Friday 31 October 2008

Peru: State of Fear in Quechua

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

What fantastic news (thanks to Andrea Naranjo at Luna Antagonica via Gran Combo Club for drawing it to my attention). State of Fear, a documentary which I recommend highly, is now available in Quechua.

On their website, filmmaker Paco de Onis explains,
The Peruvian Truth & Reconciliation Commission (PTRC), whose work State of Fear is based on, found that 70% of the conflict’s more than 69,000 victims, mostly innocent civilians caught in the crossfire, were Quechua speakers – so we felt it was imperative to make a version of the film dubbed into Quechua, to make the findings of the PTRC available to the audience most affected by Peru’s war on terror

Too true. Screenings of the Quechua language version have been held in Peru. Moreover,
In order to make sure that the EDMQ version has as wide a reach as possible, we are promoting the copyleft concept and encouraging people to make as many copies of the film as they need, and download the screening workshop guide from the project web hub. Human rights organization COMISEDH, our key collaborator in the Ayacucho area, told audience members that if they brought a blank DVD to their offices they would burn them a copy, and they’ve been going like hotcakes.

I can only applaud de Onis, and director Pamela Yates, for this important move. Now, if only it were so easy to get hold of an English language copy of the film. The rest of us will just have to keep looking out for screenings at human rights film events and on public broadcasters.

Thursday 30 October 2008

Argentina: 25 Years of Democracy

For the Spanish speakers among you, Pagina/12 has a whole special supplement to commemorate the return to democracy.

Clarin has some great photos of the election results here.

Pablo at the blog D for Disorientation has a personal view of democracy in Argentina.

And in the midst of all this backpatting, it seems appropriate that the Guardian brings us back down to earth with an analysis of what it calls Christina Kirchner's "disastrous" first year as President.

Colombia: Military Killings

Julián Oviedo, a 19-year-old construction worker in this gritty patchwork of slums, told his mother on March 2 that he was going to talk to a man about a job offer. A day later, Mr. Oviedo was shot dead by army troops some 350 miles to the north. He was classified as a subversive and registered as a combat kill.

Colombia Lists Civilian Killings in Guerrilla Toll (NY Times)

The dismissal of Colombian army members over the killing of innocent civilians then dressed up as guerrillas has received a lot of media attention:

Colombia fires 20 army officers over civilian deaths (LA Times)

Colombia fires 27 army officers in probe of civilian deaths (Miami Herald)

Yes, the precise number of officers fired seems uncertain - or perhaps it's rising, I'm not sure.

Apparently, these deaths are euphemistically known as "false positives". BoRev calls it like it is: state terrorism.

It is a positive that this is coming out into the open though and being acknowledged by President Uribe - somewhat of a blow to impunity. Let's see how the investigation progresses.

Argentina: Obtaining DNA of Disappeared Children

The DNA results of samples taken from sheets, clothes, and toothbrushes will now be confirmed, according to Pagina/12. The Supreme Court judges have now reached a majority on the subject, although not all of them have yet given their decision. This is with respect to the ongoing attempts to identify children of the disappeared who were brought up in ignorance of their identity. Not all of them have agreed to undergo blood tests, so the Grandmothers and their legal advisors have explored different methods of confirming their identity.

At stake is the issue of whether
"on the one hand, the State may oblige a person to find out their true identity; if obtaining genetic material (whether from hair or saliva) without consent is a violation of privacy, and if, moreover, if this material may be used in a court case which could involve the adopted parents."

In June this year, the attorney general Esteban Righi maintained that it is an obligation of the State "to investigate and clarify the historical truth about the crimes against humanity of the forced disappearance of persons" and that, with this aim, it is necessary to adopt "all means" possible even though this implies "the intrusion of state institutions charged with the investigation into the freedom, the privacy, the private life and the integrity of persons, including those who are not accused."[...] Guillermo Prieto had claimed that "no biological material which is capable of confirming identity (...) may be used without the consent of the person to which it belongs". Righi responded that with this criterium it would be impossible to judge cases of murder and rape.
(Translation mine)

Para obtener el ADN por otros medios

Wednesday 29 October 2008

Blog Round-Up

Public Prosecutor's Office presents declassified documents from the US embassy in Lima (Fujimori on Trial)

Greg Weeks reviews another book which might find its way onto my Christmas list, this time dealing with Chilean dictator Pinochet: Heraldo Munoz's The Dictator's Shadow (Two Weeks Notice)

In Colombia, The FARC answers a letter (Plan Colombia and Beyond), and

Flor Díaz is a great dancer, mother of four children, health promoter, devout Catholic, and is serving six-and-a-half years in prison for “rebellion.”

Dancing in Prison (Community Action for Justice in the Americas)

Monday 27 October 2008

Peru: Interview with Ricardo Soberón Garrido

I’m afraid that far from resolving the problem, Plan VRAE is going to provoke greater problems and distrust in the region. In circumstances in which the remnants of the Peruvian Communist Party – Shining Path (PCP-SL) are a completely different entity than the entity we knew before, under the leadership of Abimael Guzmán (today in prison). It’s an entity very joined to economic activities, with capacity of territorial manipulation and control, and therefore strongly linked to the organized trafficking rings, who charge quotas on legal and illegal activities like hydrocarbons, forest industry and contraband. And it allows them to take the advantage of all of the shortcomings and omissions that the Peruvian State incurs at the moment of creating a presence in the VRAE.

Upside Down World interviews the Peruvian lawyer on topics covering the Shining Path, the 'war on drugs' and the presence of American troops in Ayacucho.

Militarization and the War on Drugs in Peru: Interview with Ricardo Soberón

Argentina: Road to Democracy

Clarin has started a special section on its website to commemorate the return to democracy in 1983, twenty-five years ago. I particularly like the images of the front pages from the time, it looks like they'll be updating them daily. Here it is (in Spanish):

1983: El camino hacia la democracia

US/Chilean elections

The daughter of Augosto Pinochet was elected to a city council in an affluent area of Santiago, Chile:
Chilean municipal elections (Two Weeks Notice)

More on McCain's meeting with Pinochet in Global Voices Online

Sunday 26 October 2008

Peru: More on SL's Recent Activity

This graphic is a useful one to show Peru's core coca-producing regions and, along with them, the VRAE - the Valle del Río Apurímac y Ene, which is now the heartland of the remaining factions of Sendero Luminoso/Shining Path.

There's also some good info on recent Sendero activity:

Sendero Stages Deadliest Attack in Ten Years (Robert Lindsay)
[This post actually links to my blog, but somehow I hadn't noticed that until I stumbled across it today... I find that hard to believe considering how carefully I check my stats, but there ya go!]

Combitos (Lapicero Digital, in Spanish)

Saturday 25 October 2008

Cultural Sunday

This week's cultural mixed bag:

I stumbled upon this very interesting website, a joint venture between Buenos Aires and Vienna, to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of Kristallnacht, and the Jews who fled Austria for Argentina. There are events taking place in both cities over the next week.
Verlorene Nachbarschaft/Vecinos perdidos (this is a German/Spanish website, sorry English speakers!)
Also in Argentina, Clarin is sponsoring some talks to commemorate 25 years of democracy - see the programme in the image above and here.

And from the Guardian, a column on more recent Colombian writers, some of them available in English: Colombia's brilliant successors to Garcia Marquez

Peru: Threats to Human Rights in VRAE

Yesterday La Republica reported on the violence and threats to local people carried out by members of the armed forces in the VRAE area of Peru. The article is here:

"Nos maltrataron y amenazaron de muerte"

And the post from Inca Kola News with some quotes translated is here:

Democracy and respect, Peruvian style

Today, the story is updated with new Peruvian Prime Minister, Yehude Simon, promising to support the efforts of human rights organisations to investigate in the region. He also says he has visited the remote areas in question and has noticed the sense of fear among the people there.

"I've seen fear in the population because they are in the middle again," said Simon in a radio interview.

This is true, but the "two devils"* theory mustn't be used, yet again, to justify violent overreactions and atrocities by an agent of the State which is, after all, not supposed to behave like a terrorist group itself! Let's hope that Simon keeps his word.

*Two devils (dos demonios) was the theory used primarily by supporters of the Argentine armed forces to justify the harsh treatment meted out by that organisation during the so-called "dirty war", ie, saying that both sides committed abuses equally. It was never a true picture of the Southern Cone. In Peru, the indigenous people sometimes spoke of being caught between "two fires" (entre dos fuegos), which was more accurate in their case.

Colombia: Military Violence

The BBC reports that three high-ranking members of the Colombian army have been sacked for their alleged involvement in extrajudicial killings.
Mr Uribe, who had also sought to play down the reports of extrajudicial executions, was forced to admit that there was evidence of grave abuses of human rights in the army.
It's pretty hard to deny, isn't it?

At the same time, from IPS,
Colombian President Álvaro Uribe admitted that the security forces opened fire on indigenous protesters in the southwestern province of Cauca, but denies that they were responsible for the deaths of three demonstrators, said Daniel Piñacué, a leader of the Nasa community.
Here's the message that the indigenous people want to put across:
IPS: What should the international community know about what Colombia’s indigenous movement is asking for?

DP: They should know what things are really like. That we live in a battleground created by the armed sectors that for years have displaced us from the best lands, and forced us farther and farther up into the mountains.

They should know we are peaceful, hard-working people who are justly demanding our right to our land and the freedom and the right to demand humane, decent conditions to live in peace.

Colombian 'killings' shake army (BBC)
[I really dislike the inverted commas in this headline. I know the BBC does this when the information is 'alleged', but I look at this and it makes me think that they are saying that the killings are not real, or something]

'We are not subversives, and we demand respect' (IPS)

Friday 24 October 2008

Ecuador & Peru Celebrate Peace

Ten years since Peru and Ecuador resolved their ongoing border conflict. Good on them both - and Otto is correct, I couldn't find any mention of this in the English language media at all.

Peru and Ecuador: Ten Happy Years (Inca Kola News)

US/Chile: McCain met Pinochet

Thanks to Two Weeks Notice and BoRev for pointing me to the story that John McCain had a meeting with General Pinochet in Chile in 1985. No meeting with dictators without pre-conditions, eh?
McCain described the meeting with Pinochet "as friendly and at times warm, but noted that Pinochet does seem obsessed with the threat of communism."
Really?! But then, the US's support for the Chilean dictatorship is no secret, so we shouldn't really be that surprised about the meeting. Here's the full story:

McCain's Private Visit with Chilean Dictator Pinochet Revealed for First Time (The Huffington Post)

Thursday 23 October 2008

Blog Round-Up

Duderino on the people's movement in Bolivia: Presente!

More on the recent activity of the Shining Path from Inca Kola news: This year's APEC meeting might get pretty explosive

Refugees in Ecuador: Organizing for Human Rights (Upside Down World)

Peru: Fujimori Knew about Gorriti's Abduction

In Fujimori's trial, it has been alleged that the ex-leader knew about the abduction of Gustavo Gorriti in 1992, at the time of Fujimori's "self-coup". He is supposed to have ordered the abduction of "inconvenient elements", including the prominent journalist.

Fujimori sabía del secuestro de periodista Gustavo Gorriti en sótano del SIE (La Republica)

Gorriti describes the incident in question in this interview from 1998.

Oh, yes, and the trial is now suspended until next Friday because supposedly, Fujimori is ill again.

Tuesday 21 October 2008

PC in Argentina?

South America is not as interested in 'political correctness' as its Northern neighbours, and I suppose that's a good or bad thing depending on your point of view. But that might be starting to change:
An organisation of over 100 journalists in Argentina has drawn up ten "commandments" for news coverage of gender-based crimes, which include avoiding expressions like "crime of passion" and incorporating terms like "femicide."
Its aim is to combat "invisible discrimination, which is often unintentional, but occurs because it has become natural in daily life," Liliana Hendel, a psychologist and journalist for the subscription television news channel Todo Noticias, and one of the authors of the ten commandments, or decalogue, told IPS.

I understand why some people roll their eyes at such initiatives, but I think this might hint at something important going on. It has been noted, for example, that the violence of the Argentine dictatorship carried with it an undercurrent - and sometimes a blatant dose - of misogyny. Diana Taylor goes as far as to summarise:
The battle in Argentina between the so-called nationalists and progressives during the twentieth century has been staged on and around the female body - be it the metaphorical Patria, Evita's wandering corpse, the nude body onstage, or the scantily clad body of the endless number of women who, during the Dirty War, appeared on the covers of national magazines that announced ever escalating acts of horror.
(Disappearing Acts, 1997, Duke University Press, p. 16)

And, of course, the 'locas' (madwomen) of the Plaza de Mayo, who were ignored, then mocked and threatened for the audacity of attempting to report their disappearance of their offspring.

I am not saying that eliminating the phrase 'a crime of passion' from a newspaper article will in itself prevent human rights abuses. I am saying that sexism and disrespect for human rights went hand-in-hand in an Argentina where the strongmen of the military controlled everything, including the power over life and death. Perhaps, just perhaps, a part of rooting out the anti-democratic elements that remain includes being conscious of the language we use and the messages it carries.

Argentina: Non-Sexist Language for Reporters

Monday 20 October 2008

How Terrorist Groups End

An interesting post by Silvio Rendon at Gran Combo Club (in Spanish) led me to the RAND Research Brief by Jones and Libicki on the resolution of conflicts involving 'terrorist' groups. The whole 250 page study is available for download at the website too, and I'm afraid I haven't read it all, but a key point is the utility - or not - of military force to defeat insurgent groups. According to the study, which surveys over 600 terrorist groups from all over the world active in the past decades, just 7% of them are defeated by military actions.

Rendon points out, quite accurately, that stating that it was police intelligence and not military might which brought down Sendero is nothing new. Right, this is standard fare in conventional treatment of Peru's conflict. Yet fujimoristas and other misguided people continue to spread the misinformation that the Peruvian armed forces defeated the terrorists. This leads to the mentality which says, in essence, "Hm, so maybe Fujimori was a bit harsh, but he needed to be, the country was under threat, and anyway look - he beat the Shining Path".

Let us be quite clear: the decisive factor that brought down the Shining Path was the capture of its leader, Abimael Guzman. Guzman was found by a police intelligence operation which Fujimori wasn't even informed of until it was all over, perhaps for fear he would order the execution of the guerrilla leader instead of bringing him to justice. Without its figurehead, Sendero crumbled. Aside from that, the indigenous people in the highlands, many of whom had given Sendero qualified support in the early years, withdrew it as it became clear exactly how vicious and indiscriminate the guerrilla violence was. Their self-defence committees along with the armed forces played a role. So, the military contributed to the defeat of Sendero, but it was not the primary factor. (The RAND report considers Sendero to be still an active group, and this is fair enough considering some of the headlines of recent weeks, but it is nothing like its heyday of the late 1980s, early 1990s).

If we look at Argentina, by contrast, the military force did defeat the Montoneros. But to obliterate this tiny group - Jones and Libicki list their size as in the "tens" - the armed forces ousted the government and ushered in a bloody regime which was responsible for the deaths of perhaps 30,000 people. It hardly seems like a good argument for military defeat of terrorists.

The study advocated the use of effective policing rather than immediately involving the armed forces. I'm certainly not going to comment on this approach with regard to al Qa'ida, because that's not my area, but with respect to Latin America, I would add that not only do militaries not root out the cause of terrorism, they also have a tradition of carrying out devastating abuses in their process of combating it. The preservation of democratic institutions must be a priority, not least since their destruction only plays into the hands of the terrorists.

[Incidentally, I'm aware that the word 'terrorist' is a contentious one, but to stop this from getting too long, I'm not going to go into the whys and wherefores of using it - feel free to ask if you are interested though.]

Sunday 19 October 2008

Cultural Sunday

A couple of book reviews by others this week:
Francisco Goldman's The Art of Political Murder (Two Weeks Notice) - I admire Goldman's skills as a novelist and would definitely be interested to read his take on the violence in Guatemala.

Archives and the Cold War in Latin America (Reading Archives)

Pagina/12 also draws attention to two Chilean documentaries dealing with the subjects of memory and human rights. Both are a couple of years old now, but are showing as part of the Buenos Aires documentary film festival next week. The films are Reinalda del Carmen, mi mamá y yo and La sombra de Don Roberto.
Victimas y verdugos

Saturday 18 October 2008

10 Years after Pinochet Arrest - Another View

There's an article about the anniversary of Pinochet's arrest in Argentina's Pagina/12, which I thought was worth translating because of its markedly reserved tone, in contrast with the celebratory reminiscences I've seen elsewhere. Yes, it acknowledges progress, but it is very much focused on all the work left to do.
The Spanish is here: A diez años de la captura de Pinochet
International justice is weakened, says Amnesty
10 Years after Pinochet's Capture

For the international human rights organisation, the world should consolidate and systematize the legal, moral and political principles which legimitized the 503 days of arrest for the former Chilean dictator in London.

On the tenth anniversary of the detention of Augusto Pinochet in London, Amnesty International warned of the weakness of international Justice. "There's still a lot to do to fulfill the hope for justice which Pinochet's arrest generated. Thousands of human rights abusers are still at large, avoiding justice in safe places all over the world," said the organisation's General Secretary, Irene Khan. For the NGO, the international community, and judges and lawyers all over the world have an obligation to consolidate and systematize the legal, moral and political principles which legitimised the 503 days of arrest of the once all-powerful Chilean dictator in the British capital.

"This is the moment to remember the extraordinary achievement of the families of Pinochet's victims," concluded Khan. On 16 October 1998, the judge from the Spanish Audiencia Nacional, Baltasar Garzón, brought together thousands of piece of evidence on the torture, disappearances and executions which Chilean human rights lawyers had gathered and, for the first time in history, invoked universal jurisdiction. "He recognised that heads of State are not above the law and may be detained and judged internationally for crimes committed in their own country," Amnesty International explained in a press release yesterday.

Since then, many judges have followed Garzón's example. A Belgian court issued an international arrest warrant in 2005 for the ex-President of Chad, Hissene Habré, who was detained in Senegal. In the end, the African country did not extradite him to Europe, but modified its own laws to be able to judge him in his country. This year, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in the Hague demanded the detention of the de facto President of Sudan, Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Nevertheless, according to Amnesty International, progress is too slow and difficult. For example, the organisation recalls, various government are currently demanding that the General Assembly of the UN condemn the "abuses" of universal jurisdiction committed by The Hague in the trials against the Sudanese authorities. "The detention of Pinochet set a precedent that the international community has the obligation to consolidate, detaining and judging or extraditing those who are alleged to have committed crimes classified under international law".

In Spain and Chile, by contrast, the day when two English police officers arrested the Chilean dictator in his room in The London Clinic on the orders of judge Garzón has been remembered with much optimism. "After the capture of the dictator, crimes against humanity would not go unpunished in the rest of the world,", Spanish lawyer Joan Garcés remembered happily. As an old friend of overthrown Socialist President Salvador Allende, Garcés was the lawyer who presented the accusations of the victim's families before Garzón.

For Chilean lawyer Roberto Garretón, who ten years ago compiled the accusation against Pinochet which was read in the British Parliament, the historical arrest of the dictator also inspired national systems of justice to judge their own criminals. Trials of human rights abusers multiplied in the following years in Chile, in Argentina the laws of 'full stop' and 'due obedience' [the amnesty laws brought in by Menem preventing the prosecution of military criminals] were annulled in 2005, and this year ex-President Alberto Fujimori was detained in Chile at the request of the Peruvian justice system.

Argentina: José Ignacio Rucci

Thirty-five years after the murder of prominent Argentine trade unionist José Ignacio Rucci, a book by an investigative journalist concludes that he was killed by the Montoneros guerrillas, as many already believed, rather than a right-wing death squad, as others argued.

This is another interesting article by IPS. I haven't read the book ("Operación Traviata. ¿Quién mató a Rucci?" by Ceferino Reato), so I can't comment on it, but the article makes it sound thoroughly-researched. I will add that there is a further twist; according to Martin Anderson's Dossier Secreto: Argentina's Desaparecidos and the Myth of the 'Dirty War', the leader of the Montoneros himself, Mario Firmenich, was a double agent, in league with the military and paramilitaries.

Reawakening the Ghosts of the 1970s Violence

Peru News

The Peruvian Times headlines rarely need further explanation, so here goes:

Peru's APRODEH awarded Letelier-Moffitt prize by the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington
“APRODEH has been the driving force behind the current trial of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori for alleged crimes against humanity during his 1990-2000 reign,” stated the IPS, known as Washington D.C.’s first progressive, multi-issue think tank.

Former President Fujimori allegedly targeted new premier Yehude Simon for assassination in 1992
“We must be clear on the fact that the ‘dirty war’ strategy was applied basically as of January and February 1991 on Fujimori’s orders. Not only did he approve and know about it, he also ordered it.”

Friday 17 October 2008

Thursday 16 October 2008

Judge Garzon to Investigate Spanish Disappearances

Now, I know that Spain isn't in the Americas*, but this story is appearing in the blog because the judge in question is Baltasar Garzón: he's the one who issued the warrant for Pinochet's arrest and presided over the Scilingo trial. Now's he turning his attention to human rights abuses in his own country.
A Spanish judge has launched a criminal investigation into the fate of tens of thousands of people who vanished during the civil war and Franco dictatorship.
Judge Baltasar Garzon - Spain's top investigating judge - has also ordered several mass graves to be opened.
Correspondents say the historic ruling will be controversial in Spain.
They say there has been a tacit agreement among political parties not to delve too deeply into the civil war and Franco era.

Better late than never, Spain.
Spanish judge to probe Franco era (BBC)

*unlike some people

Argentina: Menem Trial Begins...

...but the accused is not present. His lawyers say he is too ill to attend the trial. Menem could theoretically be sentenced to up to 12 years in jail, but he cannot be actually imprisoned until his term as a senator ends in 2014. He's already 78. I won't be holding my breath waiting to see him behind bars any time soon (although you never know; it happened to Videla), but I maintain my usual position that seeing these former untouchables in front of a judge is still a positive thing.

Menem arms-smuggling trial opens (BBC)

Chile: Pinochet Arrest, 10 Years On

It's a decade since Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London, where he was receiving medical treatment. The occasion was a milestone in the treatment of former dictators and in the process of dealing with the past in the Southern Cone.
"Pinochet's arrest changed the whole conversation about upholding human rights," said Juan Mendez, president of the ICTJ (International Center for Transitional Justice). "Before it, many of us in the human rights arena were aware of the notion of universal jurisdiction, but we never really thought it would be applicable in our lifetime."

"In Chile, some of us remember where we were when Kennedy died, but all of us remember where we were when Pinochet was arrested," said Felipe Aguero, programme director of the Ford Foundation in Chile.

Legal Legacy of Pinochet's UK Arrest (BBC)

Both the BBC article and Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, draw comparisons between the case of Pinochet and Milosevic, Fujimori, Liberia's Charles Taylor, and others.

Ten Years on from Pinochet's Arrest, Dictatorships Are No Longer Safe (Independent blog)

In addition, Chile has sentenced five former members of the armed forces over the killing of dissidents during the military regime:

Chile Jails Death Squad Officers

Blog Round-Up

Other stuff worth reading today...

Richard Grabman recalls the iconic image of black power: The other fortieth anniversary in Mexico (The Mex Files)

Tim blogs on poverty for Blog Action Day (Tim's El Salvador Blog)

Otto is trying on his 007 suit (well... kind of): Spooks After Bolivian Peace Corps Mutineers (Inca Kola News)

And there's a sombre piece from Stuart Schussler at Upside Down World on the struggles of Colombian refugees in Ecuador: Refugees in Ecuador: Putting Neo-Liberalism to the Test

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Argentina: Menem's Arms Trial

The trial of Carlos Menem, former Argentine President, is about to start. Menem will face charges of illegally supplying arms to Ecuador (among other places) during that country's conflict with Peru, which flared up again in the early nineties. As Argentina was one of the guarantors of the original peace deal between the two Andean nations in the 1950s, selling one of them arms to attack the other with is particularly frowned upon. The trial is likely to be a protracted affair.

Argentina Trying Menem in Arms Scam (Prensa Latina)

Sunday 12 October 2008

Argentina: Victoria Donda

Victoria Donda, the youngest deputy in the Argentine National Congress, is the daughter of disappeared parents. She was born in the ESMA, illegally adopted, and didn't find out her true identity until 2004. Even more incredibly, her uncle was a torturer in the ESMA and involved in the murder of her parents. Now, she is the subject of a film by Adrián Jaime, entitled "Victoria".

En busca de la identidad perdida

Cultural Sunday

"Ñawiykikunawan uyarimuway" So, it might look like a bit of a mouthful, but it means "Óyeme con los ojos" ("Listen to me with your eyes"), and it's the title of a photography exhibition in Cusco, Peru. All the photos on display were taken before the devastating earthquake of 1950 and photographers include the Cabrera brothers and Juan Manuel Figueroa Aznar. The glimpse of the images that you get from the article looks really beautiful.

Another photography exhibition takes place at the Winchester Gallery in the UK from 3 October to 7 November. Photographers including Korda, Susan Meiselas and Sebastião Salgado have work featuring in Persistence of Vision: Memory Trails through the Latin American Left. The blurb on artrabbit notes that:
As the dictatorships fell across the continent following the end of the Cold War, activists turned to photography to reclaim the memories of resistance and oppression that had been denied them so long. Relatives of the disappeared, including the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, used photographs of their missing loved ones in their many years of street demonstrations, on websites, and as practical tools to find the children of those who had been murdered who were often kidnapped by the military and raised ignorant of their fate.
Documentary film Bajo Juarez opened in Mexico this weekend and deals with the murder of women in Ciudad Juarez.

Saturday 11 October 2008

Peru: Fujimori Update

Yes, guys, the Fujimori trial drags on, despite all the other news happening in Peru right now. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs draw parallels between Fujimori and current (AND former; his first term was 1985-1990) President Alan Garcia.
Analysts also note that, like Fujimori, Garcia has shown a proclivity for disregarding human rights. In fact, Garcia’s actions reveal sentiments on the matter more akin to annoyance, perhaps even contempt. As Garcia and Fujimori share a mutual interest in discouraging demands for accountability from Peru’s civil society and judicial branch (Garcia previously served a term as president, which was marred by allegations of extensive human rights abuses), one can hardly be surprised that Garcia recently has moved to stifle human rights organizations, while finding time to sponsor a rally in support of Fujimori...

Birds of a Feather? Fujimori's Trial Resumes, Garcia's Scandal Deflects Attention (COHA)
Alan García did not actively hail Fujimori’s extradition from Chile, as a positive trial outcome for Fujimori will advance Alan García’s own political interests. [...] Furthermore, according to the Washington Office on Latin America, “a Fujimori conviction on human rights charges could have serious implications for Alan García, since during his first administration widespread human rights violations occurred and there is fear that someday he could be called to account for them.”

The Legacy of Alberto Fujimori: Is Now a Chance for the Vindication for Human Rights? (COHA)

And - Prosecution Continues Presenting Evidence that Shows Military Squadron Colina's Affiliation with Peru's Armed Forces (Fujimori on Trial)

Peru: 15, not 19, victims

The Peruvian armed forces are now claiming that 2 civilians, and not the seven previously reported, were killed in the Shining Path attack in which 13 soldiers died. A further two civilians, including a child, were injured.

Trece soldados y dos civiles muertos en atendado de SL (Peru21)

Friday 10 October 2008

Peru: 19 Killed by Sendero

Twelve soldiers and seven civilians have been killed in a bomb attack by rebels in a remote coca-growing region of south-east Peru, the military said. [...] The armed forces blame the Shining Path group, which wrought havoc in Peru during the 1980s and early 1990s. It is the worst attack in a decade by the Maoist-inspired organisation.

Peru rebels launch deadly ambush (BBC)

Argentina: Videla in Jail

This just in: ex-de facto President Jorge Rafael Videla has been transferred from house arrest to an actual jail. Judge Norberto Oyarbide decided that the facility has adequate medical facilities to deal with any emergencies that might affect the 83 year old former dictator. Videla has already been tried for crimes during the dictatorship and is awaiting trial in a further 21 cases.

I think this is good news; I'm always pleased to see any step forward in the justice process. I notice that some of the commenters on the news piece below are dubious that this is a "real jail" - located, as it is, on a military base (where many people probably have residual sympathies towards the military regime). I take the point; but still, it's not home, is it?

Videla fue traslado a una carcel comun (Critica Digital)

Cheers Otto, for the tip!

Quick Link: Chile Ten Years after Pinochet Arrest

"as we all know, and the Pinochet case itself shows, avoiding the past is as absurd as avoiding our own shadow,"

Chile: Ten Years of the 'Pinochet Effect'

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Blog Round-Up

There's plenty of people blogging away more industriously than I am this week, so here's a selection:

In his own “Justice and Peace” confession (which began in July), he did not hesitate to admit to giving the order to kill people who ’smelled like guerrillas.’ Without blinking, he confessed to the San José de Apartadó massacre of 1998. He said he ordered the massacre because the town was so secluded, and the logistics of getting there were so difficult, that it wasn’t worth it to make an incursion just to kill one or two people. Therefore, in order to make the most out of the trip, they killed the largest amount of people that could possibly be associated with the FARC.

You really can't argue with some people's logic, can you? More on the testimony of Raúl Hasbún regarding human rights abuses in Colombia from Plan Colombia and Beyond. From the same blog, "No place in a civilized and democratic society".

Also, the effects of Plan Colombia on its neighbour, Ecuador: Refugees in Ecuador: Plan Colombia and the Asylum Lottery (Ecuador Rising)

And a key word is impunity, in Peru: The country of extrajudicial killings and media silencing they don't tell you about (Inca Kola News)
And in Mexico: Press freedom organization issues alert for Mexico (LA Times blog)

Finally, just to get your blood boiling - at least if you're anything like me - try this from Borev: WaPo Makes Latin America an Offer it Can't Refuse

Monday 6 October 2008

Quick Link: Just the Facts

Just the Facts: A civilian's guide to U.S. defense and security assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean

This revamped website, a joint projection of the Center for International Policy, Latin American Working Group Education Fund and Washington Office on Latin America, looks like a good resource for data and analysis of the military relationship of the US and Latin America.

Sunday 5 October 2008

Mexico: Tlatelolco March Turns Violent

Mexico memory march ends in violence (LA Times blog)

Ya think?
(The Mex Files)

Cultural Sunday

The cultural round-up for this week:

Latin American stars will gather to commemorate a hundred years since the birth of Chilean President Salvador Allende on 7-8 November in Santiago.
Multutudinario homenaje a Allende ya toma forma (La Tercerca)

An upcoming film, Matar a todos (Kill Them All) also deals with the crimes of the Pinochet dictatorship. A collaboration between the Argentine, Chilean, and Uruguayan film industries, the production was largely filmed in Montevideo, and will be screened in the ESMA on 25 October before going on general release.
Un film sobre los crimenes de Pinochet (Pagina/12)
Here's a trailer:

"Yes, I loathe the military, but I hate the Catholic Church as well that allowed it all to happen: the torture, the disappearances, the baby-stealing. They said that it was necessary to take the children of those who opposed the regime so that those children of Communists would become good Catholics. The worst thing that they could do: that those children would live with the families of the murderers of their parents: that was what the Catholic Church wanted while their priests were telling stories about the Holy Family."
A play called 'Elsa', by JW Berger, is a Goethe Institut-supported production taking place at the Espacio Callejon in Buenos Aires and dealing with issues of the Argentine dictatorship, family, and memory.
Guardar memoria (Pagina/12)

And finally on a light note, some charming old photos of central Lima and Miraflores from the 1960s from Gran Combo Club, songs about memory from commenters at the Guardian, and - though I'm no fan of the man, you can't deny his significance in Peruvian literature - an interview with Mario Vargas Llosa in the same newspaper.

Saturday 4 October 2008

Argentina: Dictatorship in English

A intriguing article today from ñ, the magazine of Pagina/12, on books dealing with the dictatorship in English.

Now, I haven't read Imagining Argentina, by Lawrence Thornton, but I have seen the resulting film starring Emma Thompson, and it is truly terrible. It is a ludicrously inaccurate and even offensive take on the story of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, of which Guardian film reviewer Peter Bradshaw said,
Some films are so spectacularly misjudged they make you want to put a brown paper bag over your head, and roll off your cinema seat in a foetal ball of embarrassment and shock.

and I can only agree.

So, it's easy to see why the Argentine article takes a dubious tone on foreigners scribbling about the Southern Cone. I was almost too irritated by superficialities to take in journalist Carlos Gamerro's points, though. He picks on the faulty use of accents on the Spanish in Thomas Pynchon's novel Gravity's Rainbow; fair enough, but why, then, isn't the article itself well-researched enough to spell the name of its sources correctly?! It mangles both the title and the author's name of Marguerite Feitlowitz's A Lexicon of Terror, while blaming this book for containing an inaccuracy repeated in Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine (oh yeah, and Naomi gets an extra accent in her name too). A brief glance at the article revealed at least two more errors in the details of the English books. Incidentally, I own Feitlowitz's book and find it a generally good guide to the dictatorship, although admittedly with an occasionally casual, rather than academic tone. Gamerro also deals with Colm Toibin's novel The Story of the Night, which he finds more to his taste, but grudgingly and damning with faint praise ("Tobin has, at least, the minimal level of intelligence to find himself a plausible point of view; not to try to put himself into the skin of an Argentine").

So, if not these books, then which? I started thinking about which books I would recommend for someone wanting to find out about the Proceso in English. Here's a few ideas:


Rita Arditti's Searching for Life: The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Disappeared Children of Argentina
This was the first book I ever read on the dictatorship. It covers more than just the story of the Abuelas themselves and is engaging with has a lot of tough details. I wept. Important reading and approved of by the Grandmothers themselves.

Horacio Verbitsky's The Flight: Confessions of an Argentine Dirty Warrior
Translation of El Vuelo by one of Argentina's top investigative journalists. Verbitsky's interviews with naval officer Francisco Scilingo, who admitted to flying planes that dropped living prisoners into the sea to die, created a storm in Argentina on its publication in 1995.

Diana Taylor's Disappearing Acts: Spectacles of Gender and Nationalism in Argentina's "Dirty War"
I think this is a completely fascinating consideration of public space, cultural productions, and the construction of the dictatorship, although I accept that the cultural theory and feminism may not be to everyone's taste.

Laura Alcoba's The Rabbit House: An Argentinian Childhood
A memoir which I reviewed just recently (but, as I stated in the review, I think you would get more out of this if you knew the basic facts about the dictatorship before reading it)


Of novels that I have read personally, I can only think of Elsa Osorio's My Name is Light and Alicia Partnoy's The Little School, although there are certainly more, and I'm not sure that I would unequivocally recommend either one of these.

Any more, to add to either list? Go ahead and comment if so.

The article that triggered my thoughts, of course, is here:
La dictadura contada en ingles (Pagina/12)

Friday 3 October 2008

Argentina: Disappeared Children

IPS has an important article (yet again... I love them!) on the search for the children of the disappeared in Argentina. Now, when you explain to people that during the Argentine dictatorship, military taskforces went into citizens' homes, abducted them, took them to secret locations without notifying any official authorities and then tortured them, and that very few of those citizens survived... well, people tend to think that was not a good thing, right? Some of those citizens were totally apolitical, some of them were left-wing and interested in social justice, and really, that was more than enough to attract the unwelcome attention of the ruling armed forces, and a small number were actually leftist guerrillas BUT the great majority of these last group were wiped out early in the dictatorship and even then, they did have a right to a fair trial, which they didn't get.

Now, on top of ALL THAT, when you hear that soldiers stole people's babies and gave them to military or associated families to be brought up, or that they held pregnant women until they have birth before murdering them and then selling the babies, it is quite mind-blowing. And for the past thirty years, a dedicated group of mothers of those female victims has been searching for the grandchildren they have never even met. And what is more, they are still finding them. It's thirty years on, the grandchildren are adults, the grandmothers are very old, but still they press on. DNA technology allows conclusive proof that an adopted child is in fact the offspring of 'disappeared' parents.

At this point, though, people's sympathies often waver somewhat. But, they say, wouldn't it be a horrendous shock to find out that your adopted parents were not the nice people you thought they were, but complicit with a brutal regime that tortured and killed your biological parents? (The answer is undoubtedly yes) What if you hadn't even KNOWN you were adopted? What if your adopted parents had been really nice to you? Would you have an identity crisis? Wouldn't it maybe be better to just let it go, live and let live, let sleeping dogs lie?

The Grandmothers are familiar with such arguments. You don't often see such a detailed consideration of them in English, however.

Many of the young people who the Abuelas have helped discover their real identities have found the experience especially traumatic, when they find out that the people who they regarded as their parents were actually involved in the disappearance of their biological mother and father.

"We are very respectful of how fast each person can process things. Many of the grandchildren who initially refused or were reluctant to undergo DNA testing, but later did so, stop by the offices of the Abuelas every day now," Alan Iud, assistant coordinator of the human rights group’s team of lawyers, told IPS.


Given the persistent refusal to undergo DNA testing by a number of young people suspected of being the sons or daughters of some of the dictatorship’s 30,000 victims of forced disappearance, federal judges in Argentina began in 2006 to order searches of their homes, to find combs, brushes, toothbrushes or underwear, in order to obtain DNA to carry out the tests.


"We are the only DNA testing centre in the world created specially to clarify crimes against humanity," said Belén Rodríguez, a biochemist who runs the BNDG, an internationally prominent centre that was created in Buenos Aires in 1987, during the presidency of Raúl Alfonsín (1983-1989).


Iud explained that in the case of "young people who have resisted undergoing the DNA test, once the judge has informed them of the results, they generally want to meet their (biological) family, and most of them say they feel a huge sense of relief, that it took a weight off their backs."

The Grandmothers also work with psychologists to ensure that the found grandchildren can access professional help if they need it. Moreover, the Grandmothers argue that a family in which a child was illegally adopted is a family based on a lie, a lie which twists and corrupts the relation between parent and child. They claim that a person has a right to their true identity. They also have a good relationship with the majority of the, to date, almost a hundred found grandchildren. No one could say that discovering that your biological parents were murdered, possibly with the knowledge and complicity of your adopted parents, is an easy thing, but in many cases, the adoptees do come to terms with their history and sometimes become involved in activism with, for example, HIJ@S, the organisation of children of the disappeared. Where this is not the case, the tragedy of their story is not the fault of the Grandmothers, but the fault of the military who committed these crimes in the first place.

Full article: New Methods to Identify Dictatorship's Missing Children (IPS)

Also a perspective on found grandchild no.93, who didn't want to have her identity confirmed, by Argentina Reporter.

Thursday 2 October 2008

Mexico: More on Tlatelolco

From the LA Times:
Mexico remembers massacre 40 years later

From The Latin Americanist:
Tlatelolco four decades later

Argentina: Honouring Alfonsin

Argentina is beginning to mark 25 years since the end of the dictatorship. Accordingly, President Fernandez de Kirchner unveiled a bust of the first democratic President after the junta, Raul Alfonsin, in the presidential palace. Alfonsin himself, now 81 and present at the event, stated that "there will be no more de facto Presidents here" (referring, naturally, to the succession of illegitimate presidents during the dictatorship).

Un simbolo de la democracia