Wednesday 30 December 2009

Argentina: Herrera de Noble/DNA case

Since my first post about Ernestina Herrera de Noble in August, the story has moved on considerably, with confirmation of the right to forcibly obtain DNA samples (from personal belongings) from suspected disappeared children and a court ruling, just before Christmas, that the Clarin owner's adopted children must undergo DNA testing without further delay.

Accordingly, Marcela and Felipe turned up to give blood samples, and the international press has picked up on the story.

The legal wrangling continues. The Noble siblings went to the Legal Medical department for testing, not, as the law stipulates, the National Bank of Genetic Data. Plus, they are demanding that their DNA be compared against just two possible biological families, who initiated the legal proceedings, and not against all potential matches. The significance of both these moves is to attempt to prevent the Noble children becoming part of the national search to identify the disappeared children and limit the number of families that could be linked to them. The recent court order allowed them to use the forensics laboratory for the test, but this contradicts a recent law which states that all such testing must take place within the national genetic database. Naturally, the Grandmothers are loudly protesting this development.

Apparently, results of the tests will take around two weeks - although I don't know if they will be released to the media immediately.

Las muestras de sangre de la polemica (Pagina/12)
Los Noble Herrera "cumplen con la ley" (Critica Digital, source of image)
Argentina takes DNA sample to track missing kids (AP)
DNA tests as Argentina seeks children of 'disappeared' (BBC)
Search for missing children in Argentina involves prominent media mogul (Mercopress)

Sunday 27 December 2009

Argentina Trial Round-Up

Pagina/12 is looking back and forward at the crimes against humanity trials today: for the Spanish-speaking among you, it has a summary of the year's progress and what is awaiting us in 2010. The answer is: plenty more trials. On whole, I'd say the balance is positive. Justice has been delayed for far too long but at least we are seeing significant human rights abusers convicted. Let's hope the momentum keeps going.

Stats: 67 cases brought to trial in 2009
37 sentences from 11 trials - 32 convictions and 5 acquittals
Average delay between case being sent to trial and opening hearing: 1.5 years

List of major trials scheduled for next year: La hoja de ruta de 2010
List of those convicted so far: Los condenados

Plus: English-language summary of major cases from CELS (Centre for Legal and Social Studies)

Thursday 24 December 2009

Peru: Bodies of 25 Children Exhumed

Forensic experts have revealed the remains of around 25 children in the village of Umasi, Ayacucho.

According to the witnesses, a column of Sendero Luminoso rebels ‘recruited’ “at least 40 people” in the village of Raccaya on Nov.25, 1983, most of them fourth and fifth grade children (10-12 yrs old), and led them on a forced march for more than 10 hours on a circuitous route to the village at Umasi, where they stopped for food and shelter in the school building (the villages are only about an hour and a half apart on a bad road).

A teacher at Umasi sought help from the military base at Canaria, and at dawn on Nov.27, two military patrols approached the area, surrounded the school and threw grenades into two of the schoolrooms, injuring children and the Senderistas, who surrendered. The witnesses said the military raped girls and women, and shot the children and five adults. Two large graves were dug to bury the bodies, and a third grave was dug to bury two bodies that did not fit into the others.

Forcibly recruited by Shining Path and then murdered by the forces of the State they turned to for help - another tragic, but sadly typical, example of the fate of indigenous people in the Peruvian conflict.

Exhuman los cadaveres de 25 ninos asesinados por una patrulla del Ejercito en 1983 (CNDDHH)
Peru forensic team finds bodies of 25 children killed in Ayacucho during internal war (Peruvian Times)

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Peru: Putis in graphic form

Although it's not new, I just stumbled across this comic strip of the Putis massacre via El otro tambor. It's taken from a book called Rupay: Historias Gráficas de la Violencia en el Perú. 1980 - 1984. I'm only pasting the first image here, but you can see the complete Putis section at the blog linked above. I had no idea that such a book had been published, and personally find it very effective.

Peru: Monument Controversy

Here's my translation of an article republished on the blog of the Peruvian human rights coordinator. For what it's worth, I agree with Vargas - this is a transparent attempt to undermine the Museum of Memory project and could herald the beginning of a series of 'competing' memorials, which makes me recall Marita Sturken's powerful piece on the controversy surrounding the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (PDF).

The construction of a monument in honour of the civilian and military victims of terrorism committed by Shining Path and the MRTA is responding to a spirit of opposition to the Museum of Memory, believes Germán Vargas, president of the Asociación Paz y Esperanza (Peace and Hope Association).

Vargas Farías gave his opinion on the CNR radio station about the project of the Asociación de Oficiales, Generales y Almirantes (Officers', Generals' and Admirals' Association) which announced the consturction of a monument in honour of the "defenders of democracy and victims of terrorism" in Jesús María [a district of Lima].

He indicated the existence of an intention to present a fragmented memory of what happened during the turbulent years of terrorism. "There is the intention to present a separate memory, of one sector of the population, in this case the military sector, which seems strange to me coming from a top functionary of the State such as the Minister (of Defence, Rafael) Rey," he stated.

Vargas said that it was contradictory for conflicting opinions to be coming from members of the government about the Museum of Memory, a space which has not
even been built yet but which has been the subject of substantial criticism.

"The attitude of Minister Rey, who always opposes anything which would show what really happened during those years, just demonstrates he is at the forefront of impunity. He questions the museum because it will show what really happened in the country. It's really a cheek," he claimed.

The monument planned by the Officers', Generals' and Admirals' Association will seek to honour the memory of all victims of terrorism and those who offered their lives in the struggle against terrorists from 1980 onwards, according to the president of the institution, Lieutenant General of the Peruvian air force (FAP), Arnaldo Velarde Ramírez.

He said that the initiative aimed to evoke the gratitude of the Peruvian people and that the building of the monument would be funded by donations. The project was approved in May by the Defense Commission of Congress, while the Mayor of Jesús María, Enrique Ocrospoma, has donated a large site in his district for this purpose.

Monumento en honor a militares presentaria memoria fragmentada del conflicto armado (CNDDHH)

Argentina: Judge Sentenced to 21 Years

Ex-judge Victor Brusa has become the first member of the judiciary to be sentenced for crimes committed during the last military dictatorship. Brusa was charged with 'criminal association' and 'judicial misconduct'. These bland terms hide the fact that, according to witnesses, the judge was present in clandestine detention centres and attacked detainees with karate kicks.

Brusa was re-appointed a judge in Santa Fe after the fall of the military junta, but was sacked in 2000 for hindering an investigation into a hit-and-run accident in which he ran over a swimmer with his motorboat and fled.

What morals, eh?

Argentina 'dirty war' ex-judge gets 21 years (AFP)
"Un colaborador del Ejercito" (Pagina/12)

News Round-Up

Former Argentine leader Menem indicted for graft (AFP)

NGOs Urge President Colom to release military archives (WOLA)
Awaiting sentence in forced disappearance case (Naty en Guate)
Historic first sentence against former member of Guatemalan military for crime of forced disappearance (Naty en Guate)
Plan Sofia 82 is handed over (Naty en Guate)
Rights courts condemns Guatemala in 1983 massacre (AP)

Twenty Years After US Invasion, Panama Still in Search of a Body Count (truthout)

Peruvian Police Identify Commander of Resurgent Shining Path Guerrilla Group (Americas Quarterly)

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Argentina: Grandchild No. 100

I predicted it just a couple of days ago, but I really wasn't expecting to see the Grandmothers announce the finding of grandchildren 100 before Christmas. They have, however, and it's a rather unusual case. Here is a partial translation of the article in Pagina/12:

The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo have announced the recuperation of grandchild number one hundred. In this case, the story is different to that of the other grandchildren illegally appropriated during the most recent military dictatorship. Matías is the son of Tulio Valenzuela and Norma Espinosa[pictured], who were both Montoneros militants. Tulio died in 1978 having been surrounded by an ESMA taskforce, and as he was in hiding he had never had the chance to acknowledge his child. Matías always lived with Norma and knew that he was their son, but only now has he been able to cross-check his DNA with those of the family of his father stored in the National Comission for the Right to Identity (Conadi). The results of the test have allowed him to take his father's last name.

"The case of Matías is an atypical one," Estela Carlotto [President of the Grandmothers] told Pagina/12. "He wasn't disappeared, but he has recovered his identity; he is a grandchild whose identity was split in half because his father, Tulio Valenzuela, had met him but never had the chance to give him his name because they abducted him. Norma Espinosa, his mother, told him something of this story and he, well, when he was an adult he began to want to complete his history with his father's surname."

He needed the Grandmothers' help because it was not an easy story, said Carlotto. "It wasn't easy because he didn't have any contact with his father's family, the family didn't believe in the story; many families sometimes shut themselves off from some things which seem alien to them, and the thing was, Tucho (Tulio) had been together with Norma and had this son, and then life went on and he had a child with Raquel Negro - this is how love work, in the end, normal people fall in and out of love." [translation mine]
As well as confirmation of his paternity, the Grandmothers' press release notes that Matias has been able to meet his half-sister, Sabrina Valenzuela, who is the daughter of Tulio and Raquel Negro mentioned in the article. She is found grandchild No. 96. How amazing for the two siblings to find each other after so long and to understand their true histories.

Thursday 17 December 2009

Brazil: What Will the TC Look Like?

Brazil's truth commission plan has not been presented yet - it's apparently planned for Monday - but already a debate is starting about the form it should take.
...the latest draft of the plan uses the phrase "Truth and Reconciliation."

"It's a contradiction for the government to propose reconciliation, when it has done nothing to make information available, and has refused to declassify its archives," said Elizabeth Silveira e Silva of the Torture Never Again Group in Rio de Janeiro, the sister of a student who was forcibly disappeared.

"It's not possible to reconcile people without the recovery of the victims' bodies, and without the truth," said Beatriz Affonso, head of the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) in Brazil. The reconciliation that is needed is between state and society, but Brazil has not yet officially admitted the crimes committed during the 1964-1985 dictatorship.

It's an interesting point. Of the Latin American truth commissions, most - but not all - used the word "truth" in their titles and some chose to talk of "reconciliation". Brazilian rights activists want the commission there to be for "justice and truth" - a clearly different inflection to "truth and reconciliation". Some would argue that mentioning reconciliation at this stage is jumping ahead in the slow process towards societal forgiveness of crimes, and cannot be mandated or prescribed. Of course, in the end it is actions that will count.

Brazil's Turn for Truth and Justice (IPS)

Argentina: Will I be number 100?

This is today's cartoon from Pagina/12. It features a series of people wondering "Will I be number 100?" and at the bottom the word "grandchildren". It's referring to the 30 year struggle of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo to find their disappeared grandchildren. Until now, they have solved 99 cases, and a new one is generally uncovered every few months. So we are tantalisingly close to the symbolic 100th grandchild. Of course, this person won't be any more or less important than all the others, but there will undoubtedly be particular attention focused on the hundredth case.

The Grandmothers carry out their own investigations and also rely on tip-offs to trace the offspring of those pregnant women abducted by the regime (and the fewer children who were themselves kidnapped when very young). In addition, since the disappeared children came of age (most of them were born in captivity in the last 1970s), the Grandmothers have been asking young Argentine adults directly if they have doubts about where they come from. Do the tales of their birth not add up, or are documents missing? Were they adopted at the height of the violence, in 1976-78, and is there something not quite right about their adoptive parents' story of their origins? Is it just a feeling? Found grandchild No. 98, Martin Amarilla-Molfino, approached the Grandmothers himself with his suspicions. Others in the same situation can consult the Grandmothers with any queries. The 100th grandchild is definitely out there.

Monday 14 December 2009

Colombia: Shame on O'Grady

Ah, Mary Anastasia O'Grady of the Wall Street Journal: the columnist Latin Americanists love to hate. We only read her for a laugh, right? Every time she says anything particularly outrageous, a small flurry of blog posts delight in ripping it to shreds. I don't know what we'd do for entertainment without her, although admittedly, I'm not convinced that giving her more attention is really the best move.

In this instance, though, I can only reiterate the words of the infinitely better-informed Adam Isacson at Plan Colombia and Beyond:
In today’s edition, columnist Mary O’Grady unquestioningly takes the testimony of a demobilized FARC fighter at face value. Her column not only fails to verify her source’s allegations: it gravely threatens the security of a community and the organizations working with it. This is shameful.
Among other things, she writes,
He also told me that the supposed peaceniks who ran the local NGO were his allies and an important FARC tool in the effort to discredit the military.
O'Grady bolsters the despicable behaviour of the Colombian government in smearing human rights activists at every turn, and every act like that only serves to further endanger those courageous, hard-working people. To put this into context,

Margaret Sekaggya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, who visited Colombia in September, told the panel that she remained concerned over what she has called a "pattern of harassment and persecution against human rights defenders.''

Sekaggya challenged the government of President Alvaro Uribe to "genuinely address'' their concerns.

Rights activists and community organizers have long been among the primary targets of both right-wing paramilitary forces and leftist rebel armies in Colombia, with more than 60 murdered between 2002 and 2008. Violence has abated greatly with the demobilization of more than 30,000 paramilitary fighters and the routing of guerrillas from major urban areas.

But last year, 11 rights activists were murdered, according to the Colombian Commission of Jurists, and in the first nine months of this year, nine rights defenders have been reported killed. [emphasis mine]

Colombia rights defenders say they're under constant attack (Miami Herald)

Sunday 13 December 2009

Peru: Yuyanapaq

Just a heads-up that today's La Republica has a special supplement of the photographic exhibition Yuyanapaq - an absolutely must-see for anyone interested in Peruvian human rights and political violence. Those of us who can't get hold of a hard copy can also see and print out the magazine here.

Argentina: Astiz in the News

"There are conflicting feelings," Ana Careaga, whose mother was kidnapped by order of Astiz, told AFP. "On one hand, there's deep pain, on the other we see that there can be justice 32 years later.

"It's important to see them in the dock."

Astiz is one of those figures from the Argentine dictatorship who seems to capture the interest of the media, and his "blond angel of death" nickname in particular crops up again and again. Although he is not the only defendant in the ESMA megatrial, there have been a whole series of articles focusing on him alone.

'Blond angel of death' on trial in Argentina (AFP, source of quote above)

Ex-officer tried for 'Dirty War' crimes in Argentina (BBC)

Argentine "Dirty War" Spy on Trial (Impunity Watch)

The "blond angel of death" on trial in Buenos Aires (Mercopress)

Trial begins for Argentina's 'Angel of Death' (AP)

Former Argentine Navy Officer to Be Tried in Torture Deaths (NY Times)

Guatemala: Genocide Trial

A quick link to Kate Doyle's excellent account of testifying as an expert witness in the Guatemala genocide trial in Spain. I was also interested to read that another expert testimony came from Pamela Yates, who was co-director of the superb documentary on Peru, State of Fear.

A Personal Account of Testifying at a Guatemalan Genocide Trial (Unredacted)

See also:
Guatemala: Army Records Spur Hopes for Justice (IPS)

Chile: Election Sunday Round-Up

Numerous bloggers with more Chile-specific knowledge than me will doubtless be following today's elections.

My attention was caught by an article in the New York Times about the reluctance of young Chileans to vote.
Just 9.2 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds are registered to vote on Sunday, the lowest number for a presidential election since democracy was restored in 1990
That really is an amazing low figure. The article identifies a series of interconnected reasons for young people's rejection of the electoral system.
I hope that 9 percent becomes zero percent,” said Gonzalo Castillo, an 18-year-old history major at the University of Chile, who said he refused to register. “All the candidates represent the interests of the oligarchy, of big business interests.”

Chile’s young people say they are frustrated by a system that requires anyone who registers to cast votes for the rest of their lives, and slaps a fine on those who do not. They say the system, set up under General Pinochet, limits their freedom of expression and discourages them from registering.

But the younger generation is also deeply apathetic about traditional politics in general, and fiercely independent of the issues that concern their parents, most of whom lived through the dictatorship.

“Chile’s youth today see political discourse as the language of their parents, not as their language,” said Juan Eduardo Faúndez, the director of the National Youth Institute. “These are the children of democracy, and they have other options and other demands of Chilean society, and of the political class.”

As the article points out, young Chileans will engage with political issues which they feel affected by - but using methods such as public protest, not by voting. This is an interesting legacy of the dictatorship; simplistically, one might expect the population to have an enthusiasm for the democratic process fostered by the length of time it was denied to them, but this is not exactly how it works. Susana Kaiser's book Postmemories of Terror, for which the author interviewed many young Argentines who were too young to remember the dictatorship personally, revealed a similar reticence to engage with the political system. Aside from activists who had strong personal connections to victims of the regime, such as members of HIJOS, many young Argentines were uninterested in party politics, vague about the exact causes of political repression, and still felt inhibited by the belief of their parents that political involvement could be dangerous. For both countries, the lack of engagement of younger generations could pose a serious challenge in coming years.

Chile's 'Children of Democracy' Sitting Out Presidential Election (NY Times)

In other news, exhumations of mass graves may shed light on the death of a British-Chilean priest in 1973.

Woodward died at the Valparaiso naval hospital on September 22. The official cause of his death was “cardio-respiratory arrest.” But this official version has always been contested, with his family insisting that the priest died as a result of torture.


Witness reports claim that Woodward was beaten and repeatedly dunked in a swimming pool until he suffocated. He was taken to the Esmeralda, which was then be used to hold political opponents of the military regime, where attempts were made to revive him. His body was then buried anonymously in a mass grave with other victims.

Search for remains of British priest killed when[sic] 1973 coup (Mercopress)

The international media has picked up on the story of the six arrests in connection with the death of former Chilean president, Eduardo Frei Montalva, whose son is a candidate in today's elections. Frei senior was originally said to have died of natural causes, but it now seems that he was poisoned.

Pinochet's other victim (Guardian)
6 Arrested for Murder of Former Chilean President (Impunity Watch)
Chile judge charges six over ex-president's 1982 death (BBC)

Friday 11 December 2009

Argentina: ESMA trial to begin

The ESMA 'megatrial' is due to begin at 10am in Argentina today. This is something that human rights activists have been waiting decades for; some of the major military perpetrators still living will be in the dock. No Navy perpetrator has been convicted since the amnesty laws in the 1980s, so this is a hugely symbolic chance for justice.

The turn of the Navy mob

From today, Federal Oral Court 5 will judge Astiz, Acosta, Cavallo, Pernías and Rolón, among other accused from the Navy and security forces, for the crimes against Rodolfo Walsh, the French nuns, the founders of the Mothers [of the Plaza de Mayo] and 79 other victims.
At 10am today, in the basement of Comodoro Py, an Argentine court will begin to judge the 17 repressors from the ESMA, that universal symbol of State terrorism. This will mark the end of a third of a century of impunity, Raúl Alfonsín's laws of forgetting, Carlos Menem's pardons, the resistance of the political, judicial, corporate and religious institutions, and those hundreds of parents who died without seeing justice for their loved ones.
The majority of the abductions, tortures and murders which this trial will consider have been proven since the mid-1980s. The perpetrators have been living in impunity for the past twenty years thanks to the 'Full Stop' and 'Due Obedience' [amnesty] laws. Of the three major cases which are grouped together for the first trial, testimonies A is the most wide-ranging, with 79 victims. A few of them survived. For some, there is proof of their murder. Most were seen in captivity and remain disappeared.

The second part, testimonies B, relates to the crimes against the French nuns and the founders of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, abducted on 8 December 1977, tortured in the ESMA and thrown into the sea on the "death flights". In opposition to the twenty years of impunity are the achievements of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, who identified the victims after finding their bodies buried in unmarked graves in coastal cemeteries.

The third part is called testimonies C and its main actor is the writer and journalist Rodolfo Walsh, terminated by the machine gun of police inspector Weber after resisting abduction with a small pistol. The investigation into the death of Walsh, whose body was seen in the ESMA but was never released to his next of kin, includes questions about the whereabouts of his unfinished book, which the Navy also declined to hand over.
[translation mine]

Here are the accused in full:

La hora de la patota de la Armada (Pagina/12)

The trial will last for months. I will attempt to flag up important testimonies, occurrences, etc but won't be able to follow it on a daily basis. More information can be found on the website of the Centro de informacion judicial (Spanish) and on the blog Causa ESMA (Spanish), as well as in the Argentine media and web sites of human rights organisations.

Thursday 10 December 2009

Argentina: On Human Rights Day

As well as Human Rights Day, 10 December marks the anniversary of the return to democracy in Argentina. Many human rights groups were participating in today's Marcha de la resistencia.

Just a day before his trial is due to start, notorious Argentine human rights abuser Alfredo Astiz has asked for it to be suspended. He has been transferred to hospital, apparently with kidney problems.
Astiz pidio suspender el juicio en su contra (Critica Digital)
Thanks to News of the Restless for this story; Sabina has also provided a partial translation of the article.

For further information on the ESMA and other trials going on right now, see also a selection of blogs:
Causa ESMA
Juicio Campo de Mayo
Causa 1er. Cuerpo de ejercito

Sunday 6 December 2009

Chile: Pinochet, next generation

Back in July, Otto noted that Augusto's grandson, Rodrigo García Pinochet, had his nose put out of joint when even the right-wingers didn't want him as a candidate.

That hasn't changed, so Pinochet junior is now running as an independent for the Chilean congress in next week's election. In his televised campaign he simply showed a picture of himself, his mother, and his notorious grandfather. Mind you, you can't really blame him for taking the visual approach: he had just two seconds to do it.

Rodrigo's mother Lucia was elected councillor of a rich suburb of Santiago last year. But the family are also facing challenges: crusading Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon is after their money.

On the other end of the political spectrum, Salvador Allende's daughter Isabel (cousin of the author...) is already a deputy in the Chilean congress.

Pinochet's grandson sets sights on congress seat (Guardian)

Saturday 5 December 2009

Argentina: New Info on Timerman Case

For the second time in as many days I post on information provided by the excellent National Security Archive.

This time, it's focusing on Argentina, where documents show that the abduction of newspaper editor Jacobo Timerman led to severe conflict within the military junta itself.

The Timerman case is an emblematic one of the 'dirty war'. He was editor of La Opinion, one of the very few publications to be openly opposed to the dictatorship. This, naturally, made him a powerful enemy of the military and in 1977 he was detained and tortured. He was well-connected, and international condemnation of his treatment eventually pressured the military regime enough to secure his release, when he went into exile for the rest of the dictatorship.

Timerman's side of the story in detailed in his book Prisoner without a name, cell without a number, which is still in print. Now the other side can be revealed as well.
One September 1979 document states, "President Videla, the civilian Minister of Justice, and the entire Supreme Court threatened to resign" if the military high command refused to release Jacobo Timerman.
As before, the documents are available for download from the National Security Archive website.

Timerman Case Threatened Argentine Military Regime (National Security Archive)
Journalist's 1977 arrest threatened Argentine dictatorship, documents show (Journalism in the Americas)
Caso Timerman: el dia en que Videla amago con renunciar (Clarin)

Friday 4 December 2009

Peru: More Violence at Majaz

The latest in a series of violent incidents at the Majaz/Rio Blanco mining camp owned by Zijin (formerly Monterrico Metals) continues, and this one seems to be shaping up into a battle of conflicting versions by the police on the one hand, and witnesses and human rights organisations on the other.

"We were trying to arrest those responsible for what happened in November* ... and we were attacked by bullets and rocks while trying to catch one suspect. We responded in legitimate defense," General Walter Rivera told Reuters.


David Velazco, a lawyer for the victims, said police used excessive force. He said police were serving warrants for eight suspects in the November attack, but there were no warrants out for the arrest of the two peasants killed on Wednesday.

"The peasants didn't shoot anybody. They don't have arms, only arrows or maybe some rocks," he said.

Violence erupts again over Chinese mine in Peru (Reuters)

In the fighting, two peasants – identified as Castulo Correa Huayama, 39, and Vicente Romero Ramirez, 52 – died from police gunfire and six other townspeople were wounded, among them an 18-year-old man who was hit in the head by a bullet, CNR reported.

Two Dead in Clashes Between Police, Peasants in Peru (LAHT)

* See here.

Muertes en Majaz: la version policial seria falsa (CNDDHH)
Mas abusos por parte de miembros de la PNP en contra de campesinos de Huancabamba (CNDDHH)
Rechazan version policial sobre muerte de comuneros de Huancabamba (La Republica)

Peru Events

A few things going on in Peru over the next week:

9th National Human Rights Awards in Lima on Wednesday:

Tenth edition of Ojos Propios dedicated to legendary Peruvian photographer Martin Chambi:

Human rights week and part of the Yuyanapaq exhibition in Trujillo:

Chile: Victor Jara Reburied

Legendary Chilean folk singer Victor Jara is receiving funeral honours 36 years after his death and will be reburied in Santiago tomorrow.
The musician and his broken hands became an international symbol of rejection of the Pinochet regime. Jara's widow Joan noted his iconic status;
“There’s a tendency to say, and even government leaders say this, that we’re working for justice particularly in emblematic cases,” she said.

“Victor is an emblematic case. I can have the hope that we can discover the truth and perhaps even achieve justice, that those responsible could be sentenced,” she said. “But it’s not right that so many other cases are left unresolved.”

Chile reburies slain singer Victor Jara (Hurriyet Daily News)
Chile honors famous folk singer killed in coup (AP)
Chile wake for singer Jara (BBC)
Wake Begins for Chile's Iconic Musician Victor Jara (Santiago Times)

Guatemala: Documents on Military Killings

In an information breakthrough, military documents obtained by Washington's National Security Archive as part of legal proceedings in Spain reveal details of human rights abuses in Guatemala in the 1980s.
There are almost 200 pages of platoon reports, and they each repeat a similar story: A military patrol enters a Mayan village in the Guatemalan region of El Quiché in the summer of 1982. The soldiers arrest anybody who does not flee in time and “eliminate” anybody who tries to escape. Then they burn the houses, destroy the crops and kill the livestock.
The story is, indeed, familiar. Indigenous people are automatically assumed of collusion with the guerrillas and simply wiped out by the armed forces of their own nation. This particular report focuses on 'Operation Sofia' in the summer of 1982 and, as Kate Doyle of the NSA points out, military intelligence from this period is rare and, thus, highly significant.
“The point man indicated an individual who on seeing the patrol tried to flee, but he was eliminated,” one report states. “He was carrying only supplies (juice, rice and salt).”
Court Papers Detail Killings by Guatemala's Military (NY Times)

The full 359-page document is available for download here:
Operation Sofia: Documenting Genocide in Guatemala (National Security Archive)

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Argentina: Observing Exhumations

Quick link: The Argentine Post has a very interesting article from CNN's Brian Brynes about exhumations of victims of the dictatorship taking place in Argentina.

Brian Brynes Describes CNN's 'Backstory' on Argentina's Forensic Anthropology Team (The Argentine Post)

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Guatemala's Unregulated Morticians

This is slightly off-topic, but the Guardian has a fascinating photo slideshow today by Rodrigo Abd of Guatemala's funeral industry. They see fit to include a caveat that some may find the images distressing; certainly, you don't usually see pictures of dead bodies in the UK press. This makes me wonder whether there's a zoolike aspect to the Guardian's printing of these photos - "look at those crazy Latin Americans over where life is cheap". Nevertheless, the content of the images themselves is even more disrespectful, including as it does scenes of businessmen squabbling over bereaved relatives and dead bodies rubbing shoulders with broken-down cars. From this blog's point of view, though, the images of the issues - including practical considerations - surrounding death, grief, and mourning are very interesting.

Guatemala's unregulated morticians (Guardian)

Monday 30 November 2009

Peru: Afro-Peruvians Receive Apology

Public apologies are not particularly unusual these days. The UK has recently said sorry for its treatment of Alan Turing and both it and Australia have apologised to those citizens who were abused in state care as children.

Now it's Peru's turn; it is to apologise to its black population for the centuries of discrimination they have faced.
Women's and Social Development Minister Nidia Vilchez said the government wanted the apology to promote the "true integration of all Peru's multicultural population," Associated Press news agency reported.
Peru apologises for abuse of African-origin citizens (BBC)

Unfair treatment is not merely a historical shame; even today, black Peruvians are often disadvantaged:
...only 2 percent of Afro-Peruvians obtain technical training or higher education, and just 27 percent finish high school.
Government Begs "Historical Pardon" from Afro-Peruvians for Past Abuses (LAHT)

I'm in favour of symbolic gestures such as apologies as part of other state measures such as truth-telling, reparations, and measures to ensure that injustices are not repeated.

See also The Age of Apology: Facing up to the Past ed. by Mark Gibson et al.

News Round-Up

Argentine Dirty War Victims Cautiously Embrace Trials, Hope for More (truthout)

Former Argentine dictator denies stealing babies

Medellin to hold truth commission on violence
(Colombia Reports)

Monday 23 November 2009

Argentina: El Olimpo Trial to Start

Tomorrow sees the start of a major human rights trial in Argentina, in which alleged perpetrators from the detention centres of Club Atlético, El Banco and Olimpo will be in the dock. They include Julian the Turk. Here's the full list:

Accused Alias Authority
Raúl Guglielminetti Mayor Guastavino Civil
Samuel Miara Cobani PF [Federal Police]
Julio Simón Turco Julián PF
Raúl González Negro or Mayor Raúl PF
Eufemio Uballes Führer or Anteojito PF
Eduardo Kalinec Doctor K PF
Roberto Rosa Clavel PF
Juan Carlos Falcón Kung Fu PF
Luis Donocik Polaco Chico PF
Oscar Rolón Soler PF
Ricardo Taddei Padre or Cura PF
Juan Carlos Avena Centeno SPF [Federal Penitentiary Service]
Guillermo Cardozo Cortés Gendarmería [Gendarmerie]
Eugenio Pereyra Apestegui Quintana Gendarmería
Enrique Del Pino Miguelito Ejército [Army]
Carlos Tepedino
Mario Gómez Arenas

La banda de Suarez Mason en el banco (Pagina/12)

Saturday 21 November 2009

Argentina: DNA Debate

I have mentioned several times ([1], [2], [3], [4], [5]) the recent court ruling that allows the compulsory DNA testing of suspected disappeared children (i.e. the now-adult adoptees who may be the biological offspring of parents killed by the military regime). The issue of forcibly taking DNA samples from hairbrushes, toothbrushes or underwear (not from compulsory blood tests) is obviously a thorny one upon which prominent human rights activists disagree.

"It's an absolute invasion of the right to biological privacy," constitutional lawyer Gregorio Badeni told The Associated Press. "No one has the right to know what I have inside my body. That belongs only to me. I can give it up voluntarily, but no one can obligate me to deliver it."

Estela de Carlotto, who heads the grandmothers group, disagrees.

By allowing officials to extract DNA from personal effects, the law "doesn't violate in any way the body or the privacy," she said. "It will surely help discover the identity of the grandchildren we have been searching for for so many years."

"If an adult doesn't want to know his origins, you have to respect it," said Julio Strassera, a former prosecutor who put top military leaders on trial.

"The state cannot leave in the hands of a young person, raised by a member of the military, manipulated by guilt, the decision of whether or not to learn his true identity," said Horacio Pietragalla, who learned in 2003 that he was taken as a baby from his biological mother, Liliana Corti.

Argentina forces dirty war orphans to provide DNA (AP)

I am sympathetic to the Grandmothers' position on this one, although I think Carlotto is a little disingenous to suggest that the privacy of the person in question is not violated. I think it certainly is, it's simply an issue of deciding that this problem is outweighed by the importance of the truth. The situation must be agonising for all those involved, and particularly for the potentially disappeared 'child' at the centre of it. When one considers how many of their adopted parents were personally involved in the crimes that led to their adoption, and that crimes against humanity were being committed, I think the genetic origins need to be clarified. One does not force a victim of abduction to decide whether or not to prosecute their kidnappers.

The majority of the disappeared children who speak in interviews speak of their gratitude in finding their biological families - but of course, it is likely to be the most confident and well-adjusted individuals who are going around giving interviews (and becoming politicians, etc).

Friday 20 November 2009

Argentina: Honour for Victor Basterra

A survivor of the ESMA torture camp, Víctor Basterra, received an award for valour today in Buenos Aires - and well-deserved it is too.

Basterra was imprisoned in the ESMA in 1979 and, like some other skilled detainees, put to work. In his case, he was forced to photograph the military personnel working there, for ID cards and the like.

Some trusted prisoners were occasionally allowed out of the detention centres without being granted their true freedom - and if you wonder why they would ever return, you can only imagine what would have happened to their families and friends if they had not. Basterra was one of these, and he secretly smuggled out the photos he had taken and other negatives of the prisoners themselves (it is often reported that he took those images too, but he testifies otherwise - a military photographer photographed the disappeared and Basterra made copies). These photographs are essential evidence of who, both victim and perpetrator, was incontrovertibly in the ESMA during the dictatorship and were used during the Trial of the Juntas.

There is not a shadow of a doubt that Basterra was risking his life in removing evidence from the Navy's major detention centre. Moreover, this brave man continues to struggle for justice by talking about what happened to him, taking tour groups around the ESMA, and testifying in legal proceedings.

Basterra's work
The photographs of the Navy personnel can be seen here
The photographs of the disappeared also feature in the book Memoria en construccion edited by Marcelo Brodsky. Brodsky's disappeared brother Fernando is on the poster you can see in the small image above.
For background on Basterra and the ESMA, see also this article from the Washington Post: Torture Center to Bear Witness

El que "saco" las foto
s (Pagina/12)
La Legislatura distingue a un sobreviviente de la ESMA (Critica Digital)

Peru Round-Up

The site for the Museum of Memory will be officially handed over on 10 December.

Various calls
for reparations are continuing.

Fujimori's appeal is creating renewed interest, and claims that the public prosecutor is taking his side.

Monday 16 November 2009

El Salvador: Remembering 16 November, 1989

Today is the 20th anniversary of the murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. Not surprisingly, Tim is recalling this in a series of excellent posts on his blog:

Remembering the names of the martyrs
Resources for learning about the Jesuit murders
The Subversive Cross

See also:

Spanish Judge Continues Investigation into Jesuit Case (Central American Politics)
In pictures: El Salvador Remembers (BBC)
The martyrs of El Salvador (Guardian)

The priests will be posthumously awarded El Salvador's highest honour by President Mauricio Funes today.

Saturday 14 November 2009

Peru: Developments at Rio Blanco

Blog readers and those interested in Peru news will recall that in January of this year, photographs emerged of torture inflicted on local people in 2005 by security forces at the mining camp of Majaz, now known as Rio Blanco. You can see a timeline here. The mining camp was at the time owned by Monterrico Metals and is now under the ownership of a Chinese company, Zijin Mining Group.

Peruvian prosecutors have been reluctant to follow up on the apparent perpetrators of these crimes; however, Monterrico Metals is facing legal action in Great Britain.

In the first few days of November, Rio Blanco made the news again when several people were killed there and the encampment set on fire by a group of around 15-20 people. Initial reports were of two dead, this later apparently rose to three. I didn't cover this at the time, but Otto did.

Most reports seem to assume that the attack was carried out by local people frustrated by years of having their wishes ignored and of the violence which has previously erupted at the site - except for the second Reuters report, which quotes someone, rather laughably, as saying that there is "no dispute" with the local community and points the finger at drug traffickers instead.

Two dead after attack on Peru project of Zijin (Reuters, 2.11.09)
Rio Blanco Copper mining camp attacked, two guards killed (Living in Peru, 2.11.09)
Monterrico Metals Peru Mine Attack Leaves Two Dead (Bloomberg, 2.11.09)
Peru mine killings work of drug trade: businessmen (Reuters, 3.11.09)

Human rights organisations are now concerned at state response to the latest attack. The National Human Rights Coordinator is claiming that two brothers from the local area, Filoteo and Gustavo Pusma Ibáñez, have been arbitrarily detained for the crime. Another pair of brothers, Hilario and Martín Rojas, have also been held - according to the CNDDHH, without proof of involvement. Moreover, the truck of the major of Carmen de la Frontera was attacked, allegedly by members of the group 'Integrando', which claims to be an 'NGO' and is in fact linked to the Rio Blanco mining company.

Apparently there is a heavy, and threatening, police presence in the area. The government is now also considering the possibility of establishing a military base nearby. Local groups are reacting with alarm to any suggestion of 'militarizing' the area, and understandably so. History teaches us that sending in the army to remote Peruvian communities tends not to end well. Any military presence would have to be handled very, very carefully indeed to avoid the risk of further escalation of tensions and human rights abuses against the local population, and I don't consider such sensitive treatment very likely.

Autoridades de Huancabamba emplazan al Gobierno formar comision investigadora sobre los sucesos ocurridos el 1 de noviembre en campamento de la minero Rio Blanco (CNDDHH)
Death at Dawn in a Peruvian mining camp (ENS)
Derechos y humanos: "La militarizacion del campamento minero Rio Blanco (CNDDHH)
Rechazan posible base militar (La Republica)

Argentina: "He has the same ears!"

There's now an excellent English-language article about Argentine found grandchild Martin Amarilla-Molfino, which also draws together issues of the new DNA law and the owner of Clarin, Ernestina Herrera de Noble.

As I've said before, this is obviously a sensitive issue. People are understandably sympathetic to the personal desires of the presumed disappeared children to decide whether or not they wish to take a DNA to establish their true parentage, and our initial reaction may be shock that the Grandmothers are fighting to make such tests compulsory. Yet we are talking here about crimes against humanity and clearing up an aspect of Argentina's history which has been unresolved for thirty years. With this in mind, I found this statistic particularly arresting:
In 83 of the 98 cases of missing grandchildren found by the Abuelas, the families that raised the children were in part responsible for, or at least knew about, the disappearance of the child's real parents.
So, we are not talking here about innocent adoptive parents who just wanted a family of their own, but rather people who were consciously complicit with a murderous military regime. Would you really consider murderers and accessories to murder to be suitable parents?

The postscript to the article is also sobering:
Since reuniting the Amarilla-Molfino family, the Abuelas have announced that the 99th missing grandchild has been found. In stark contrast to the case of Martín however, the discovery was the remains of Mónica Gabriela Santucho, disappeared in 1976 at the age of 14.
New DNA Law in Argentina Will Help Find the Missing Grandchildren (NACLA)

Peru: Possibility of Pardon for Fujimori

Later this month, Fujimori's appeal will be heard. One of the issues will be whether his crimes - murder and kidnap - should continue to be considered crimes against humanity. If they are not, this opens the way to the possibility of a pardon, which his daughter Keiko has said she would grant if she were elected President.

Appeal ruling could make Fujimori eligible for pardon (Fujimori on Trial)

Chile: Presidential Candidate on "Justice"

“If I make it to La Moneda (Chile’s presidential palace) I will make every measure to ensure justice is applied in an appropriate manner,” said Piñera. “Without proceedings that go on ad eternum, that never finish.”

Piñera was then duly applauded by the crowd of nearly 1,000 retired military and police personnel.

Well, he would be, wouldn't he? Human rights organisations are not amused, but comment that at least Piñera is showing his true colours. Indeed.

Chilean presidential candidate triggers controversy over human rights trials (Mercopress)

Thursday 12 November 2009

Argentina: Appropriation of Children 'Crime against Humanity'

An Argentine court has ruled that the appropriation of the children of disappeared parents during the dictatorship, and the subsequent suppression of their true identity, is a crime against humanity. This is important because means that no statute of limitations applies to them.

The ruling comes as part of the review of a case of a former military man and a couple sentenced to between 7 and 10 years in jail for the appropriation of María Eugenia Sampallo Barragán. The couple illegally adopted her aged three months old and registered her as their biological child. The Times reported on her case last year:
“These are not my parents,” Ms Sampallo said at a press conference on Monday. “They are my kidnappers . . . there is no emotional bond that binds me to them. These are my parents,” she said, picking up photos of her biological parents.
Maria Barragan succeeds in getting adoptive parents jailed (Times)

Declaran de lesa humanidad la apropriacion de hijos
(Critica Digital)

Peru: Burials in Abancay

For the first time in the region of Apurímac, the remains of five individuals who were murdered by the armed forces in 1988 will be returned to their families for burial tomorrow.

The bodies of the victims were found in a common grave in a place known as Chaupiorcco. DNA tests have identified them as Armando Huamantingo, Manuel Niño de Guzmán Ayvar, Juan Pablo Carbajal Hurtado, María Elena Zavala Cayllahua and Simona Pérez Tapia.

A wake will be tomorrow and then the funeral service on Saturday.

Entregaran restos de desaparecidos en Abancay (CNDDHH, from La Republica)

Peru: Dialogue without Persecution

Human rights organisation APRODEH, in conjunction with the CNDDHH, has initiated a campaign called Dialogo sin Persecucion (Dialogue without Persecution) aimed at improving cooperation between the state and other actors in the wake of the Bagua crisis. They point out - correctly - that government harassment of indigenous groups will only prevent progress in the resolution of such conflicts. The campaign now has a blog with updates, and Peruvian residents can also find a sample letter to write to Garcia and other politicians.

Sunday 8 November 2009

Argentina: Disappeared Child Found

Here's one for the Spanish-speakers: an interview with found grandchild Martin Amarilla.

"Nunca di tantos abrazos en la vida" (Pagina/12)

Lat Am Events in the UK

The Peru Support Group is holding its annual conference in Oxford next week. See flyer here (pdf).

The London Latin American Film Festival is also currently underway - apologies for late notice. There looks to be many excellent films being shown. Of interest to this blog would be the documentaries Victims of Democracy (dir. Stella Jacobs), The Loss/La Perdida (dir. Javier Angulo & Enrique Gabriel) and Our Disappeared (dir. Juan Mandelbaum).

El Salvador: Progress

Two pieces of good news from El Salvador; firstly, on the twentieth anniversary of their deaths, six murdered Jesuit priests will be posthumously awarded the country's highest honour as a puclic "act of atonement" by the government. Secondly, the Funes government has also promised to investigate the assasination of archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980. See Tim's El Salvador blog here and here for more details.

Thursday 5 November 2009

Peru: Elsa Malpartida

Peruvian politician Elsa Malpartida is facing a storm this week following her admission that she was a member of Shining Path/Sendero Luminoso. The MP and former coca farmer claims she was forced to cook for the terrorists during the height of the conflict in the region near Tingo Maria.

Malpartida is now also claiming that the news stories are putting her life, and the lives of her family, in danger from Shining Path members, and this may well be true.

Naturally, there are pretty polarised reponses to these revelations. Is Malpartida a victim, like so many highland Peruvians, who was forced to work for the guerrillas for fear of her life? Or was she more willingly involved?

Part of the issue turns on whether Malpartida took advantage of the Ley de Arrepentimiento (Repentance Law) in the early 1990s. This gave former senderistas the chance to become re-integrated into mainstream society in return for officially renouncing violence and informing on comrades. Many news reports are reporting that she did turn to this legislation, although others are saying that she is denying this on the grounds that she had committed no crime.

As a politician, Malpartida must accept that the public will have an interest in her past. I don't think that it's realistic to exclude anyone who may ever have been involved with Sendero from any participation in public life; in a pervasive conflict like this one, so many were involved that cutting them all out would be very difficult. Besides, roles could be fluid and the same people could find themselves on one side of the battle at one time and then, a few years ago, on the other side. And that's without getting started on the issues of coercion and force. Nevertheless, difficult though it may be, a certain amount of openness would seem to be a prerequisite for those involved in politics - and for the 'reconciliation' part of 'truth and reconciliation' to get started.

Parliamentarian claims she was forced to be a member of Shining Path (Living in Path)
El Milagro de Malpartida (Caretas)
"Ella ha estado en el corazon del terrorismo" (Correo)
Fiscalia analiza vinculo de Malpartido con SL (El Comercio)

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Colombia: Art Exhibition on Memory of War

The work of ex-combatants from all sides of Colombia's civil war forms a new exhibition at Bogota's Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition also has an excellent web site so those outside the Colombian capital can still browse the paintings.

Colombian Art Exhibit Depicts the Horrors of War
(Americas Quarterly)

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Argentina: Bignone on Trial

A round-up of the international media on the Bignone trial:

Former Argentine military ruler in Dirty War trial (Reuters)
[What is going on with this sentence: "Waterboarding is a form of simulated drowning widely considered torture"?? Have we gone backwards here? When I first started reading about the torture technique employed in Argentina known as submarino, there was never any ambivalence; it was included in the list of tortures. Now that we know it as waterboarding and the US does it, there is somehow doubt and we need to qualify that "some people think" that it might be torture. People, don't give in to this mealy-mouthed crap: it is torture. There, that's about as shouty as you'll find me getting here.]

Argentine ex-leader goes on trial (BBC)

Trial Begins for a Former President of Argentina (NY Times)

Argentina's last military dictator on trial for human rights abuses

Argentina: Grandchild No. 98

Today the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo held a press conference to introduce Martín Amarilla-Molfino, found grandchild number 98. Until yesterday, the child of disappeared parents Guillermo Amarilla and Marcela Molfino had never met his siblings, aunts and uncles, and they didn't know of his existence either. His mother hadn't told anyone she was pregnant when she was abducted, and she may not even have known herself. Her son was born in captivity in the Campo de Mayo in 1980. Although he had no knowledge of his biological family, he had suspicions about his origins because his adoptive father (or "appropriator" as he is known in the Argentine jargon) had worked for the intelligence services and because his place of birth was recorded as the Campo de Mayo.

Apparently, a key factor in the discovery of Martin's family was the testimony of another former member of the armed forces who provided information to the Grandmothers - interesting in the light of Chilean soldiers' offer to become witnesses against their former paymasters.

Las Abuelas presentaron al nieto numero 98 (Pagina/12)
Abuelas recupero al nieto numero 98 (Pagina/12)
Abuelas dieron a conocer su nuevo logro: recuperaron al nieto 98 (Critica Digital)

Monday 2 November 2009

Argentina: Bignone in the Dock

The last president of the dictatorship, Reynaldo Bignone, is facing charges of abductions and disappearances in the Campo de Mayo detention centre from 1976-78. His trial, along with that of former generals Eugenio Guañabens Perelló, Jorge García, Fernando Exequiel Verplaetsen, Carlos Alberto Tepedino and Germán Montenegro began today.

Comenzo el juicio al ultimo dictador (Pagina/12)
Bignone, el ultimo president de la dictadura (Pagina/12)

Sunday 1 November 2009

Chile: Ex-conscripts Willing to Testify

"Our mission was to stand guard outside, and listen to their screams," said former draftee Jose Paredes, who described his service at the Tejas Verdes torture center in an AP interview. "They would end up destroyed, torn apart, their teeth and faces broken."

"There are things that I've always said I will take to the grave," Paredes said, his grizzled face running with tears as he named a half-dozen officers who he said gave the orders. "I've never told this to anyone."

Some Chilean former conscripts are saying that they will testify about their actions under the Pinochet regime in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Now, in general I'm against amnesty laws and the like, but I can see that there is an argument for protecting these, the lowest ranks of the machinery of terror, in order to receive valuable information about the major perpetrators. Many of the soldiers were just teenagers and clearly under extreme pressure to carry out the orders given to them - refusing could well have been fatal.

Chile: Old soldiers ready to tell secrets of coup (AP)

Peru: More on Reparations

A further article from La Republica, which I don't have time to translate - if I do, I'll come back to it later - deals with the subject of reparations to the victims of political violence and the apparent lack of interest coming from the government in pushing through this issue. As I reported earlier, the commission on reparations is now basically unable to continue work due to cuts in its budget. The article has the simple but cutting headline "My pain doesn't matter".

Mi dolor no importa (La Republica)

Peru: Memory Museum 'to be neutral'

La Republica has an article today which I will reproduce in full and then translate:

El escritor peruano Mario Vargas Llosa, quien preside la comisión de alto nivel encargada de la construcción del Museo de la Memoria en su país, aseguró hoy que este proyecto incluirá de forma objetiva y neutral todas las visiones sobre los años del terrorismo (1980-2000). Vargas Llosa dijo que el Museo de la Memoria presentará a todas las víctimas "sin ninguna excepción, parcialidad o sectarismo".
"De tal manera que quienes han expresado desconfianza estoy seguro que van a quedar tranquilos cuando vean la objetividad, la neutralidad, con que ese museo va mostrar el sufrimiento que causa el fanatismo y la falta de legalidad en una sociedad", agregó.
Así, el escritor responde a las críticas generadas con la decisión de construir ese museo, algunas de las cuales provienen del interior del propio Gobierno, y que siempre apuntan en la misma dirección: una supuesta parcialidad del proyecto en contra de las Fuerzas Armadas.
Entre los principales opositores al Museo de la Memoria están el vicepresidente peruano, Luis Giampietri, el titular de Defensa, Rafael Rey, y su antecesor, Ántero Flores Aráoz, así como sectores conservadores, como el arzobispo Juan Luis Cipriani y la política Keiko Fujimori.
El escritor peruano enfatizó que "es importante que una sociedad tenga viva la ocurrencia del pasado, sobre todo si ese pasado ha engendrado secuelas tan atroces como las del terrorismo. Eso es muy importante de cara a las nuevas generaciones".
Vargas Llosa también destacó que el Museo de la Memoria sea construido en el distrito limeño de Miraflores, barrio que fue escenario en 1992 del atentado con coche bomba en la calle Tarata, uno de los más grandes y traumáticos ocurridos en Lima.
La construcción del Museo de la Memoria, que fue aprobada el pasado 31 de marzo tras un mes de polémica, será financiada con una donación de dos millones de dólares del Gobierno alemán, aporte que fue rechazado en un primer momento por el gabinete peruano.
La violencia en Perú entre 1980 y 2000 se saldó con 69.280 muertos, según el informe final de la Comisión de la Verdad y la Reconciliación, que atribuyó casi la mitad de las víctimas a Sendero Luminoso y al menos un tercio a "agentes del Estado" (policías y militares).

The Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, who is heading the high level commission charged with the construction of the Museum of Memory in his country, today insisted that the project would include all viewpoints of the years of terrorism (1980-2000) in an objective, neutral fashion.
Vargas Llosa said that the Museum of Memory would present all victims "without exception, bias or sectarianism".
"In this way, I am sure that those who have expressed their concern are going to be reassured when they see the objectivity, the neutrality, with which this musuem is going to show the suffering which fanatism and the lack of legality causes in a society," he added.
This the author responded to criticism directed at the decision to build the museum, some of which has come within the government itself, and which always points in the same direction: the supposed bias of the project against the Armed Forces.
Among the principal opponents of the Museum of Memory are the Peruvian Vice President, Luis Giampietri, the Defense Minister Rafael Rey and his predecessor, Ántero Flores Aráoz, and conservative factions such as the archbishop Juan Luis Cipriani and politican Keiko Fujimori.
The Peruvian author emphasised that "it's important that society keeps alive what happened in the past, above all if this past has engendered such terrible consequences as terrorism has. This is very important for future generations".
Vargas Llosa again pointed out that the Museum of Memory will be built in the district of Miraflores, in Lima, the suburb which was the scene of the truck bomb in Tarata street in 1992, one of the largest and most traumatic to occur in Lima.
The construction of the Museum of Memory, which was approved on 31 March after a month of fierce debate, will be financed by a donation of two million dollars by the German government, an offer which was initially refused by the Peruvian cabinet.
The violence in Peru between 1980 and 2000 left 69,280 dead, according to the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which attributed almost half of victims to Shining Path and at least one third to "agents of the State" (the police and armed forces).

Such calls for 'objectivity' are in fact nothing more than thinly-veiled attacks on the entire idea of any form of public commemoration that deviates from the state-sanctioned, military parade type. The use of descriptions such as 'neutrality' is utter fiction. The critics will accept nothing less than a eulogy to the bravery of the security forces who managed to slaughter over 20,000 civilians in a twenty-year period. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the TRC report and the Yuyanapaq photography exhibition already contain details of the deaths of servicemen and their grieving relatives and really give ample time to the atrocities of the Shining Path and the (far less active) MRTA.

Now, I don't blame Vargas Llosa for his comments, because he is trying to appease some powerful people here. But to go a little further than his statements, I would say that there is a limit to this 'presentation of all points of view' which he mentions. There is a widely-held misconception that a lack of bias means giving space to all shades of opinion, however extreme. If a few people adhere to a genuine belief that the Earth is flat, do we need to devote fifty percent of geography lessons to debunking this view, for the sake of 'fairness'? No, because given the limited amount of time and resources available, we can go with the consensus - that the Earth is round - and not be hijacked by a tiny minority.

It is truly disgusting that top figures in government can continue to rail and scaremonger against a project accepted and approved by the government itself; and it is high time that President Alan Garcia told them to shut up, get over it, and stop justifying crimes against humanity. I have no hope that he will, because there are some pretty murky incidents from his own first term in office which he would rather received as little public attention as possible, but this would be the decent thing to do.

Vlargas Llosa asegura que Museo de la Memoria sera objetivo y neutral (La Republica)

Saturday 31 October 2009

Chile: National Day to Commemorate Political Victims

As she enters the final months of her presidency, Michelle Bachelet has announced the creation of a National Day of Victims of Political Execution, to be held on 30 October, and in addition to the National Day of the Disappeared on 30 August.
The honor, she added, was aimed at "preserving the memory of what happened to our society, so that new generations learn the lessons from history and make a moral commitment to prevent the same mistakes, the same horrors."
Chile is not the only Latin American country to have a day - well, now two - dedicated to the memory of political violence. El Salvador appears to have one too, on 29 March, and Argentina holds a National Day of Memory for Truth and Justice on the anniversary of the coup, 24 March.

Bachelet establece Dia del Ejecutado Politico (Prensa Latina)
Chile declares day to honor victims of dictatorship (AFP)

Friday 30 October 2009

Peru: Memory Museum Goes to Miraflores

In July, I reported that the Museum of Memory would be sited in Jesus Maria, near the monument El ojo que llora. Now the news seems to be that it will be situated instead on Avenida del Ejército in Miraflores, a more upmarket district of Lima. This appears to have been confirmed by Vargas Llosa himself, head of the commission, so I assume it's genuine.

I'm pleased to see that the museum plans are making progress, but think it's rather a shame that the new site has moved away from the memorials and human rights organisations based around the Campo de Marte. I'm sure that some will comment that Miraflores is far too middle-class and privileged to be able to empathise with the victims of political violence, but - while taking account of the fact that Ayacucho, and nowhere else, was the epicentre of terror - Miraflores has seen suffering too.

As usual, I'll be following progress on the museum. And, as usual, Rafael Rey will be seizing the opportunity to point out that the army is just so hard done by and it's all just sooooo unfaaaaair.

Museo de la Memoria se construira en Miraflores (La Republica, source of image)
Definen donde se construira el Museo de la Memoria: en Miraflores, frente al mar (El Comercio)
Peru's Museum of Memory will be located in Miraflores (Living in Peru)

Thursday 29 October 2009

El Salvador: Clandestine Graves Are Back

"The people of this country suffered during the civil war and now, in peacetime, we are again seeing kidnapping, extortion, executions, disappearances, fear, and calls for curfews," Miguel Montenegro, head of the non-governmental Human Rights Commission of El Salvador (CDHES) which played a major role in denouncing detentions and forced disappearances during the armed conflict, told IPS.

"The question is, why, so many years after the end of the war in 1992, are situations that were common during the conflict happening again?" he asked.
El Salvador: Clandestine Graves Are Back (IPS)

Peru Round-Up

A memorial event is taking place on All Saint's Day in Peru to commemorate the disappeared.

Plus, the excellent BBC series From Our Own Correspondent looks at the aftermath of the Peruvian conflict.
Peru's lingering war wounds (BBC)

Lastly, I'm very excited because I'm finally going to see award-winning film La teta asustada (The Milk of Sorrow) at the weekend, and just in time, the blog Film Studies For Free has a post on Peruvian cinema.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Peru: Urgent Call for Action on Reparations

The Peruvian government has cut the budget for the National Council on Reparations (Consejo Nacional de Reparaciones), meaning that many thousands of citizens cannot be entered into the Unique Register of Victims (Registro Único de Víctimas) and therefore cannot be compensated for what they have endured. Human rights organisations are now calling on the authorities to recognise their obligations to the victims of the conflict.

I think the meaning of the first image in this post is probably self-evident. The one directly above states: "Teodora Pariona - She lost her children when they were taken to the barracks Los Cabitos in Ayacucho in 1984. She died without receiving any type of economic reparations from the State. Mr President: reparations are urgent."

En peligro las reparaciones (La Primera, via APRODEH)
Defensoria del Pueblo solicita al estado atender con urgencia requerimiento presupuesto del consejo de reparaciones (CNDDHH)
La obligacion de reparar a las victimas es impostergable (Espacio de memoria)
Sr. Presidente: Reparar es urgente (CNDDHH, also source of images)
Sostienen que urgen reparaciones economicas individuales (La Republica)