists, especially in the case of the Rio Blanco project on Peru's northern frontier with Ecuador. In a now notorious newspaper article, Garcia likened those opposed to mining investments as standing in the way of national economic progress. Amongst those Garcia was keen to impress at the recent EU-Latin American summit were European mining companies.

Opposition leader Ollanta Humala, whose links to Venezuela - and to President Hugo Chavez in particular - have long provided a useful stick with which to beat the opposition as a whole. The Garcia government has made much of the attempts to set up the so-called 'Casas de ALBA' in Peru, offices involved in propagating the Venezuelan-inspired 'Bolivarian alternative' for Latin America. Some people believe MRTA sympathisers to be in cahoots with Humala and (by extension) with Chavez.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The presence of the FARC on Peruvian soil has always been more anecdotal than proven, particularly beyond the immediate frontier between the two countries along the Putumayo River. Here once again, the ghost of the MRTA emerges, at least in the minds of some, as its project is seen to bear striking similarities to those of FARC in Colombia. Identifying who FARC's international allies are is a top priority for both Colombian and US intelligence. Garcia, who poses as a stalwart supporter of both Uribe and the Bush administration, is keen to oblige. Ironically, FARC's biggest Peruvian supporters may have been Fujimori and Vladimiro Montesinos, both accused of orchestrating a massive deal to supply arms to the FARC in the 1990s.

In the increasingly intolerant atmosphere of present-day Peruvian politics, it is unsurprising that organisations like Aprodeh provide useful targets for the campaign against an ill-defined 'enemy within'. It may be that, with the European summit out of the way, this campaign will now die down. However, the degree of political polarisation both within Peru itself and within Latin America more broadly, suggests that such optimism may be misplaced.

Peru: TRC report summary

I was reading an article in La Republica today (it's this one, if I get a minute in the next few days I'll translate it, don't hold your breath though), in which the author writes that despite having written a doctoral thesis which covers the Peruvian conflict, she hasn't read every word of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. Well, ditto, on both counts. The writer then further recalls a very good summary of the report which she had used.

This reminded me that there is also an excellent English-language summary of the TRC final available, for free, from the UK-based Peru Support Group. You probably need to print it because otherwise the page numbering is all mixed up, as it's designed to be folded into a small booklet; it's 26 A4 pages. So, if you don't want to wade through the hundred of pages in Spanish, or even the conclusions in English on the official website, this is a very useful and clearly-written alternative.

Here's the PDF: The Findings of Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Colombia: Witnesses to a Massacre

Video and (abridged) translation of a massacre by paramilitaries in Colombia in 2000, touching on issues of witnessing, human rights abuses, torture, and impunity:

"Everytime they killed someone, they played drums" (Plan Colombia and Beyond)

Tuesday 2 September 2008

Peru: Quick Link

Here's the Peruvian Times on reaction to Cipriani's ranting about the TRC commissioners:

“This is surprising,” Bambarén said, noting the Cardinal had never defended human rights before and had now changed his discourse. “What was his role in Ayacucho and what is it now? Several bishops are very upset.”

Cardinal Cipriani, 64, who was openly against even forming the Commission, has consistently criticized human rights groups in his sermons and his weekly radio program. During the height of the terrorism years while he was Bishop of Ayacucho, he also is known to have said that the human rights coordinator was “a stupidity” and those who defended it were “useful fools.” A blackboard outside the Archbishopric in Ayacucho stated plainly “No human rights claims accepted.”

Yes, I've deliberately left in the embedded comment to Spanish-language El Comercio as well.
Bishop chastises Cardinal for comments on human rights