Wednesday 29 April 2009

Argentina: Accused Refuse to Testify in Campo de Mayo Trial

In a display of contempt for the judicial process which will surprise no one, five of the six defendants being tried for their involvement in crimes against humanity in the Campo de Mayo detention centre have refused to speak in court.

They are ex generals Santiago Omar Riveros, Ezequiel Verplaetsen and Osvaldo García together with ex officers César Fragni and Raúl Harsich. Lone talker is ex police officer Alberto Aneto.

Juicio en la megacausa de Campo de Mayo: se negaron a declarar cinco represores (Clarin)

Peru: Shining Path Attacks Helicopter

Pretty much as the title says, really: Sendero shot at an army helicopter in the VRAE with a rocket launcher yesterday. The chief of the Army was in it at the time, but no one was harmed.

Disparan a helicoptero en el que iba el general Contreras (El Comercio)

Disparan a helicoptero en que iba jefe del Comando Conjunto (Peru21)

Confirman que Sendero ataco helicoptero del Jefe del Comando de las FF.AA. (La Republica)

Tuesday 28 April 2009

Blog Round-Up

Here's some of the stuff that clever people took the time to write while I was having the weekend off ;-)

Restorative Justice (Tim's El Salvador Blog)

Individual Acts of Remembering in Public Contexts (Collective Memory Project)

Sendero en el mundo real (el utero de marita)

It Was Torture When Practiced on Americans 60 Years Ago; It's Not Torture Now (Alterdestiny)

"Que te pasa Clarin" Goes Online (The Argentine Post)

Plus: Q&A: Fujimori Will Serve "At Least 18 Years" (IPS)

Friday 24 April 2009

Blogging Note

Have a good weekend everyone; I won't be back til Tuesday at the earliest.

Peru: Can Your Congresswoman Spell?

Update: Supa has announced that in future, she will speak solely in Quechua in Congress. This is not because she is embarrassed about her Spanish or anything like that, but she is exercising her right to speak in an official language of her native country. Good on her - I hope the Congress is properly equipped with interpreters.

This may seem a little off-topic, but I was struck by yesterday's front page in the Lima edition of Correo, and I wasn't the only one (see utero de marita and gran combo club).

It is mocking a Peruvian Congresswoman, Hilaria Supa, for her apparently shaky grasp of Spanish spelling. Supe is an indigenous representative of the Cusco region and her first language is Quechua. She was also the first politician to take her oath in Quechua, and that proved controversial too. I can't imagine why - no, wait, let me rephrase that: I can imagine why. It was controversial because Quechua is the language of indigenous peasants and has no place in a place of government or learning, right? As for the illiterate, they should just be grateful they are allowed to vote at all (which they have only been allowed to do since 1979). Therefore, taking an oath in an official language of parts of your country, far from being a completely normal thing to do, becames a highly politicised act.

Judging by the picture, Supa was making notes rather than producing a document for external consumption. I'm thankful that people don't sneak up on me and photograph my private jottings, but I guess when you're indigenous and in Congress you can never stop having to prove yourself. The Correo article also suggested that there should be "extra" requirements to hold a position in Congress, such as "university-level" education. What a good way that would be of making the majority of indigenous activists conveniently ineligible for higher office! Are politicians not supposed to represent the people? Have we issued a spelling test to all congressmen and women or do we just go for those in indigenous headware? This is a clear expression of racism against someone who speaks a language which is an official language of Peru (in areas where it is predominantly spoken, which include the area which the Congresswoman represents, Cuzco) and which was around there long before Spanish was. It stinks of many centuries of regarding indigenous people as stupid and unable to participate in civic society, and should be regard with contempt.

See news reports here and here.

Thursday 23 April 2009

Peru Resources

Here's a list of reading on Peru and the legacy of its political violence - all for free on the interweb:

The library of the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos (which you can visit in person if you happen to be in Lima) has made available a selection of texts in PDF (all Spanish language)

Shining Path in the archives of the New York Times

The Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL) have compiled a list of their past articles on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Spanish)

Then we've got The Legacy of Truth: Criminal Justice in the Peruvian Transition, eds Lisa Magarrell and Leonardo Filippini - a whole 130 pages worth

And finally, Truth Commissions in Guatemala and Peru: Perpetual Impunity and Transitional Justice Compared by Joanna Crandall

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Images, Iconicity and Remembering

It's a photography-related post today.

First off, a quick link to Patrick Farrell's images of the aftermath of the hurricane in Haiti, which have won a Pulitzer prize. A warning, these do contain nudity if that kind of thing bothers you, and much more importantly are witness to scenes of absolute devastation. All the images are heartbreaking, but somehow it's the concentration and suffering, in completely inadequate conditions, of number 13 that really gets me.
Island of Lost Souls (Guardian)

Then I was struck by a post on No Caption Needed, a blog which deals with issues of memory and iconicity. It brought to my attention In Memory Day, "honoring those who died as a result of the Vietnam War, but whose deaths do not fit the Department of Defense criteria for inclusion upon The Wall". No Caption Needed analyses an image of a veteran at the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington. It, and the idea of In Memory Day, raise obvious questions of who we remember on our national 'days' and other significant anniversaries, who 'deserves' to be included in official lists of victims, and so on.

Debates have arisen in Peru about who features in the names around El ojo que llora - with some claiming that 'terrorists' are included and members of the armed forces excluded, and asserting that this was deliberate (see this article for a much more detailed discussion). To go further, was the man who died of a heart attack during the storming of the Japanese embassy a victim of the terrorists who had held him hostage, or, indeed of the armed forces who charged the building? Or neither, an unfortunate accident? Are soldiers killed by Shining Path to be exalted more than ordinary civilians so killed - or less? Or only if proven that they themselves have committed no human rights abuses? Do guerrillas killed in extrajudicial executions or in shootouts deserve mourning also?

Finally, the Argentine Post has pointed out a new book, Che's Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image, which deals with that photograph of Che. Yes, you know the one - the image of Che. Looks interesting, but in fact it's not unique, I already have one my bookshelf a copy of Che Guevara: Revolution and Icon by Trisha Ziff. It's based on an exhibition which I saw at the V&A in London, and it was truly fascinating. Clearly Che will be spinning on his grave at selling all those t-shirts - but the fact is, his image is probably the most extreme example around of an icon becoming divorced from its original subject.

So, there we have it for this evening: images recalling devastation in Haiti, images commemorating almost-forgotten victims of an unpopular war, and one of the most famous images in the world.

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Quick Link: World Digital Library

UNESCO has a new site called the World Digital Library, where you can see some fantastic documents from around the world in very high-quality images. There are currently 320 items for the region Latin America and the Caribbean.

Happy Birthday Blog

Please excuse me a second of navel gazing ;-)

It's a year since I began the blog. My original intention was to continue my collection of news clippings that began as a physical entity on my shelf about 6 years and then grew into my uncontrollable bookmark section on my browser. I wasn't sure if anyone else would ever read it.

Since then I have started to expand a little more on my personal opinions and leanings, and I had to drop my other blog for lack of time, and because this one was more rewarding. I have a modest but growing readership, including subscribers to Google Reader and other feed services, and, well, thanks guys! It is pretty gratifying to see the stats going in the right direction and I am especially thankful to those of you who take the time to comment and email. Thanks too to the people who link to me - if I'm not linking to you and I should be, drop me a line! The blog is really Peru and Argentina-biased, and that is unlikely to change, but a few of you take the time to point me to interesting memory issues from other countries and that is fantastic.

I'm acutely aware of my distance - in all senses - from Latin America and don't know really how long I can maintain my knowledge base enough to be a useful blogger. But for now, here's to more posting in the future!

Monday 20 April 2009

Argentina News

News on perpetrators from the Argentine dictatorship:

1) Alfredo Eugenio Marcó, who appeared in the CONADEP report, put a bullet to his own head yesterday. According to the report, he was one of the principal interrogators in the Institution of Social Rehabiliation jail.
De la escuela del Malevo (Pagina/12) [The headline is referring to the case of 'Malevo' Ferreyra, who killed himself in front of TV cameras last year]

2) Claudio Vallejos, a young minor official in the ESMA during the dictatorship, is now a wanted man in Brazil. Not for human rights abuses, but for fraud. Vallejos, who benefited from the impunity laws in the 1980s, had a brief moment of fame when he gave some interviews about his experiences.
Un ex ESMA en apuros (Pagina/12)

3) Former deputy police inspector Luis Abelardo Patti, ex-general Santiago Riveros and de facto president Reynaldo Bignone will face an oral trial for crimes against humanity.
Patti y Bignone, a juicio oral en una causa por secuestros, torturas y desapariciones (Clarin)

4) Meanwhile alleged abuser Ricardo Miguel Cavallo, who was extradited from Spain, has failed in his bid to get released from jail, where he is awaiting trial for crimes committed in the ESMA.
Denegaron la excarcelacion a Cavallo (Pagina/12)

News Round-Up

A few quick hits:

Chile indicts ex-officers in Pinochet-era killings (AP)

El utero de marita points out, in ironic fashion, that the CNDDHH, far from ignoring the human rights of soldiers attacked by Shining Path, has taken up the case of the victims' families (Spanish).

Plus, the discovery that one of the dead soldiers from the ambush was 17 has led to unwelcome headlines abroad for the Peruvian armed forces. "A army of minors against Shining Path" accuses Spain's El Mundo. "The mothers of 16 adolescents claim that the army took their children by force" it continues.

Saturday 18 April 2009

Blog Round-Up/On Visiting Memory Sites

A post on Tim's El Salvador blog about 'war tourism' really got me thinking. I always have a niggling feeling that there is something vaguely unethical about revisiting sites of particular national trauma - especially those which are recent enough to be still memorable and painful to large sections of the population. Whether it's the Shankill Road or Auschwitz, there seems to be an aspect of voyeurism in such trips. Hey guys, let's go shopping in the morning, and then check out where loads of people were horrifically murdered in the afternoon. Do they have a gift shop?

This, of course, makes me the biggest hypocrite in history, since I seek out sites of significant events, memorials, and memorial museums wherever I go - including Dachau, the ESMA, Ayacucho, and others. I may have read more on memory issues than the average person (I think I can guarantee that), but I still sometimes stand and eat my lunch next to the memorial to murdered Jews in my city. I try and do it mindfully. I do not sit on the memorial while I eat - I recently saw a photo of a woman sunbathing on the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, and if you ask me that is a step too far.

I guess the outcome of this musing that I think that 1) there is a difference between delibarately-created commemorative sites, ie museums and memorials - even if they are situated in particularly significant locations - and places where people still just live. It might still be very interesting to visit those places, but you have to bear in mind that the inhabitants are not animals at the zoo. And 2) there probably is a certain amount of ghoulishness in some people's motives for visiting historical sites (and studying historical periods). You can regard this with a pinch of suspicion, but on balance, they are still opportunities to learn, and grow, and remember.

Apart from that meandering aside from me, I've also been reading Mr. Trend on coverage of the Brazilian dictatorship in the local press, and watching a trailer of documentary Oblivion (dir. Heddy Honigmann). I'd seen a clip of this before but the trailer - Spanish with English subtitles - is very interesting and led me to seek out a review of the film.

This Week in Peru

The political fallout from the Shining Path ambush, which caused the deaths of 14 soldiers, continues, with criticism of the fact that one of the fatalities was a minor. Human rights groups have protested and said that Peru has signed treaties which prohibit the use of child soldiers. Soldiers on military service should be at least 18. It seems inconceivable that a seventeen year old could have been trained to a level suitable for sending him into a dangerous, isolated area to fight unconventional warfare against a ruthless and experienced opponent. And he wasn't alone: apparently over 100 under-18s were recruited from the 'selva' (rain forest) region of Peru last year. Can anyone be surprised when terrified and ill-prepared teenagers either fall victim to attacks, are subject to atrocities, or react by carrying out atrocities themselves?
See also this English-language piece.

Prime Minister Yehude Simon is now saying that those reponsible for sending children into battle will be punished, and is upping the budget and priority level of operations in the VRAE.

As a response to the new attacks, the Peruvian army has doubled their estimate of Sendero's numbers. The fact of the re-estimation is an indication that the armed forces are taking the armed group seriously, but I doubt that anyone can be certain that the figures are accurate. As I recall, the estimates of Shining Path's numbers from the highpoint of the violence vary wildly. By definition, the group is clandestine and doesn't exactly stand up to be counted, and aside from that, there have often been difficulties distinguishing between armed combatants, active supporters, sympathisers, and neutral onlookers.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

News Round-Up


Academic Jo-Marie Burt (or, as Amazon would have it, academics Jo Marie and Burt!) has a book out, which is not brand new but it just came to my attention: Political Violence and the Authoritarian State in Peru: Silencing Civil Society. Also available in Spanish. I haven't read it, but I recommend the author.

Proof and Consequence: Peru Convicts Fujimori

Peru Rebels Vow More Attacks in Drug Zone (Reuters)

The documentary 'Lucanamarca' will premiere in Larcomar, Lima, on 27 April (CNDDHH)

It turns out that one of the dead soldiers from last week's Shining Path attack was just 17 years old (La Republica)

And finally, check out Otto's report on US military involvement in Peru.


A Colombian prosecutor has ordered the arrests of two men for so-called 'false positive' killings (Colombia Reports)

Colombia Captures Top Drug Lord

A human rights activist has been assassinated
(Colombia Reports)

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Argentina: Death of Mabel Gutierrez

Mabel Gutiérrez, President of the association Familiares de Detenidos y Desaparecidos por Razones Políticas (Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared for Political Reasons) died last week aged 77. Today her ashes were scattered in the Parque de la Memoria in Buenos Aires, near to the plaque commemorating the life of her son Alejandro.

Ultimo adios a Mabel Gutierrez en el Parque de la Memoria (Pagina/12)

Peru: Today's Update on the Ambush Aftermath

And it's back to Peru.

The death toll from last week's Shining Path attack is now 14.

Former Interior Minister, and journalist, Fernando Rospigliosi, has called the army's current offensive in the VRAE 'a disaster'. Ex-army chief Donayre has also called for a rethink. Defense Minister Flores-Araoz rejects the criticisms.

Peru defends offensive after deadly rebel attack

Plus, remember how people have been saying that the human rights organisations are somehow anti-army, pro-terrorism, and don't condemn atrocities when they are against the armed forces? Honestly, I think this is rather like those people who demand condemnations from Muslims when there is an Islamist attack. First, Muslims are not collectively responsible for the actions of certain factions, and second, if they do issue condemnations is anyone even listening? These are HUMAN rights organisations: you qualify for their attentions by being born and contrary to rumour, you don't lose your human rights when you put on a uniform (though don't expect special treatment if you commit a crime either). So, listen up: here are the official repudiations and statements of solidarity for the victims from the CNDDHH, COMISEDH, APRODEH, and three other Ayacuchan organisations.

Oh, and there's an interesting post from Otto at Inca Kola News.

Chile: Images of Exile

Readers, despite appearances I do know that the title of this blog is 'Memory in Latin America' and not 'Memory in Peru'. Nevertheless there seems to be a fair amount going on in Peru, it's a country I have actually spent time in, and I follow its media pretty closely. So obviously coverage is going to be somewhat disproportionate (Argentina is always in second place as far as numbers of posts go for similar reasons).

But, turning briefly to Chile. Apparently there's a new book out called L. Memoria gráfica del exilio chileno 1973-1989. 'L' was stamped in the passports of Chileans who were not allowed back into the country during the Pinochet dictatorship.

Exile is always a strange, inbetween state. In some countries, there is a certain amount of resentment of those who managed to escape the torture and hardship that their compatriots back home endured. The pain of exile (or banishment) is often brushed aside. Yet in his introduction to the book, Ariel Dorfman notes,
"I didn’t expect to feel myself once again overcome by the sense of loss brought on by the departure from Chile, the tragedy – not just mine but of an entire continent; the traumatic experience of not recognising syllables, colours, hills or the smells of the ‘marraqueta’ (typical Chilean bread); those nights when I knew what was happening in some cellar in my country at that very moment and there was nothing I could do, nothing, absolutely nothing to stop those heinous crimes," said the writer.

Images of Exile (IPS)

Monday 13 April 2009

Peru: Interview with Lika Mutal

Quick link: La Republica interviews Dutch sculpture Lika Mutal as her memorial piece La ojo que llora (The eye that cries) has just been vandalised for the third time.

Guardiana de la memoria

Peru: Further Reaction to Sendero Ambush

Surprise, surprise: touchy Defense Minister Flores–Aráoz doesn't like people criticising the actions of the armed forces in the VRAE, the area where 13 soldiers were murdered by Shining Path remnants last week. He asks people to remember that they don't know the full details of the situation, bla, bla.

However, he does admit that 'mistakes' may have been made. For some reason, the soldiers were patrolling in daylight, when apparently such patrols should be carried out during the night or dawn (I must say, I wasn't actually aware that the VRAE was so out of the army's control that it can't enter it at certain times, but there we go).

And finally, there is some suggestion that the attacks were directed by a terrorist leader known as "Olga". This is a bit of a non-story as El Comercio doesn't know her real name or, indeed, much about her, but there always seems to be more interest in the female terrorists, and the fact that she was reportedly a teacher in Ayacucho parallels the life of Guzman himself (h/t Otto).

Sunday 12 April 2009

"Fujimori got 25 years."
"Jail for an ex-President? My God... what insecurity!!"
Pagina/12 suggests that ex-President Menem of Argentina, who is facing court battles of his own, might be feeling a little more uptight after the conviction of his Peruvian counterpart. "Inseguridad" is the word you hear most when Latin Americans are discussing the crime rate.

"Believe me, I really feel bad about the massacres of Barrios Altos and La Cantuta."
"Finally, you feel sympathy for the dead?"
"No, I said I feel bad - they've robbed me of 25 years!"

From La Republica. 'Pena' means both pain, sorrow, and penalty or sentence, so the double meaning works in Spanish....

Peru: Shining Path Ambush Kills 13

News of Shining Path assaults on two groups of soldiers in Ayacucho broke in the Peruvian press yesterday, but at that time it seems that there was only confirmation of one dead and some others injured or missing. The ambush took place on Thursday but this area is very remote and clearly communications were difficult.

The death toll has now risen to thirteen, with one soldier still missing and at least 4 injured.

El Gobierno confirmo la muerte de trece militares por la emboscada en Huanta (Peru21, includes list of the dead) (Here are very similar articles in La Republica and El Comercio)

Nevertheless, Defense Minister Flores-Aráoz has declared that Peru is "winning the war on terrorism". This is the obligatory statement at such times of course.

A worrying issue, as far as I'm concerned, is illustrated by the reactions in the comments sections at the bottom of the Peruvian articles - in particular Peru21, but also La Republica. One commenter speculates that the soldiers couldn't respond to the attack quickly enough because they were concerned about being accused of human rights abuses. Another uses caps to shout that presumably, the HROs don't believe that soldiers are human too. There are many more responses in the same vein. They are unfounded: if you read the report of the TRC or the recent human rights report in Peru they describe and condemn the killings of members of the security forces in detail. I can't think of an organisation that has not unreservedly condemned Shining Path or that has opposed the Peruvian army doing its rightful job or defending itself and the civilian population. The HROs DO oppose attacks on civilians from both sides. But the problem is that these ignorant commenters are actually parroting the official line from the likes of Defense Minister Flores-Aráoz and the President himself. When Ministers make open accusations that human rights defenders are pro-terrorist, then this idea becomes commonplace and it can be, quite literally, deadly for those accused. If you're not sure how dangerous it can be, take a look at this gobsmacking video in which President Uribe of Colombia calmly calls his opponents guerrillas and terrorists. He does this over and over and over until it has seeped into public consciousness. Peru is not quite Colombia, but in some senses, it is going in the wrong direction.

See also:

Rebels Kill 13 Soldiers in Peru

13 Peruvian Soldiers Killed in Rebel Ambush (AFP)

Friday 10 April 2009

Good Friday News Round-Up

There are several quite interesting articles on the reactions of various groups to the sentencing of Fujimori in Peru from the BBC and IPS.

Secondly, I'd like to draw attention to a moving photo essay about the Rio Negro massacre in Guatemala, and its commemoration (Upside Down World).

And finally, British MPs and trade union representatives from Britain and North America have accused Colombia's Alvaro Uribe of crimes against humanity. It's hardly surprising that they were horrified - they just visited the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist. I doubt that their strong words will make any immediate difference, but every little helps.

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Peru: Annual Report on Human Rights (3)

Following on from posts (1) and (2).

The situation of human rights and the judicial system in Peru since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR):

- There is a lack of a coherent system for witness protection.

- There are a number of cases of human rights abuses pending, including 47 recommended by the CVR, 12 investigated by the Defensoria del Pueblo, 159 which were part of an agreement between the Peruvian state and Interamerican Commission on Human Rights, and some others. For the majority of these, little concrete progress has been made. Only 13% have ended with a conviction - an average of just two a year.

- Investigations by the public prosecutor are described as a "filter" which impedes the justice process.

- In 2008, there were repeated calls from certain interest groups, including politicians, denouncing the supposed persecution of the security forces by human rights organisations, using the criminal justice system. In fact, the opposite is true: although the CVR documented tens of thousands of victims murdered by state forces, just 280 police and members of the armed forces have been tried or are in the process of being investigated. Of these, until now just 21 police officers and 7 soldiers have been convicted (p.178).

- The Ministries of Defence and the Interior have obstructed some investigations by refusing to hand over evidence, such as archival lists of personnel stationed in areas which saw particularly serious cases of human rights.

- In particular, women have great difficulty in achieving any justice for sexual crimes committed against them during the conflict.

- Some factors in the state are once again proposing an amnesty for the members of the security forces involved in atrocities.

- Successes in 2008 included sentences for those reponsible for the massacre at La Cantuta.

This diagram is taken from p. 196.

Tuesday 7 April 2009

News Round-Up

And, in other news (yes, other things are happening in the world apart from Fujimori's sentence):

There are apparently more bodies in the Putis area which have not yet been exhumed. In addition, the major has complained that the community is still lacking basic facilities such as medical posts and schools.


Manu Chao could have got into hot water after describing the actions of the Mexican state in Atenco as 'state terrorism'.
Chao was referring to the events of May 2006, particularly a demonstration by Atenco flower-sellers against a commercial development. Mexican police intervened, sparking riots. Over 200 people were injured, two killed and 27 women sexually assaulted in the ensuing conflict, according to Mexico's National Human Rights Committee.
The problem is,
Article 33 of the Mexican constitution states that "foreigners cannot in any manner interfere in internal political affairs" and the government carries "the executive power to force them to leave national territory".
However, he seems to have got away with it.

Peru: Fujimori Media Round-Up

Obviously this is one of those occasions when everyone has exactly the same information and the media need to look for those funny little facts or new angles.

El Comercio reveals that the sentence contains 8390 paragraphs, 1258 footnotes and is typed in Century font, size 11. Well, thanks for that! The dedicated Spanish speakers among you can, however, read the whole thing on the website of the Peruvian Supreme Court.

Much more usefully, Associated Press presents us with key dates in Fujimori's rise and fall.

Reuters is describing Fujimori as "the first time a democratically elected Latin American president was found guilty in his own country of rights abuses". The Fujimori trial follows in the distinguished footsteps of the trial of the junta in Argentina, but they, of course, were not democratically elected.

The Washington Post has a rather nice slideshow of Fujimori opponents and supporters outside the court.


You'll have heard it already: Fujimori has been found guilty and sentenced to 25 years. Guilty of the Barrios Altos massacre, guilty of the heinous crimes at La Cantuta.

A former head of state brought to justice in his own country for severe human rights abuses is, as the Amnesty International spokesperson commented with a certain understatement, "something you don't see every day". It was a long trial, and there is already talk of an appeal; nevertheless, it's an important day for Peru and a crucial blow to impunity. International observers have described the trial as exemplary in its fairness and attention to due process, so let there be no talk of a kangaroo court. I'm not surprised at the verdict, but I am deeply satisfied.

A few small points: La Republica reports that in Ayacucho, relatives of the disappeared celebrated and cried with happiness upon hearing the verdict. They also note that if he should serve his full sentence, taking into account the time he has spent on remand, he should be released on 10 February 2032. He would be 93.

Fujimori gets lengthy jail term (BBC)

All the mainstream news sources are running stories on this. Spanish speakers could also follow the blog of the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos, as well as the Peruvian press.

Sunday 5 April 2009

Peru: Annual Report on Human Rights (2)

Part (1) is here. From the report of the CNDDHH, chapter 2, the following important points:

1) Attempts on life by presumed state agents:

- in 2008, there were at least 42 deaths by presumed state agents, considerably more than in each of the previous 6 years.

The deaths were caused as followed (p.36):

Counterinsurgency measures by the armed forces: 7 (17.1%)
Routine control by the national police: 3 (7.3%)
Evictions by the national police: 3 (7.3%)
Social cleansing by the national police: 20 (48.8%)
Protests by the national police: 8 (19.5%)
Total: 41 (100%)

93% of these were adult males. 83% were caused by the police (in violent evictions, through repression of protests, and so on) and the remainder by the armed forces (p45).

2) At the same time, at least 25 people were killed by 'subversive agents' - basically Shining Path remnants. This is almost twice as many as in the previous year. 81.5% of victims were members of the security forces (p.47).

3) The Defensoria del Pueblo is aware of 80 cases of torture in 2008, of which 68 were committed by the police and the remainder by the armed forces (p. 65). Some of these have taken place within military establishments or penitentiary units. Most of those tortured by the armed forces were conscripts on their military service. From a torture point of view, a police station is one of the most dangerous places to be in Peru.

4) There has been an increase in the number of arbitrary detentions and deprivations of liberty as part of the government's criminalisation of protest. Community leaders are the most vulnerable to this sort of abuse.

5) There has been a general increase in attacks on freedom of expression and the press. These attacks include death threats, physical assaults, cutting off means of communication, blackmail, and others. They number at least 100 in 2008 (p.92). The perpetrators were sometimes unknown but apparently included members of the security forces as well as local officials, businesspersons, and others.

Peru: Annual Report on Human Rights (1)

The Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDDHH) has presented its annual report on the state of human rights in Peru. You can access the whole thing (in various PDFs) here (in Spanish). Now, it's nearly 300 pages long so I haven't read it all, nor can I translate it all, but let me present a few points from the initial summary which are relevant to this blog.

- The opening paragraph of the report is pretty damning, describing 2003 as a year of 'limited advances' in human rights (p.19).

- It presents the Garcia administration as aggressively promoting big business, criminalising social protest, and viewing human rights as 'obstacles' to development.

- The situation of the most basic human rights (to life, liberty, integrity) worsened in 2008.

- The recommendations of the CVR/TRC have still not been acted on. There was limited or no progress in these areas in 2008. Worse, there have proposals for military amnesty by those who believe that the armed forces are being 'persecuted' in the courts. This despite the fact that just 15 members of the security forces have been sentenced for human rights abuses. No one has been sentenced at all for sexual violence during the conflict.

- On the positive front, Peru has signed an international moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

- The continuing trial of Fujimori was the most positive and visible aspect of the human rights scene in Peru in 2008.

Here's a colour-coded image of the human rights arena in Peru (p. 27, sorry it's not higher quality):

This post has been taken from the initial chapter which summarises the contents of the report. I want to focus on particular areas in a few future posts, as time allows.

Peru: 5 April, 1992, 'Autogolpe'

On 5 April 1992 President Alberto Fujimori dissolved Congress, sent tanks onto the streets and installed himself as a dictator. It's known as the 'self-coup', since he replaced himself in power. Essentially, acting as an elected politician, with all that tiresome debating, voting, and waiting for permission from Congress, wasn't enough for him. Events will be commemorating this in Lima today.

On 7 April 2009, the verdict is expect in his trial for human rights abuses, which has been in progress since December 2007. It's supposed to be announced at 9am local time.

Fujimori has been trying to deflect attention onto Peru's other presidents as the trial ends. I go by the old "two wrongs don't make a right" rule, so I don't see it as relevant for his case (if you kill someone, does that mean I can go ahead and do it too?!), but I do think that the current president of Peru, Alan Garcia, has some reason to be worried.
"What's the difference? Why are Alan Garcia and Fernando Belaunde innocent and Fujimori is guilty? Why the double standard?" Fujimori asked the court.
Belaunde is not "innocent", he's dead. You can't try a dead person. Were he still alive, I think there would be a case to investigate his responsibility for some of the atrocities committed by the armed forces in the early years of the conflict. As for Garcia, investigations have so far concluded he does not have a case to answer for the major horrors of his first presidency (1985-1990). I'm unconvinced. My judgement according to the reading I've done would suggest that he ordered multiple extrajudicial executions during the prison uprisings, for one thing. I believe that order came from the very top and I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't have to answer to it at some point in the future. These things have a habit of catching up with people eventually.

But for now, the man in the dock is Fujimori. I'm expecting a guilty verdict, as I think most people are. I will be astonished if the outcome is good for Fujimori, but I don't want to pre-empt the court any more than that. Let's see what happens on Tuesday.

Fujimori swings at Peru's ex-presidents in defense (AP)

Friday 3 April 2009

Peru: 3 April 1983, Lucanamarca

There are words in Peru that conjure up the memory of violence. Gaping wounds in the collective consciousness of the nation. Accomarca, Tarata, La Cantuta. Other things happened and happen in these places but people remember the iconic events that define them, the multiple killings, the trauma. Uchuraccay. Lucanamarca.

On 3 April 1983, Shining Path columns entered the village of Lucanamarca in Ayacucho and murdered 69 people with machetes. Children were among the victims. The attack was directed from the very top of Sendero: Guzman ordered it as a punishment because there had been resistance to guerrilla activities in the area. It was to serve as an example: you resist the Shining Path, you die. He said as much himself:
Frente al uso de mesnadas y la acción militar reaccionaria respondimos contundentemente con una acción: Lucanamarca, ni ellos ni nosotros la olvidamos, (...) ahí fueron aniquilados más de 80, eso es lo real; y lo decimos, ahí hubo exceso (...) en algunas ocasiones, como en ésa, fue la propia Dirección Central la que planificó la acción y dispuso las cosas, así ha sido... (...)ahí lo principal fue hacerles entender que éramos un hueso duro de roer, y que estábamos dispuestos a todo, a todo(...).

"In the face of the reactionary operations of the military we replied forcefully with our own operation: Lucanamarca, neither they nor we will forget it. (...) "More than 80 people were wiped out there, that is a fact, and we admit it there were excesses there...on some occasions, such as this, it was the Central Directorate which planned the operations and gave the orders...the main thing was to make them understand...that we were prepared for everything."
(Spanish taken from the CVR report, pp. 44-45, which is quoting from Guzman's interview in El Diario in 1988, English translation from the BBC)

Just look at the agony etched on the faces of these women whose relatives were an 'example' to any who dared to resist the Shining Path. Of course, not resisting the Shining Path could well have earned you the wrath of the armed forces, whose treatment would be no better. The indigenous highlanders truly were caught 'between two fires'.

Photography and Memory (2): Marcelo Brodsky

This is the second in what I hope to be a series of posts on photographers whose work is concerned with issues of memory in Latin America. One could argue all photography is 'about' remembering, in that photographs show us images from the past and are so often used as part of memory work. I'm interested principally in photographic images that are more explicitly concerned with political violence in twentieth-century Latin American and its aftermath. Some of the photographers featured will lean more to the 'arty' side, others to the field of 'photojournalism'. The first post in the series is here.

Marcelo Brodsky is an Argentine photographer whose work deals with the legacy of the dictatorship. Brodsky's brother Fernando numbers among the disappeared, and he often draws on this experience. His best known work is a large reproduction of his class photograph covered with inscriptions and comments on the classmates. Brodsky tracked down his fellow pupils and took a photograph of each of those that he could find holding a small version of the group image. Across his own photograph, he wrote "I'm a photographer and I miss Martín".

Martín's photo contains the message,"Martín was the first one to be taken away. He didn't get to know his son, Pablo who
is twenty years old now. He was my friend, the best". Martín was one of at least 98 students of the Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires who were murdered by the state during the dictatorship (some of them for the crime of requesting subsidised bus fare).

Brodsky's images often take everyday objects and rework them to show their significance to memory. You can see more of them on his excellent website (Spanish and English) and on zonezero. You can also buy the books Nexo and Bueno Memoria (available in various languages).

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Peru: Museum of Memory: The Return?

Now it seems that the Museo de la Memoria is back on.

For readers of English, the AP informs us that Peru president accepts war museum, German donation.

Plus, Peru's Garcia does about-face on German donation to build memorial museum for victims of political violence (Peruvian Times)

Utero de marita has a round-up of the Peruvian blog reaction for readers of Spanish.

The next step is the formation of a High Level Commission - which has already been legally created - to coordinate the creation of the museum. The commission will be headed by author Mario Vargas Llosa, Peru's foremost literary figure.

I've been open about my support for a museum, and for an appropriate home for the stunning Yuyanapaq exhibition, so obviously I consider this good news. Despite his undoubted intelligence, Vargas Llosa would not be my first choice as the head of the commission, because:
1) I consider him too politically biased - he ran for President against Fujimori in 1990, in the middle of the conflict.
2) He has lived principally in London since the 1990s and also has Spanish citizenship, so his connection to Peru is not as strong as it could be.
3) He has headed a governmental commission before, into the murder of the journalists in Uchuraccay in 1983, and in the eyes of many observers didn't do a particularly job of it. He visited the highland village only briefly and, in the resulting report, appears to project many of his own prejudices about indigenous people, rather than analysing the facts of the case.

In view of these points, can Peruvians really feel that one of their own is leading the way to a representative museum, and can they trust him to do a good job? Nevertheless, I'm pleased to see the name of Salomon Lerner, the former head of the TRC, also among the names of the commission. I won't turn against the museum plan just because I'm not a fan of MVLL, but will judge him on the results.

Peru: Fujimori Begins 'Self Defense'

Fujimori is speaking in his own defense at the end of his trial.
He said it was difficult in modern Peru to understand the actions he took in that period but that one day schoolchildren would read about him in their history books as the leader who brought peace to Peru.

Oh, was that the sound of hollow laughter?

Fujimori defends himself at trial

La Republica has managed to photograph Fujimori's notes and is using them to speculate on the future content of his speeches; but it's nothing new, the old story that he is Peru's saviour and the allegations against him are a bunch of fabrications. The headline may be intriguing for English speakers: literally translated, it means "I know you, cod" - a Spanish-language saying which means something like "I can see through you" and also refers to an occasion when Fujimori sent his then-wife to excuse him from an important government address, claiming he had contracted food poisoning from some cod. (Hmm, did we hear that one during the trial, I ask myself?)

Aconsejaron a Fujimori declararse inocente y no responder acusación (La Republica)

Argentina: Media Round-Up on Alfonsin

International press:

Argentines mourn President Alfonsin, dead at 82 (AP)

Argentina's post-dictatorship leader Alfonsin dies (AFP)

Post-junta Argentine leader dies

Obituary: Raul Alfonsin

Raul Alfonsin, 82, Former Argentine Leader, Dies (NY Times)

Argentina's Former President, Raul Alfonsin, Dies

Naturally, it's the top story in the Argentine media and they are covering it from all sorts of angles.

Critica also has a variety of photographic galleries on the topic, and according to a piece I've just read in Clarin, the queue to see the ex President lying in state in Congress is now over 20 blocks long.

Argentina: Raul Alfonsin Dies

This is not breaking news anymore; Otto, Boz, Mr. Trend, and Richard got there before me. Nevertheless, the death of former Argentine President Raul Alfonsin can hardly pass unnoticed on this blog.

Surely you either have to be quite mad or very brave to take on the leadership of a South American country with 6 military coups in a century behind it, a restive military who have just lost a war and are reluctant to lose power, an economy in tatters and the awful question of the fate of perhaps 30,000 desaparecidos hanging over it. Alfonsin belonged in the latter category, and the hopes of Argentine supporters of democracy rested on his shoulders.

The CONADEP investigation and the trial of the junta were the high points of his presidency. CONADEP - the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons - disappointed some in Argentina with lack of legal clout to compel the military to testify and its failure to produce a list of perpetrators' names. Nevertheless, it was exemplary in the region and remains a crucial tool to understand the events of the dictatorship. The importance of the trial of the junta leaders can hardly be overstated: to bring before the courts the all-powerful generals who had initiated a reign of terror in Argentina was to send a very powerful signal indeed. The fact that the sentences were later annulled is part of the later downturn that Argentina's democratisation process took.

Alfonsin did not manage to satisfy all those who were initially rooting for him, as is hardly possible when the demands were so great. Some of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo regard him as a traitor. I see him, rather, as a tightrope walker. He knew that Argentina was a wounded nation, crying out for truth and justice. The families of the disappeared were extremely vocal in their calling for change. But on the other side, he had the volatile armed forces threatening another uprising at any time. It was hardly an idle threat; the army had seized power enough times before. Given the circumstances, surely he can rest peacefully knowing he did his best.