Thursday 30 July 2009

News Round-Up 30/07/2009

Even the far-right Unión Demócrata Independiente doesn't want Rodrigo García Pinochet, Augusto's grandson, as their candidate. He's annoyed.
My how times change (IKN)
Nieto de Pinochet acusa a la derecha de darle la espalda por su apellido (El Comercio)

"Until yesterday, the 'Stronistas' (as Stroessner's followers are referred to here) said there were no victims of forced disappearance, that it was all just our lies,"
First Remains of Victims of Dictatorship (IPS)

Paranoid archbishop
Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani stirred up rumours of foreign interference in indigenous disputes in his Independence Day homily.
Cardinal Cipriani warns of "foreign meddling in Peru's internal affairs" during 28th July homily (Peruvian Times)

Tuesday 28 July 2009

Peru: Museum of Memory Update

Apparently, Peru's future Museum of Memory, which will be built to commemorate the political violence of the past decades, now has a definite site: the Campo de Marte in Lima. Living in Peru is reporting that it will be situated underground so as not to change significantly the outward appearance of the area.

This will make the district of Jesus Maria, and in particular the park Campo de Marte, something of a focal point for memory issues in Peru. The memorial El ojo que llora is also located there (it's marked by a cross in the image above), and several human rights organisations have their offices nearby. It's also within easy reach of central Lima. On the other hand, the park is also overshadowed by the military centre known as El pentagonito. I suspect that a legitimate concern about centralism will be raised when discussing the site. It's a fair point: the majority of victims of both Shining Path and the armed forces were not from Lima, but from Ayacucho, primarily, and the other poor, highland provinces. These areas need places for commemoration too. At the same time, I believe that the country needs a representative museum and I see little alternative to the capital city to maximise visitor numbers. Plus, Lima ignored what was happening in the countryside for long enough - I think it needs to keep its eyes open.

According to El Comercio, the museum could now be ready by 2011.

Speaking to El Pais, head of the museum commission Mario Vargas Llosa welcomed the news about the Campo de Marte and spoke of his inspirations, including the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Rwanda.

Peru's Museum of Memory to be Built under a Park in Lima
(Living in Peru)
Museo de la memoria estara listo en el 2011 (El Comercio)
MVLl: Museo de la Memoria estara listo antes del 2011 (CNDDHH)
Peru consagra su memoria historica (El Pais)

Monday 27 July 2009

Peru News Round-Up

- NACLA has a report on the resurgence of the Shining Path and the worrying implications for Peru's indigenous citizens, who generally end up bearing the brunt of state counterinsurgency measures.
[Sendero expert Carlos] Tapia explained that rather than launching a military offensive, the government should address the social and economic needs of the poor areas where Sendero operates.
So easy to say and yet... when will we see this as a concrete policy?

Abuses in Peru's Escalating Fight against Rebels (NACLA)

- Sofia Macher, former commissioner in Peru's truth and reconciliation commission, who is currently heading the Consejo de Reparaciones (reparations board), is complaining that she has not received the promised budget. The shortfall is causing delays in pay outs.

Sofia Macher pide atencion de Estado en reparaciones (CNDDHH)

- The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, has submitted a report on the violence at Bagua. You can download both a summary and the full version in PDF (both in Spanish) from the CNDDHH website. I'd just like to highlight one point from the summary:
...various representatives of government indicated that the ongoing investigations would focus primarily, or even exclusively, on the possible crimes of the indigenous protesters and not on the possible irregularities committed by the police and other actors during the violent events. This is a worrying fact. [trans. mine]
Worrying indeed.

Relator de la ONU presento informe sobre sucesos de Bagua (CNDDHH)

Saturday 25 July 2009

Paraguay: Victims' Remains Found

The bodies of at least two victims of the Stroessner dictatorship have been discovered on the site of a police station in Tacumbu, Ascuncion.* Working on tip offs from retired police officers and information from human rights activists, investigators found the remains in a 2.5 by 1m grave.

The Paraguayan Minister of the Interior, Rafael Filizzola, promised that the deaths would be thoroughly investigated. President Lugo also visited the site on Thursday.

There is a suggestion that one of the victims may be Argentine Oscar Luis Rojas, who disappeared in 1977. Having been jailed in Paraguay, he was supposed to be returned to his native country, but never arrived.

According to SDP Noticias, this is the first such discovery since the end of the Stroessner regime, despite the fact that an estimated 3,000 people were disappeared during the dictatorship, so this is quite a momentous event for Paraguay.

Grave of Suspected Torture Victims Found in Paraguay (CNN)
Seguiran busqueda de cadaveres tras hallazgo de osamentas en Paruguay (SDP)
Visita Lugo fosa clandestina en predio policial (CNN)

*Thanks to Lauren writing at The Latin Americanist for drawing my attention to this story.

Peru: Bagua Disappeared Update

A comment on a previous post of mine has alerted me to a list on the blog Another Green World of those supposedly still missing after the recent violence in Bagua. I'm not sure what the source of this list is and cannot vouch for it, but I thought it was worth flagging up.

Friday 24 July 2009

Argentina: Arrest in Spain

An alleged torturer, Jorge Alberto Soza, accused of human rights abuses during the Argentine 'dirty war', was recently arrested in Spain.

The 72-year-old is wanted in Argentina in connection with 18 cases of kidnapping and torture between 1975 and 1977 when he was an assistant Federal Police commissioner and chief delegate in the southern Argentine city of Neuquen.

Soza was arrested July 7 and is being held in a Madrid jail pending his transfer to Argentina. He had been living in the nearby town of Carcaixent since 1992.

Spanish Police Arrest Ex-Argentine Police Official (AP)

Thursday 23 July 2009

Peru: Still Recruiting Underage Soldiers

A sixteen-year old soldier died in a training accident with a grenade last week, highlighting the fact that Peru is still putting legal minors in dangerous situations despite having promised that the practice would end. Under 18s are not permitted to join the army, but clearly in some instances there are insufficient checks, at the very least.

Peru's Army Continues Recruiting Minors (Living in Peru)

CNDDHH condena muerte de soldado menor de edad

Monday 20 July 2009

Peru: 7.5 Years for Fujimori

"I only accept the deeds; I accept neither the legal responsibility, nor the punishment nor the civil reparations." (IPS)
A classic quote, isn't it?

Alberto Fujimori has just been sentenced to another seven and a half years in jail for paying his former spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos $15m from state funds - a sum which he claimed was to prevent the latter mounting a coup. He admitted the act from the start of the trial, but denied its criminality. The court disagreed, and after a brief trial he has been convicted again. He is already serving 25 years for human rights abuses.

Condenan a Fujimori a 7 años y seis meses de prision por pago de US$15 millones a Montesinos (El Comercio)

Sunday 19 July 2009

Memory Politics on Facebook

Let me say straight off that while I have a Facebook account, I'm sceptical of its power to change the world. I get really irritated by online petitions - what are they supposed to do, anyway? And as for protest pages about extremist political parties - people, if you're not happy about politics, voting might be a good start. And how many dolphins can you really save by clicking on a "save the dolphins" link?? It's just a lazy option that allows you to feel like you've "done something" when the only thing you've done is show everyone on your feed how lazy you are. Hm.

Nevertheless, I'm intrigued by the memory politics on social networking sites such as FB. The widest possible variety of institutions and organisations are making use of it to recall past injustices, protest current ones, and put their views across. Let's take a look at just a few:

Old school colonial politics meets new school digital age in the Facebook page for WHINSEC (formerly School of the Americas).* Seriously, check it out. You can click to declare yourself a 'fan'. I refrained. Obviously, there are also a number of 'close down the SOA' pages.

The page commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of the AMIA attack in Buenos Aires is well done with a good selection of images and videos.

The search for the disappeared children of Argentina also utilises social networking sites: for just a few of many examples, see here, here and here.

I bet when the Grandmothers started their consciousness-raising activities in the 1970s, they never imagined that one day, they would have a MySpace page. Their job would probably have been easier if that had been possible then. MySpace, Facebook, and blogs mean that anyone with an Internet connection** can communicate internationally, instantly, and for free - and they obviously make sense to reach out to the younger generation as well. Such websites do not just serve campaigning purposes but are also used as virtual memorials and archives of resources. So, while I still don't believe that clicking on a link will in itself get a bad law changed, there is still a wealth of reasons for human rights activists to exploit the digital age.

*Thanks (and hi!) to the hardworking Lee Rials, who scours the blogosphere for references to his institution, for mentioning the page on To the Roots and triggering this post in the first place.

**Obviously, the 'democratic' possibilities of the Internet are limited by people's ability to access it, and in many parts of Latin America, that is not yet possible for the majority. Nevertheless, urban inhabitants of most Latin American countries can use the very common Internet cafes which are priced at levels which exclude the poor, but are accessible for many. It's particularly evident that the Argentine organisations have the ability to make use of digital technologies, but even organisations from poorer and rural areas are making inroads on the web.

Argentina: AMIA, Fifteen Years On

On July 18, 1994, a terrorist attack on the AMIA Jewish community centre left 85 dead and hundreds more injured. Fifteen years on, no one has been convicted of the crime and the circumstances surrounding it are still unclear. Argentina blames Iran for the bombing, but in a mess of bodged investigations and corruption, no individuals have been put behind bars. The Supreme Court has recently declared that the investigation may be reopened, so that is a small reason for hope, but the process drags on, and with every year the possibility of tracking down the perpetrators recedes still further.

As always, the anniversary brings with it a flurry of commemorative gestures and protests against impunity - even if, this year, public gatherings are reduced because of swine flu. The main demonstration has been postponed until the epidemic abates, but many people still arrived at the site shortly before 9.53, the time of the bombing, to observe a minute's silence.

Under the circumstances, the AMIA association has been making use of the media in lieu of mass events:

and has constructed a special website.

There are also exhibitions in the Centro Cultural Recoleta and Centro Cultural Ricardo Rojas.

Quince años de la AMIA (Pagina/12)
Por la memoria de la AMIA (Pagina/12)
Una causa que no puede salir de los escombros (Pagina/12)
Recuerdan a las victimas del atentado frente a la sede de la AMIA (Pagina/12)

Saturday 18 July 2009

Peru: Residents of Majaz Living in Fear

According to testimonies compiled by the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDDHH), indigenous citizens living in the village of Segunda y Cajas are still experiencing reprisals for their denunciations of torture at the mining site of Majaz.

One villager, who wanted to remain anonymous, said that they had to use "hidden paths" for fear of being attacked.

A woman named María Ozeta was attacked with a machete in early June by a person linked to a supposed NGO known as "Asociación Integrando", which, according to the CNDDHH, dedicates itself to "intimidating the population and imposing the activities of the Majaz mining company".

In the past month, representatives of the CNDDHH itself, another NGO, and three of the victims of the original torture have all experienced threats.

This may all sound rather conspiracy-theoryish, but the Coordinadora is well-respected and not given to hyperbole; the news is deeply concerning and indicative of corruption and lack of protection from the law in the area. There was a big scandal when the images of torture came out, but that has now passed. The fact is, however, that the victims have to carry on living in the area where their attackers have gone unpunished. Let's not forget Majaz.

Continua la violencia en Majaz (CNDDHH)
- includes images of injured people, scans of a medical certificate and police report

News Round-Up 18/07/2009

Central America: Shades of Coups Past - And Yet to Come? (IPS)

Journalist Death Threat Stirs Chile (Prensa Latina)

Inquiry on 1994 Blast at Argentina Jewish Center Gets New Life (NYT)

Friday 17 July 2009

News Round-Up

Two eye-rolling pieces of news from Colombia, typical of states which are attempting to play down or cover up human rights abuses.

Amnesty International is claiming that a record number of Colombians, 380,000, were displaced last year alone. But according to the government, they are "exaggerating". Moreover, we should all just forget about those unfortunate incidents where soldiers dressed up innocent civilians as guerrillas and shot them - better to move on, ok?

On, perhaps, a more positive note, Brazil is undertaking a search for the bodies of guerrillas fighters who disappeared during the 1964-85 dictatorship. The action itself is an interesting one, but families of the dead are understandably dismayed that the army itself is carrying out the operation.
Victoria Grabois, a sister, widow and daughter of members of the Araguaia guerrillas, told IPS that "It is emotionally impossible for us to participate with the army in the excavations to find our loved ones."

Grabois, a member of the Grupo Tortura Nunca Mais (No More Torture Group), said the decision to resume the search was prompted by the fact that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has asked the government to present explanations on the location of the remains of the victims and the circumstances of their deaths in early 2010.

The activist complained about the way the endeavour is being carried out. "It's basically being organised like a war operation, commanded by a general from an army brigade that operated in the jungle, where the military went to kill guerrillas," complained Grabois.
Controversy Surrounds Army Search for Guerrilla Remains (IPS)

Peru: Two Anniversaries

(Image from CNDDHH)

This is a significant week for memory politics in Peru, marking the anniversaries of two of the emblematic events of the conflict; the Tarata bombing and the Cantuta massacre.

Consejo de Reparaciones entrega certificado de victima a sobreviviente de atentado en Tarata (CNDDHH)

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Peru News

Here we go again with the next Fujimori trial! Fujimori on Trial will be doing its usual excellent work covering it; this one won't be such a marathon.

Fujimori's New Trial Started Today (Living in Peru)

Fujimori Admits Illegal Payment to Spy Chief (IPS)

Photos of the VRAE:

'Rivers of coca' by Moises Saman

Amnesty International representatives are visiting Bagua this week:

Amnistia Internacional llegara a Bagua

This week marks 17 years since the notorious La Cantuta massacre, and commemorative activites will be taking place.

La Cantuta: recuerdos y lecciones (CNDDHH)

Sunday 12 July 2009

Argentina: Victoria Donda (2)

I've written about Victoria Donda before (here and here), but now there is an extract from her new book, 'Mi nombre es Victoria', in today's Pagina/12. As a member of the Argentine Chamber of Deputies, Donda is a public figure, so it's hardly surprising that her history at the child of disappeared parents, brought up by a military repressor, causes interest.
My name is Victoria. That is the title of the book. It contains the story of the woman who was always Victor but was Analía as well. Who was Analía without stopping being Victoria. The story is told by Victoria Donda, the young woman who recovered her identity* in 2004 and shortly afterwards became the first appropriated child of disappeared parents to become a national Deputy.

Victoria's family history covers a truly extraordinary cross-section of Argentine society. Her biological parents were María Hilda Pérez and José María Donda, both murdered because of their political activism. She was born in the ESMA and, in the little time available before she was killed, her mother named her Victoria. But José Donda's brother Adolfo - Victoria's biological uncle - was a torturer and may even have been involved in the torture of his sister-in-law, so her family really crosses the dividing line of ideologies in Argentina. This is really unusual since military men very often came from military families, and similarly political leftists ('subversives') were often targeted as families, so one family with both extremes among such close relations is rare.
"My story... is not just mine, that of Victoria or Analía, but it is the history of Argentina, a history of intolerance, violence and lies which continues today, and which will not end until the last of the babies stolen during the dictatorship can recover his or her true identity, until the last of those responsible for that barbarity is judged for their crimes, until the last of the thirty thousand disappeared can be given a name, a history and a cause of death, and until the last of their relatives can mourn."

Victoria was brought up by the man known in the book as Raúl, real name Juan Antonio Azic, a torturer in the ESMA. She acknowledges that her feelings towards him are still mixed.
"I'm very clear about the fact that I was appropriated*... but yes, I feel ambiguous towards my appropriator... Nobody says that you necessarily have to hate your appropriators, not even the Grandmothers."
The article then provides a series of extracts from the book, beginning in July 2003 when a judge ordered the arrest of Raúl, who Victoria, then known as Analía, believed was her father.

At one in the morning the phone rang.

"Analía, it's me", said Raúl, in a tone even more serious that the one he had had a few hours previously. "I need you to wait at home a little longer. In an hour, call this number - " and he gave me the number while I noted it down like a machine, with one eye on the television.

An hour later I called, always with my eyes fixed on the television screen, without having been able to sleep or do anything other than wait. Before they picked up the telephone I knew, from the shivers which ran over my spine, from Raul's tone the last time he had called, that it wouldn't be good news. When I heard that the voice which answered the phone was not his, it confirmed my worst fears.

"Is that Analía? Your father is in hospital. He has just shot himself."

Raul had tried to commit suicide, shooting himself in the mouth with his regulation revolver. Maybe he thought he didn't have the strength or the will to face his past, to see the dead return to the silent tombs, and he thought that the best way for his family was to free them from what was to come: jail, the neighbours' looks... and more. Much more.

But he failed. The bullet had not damaged his brain, and Raul was in an induced coma in a room in the Naval Hospital. I didn't have time to cry. Not yet. Graciela [her adopted mother] had always been a woman of fragile health and I had to take care of everything. I went upstairs to wake my sister and my boyfriend, who had stayed over; together we woke Graciela and I called a taxi to take us to the hospital. When I entered the room where my father I just went in without thinking about what I was going to find. There, opposite me was my father, who I had seen just a few hours before, unconscious and without a face. The shot had disfigured him.

Almost as if it had been planned from the start, at the very moment that I left the room and went into the waiting room, the explanation for Raul's actions was to be seen in a television mounted on the wall. On the screen was an information red and yellow table from Cronica TV detailing the extradiction request, the list of the wanted and in the list, Raul's name. It didn't take long for his suicide attempt to take its place in such a table, completely exposing our family to the eyes of the entire country. Then I finally understand why he had taken this tragic decision, but I didn't know why to cry: for my father's suicide attempt, for the suffering of my mother, or for the reasons for his suicide attempt? Suddenly, my father was no longer an innocent fruit and vegetable merchant from Dock Sud, but one of those people whose incarceration I had been campaigning for for years. The images of Raul helping me out with money, some old furniture, or just giving me lifts to and from places like the Azucena Villaflor become incongruous and strange when one thought that the woman who gave her name to the cultural centre was a disappeared person, abducted by the task forces during the dictatorship. The same task forces to which Raul had, apparently, belonged.

Full of guilt about her newly discovered family connections given her own involvement with the human rights movement, Analia/Victoria contacts the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. They reassure her, but little does she know that they already suspect that she herself is a child of disappeared parents and are investigating her case.

The article concludes,

It was two years since the girls from Hermanos [the organisation of siblings of the disappeared] contacted me for the first time, and more than a year since they told me that I was the daughter of disappeared people. And that 8 October, with 99.99% certainty**, finally I could say it, yell it to the four winds if I wanted. And I wanted to say it:

Now, my name is Victoria.

En primera persona (Pagina/12)

* Some of this vocabulary may not be totally familiar to those who have not heard much of the disappeared children of Argentina, but terms such as appropriators, repressors, recuperation of identity and so on are standard for the field.

** I assume she is referring to the results of the DNA test.

Argentina: Archive Thoughts

Pagina/12's Rosario edition has an interview today with Domingo Pochettino, former Secretary of Human Rights in Santa Fe province, about access to its regional archive which deals with documentation from the last dictatorship. The article is long but worthwhile for those interested in archives as it sheds some light on the practical, political, and ideological challenges of preserving and using documentation in the region.

The article has been sparked by a current debate which has blown up surrounding access to archive material; put simply, federal prosecutor (fiscal) Mabel Colalongo wants to copy the entire provincial archive, which may contain information vital to human rights abuses cases. She has even procured a scanner, a photocopier and specialised staff to do this. But she is being blocked by bureaucracy which is demanding that she first state which documents she wants, after which they will be copied and handed over by archive staff. Naturally, she doesn't know which papers will be relevant until after she has first seen them - but she hasn't seen them, because she needs to state what they are, get them photocopied... you get the picture. Get the complicated details here.

Having spent some brief time working in South American archives myself, this sounds very familiar. The overwhelming paperwork and rigid rules which confront you at every turn, even in institutions which claim to be publicly accessible, are incredibly demoralising. Having said that, in every case when I was finally IN the archive itself, generally after week of running in circles and begging, staff were charming and helpful. They still didn't let operate the photocopier by myself though!

There are serious issues at stake here. Often a lack of resources prevents proper analysis of available documentation, meaning that crucial evidence may be lost while the remaining perpetrators die of old age. Plus, archives are not always kept in suitable conditions for longterm storage - damp or inappropriate data storage techniques could lead to the loss of material vital to a nation's collective memory. Political changes, for example following elections, can set already slow progress back by years. With this is mind, every open archive, every exhibition, every book published is a small triumph against amnesia. Nevertheless, there is so much more material out there if only it could be properly used.

"A veces hay cuestiones de celos en la gente" (Rosario/12)

Saturday 11 July 2009

Guatemala: UN Fight against Impunity

IPS has an interview with Carlos Castresana, head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala. The UN commission is charged with strengthening the justice process in the Central American country.
IPS: What is it that CICIG contributes to the justice system in Guatemala that the system itself can't provide?

CC: The system is not functional. The justice system in Guatemala is able to solve two percent of cases by itself, and we are speaking of serious criminality. Ninety-eight percent of cases go unpunished.


IPS: Why Guatemala? There are many other countries in the region and in other regions that need a similar approach to impunity.

CC: Because Guatemala asked for it. Guatemala went before the United Nations and said, please help me, create a commission to help my prosecution office to function.

It's true, there are other countries in the region in a very similar situation, Honduras, El Salvador and others. But in those cases there has not been an initiative.

The United Nations can't come to a country if the country does not agree. An exception on this issue is the Security Council. In this case the U.N. could only give help because Guatemala asked for it.

"We Are Changing the Situation of Impunity" (IPS)

Peru: What happened at Devil's Bend?

Survival International's video report (English) on events at Bagua:

Friday 10 July 2009

Guatemala: HIJOS Celebrate Anniversary

I am familiar with HIJOS in Argentina, the organisation of children of the disappeared, but I hadn't heard of their Guatemalan counterparts, who are now marking a full decade of struggle and activism on behalf of the victims of the Guatemalan civil war.

From Memory to Resistance, Children Bear Witness: HIJOS Celebrates 10 Years in Guatemala (Upside Down World)

Bolivia: Arce Gomez Deported

Ex-colonel Luis Arce Gomez has been deported to his native Bolivia after serving a fifteen year sentence for drug trafficking in the US.

Arce Gomez was formerly Minister of the Interior in Bolivia's 1980-81 dictatorship. The military perpetrator, who counted Nazi Klaus Barbie among his acquaintances and once issued a notorious warning that opponents should "walk around with their wills under their arms", is now a shadow of his former self as he embarks on a thirty year prison sentence.

Bolivian President Evo Morales welcomed the development and thanked the United States for their cooperation.

Luis Arce-Gomez Deported to Bolivia (Guardian)

U.S. Deports Ex-Bolivian Cabinet Minister Convicted of Drug Trafficking (Miami Herald)

Dictatorship-Era Repressor Arrives in Bolivia after Deportation (Latin American Herald Tribune)

Thursday 9 July 2009

Argentina: Pardons Stand

Argentina’s highest criminal court upheld a lower court ruling that pardons granted in 1990 to two of the officers who led a 1976 coup ushering in seven years of brutal military rule were unconstitutional, the judiciary said Thursday.

The decision lets stand the life sentences handed down to Gen. Jorge Videla and Adm. Emilio Massera, both 83, for crimes against humanity committed by the 1976-1983 military regime.
Argentine Court Strikes Down Pardons for Junta Leaders (Latin American Herald Tribune)

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Photo for the Day

Former clandestine detention centre and Operation Condor base Automotores Orletti, in Buenos Aires, by Diego Levy from a slideshow in Critica Digital.

Argentina: Elsa Osorio

Argentine writer Elsa Osorio is interviewed in Pagina/12 about her new book of short stories, Callejon con salida. Just as her other work, which has been translated into several languages, it deals with issues of memory and the legacy of the past in Argentina. This new collection was apparently triggered by Osorio's interest in the trial of Scilingo in Spain in 2005.

In this interview, Osorio states her creed, "I don't believe in forgetting, I believe that the way out for society is the way of Justice".

I have to admit that I have a copy of Osorio's My name is Light (Spanish title, A veinte años Luz) on my bookshelf and I never finished it - but not because I thought it wasn't worth it. Quite simply, it was too much for me. At the time, I was deep into research of the stolen children of Argentina and reading about in fictional form was so strong I couldn't face it after a day in the archives or at the library. This in itself is probably a testament to the strength of Osorio's writing. Perhaps now, with some distance, I can give it another try.

"A veces hace falta festejar la vida" (Pagina/12)

News Round-Up

From Fujimori on Trial, a quick visual overview of the twists and turns of the case - invaluable if you haven't got the time or inclination to read through hundreds of pages of documents.

Rifle Used to Kill Chile's Victor Jara Turns Up (Latin American Herald Tribune)
Interesting - but can anyone tell me how they know that it is exactly THE rifle? According to this article, it "was standard issue for the Chilean army at the time of the putsch" and "ballistics tests enabled authorities to determine what kind of weapon fired the bullets". What kind of weapon? Or which one exactly? CSI fans want to know.

10,000 Victims of Colombia's Violence to Receive Compensation Payments (Impunity Watch)

Peru Supreme Court Ratifies Guilty Verdict Against Former Chief of National Intelligence Service for La Cantuta Massacre (Peruvian Times)
Peruvian Times headlines never leave anything to add.

Sunday 5 July 2009

Chile: Museum of Memory

Although these news articles are now a couple of weeks old, I think it's worth pointing out that progress continues on Chile's representative Museum of Memory and Human Rights.
“No one can deny, fail to recognize, play down, or trivialize the tragedy of human rights violations in Chile,” said Bachelet at the ceremony. “Every person needs to examine the past themselves and reflect on the need to improve our coexistence so a similar tragedy never again occurs in our country.”
And she knows what she's talking about.

Bachelet Receives Donations for Human Rights Museum (Santiago Times)

Chile's Rights Museum to Honor Dirty War Victims (AP)

Photography and Memory (4): Jonathan Moller

This is the fourth 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, post three here.

It's post four in the memory photographers series and a third photo of a photo appears. Coincidence? Well of course not; I select which images I show and I have a particular interest in photos of photos. But it's not just me. All over Latin America, and beyond, where forced disappearance was and is a method of state repression, images abound of people holding photographs of their missing relatives. Often the photographs are passport-size, made for use in identity documents and voting cards - possibly the only image the family has available. I could probably find dozens more examples, but compare this one by Vera Lentz, which I have posted before:

Another aspect that these two images have in common is their focus on hands to the exclusion of the rest of the body. This gives both a symbolic, rather than specific quality, despite the fact that the latter was made in Peru, and the former in Guatemala.

The first image here is the work of Jonathan Moller, who has photographed the people of Guatemala for his work Our Culture is our Resistance. I've mentioned before that measuring the devastation caused by a civil war is about more than sheer numbers; nevertheless, reading that "the death toll in the Guatemalan war exceeded that of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Argentina, and Chile combined" to enough to give anyone pause for thought. Moller was no casual visitor to Guatemala, but spent many years working there, including collaborating with a forensic anthropology team to document exhumations of clandestine graves. His black and white images are infused with a deep sense of sadness, even the ones which show people carrying out their everyday activities.

More of his photographs can be seen on his website, or on Zonezero, and the book is also available.

Saturday 4 July 2009

Peru: No Disappeared in Bagua?

The Peruvian ombudsman (Defensoria del Pueblo) has concluded that there are no indigenous disappeared in the region of Bagua following last month's violence.

You can read the full report on events here (PDF, large file, Spanish language) or check out the briefer press release from this page (PDF, 120/09/OCII/DP), which gives the official figures as 33 dead, 200 injured, and 83 detained of whom 18 remain in detention. Also Peruvian blogs on the subject, pointing out that the figures are based on interviews and not a comprehensive survey of the area, thus cannot be regarded as conclusive.

No Amazonian Indigenous Disappeared in Bagua, Peru Ombudsman's Report Says
(Living in Peru)

No hay mas desparecidos tras hechos de violencia en la selva peruana (El Comercio)

I can't comment on the figures with any accuracy, but the numbers of dead civilians is said to be ten, which seems very low (the other 23 in the figure of 33 were police officers), and thus I would conclude that the possibility of disappeared really cannot be ruled out, despite this report. As most of the links above are in Spanish, I would suggest that English speakers go and watch this five minute video on the Guardian website detailing a little of the background to the protests and including descriptions of torture and mentions of disappeared people.

Friday 3 July 2009

Argentina: New Bs As Police Chief with AMIA Link

The families of those who died in the AMIA bombing are outraged over the naming of police commissioner Jorge "Fino" Palacios as new chief of the Buenos Aires police. According to the lawyer of the families' organisation, Palacios is suspected of covering up the so-called 'local connection' in the bombings. That is, the general accusation is that the bombing was carried out by Iranian elements, but with support within Argentina. The investigation has encountered countless delays and stumbling blocks which have prevented victims from achieving justice in the past 15 years.

Familiares de victimas del atentado a la AMIA repudiaron la designacion de Palacios (Pagina/12)

Fiscal del caso AMIA dice que hay elementos para procesar a Palacios (Telam)

Argentina: What's Going on in the ESMA?

Who would've thought that one day, the Madres de Plaza de Mayo would be running a cultural centre in part of the site where so many of their children were tortured to death. But they are; Centro Cultural Nuestros Hijos (Cultural Centre Our Children) has arisen from the icon of horror in Buenos Aires.

More details on their website here and an article on the current theatre festival here.

Thursday 2 July 2009

Peru: The Forgotten Witnesses

A final link for today, this time about the two people who discovered the bodies of the Cantuta victims, putting in motion an investigation which ultimately led to the trial of Fujimori. It's long.

Los testigos que condenaron a Fujimori (Etiqueta Negra)

Remembering Dictatorships and Double Standards

Events in Honduras have cast a lot of minds back to the "bad old days" of military dictatorships in Latin America. Here are just two links for today which draw parallels between old and new in very different contexts.

Duncan Campbell wonders why British Home Secretary Jack Straw cannot countenance the release of an aged, ailing train robber, but expressed compassion for Augusto Pinochet:
Sympathy for the Devil (Guardian)

And Daniel Luban and Jim Lube look at the history of US attitudes to coups and "friendly authoritarians":
Dictatorships and Double Standards Revisited (IPS)

Peru: Congress to Discuss NGO Law

Peruvian Congress is today debating a proposal by the fujimorista faction to limit foreign funding to NGOs. The apparent front for this move is the recent violence in Bagua, which President Alan Garcia has claimed had international backing (in a completely transparent ploy to stir up patriotism and distract from the miserable failings of his own adminstration), but it is yet another in a string of moves to repress human rights organisations in Peru.

Garcia is urging his ambassadors to combat the "conspiracy" against Peru and has directly cited NGOs as an enemy of the nation:
"When we talk about a conspiracy, we are not talking solely or necessarily about states. It's obvious that there are some NGOs which have carried out a systematic campaign of disinformation and have filled the world with lies through blogs and emails."
[“Cuando hablamos de conspiración no hablamos necesaria y únicamente de estados. Es evidente que se pueden identificar algunas ONG que han hecho una campaña sistemática de desinformación y han llenado de mentiras al mundo a través de blogs y mails”,]

The rhetoric of the Argentine military regime was just the same, incidentally. They took out ads in the papers warning the population of an "anti-Argentine campaign" (compare the recent TV spot of the Peruvian government) and pressured civil servants, and others, to wear badges punning on "human rights" ("los argentinos somos derechos y humanos", "we Argentines are human and right").

Pleno del Congreso debate proyecto de ley referido a las ONGs (La Republica)

Post-killings, Peru Clamps down on NGOs (Survival)

García pide a sus embajadores enfrentar “campaña internacional contra el Perú” (La Republica)