Thursday 28 May 2009

Argentina: AMIA Investigation Reopened

The New York Times' brief note gives the bare bones of this case pretty succinctly, so for once, here it is in full:
Argentina's Supreme Court ordered the reopening of the investigation into a deadly 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, saying a man previously acquitted in the attack should be retried. The court ruled 4 to 2 that the man, Carlos Telledín, a former car mechanic, should be tried again for his supposed role in providing the van that was loaded with explosives that were detonated in front of the community center, the government news service Telam reported.

Argentina: Inquiry into Bombing to Reopen


Courts Reopens AMIA Bombing Probe (JTA)

AMIA: reactivaron la causa y la comunidad festejo (Critica Digital)

Wednesday 27 May 2009

News Round-Up

CNDDHH comunicara a ONU la situacion de los niños reclutados por Sendero Luminoso (CNDDHH)

Oldest Insurgent Force Marches On

Army Denies 'False Positive' in Demobilization of 'Rastrojos'
(Colombia Reports)

Colombia: Security Bought at a Terrible Price, Report Warns

Sexual Violence against Women is Weapon of War in Colombia (Impunity Watch)

"Integrated Action"
(Plan Colombia and Beyond)

Chile News

An article which links in with a previous post of mine regarding the link between El Mercurio and the Pinochet regime:
Chile: Study Shows How Leading Paper Colluded with Dictatorship (IPS)

But clearly, today's big news is the arrest of an ex-soldier in conjunction with the murder of folk singer Victor Jara, probably the most famous crime of the Pinochet dictatorship after the ousting of Allende.

The accused, Jose Adolfo Paredes Marquez, was an army conscript at the time. Naturally this puts a whole different spin on the news. As Jara's family lawyer said,
"It is not our aim to chase down conscripts, I want to make that very clear. The conscripts formed part of the larger scheme of things, but they were the weakest and most vulnerable link, and cannot be held responsible. I am interested in the chiefs that gave the orders to execute Víctor Jara," said Caucoto.
Ex-Soldier Arrested for Victor Jara Murder (IPS)

Charge over Chile Singer's Death

Los estremecedores testimonios de como y quienes asesinaron a Victor Jara (Dirty Wars and Democracy)

How Victor Jara died, last minutes
(Chile from within)

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Argentina: Inauguration of Falklands/Malvinas Memorial

Family members of soldiers killed during the Falklands/Malvinas conflict will travel to the Islands in October to inaugurate the Memorial to the Fallen there. President Kirchner declared:
"Nobody can feel truly Argentine without feeling malvinero [from the Falklands] and I am deeply Argentine and malvinera".
Los familiares podran viajar a Malvinas para inaugurar el Monumento a los Caidos (Pagina/12)

Argentina: Patti Can Run for Congress

Luis Abelardo Patti, who I have mentioned several times here, is allowed to run as a candidate for the Argentine Chamber of Deputies.... from jail. A court has ruled that since he had not been convicted of any crime, there is nothing barring him from standing. So, all those voters looking for a politician wanted for crimes against humanity, here's your man!

Pagina/12 notes in practice, Patti is highly unlikely to be able to take up any seat. The legal wrangling, on both sides, seems to be mostly symbolic.

Con la carcel como comanda de campana (Pagina/12)

Monday 25 May 2009

Colombia: News in English from Uribe

Thanks to Colombia Reports for pointing out that the Colombian presidential website now has an English language news section.

I clicked through, and honestly, you don't even have to read the articles to get a good idea of Uribe's media policy. The headlines of the first articles include "President Uribe reiterated guarantees for the release of kidnapped people, but he informed that terrorist propaganda will not be allowed" and "President Uribe denounces false accusations against Armed Forces", alongside notes on Uribe receiving an award from a United States business school and the World Bank praising Colombia.

If, however, we do take a closer look at the "false accusations" article, we are treated to this gem:
President Uribe denounced that there is a group of lawyers hired by international organizations to discredit the Colombian Armed Forces and the Democratic Security policy.
Yes, it's a classic Uribe "there is an international conspiracy and everyone who criticises me is a terrorist in disguise" moment. Much of the rest of the article is frankly difficult to read but an object lesson in the dangers of publishing material written by non-native speakers without thorough editing.
President Álvaro Uribe affirmed that all this cases of violation of human rights have been acknowledged with no ambiguities in the ordinary justice.

Don't get me wrong - I don't think it's a bad thing that the articles are there to read at all. I'm a great believer in knowing your enemy. I just hope that everyone remembers to take them with a pinch of salt.

Sunday 24 May 2009

Colombia: Making People Disappear

This week, Cambio has been tracking down one of the furnaces used to cremate Colombian victims of the paramilitaries.

There is one association and one association only with images like this, and you know it before I say it: the Holocaust. People whose lives somehow, in the view of the state at the time, don't matter any more, are pushed out of sight and then murdered, incinerated, and swept away.

Sure, we are not talking Auschwitz statistics: the estimation is that this furnace, built in an old sugarcane mill, was used to dispose of around 200 people. But you know, 200 is really a lot if you actually stop and think that each one was a living, breathing individual with a family. And this isn't the only furnace in Colombia; the article hints at others.

As is usually the case, local people knew what was going on. There is sometimes the misconception that state-sponsored acts of terror take place in utter secrecy. They don't, and they aren't supposed to. Establishing a state of generalised fear requires that people know that there is something to fear, and that they have some idea what it is. Their terror then turns them inward, away from society - people stop speaking and socialising freely and simply keep their heads down and concentrate on surviving. In this case, there were witnesses when the paramilitaries arrived and built the furnaces, but they haven't spoken about it openly until now.

This is a long article with some distressing details in the various testimonies, but worth reading for the Spanish speakers.

Cambio conocio los hornos crematorios que construyeron los paramilitares en Norte de Santander

Donde hay cenizas

Friday 22 May 2009

Peru News

Contrasting news snippets from Peru today.

First there's a statement from human rights organisation Paz y Esperanza which should send chills down the spine of anyone who knows about Shining Path's heyday in Ayacucho.

The Asociación Paz y Esperanza Ayacucho (Peace & Hope Association Ayacucho), having become aware of the detonation of explosives in the city and the appearance of red flags in the early hours of Tuesday 19 May, and other similar acts which have occurred in various rural areas of the region, would like to state the following:

First: We energetically condemn acts which may affect the social peace of the Ayacuchan population, equally we reject all acts which violate human rights in the VRAE and other highland regions; which do no more than sow terror and fear in the population, reminding people of the 1980s and 1990s when shots and explosions were the stuff of everyday life. We condemn all crimes against humanity which contributed to aggravating the situation of violence in the country in the time of political violence.

Second: We call on the authorities of the public prosecutors' office, judiciary, Ministry of the Interior and others to act promptly and responsibly to identify and sanction those responsible for these acts. Moreover, we call on the population to reject and denounce the acts, raising voices of protest to promote our rights to security and peace.

Third: The efforts in favour of the struggle for reconciliation, peace and justice must not be prevented, there must be a contribution to the strengthening of a democratic country with full awareness of the state of law.
[trans. mine]
Explosives? Red flags?

On a slightly more positive note, a court in Miami has approved the extradition of a former second lieutenant of the Peruvian army, Telmo Hurtado, in conjunction with the 1985 Accomarca massacre, in which 89 people were killed.

Tras 24 años ex militar será enjuiciado por asesinato de Accomarca (La Republica)

Thursday 21 May 2009

Uruguay: Marcha del Silencio

Matilde Campodonico's image of Uruguay's annual march of silence in memory of the disappeared.

Argentina Issues AMIA Arrest Warrant

Argentina has issued an international arrest warrant for Samuel Salman El Reda, a Colombian national of Lebanese origin, in conjunction with the bombing of the AMIA Jewish cultural centre in Buenos Aires in 1994. El Reda, who is believed to have been living in Lebanon with his Argentine wife, is alleged to be the major local connection for the bombers, whom Argentina believes are Iranians.

The AMIA bombing, and that of the Israeli embassy two years previously, claimed a total of 107 lives and over 500 injured, and remain essentially unsolved - Argentina has named Iranian officials it wishes to try over the matter, but Iran isn't cooperating.

Argentina Seeks Colombian for 1994 Terror Strike (AFP)

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Argentina: Menéndez Granted House Arrest

Major Argentine human rights abuser Luciano Benjamín Menéndez will be allowed to serve out the rest of his two life sentences at home. Menéndez, who is 81, doubtless expected to have been given house arrest when he was first sentenced last July, as is standard for the over-70s, but he got a nasty shock. Now a second court ruling has contradicted the first which sent him to a common jail. Considering the ages of the perpetrators, this may become an even bigger issue if there are many guilty verdicts after the ESMA trial, beginning in October. Should condemned criminals be forced into prison or will they be allowed to live out the rest of their lives in familiar, if restricted, surroundings?

Ahora podra afilar su cuchillo en casa* (Pagina/12)

*"Now he can sharpen his knife at home" and the main headline on today's front page is "Home Sweet Home"

News Round-Up

Just two links this evening:

The Fading Shadow of Brazil's Dictatorship (Countries at the Crossroads)

Genocide Trial Against Bolivia's Ex-President Gets Under Way
(Impunity Watch)

Tuesday 19 May 2009

Argentina: Following Trials of Crimes Against Humanity

Thanks to Pagina/12 (where would my posts be without them), my attention was drawn to the website of the Centro de Informacion Judicial in Argentina. Now, it's Spanish only - it's their language you know - but providing you can cope with that, it's a great resource. They have a 'crimes against humanity' subsite where you can find all details of current trials regarding crimes committed under the last dictatorship. There's a photo gallery, interactive map of open cases, videos of sentencing, and you can even download PDFs of the complete sentences of the most notorious trials. You can also up any specific military perpetrators with the search function.

Here's the link

News/Blog Round-Up

Spain Opens Probe of 1989 El Salvador Jesuit Killings (Expatica)

Classic Latin American Film Studies in Honour of Mario Benedetti (Film Studies for Free)

Bolivia Ex-Leader's Trial Opens (BBC)

There's a new photography exhibition in Lima:

And finally, Peruvian blog utero de marita is pointing out that the Unique Register of Victims is underfunded and desperately short of cash. This is important since without being entered in the register, Peruvians who were themselves tortured or injured during the conflict, or who lost close relatives, cannot be compensated. Right now, only around half the total number of victims are entered in the register, so clearly the government needs to keep supporting it.

Sunday 17 May 2009

Peru: 'Fujimori controlled everything'

Colombia's Cambio magazine has an interview with Peruvian journalist and Shining Path expert, Gustavo Gorriti. Gorriti has been in the news himself again recently, rather than just writing it, as his was one of the cases dealt with in the Fujimori trial. Gorriti, a prominent researcher, was abducted briefly by state agents shortly after the 1992 'self-coup' in which Fujimori dissolved Congress.

He discusses this incident and the trial as well as the point made by supporters of Fujimori that the latter is being unfairly persecuted in contrast to other former Presidents.
"statistically, there were more deaths by forced disappearance under the Belaúnde and [first] García regimes than under Fujimori. That is true, but there is a difference.
In the cases of Belaúnde and García the problem was a sort of abdication of democratic authority. Those presidents wanted to uphold the Constitution and at some point they were overruled by the Armed Forces. In the case of Fujimori, he had total control over what happened, created the apparatus of SIN (National Intelligence Service) from which he ruled and he gave orders to create the Colina group. That's why he was condemned.
In the comments, Colombian readers draw direct parallels between Fujimori and their own current President Uribe.

'Fujimori controlaba todo' (Cambio)

Argentina: Brodsky Exhibition

Marcelo Brodsky has an exhibition at the Centro Cultural de Recoleta in Buenos Aires (15 May - 7 June). It consists of a 'visual correspondence' between Brodsky and other artists - Manel Esclusa, Martin Parr, Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, Cassio Vasconcellos and Horst Hoheisel. Sure to be a fascinating memory-related cultural event.

ojo x ojo (Pagina/12)

Saturday 16 May 2009

Photography and Memory (3): Vera Lentz

This is the third in 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'. Post one is here, post two here.

Vera Lentz is the creator of some of the most well-known images of the Peruvian conflict. The one above is the cover photograph for the book of Yuyanapaq and the publicity photograph for the film State of Fear, which also features Lentz in person, discussing her work.

This image is an icon, perhaps because it is so symbolic, rather than detailed. A small passport-size photograph rests gently on the cupped hands of a relative of its subject. The man in the photograph is, of course, missing - disappeared. In his way, he stands for all the disappeared of Peru. Photographs of photographs are a huge component of commemoration of the disappeared in the absence of their actual bodies; not just in Peru, but globally.

In this series of images, Lentz records the aftermath of the massacre of Socos, in which counter-terrorist forces (known as sinchis) murdered over 30 members of a wedding party. Lentz commented,
The bride had survived this massacre, so it was all her family. She was looking at the dead, and her fiancé…her future husband.
SOF fact check, p. 21

I assume that this is the stunned bride herself, standing among the remains of her extended family. In State of Fear, Lentz returns to the scene twenty years later to see what happened to the village in the wake of the attack.

Lentz captures scenes of great emotion, and she also took huge risks, photographing the armed forces, Shining Path, and smuggling cameras into jails where Sendero prisoners held sway. You can see a larger range of her photography in the image database of Yuyanapaq.

UPDATE 2012: This post is one of the most-viewed on the blog and one of the top results for a Google search of "Vera Lentz", so I thought it was worth updating:

German-speakers might like to read this long article on Lentz, including her background as a Peruvian of German origin and her eduction in Germany, here:
Dämonin der Wahrheit (taz)

Spanish speakers can also read this article in Caretas, which is also the source of the photo of Lentz at the top of this post:


Friday 15 May 2009

Mexico: Tracing Aleida

This is a trailer for the documentary Trazando Aleida (Tracing Aleida, dir. Christiane Burkhard), which focuses on Aleida Gallangos Vargas, the daughter of disappeared parents, and her search for her brother. Gallangos is Mexican, and Mexico is not often one of the countries traditionally included in the list of Latin American nations which suffered mass politically-motivated disappearances in previous decades. Recently however, more information has been coming to light on Mexico's own 'dirty war'. Anyone familiar with Argentina's dictatorship will be nodding in recognition at the images in this clip, which looks very interesting.

Film Chronicles Woman's Search for Identity after Mexico's 'Dirty War' (LA Times blog)

Brazil: Dictatorship Info on the Web

Brazil has launched a new website containing archival material on its dictatorship. I speak no Portuguese (and honestly, folks, it just took me about ten minutes of googling to even find it - why do none of the news reports contain a link or a mention of the Portuguese title of the site?!) but it looks well laid-out and quite detailed. There are photographs and other audiovisual material, a database, virtual exhibitions, and so on. Activists are pleased but not fully satisfied, which is fair enough since their aim in life is to push for full disclosure:
"The website... is a step forward" said Jair Krikchke from the Justice and Human Rights group. "What we are really interested in are the military archives. Brazilians want to know."
Memorias Reveladas

Brazil Puts Dictatorship Files on the Web
(AFP) [h/t The Latin Americanist]

Thursday 14 May 2009

Argentina News

Also very briefly: another medical report has concluded that former junta leader Massera is not well enough to stand trial - and this report was made by such well-respected groups as CELS. That's what happens when you don't try someone for 30 years after the crimes occurred, people.

Otra pericia dice que Massera es inimputable
(Critica Digital)

In addition, the Secretary of Human Rights of Buenos Aires has submitted an objection to Luis Abelardo Patti's bid to become a deputy. The objection notes that the candidate "is implicated in numerous crimes against humanity".

La Secretaria de DD.HH. bonaerense se sumo a la impugnacion de la candidatura de Patti (Pagina/12)

Blog Round-Up

To The Roots (formerly Latin American Musings) reviews Peter Chapman's Bananas, a history of the United Fruit Company, a multinational whose very long shadow was cast over Central America.

NACLA has a rather upbeat report from Guatemala: Landmark Developments in Guatemalan Human Rights

Colombia: Victims of State Crimes Speak Out

There's also another book review from the Reading Archives blog; these two studies may not be Latin America-focused, but they are highly relevant to this blog's 'memory' theme, and remind us of the parallels in other parts of the world which have also suffered civil wars and state terrorism and are struggling to come to terms with these.

Wednesday 13 May 2009

Peru News Round-Up

Piura region district attorney Sofía Milla has dropped all charges against her colleague, former DA Félix Toledo Leiva, who was accused of witnessing the torture and kidnapping of 29 anti-mining protesters in 2005, but doing nothing, daily El Comercio reported Tuesday.

Milla cleared her colleague, currently jailed in a Piura prison on charges of corruption in an unrelated case, arguing that the plaintiffs offered insufficient evidence.

But, according to the National Human Rights Coordinator, or CNDDHH, there are four photos in which Toledo can be seen in the mining camp when the torture took place, standing nearby some of the victims. And, several victims have testified that while in the camp, they told Toledo that they had been tortured.
District Attorney Cleared of All Cases in Majaz Torture Case (Peruvian Times)

A letter from the Under-Secretary General of the UN on the recruitment of underage soldiers in Peru (in Spanish and English, CNDDHH)

Vladimiro Montesinos' Trial for Corruption Resumes after Short Suspension
(Peruvian Times)

Sunday 10 May 2009

Cultural Sunday

Quick link: Women: Memory of Repression in Argentina, by Raquel Partnoy and Agricola de Cologne. Check it out [English].

From Pagina/12, an interview with Colombian author Laura Restrepo, who lived in Argentina during the dictatorship, about her new novel, Demasiados heroes. A major theme of the book is apparently the generation gap in Argentina between those who have personal memory of the 'dirty war', and those who may not want to learn about it.
"La dictadura fue tambien una condena al silencio"

And in Colombia, artist Beatriz Gonzalez has been drawing attention (quite literally) to the graves of the unknown (sometimes known as 'NN').
La artista Beatriz Gonzalez interviene los columbarios del Cementerio Central (Cambio)

Peru: Sendero News

Caretas features striking images of trench warfare in the VRAE.

Las trincheras del VRAE

La Republica has an intervew with the wounded soldiers who survived the ambush of a couple of weeks ago. One of them claims that following the explosion, local women and children continued to attack the survivors and 'finish them off'.

“Vimos a mujeres que ordenaban a niños a rematar a los heridos”

From the English language media, AP has a longer article on the resurgance of Shining Path.

The government says the repackaged Shining Path differs little from the far larger leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in the neighboring Andean nation. It says they are simply militarized drug gangs.

Rojas and other refugees from Pampa Aurora aren't so sure. They say the Shining Path fighters appear to have a political agenda and sit peasants down every few weeks for lectures.

"They tell you the government has forgotten the poor. That our rights are stomped on by the rich, the police, the military," he said.

Cocaine trade revitalizes Peru rebels

Latin America: Truth Commission Resources

Comision Nacional sobre la Desparicion de Personas (National Commission on the Disappearance of Persions, CONADEP, 1983)
Report entitled "Nunca Mas" (Never Again)

Bolivia: Comision Nacional de Investigacion de Desaparecidos (National Commission of Enquiry into Disappearances, 1982)
Commission dissolved early without producing a report, see here

Chile: Comision Nacional de Verdad y Reconciliacion (National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation, known as the Rettig commission, 1990)
Report here in English, here in Spanish
Comision Nacional sobre Prision Politica y Tortura (National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture, known as the Valech commission, 2003)
Report here in Spanish

Ecuador: Comision "Verdad y Justicia" (Truth and Justice Commission, 1996)
More information here
Comision de la Verdad (Truth Commission, 2007)
Official site here

El Salvador: Comision de la Verdad para El Salvador (Commission on the Truth for El Salvador, 1992)
Report: De la locura a la esperanza: la guerra de 12 años en El Salvador
From Madness to Hope: the 12 year War in El Salvador

Guatemala: Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico (Commission for Historical Clarification, 1997)
Report: Memoria del Silencio
Memory of Silence

Panama: Comision de la Verdad (Truth Commission, 2001)
More information here

Paraguay: Comision de Verdad y Justicia (Truth and Justice Commission, 2003)
Conclusion and recommendations of report in Spanish here

Peru: Comision de la Verdad y Reconciliacion (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 2001)
Final report here in Spanish, here summarised in English

Uruguay: Comisión Investigadora sobre la Situación de Personas Desaparecidas y Hechos que la Motivaron (Investigative Commission on the Situation of Disappeared People and its Causes, 1985)
More information here
Comision para la Paz (Peace Commission, 2000)
Scroll down to the bottom of the entry here to download a Word document of the final report in Spanish

Other sources of information

Brandon Hamber

David Gairdner, The Role of Truth Commissions in Political Transition in Chile and El Salvador (pdf)
Institutional Center for Transitional Justice
Strategic Choices in the Design of Truth Commissions

United States Institute of Peace

Friday 8 May 2009

Peru: MRTA is a Terrorist Organisation after all?

One of the first major stories this blog followed when it came into existence last year was the decision of the European Parliament not to include the practically-defunct MRTA on its list of current terrorist threats, and the backlash affecting Peruvian human rights organisation, APRODEH (to see the background, just click on 'APRODEH' in the tags list to the right).

Now, it seems that this decision may be reversed, and the MRTA will be classed as terrorists after all. The Peruvian Vice-President is crowing over the change of heart. But how will this reflect on APRODEH? The group have today issued a press release denying that their president, Francisco Soberon, had anything to do with the decision - apparently news agency EFE has been reporting differently but I can't find that particular article.

To be honest, this is all semantics - the EU's decision won't make the MRTA any more of a (non)threat. My only concern is the possibility of further slander and threats against APRODEH.

MRTA debe ser incluido en lista de grupos terroristas de EEUU
(La Republica)

MRTA sera incluido en la lista de terroristas
(El Comercio)

Presidente APRODEH desmiente haberse pronunciado sobre MRTA y Europarlamento (ADN)

Comunicado de APRODEH (CNDDHH)

Thursday 7 May 2009

Peru: Lurigancho Survivor Captured

Spanish speakers can read about this story directly at el utero de marita.

As the Peruvian blog points out, it's a minor news story that the police have picked up a senderista known variously as Efrén Eloy Ticona Condori or Efraín Eloy Rojas Orozco or Isrem Quispe Gamarra (depending on his mood?).

The interesting point is that, according to utero de marita, the person in question was the only survivor of the rioting prisoners from Lurigancho, site of the one of the notorious prison massacres in 1986. At the time, Shining Path prisoners staged coordinated uprisings in three prisons, the security forces were sent in, and a huge number of deaths was the result. Here, you can see a U.S. embassy document noting '30 to 40' summary executions carried out after the prisoners had already surrendered. It's fair to say that this is a highly conservative estimate.

Actually, sources including the Dictionary of Contemporary Politics of South America state that there were no survivors at all from Lurigancho. But this website shows what it references as an article from La Republica in 2004 citing Efren Ticona as the sole survivor of the massacre. If this is accurate, he's a crucial witness from one of the iconic events of the Peruvian conflict. And now, it looks like he could be heading back behind bars.

Oh yes, and we do remember who was in charge during the Lurigancho massacre, right? Hint.

Colombia: Is the Net Closing on 'False Positive' Perpetrators?

In the Guardian this morning, a letter from 5 British MPs supporting the decision to withdraw military aid from Colombia, but concerned that the government
continues to supply secret and unconditional counter-narcotics assistance to unspecified units of the Colombian army.
Meawhile, the excellent Colombia Reports indicates that 67 members have been convicted of so-called 'false positive' killings - murdered civilians and dressing them up to look like guerrillas. The BBC has also picked up on the story, noting that there has been a number of arrests.

It's pleasing to see proceedings being brought against these criminals, although I fear that it's quite easy to start this many trials because there are simply so many perpetrators out there. One of them, for example, has apparently admitted to killing over 150 people. Never fear, though, Uribe wants to ensure that they all get a fair trial.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Argentina: Media Restrictions for ESMA Trial

Pagina/12 is dissatisfied with plans to restrict media access for the ESMA: photographers will be only be permitted to work for short periods, and a long television camera will be operated by police officers(!). This is reminiscent of the strange rules surrounding the original trial of the junta, which was broadcast for a few minutes each day on Argentine television - without sound.

Cerrar las puertas del juicio a Astiz & Cia.

Peru: Berenson Gives Birth

*Breaking news* It's just come through on my feeds that Lori Berenson, US citizen in jail in Peru, has given birth to a son. Peruvian prisoners are allowed to keep their children with them until they are three, and Berenson could be parolled next year.

Imprisoned U.S. Citizen Has Baby in Peru (Reuters)

Paraguay: Dictatorship Official Should Tell All

President Lugo has called on a former Interior Minister under dictator Stroessner to reveal the whereabouts of the remains of victims from Paraguay's repression. I'm not too hopeful of his chances of success, since Sabino Montanaro is 86, and his lawyer said openly a couple of days ago that he had returned to Paraguay since he was now too old to be jailed there. Plus, a court doctor describes him as "confused".

Dictatorship-era aide must tell of bodies (AP)

Guatemala: Reparations

Reparations are being made to families of victims of Guatemala's civil war. Francisco Velasco lost his parents and 14 other relatives: now the State has officially accepted responsibility. He received $5,400. That might sound a pitiful amount for such a crime - but as the people interview for this article in the Washington Post emphasise repeatedly, it isn't just about the money.
"You can't pay for a life," Velasco said. "But it is a gesture of support."

Plus, the President himself says sorry:
Survivors also get a letter from Colom asking for forgiveness for the losses they suffered as a result of the abuses committed by the state during the war, which ended in 1996. "The fact that the president signs it is very important," said Orlando Blanco, Guatemala's secretary of peace. "It is an official document that says, 'Here is the truth: My son was not a subversive or a delinquent. It was the state that killed him.' "

Compare that with Peru, where Garcia and his government tried to avoid discussion of a representative museum dealing with political violence, and where major politicians regularly issue threats against human activists and truth commissioners.
Lucia Quila, another of the recipients in Guatemala, confirms,
"It meant a lot to hear that yes, the state accepted responsibility," she said. "It wasn't just the money. No money can pay for my lost husband and the chaos we suffered. I won't forget that until I die. But at that moment, the government finally acknowledged the damage done to us."

The President also recently attended the exhumation of bodies of some victims of the civil war in person.

The number of dead in Guatemala, a small country, was huge - around 200,000. There isn't enough money to give all of their relatives a decent sum. But that display of humility by a President to his, mostly Mayan, citizens who have suffered this gravest injury by state forces: well, that's how you start healing.

Payments and Apologies for Victims of Guatemala's Civil War (Washington Post)

Thanks to Lauren for sending the article!

Tuesday 5 May 2009

Peru: Burt & Youngers on Fujimori

Recommended reading of the day: Jo-Marie Burt and Colette Youngers assess the trial of Fujimori.

Ex-President Found Guilty of Grave Human Rights Violations (WOLA)

Monday 4 May 2009

United States: History of Involvement in Torture

U.S. has a 45-year history of torture (LA Times)

Yes, it's important to keep repeating this. In the communal handwringing over the recent torture memos and their possible aftermath, let us not forget that the United States' involvement in state-sponsored torture is not a new aberration, but a longstanding policy.

Link found at Latin America News Review

Colombia: Resources

Quick link: magazine Cambio has a special page on what it calls the humanitarian crisis in Colombia with links to six documents detailing aspects of the conflict. One, by the International Crisis Group, is in English, the rest are in Spanish.

Sunday 3 May 2009

Peru: Sendero Commander Captured

La Republica is reporting the arrest of Alejo Teodosio Maylle Tolentino, alias 'Roque' (or 'Rocky'), a Shining Path leader who is thought to have been behind an ambush last year in which 4 police officers died.

Ejército captura a mando senderista que dirigió emboscada a policías (La Republica)

It also has an article on Sendero's firepower, with the following graphic which includes the damage to the army helicopter attacked this week:

SL duplica su capacidad de fuego (La Republica)

Colombia: Britain Cuts Military Aid

Last week, the British government announced sent a small memo to parliament saying that its military assistance programme to Colombia would end following repeated concerns about human rights abuses committed by the Colombian military (see this post and this article for a small selection of examples).

UK Ends Bilateral Military Aid to Colombia (Guardian)

Boz noted that
The projects included a landmine clearance programme that had been under way since 2000 and a human rights training project that began in 2006.
and commented
The UK is cutting assistance to programs that would save civilian lives and prevent future human rights abuses. The government says that none of this money was going to units accused in the scandals, but they're cutting it anyway.

If the UK wants to make a statement about human rights, they should target their cuts more carefully towards the training and equipping of the units actually involved in the scandals and continue the funding of military programs that actually help fulfill human rights objectives. Otherwise, this is just a budget cut wrapped up in some pretty language.

These seemed like legitimate concerns, so I tried to find out more. I turned to Justice for Colombia's report [pdf] on UK Military Aid to Colombia, written before the end of the aid, and note the following:
The UK plays a role in the conflict by providing assistance to the Colombian military. Very little detail about this assistance has been made public, though the UK is reportedly the second largest donor of military aid to Colombia after the US. (p.4)

- Why the secrecy when it's UK taxpayers' money being used?
Troublingly, there are no conditions of any sort attached to UK military assistance to Colombia.
This gives the regime no incentive to improve their behaviour as they know that irrespective of their performance, the UK aid will keep flowing. (p.6)

HMG [Her Majesty's Government] says that some of the assistance provided to the Colombian military is for human rights training. However, HMG has refused to reveal what proportion of UK assistance is for this type of training nor to which units/personnel of the Colombian Army it is provided.
This human rights training does not appear to be working as abuses perpetrated by soldiers, including cases of torture and extra-judicial executions of civilians not only continue, but are increasing.... Indeed, the only Colombian Army unit that HMG has confirmed receives UK assistance in this area has, in recent years, been implicated in grave violations... The fact that HMG refuses to disclose exactly who receives the human rights training also makes any independent monitoring of its impact or effectiveness impossible. (p.7)

So much for the human rights training. There appears to be no clear evidence on what it is, how much it is, or how successful it is, and financial aid does go to units implicated in atrocities.
And as for the de-mining,
HMG states that approximately 8% of their military assistance to Colombia is focussed on humanitarian de-mining work. There is concern that UK assistance in this area is not aimed at clearing mines from areas where civilians are at risk (humanitarian de-mining) but rather for offensive operations (i.e. rapid clearance of mines during pursuits).
Evidence for this is provided by the ‘Colombian Campaign Against Mines’ which lists several countries, but not the UK, as assisting with humanitarian de-mining; and the ‘International Campaign to Ban Landmines’ (ICBL) which lists countries such as Canada, the USA, Germany, Italy, Spain, Norway and Switzerland as assisting with humanitarian de-mining, but makes no mention of any UK assistance.(p.8)
So, if the £190,000 per annum sum is correct, the de-mining programme is the equivalent of a paltry £15,200 per year - and in any case, civilians may not benefit from it. I am unconvinced that the funding would save lives or prevent abuses - and very possibly, quite the opposite.

On balance then, I support the stance of the British government, since the money - while not a particularly large amount - would have been taken as tacit support for Uribe's policies. Besides that, there is a lack of transparency in revealing what the money was actually used for. Ideally, however, I back Boz's call for better targeted funding rather than none at all - but it seems to me that the existing funding programme was wholly inadequate and should be replaced rather than upheld.

My analysis here seeks to go somewhat beyond the Guardian article, but it still isn't ideal since I haven't found too much information outside Justice for Colombia. If readers have improved sources, they are very welcome to add links in the comments section or email me and, if appropriate, I'll update the post.

News Round-Up

"Head in your hands" post of the week: Insight into Why Sendero Terrorists are Gaining Ground (Inca Kola News)

Brazil's Supreme Court Repeals Censorship Law from 1960s (Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, thanks to Listen, Yankee! for pointing out this one)

Mexico: Army Accused of Human Rights Abuses
(New York Times)

Paraguay: Protests and Rubber Bullets Greet Return of Dictatorship Criminal (Upside Down World) - this is a really excellent piece, incidentally

Book Review: The Shock Doctrine

Here's my own take on an already thoroughly-reviewed publication, Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine (see also an ongoing series at Alterdestiny for a chapter-by-chapter consideration).

First to say that the video below is an excellent introduction to the major themes raised and the principle - thanks to Justin Delacour of Latin America News Review for drawing my attention to it:

In brief, then, Klein draws parallels between individual acts of torture (many derived from psychological experiments in sensory overload and deprivation), state-sponsored mass torture and 'torture' of entire nations through economic shock treatment. Of course this is a bold move, and Walden Bello is right to point out its risks: presenting the global economy as a conspiracy theory, overreaching the horrific descriptions of physical abuse in a way which will alienate an academic audience, and so on. To an extent, the success or failure of the book hinges on whether you can accept that a politico-economic elite is prepared to 'torture' a greater part of the world's populations for its own ends.

This is not to say that Klein's argument is not convincing. She is an excellent writer - although she sometimes walks a fine line between the factual and the merely dramatic, she tends to stay on the right side of it - and the book is well researched, albeit not perfectly in all areas. I studied the sources for the chapter dealing with Argentina, with which I am most familiar, and noted that her main source for information on torture in Argentina is Margeurite Feitlowitz's Lexicon of Terror. Feitlowitz's volume is a great read but it is contains a few dubious suppositions which I have seen repeated uncritically elsewhere and which reappear here, and anyway, there are many other valuable works available to corroborate. I would have been happier to see a greater range of sources (there are others, of course, but in this section it is mainly Feitlowitz and Michael McCaughan's book on Rodolfo Walsh). However, one real plus is that fact that the book is supplemented by a website where you can view many of the primary sources for yourself (incidentally, I would class this as an example of the best possible combination of traditional publishing and use of new technology).

While I wasn't always comfortable with the torture metaphor, I was to a large extent convinced by Klein's argument of the appalling destruction caused by extreme free market measures introduced during a country's most vulnerable period. I also agreed that on occasion, focusing too narrowly on individual human rights abuses can distract attention from the wider issue - although I can't accept that such abuses should not be focused on.

Klein's great strength is the breadth of her survey in The Shock Doctrine. I was in familiar territory with the material on Chile and Argentina, but Poland, Russia, South Africa, China and even to some extent Bolivia were new to me. I was shocked, as the title hinted I might be, my eyes were opened, and I was also profoundly depressed. Klein attempts to lift the mood in the last couple of chapters and give us some hope that we can overcome international shock, but to be honest it didn't convince me. I am not sure that the world has found the answer for how to overcome the damage to financial and democratic institutions which are perhaps the deepest legacy of the South American military dictatorships, aside from the other examples in the book. Despite the lack of cheer with which I end my review, however, I do recommend this book for its fascinating insights, its power to rouse the reader to anger, and its consciousness-raising abilities.

Friday 1 May 2009

Photography Book Review

I've bought a trio of Latin America-related photography books in the past year.

The first is a very slim volume, just 70 pages. Resistencia: Portraits of Colombia is the catalogue for an exhibition which took place at the Photographers' Gallery in London and was produced in collaboration with human rights organisation Justice for Colombia. It's a series of portraits of contemporary Colombians - children, campesinos, pregnant prisoners, heavily-armed soldiers, couples and families. Most of them are posed and staring straight at the camera, establishing a relationship with the viewer. One of the few images which does not feature a human subject is of a graffitied wall demanding "Mas Chavez menos Bush" (More Chavez less Bush). Well, Bush has gone in any case, but I think you get the point.

At £10, this book is a bargain and the printing quality is decent, although it's obviously soft cover. It's an interesting insight into the impact of Colombia's long conflict. The connection with NGO Justice for Colombia reveals that the images have a consciousness-raising purpose - but this doesn't make them boring. A broad range of society is represented here and the images are allowed to take centre stage, enhanced by small background notes on their subjects.

We then go back in time to The New World's Old World: Photographic Views of Ancient America (ed. May Castleberry, University of New Mexico Press). This one was published in conjunction with a 2003 exhibition at the AXA gallery in New York. It unites photography of ancient sites from the South of the United States to Bolivia via Mexico and Peru.

The images span over a century from the 1870s to the 1980s, and are all black and white. Some of them are truly stunning - as a Peruvian specialist it's not surprising that I want to name Martin Chambi's iconic shots of Machu Picchu, but I was also introduced to the likes of Timothy H. O'Sullivan's images of ancient ruins in Arizona (those rock strata!) and Paul de Rosti's Mexican temples. Photography of architecture and natural features is not my usual favourite: I prefer lively images with plenty of human interest. But these have almost won me over. They have beauty, drama, majesty and mystery. Aside from that, the book is a boon for the academically-minded. It contains essays by May Castleberry, Kathleen Stewart Howe and Martha A. Sandweiss, a list of photographer and image details, and a detailed bibliography.

Finally, I bravely bore the pain in my wallet (50 euros!) and my arms and bought and lugged home Susan Meiselas' hefty In History. If size makes a coffee table book, this qualifies. Meiselas is justifiably famous for her work in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and elsewhere, and this book combines a number of these well-known projects with some updated pieces. It also contains chapters by some of my academic idols: Abigail Solomon-Godeau, Diana Taylor, and Elizabeth Edwards, among others.

Meiselas is a photographic genius. Apologies for the hyperbole, but I know of very few photographers who can capture human emotion so truthfully, and yet so stunningly. Plus, this volume is all about memory; the link between the past, present, and future; the nature of the photographic image itself, and social engagement. It's Memory in Latin America's crack. Ah-hem. My only quibble would be the price: it's likely a very fair price for such a large book with so many full-colour photographs, but nevertheless it's out of many people's reach, clearly. I thought twice about it and I must be the absolute target audience for such a book. Fortunately Meiselas does have rather a good website.

So, when you review three books, aren't you supposed to rubbish at least one of them? Sorry about that; I'm very pleased with all my purchases. If you're looking for a worthy addition to your bookshelf, you could do much worse than one of these publications, according to your own particular interests.