Monday 23 August 2010

Argentina: Disappeared Child Testifies

The first dirty-war kidnap victim to be identified by DNA tests returned from Spain to testify that a former government intelligence agent not only stole her from her parents, but sexually abused her as well.
Carla Rutila's parents died in Automotores Orletti. She was found by the Grandmothers in 1985, when she was ten.
"I didn't stop looking at him," Rutila told a news conference at the Grandmothers headquarters Thursday, nearly a week after her testimony last Friday. "That was my goal: to be able to look him in the face and know that he wouldn't be able to look back. For me it was a powerful sort of recovery. ... It's as if a weight has been lifted from me."
Guerrillas' child testifies against kidnapper (AP)

Peru: Berenson/Guzman

Well, it's been a week of mixed fortunes for two of Peru's most notorious prisoners. Lori Berenson is back behind bars after having her parole revoked; while Abimael Guzman has finally succeeded in marrying his second-in-command Elena Iparraguirre. They may get conjugal visits. It's all very romantic.

Peru: Guzman - Iparraguirre, former Shining Path leaders, got married (Living in Peru)
Shining Path founders marry in prison (LA Times)
Shining Path newlyweds may quality for conjugal visits (Peruvian Times)
Shining Path founder Guzman married in Peru prison (AP)

Lori Berenson ordered to return to prison
(NY Times)
Lori Berenson interview with Peruvian Times (Peruvian Times)
American activist Lori Berenson ordered back to Peruvian prison (Peruvian Times)
American back in prison with toddler son (AP)

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Peru: Lori Berenson Apologises

Lori Berenson, threatened with a return to jail, has apologised publicly for her involvement with the MRTA.
Si mi participación... contribuyó a la violencia en la sociedad lo lamento profundamente y me arrepiento de ello... Si hay personas que se sienten afectadas por mis palabras y mis actos, pido perdón”
If my participation... contributed to the violence in society I am very sorry and regret that... If there are people who feel affected by my words and my actions, I ask their forgiveness. (my trans, you will probably see slightly different versions in various news articles)
I can only agree with Silvio Rendon on this one (if you read Spanish, go check out his whole post here). It's not a good apology. "If I have done harm... If there are people who feel affected...". Apologising for having offended someone is not the same as regretting the action itself, and this 'sorry' takes little responsibility.

Las disculpas de Berenson (Gran Combo Club)
American woman apologizes for collaborating with Peruvian Marxist rebel group (Peruvian
US militant apologizes for collaborating with terrorism in Peru (Mercopress)
US citizen Berenson says sorry for Peru terrorism (Reuters)

Friday 13 August 2010

Peru: Chungui

I've written about Edilberto Jimenez before, so I wasn't going to devote an entire post to him again, but perhaps just a tweet. But seriously, people, you need to watch this video (which I found via Memoriando). It's in Spanish - and Quechua with Spanish subtitles - but even if you don't speak Spanish, please watch it, you will see enough.

[Edited to add: I don't know how Youtube chooses a particular still for the video, this one seems rather unfortunate but I don't know if there is any way to change it. Still, at least it warns of strong content pretty much in itself]

Peru: Christmas Massacre

I mentioned the exhumations at Putka last week; now, IPS has more. Relatives of those killed on Christmas Day, 1984, are camping out next to the dig to keep watch over the process.
"The families of the Putka victims won't leave the spot where the graves are located until the last body has been removed," said Chávez [of charity Paz y Esperanza], because "they have waited 25 years for the remains to be exhumed and for those responsible for the killings to be punished."
The family members are keen for justice but still fear possible reprisals. They believe that the perpetrators of the massacre belonged to a local ronda campesina, a civilian defence group. Some of the rondas did sterling work defending local people against Shining Path, but others became part of the problem, armed by the military and contributing to the already extreme level of violence in highland Peru. So now those bereaved families are watching while the experts sift through the dirt to expose items of clothing and remains, which will later be sent for DNA testing.

Unearthing Victims of the Christmass Massacre (IPS)

Uruguay: New Info in Mitrione Case

Bloomberg reports that newly declassified documents show the Nixon administration urging Uruguay to consider all options, including "use of threat to kill" key leftist prisoners in an attempt to prevent the murder of Daniel Mitrione.

Mitrione was kidnapped on 31 July, 1970, by Tupamaros guerrillas and found dead on 9 August. He was a director for the US Agency for International Development in Uruguay and a former policeman and FBI agent. A. J. Langguth claimed in this book Hidden Terrors that Mitrione taught torture to the Uruguayan security forces. I say this not to justify his killing, but to point out once again the role of the US in the military dictatorships of Latin America. His story inspired the 1973 film State of Siege, directed by Costa Gavros.

Carlos Osorio, director of the National Security Archives, has called for full declassification in both the US and Uruguay to shed further light on the case.

Nixon Official Asked Uruguay to Threaten Rebels, Cable Says
To Save Dan Mitrione, Nixon Administration Urged Death Threats for Uruguayan Prisoners (NSA; where you can also download PDFs of the declassified documents)

Sunday 8 August 2010

Argentina: Street Name Changes for Bs. As.

A judge has ordered the city of Buenos Aires to change the names of the streets and public places named after dictatorship officials. Judge Elena Liberatori noted that the autonomous city's laws already stated that:
"en ningún caso deberán designarse calles o lugares públicos con nombres de autoridades nacionales, provinciales o municipales que hayan ejercido su función por actos de fuerza contra el orden constitucional y el sistema democrático”
[under no circumstances may a street or public place be designated with the names of national, provincial or municipal officials who carried out their role because of an act of force against constitutional order and the democratic system]
She commented,
"There is no doubt that the continuing existence of names in the city which allude to former officials of de facto government is in clear contradiction of the law, and therefore the orders which gave rise to these names of public spaces are unconstitutional." [cited in Observatorio de derechos humanos]
So the city of Buenos Aires must act to ensure that in the future, there are no streets, squares, or avenues named after de facto officials. The lawyer, Hansel Stegemann, who brought the case told Pagina/12 that there were around 10 such streets, plus two schools and a few squares. They include the streets Intendente Guerrico, Capitán Claudio H. Rosales, Mecánico Militar Leopoldo Atenzo, Cadete Carlos Larguia and Soldado Miguel Santi. It's not as simple as finding a 'Videla Street' somewhere - something as blatant as that would have caused an outcry years ago. In many cases, the 1976-1983 military regime chose street names which honoured previous dictatorships, in particular the one which took over in 1930.

This issue may seem rather trivial, but I think it's an interesting example of purging the remains of military rule from the public face of the urban landscape. And, as Stegemann comments,
"It's ridiculous that while we are judging the members of the de facto governments for their human rights we carry on complying with the rules which they created".

The city could still appeal against the decision, although I really wonder why it would bother. So maybe Argentina's capital will be seeing some shiny new name plaques on its streets soon.

La Justicia ordenó sacar de las calles, plazas y escuelas, los nombres de los funcionarios de facto (Observatorio de derechos humanos)
Ordena jueza argentina rebautizar calles que remiten a la dictadura (Provincia)
"Son cerca de diez calles" (Pagina/12)

Saturday 7 August 2010

Uruguay: Las manos en la tierra

Thanks to Memory, Amnesia and Politics for drawing my attention to this Uruguayan documentary. It's interesting how the anthropologist refers self-deprecatingly to herself as a 'vulture'.

Peru: Massacre Victims Exhumed

20 bodies have been exhumed in Putka, Ayacucho, and work continues to recover further victims, assumed to be from a massacre which took place on Christmas Day 1984. Among the dead is a girl aged around eight.

Forensics unearth Putka massacre victims from mass grave (Living in Peru)

Argentina: Acosta's Secret Archives?

Witness Ricardo Héctor Coquet has testified in court that records were kept of the around 4,700 prisoners who passed through the ESMA.

He stated that three microfilm copies of the archives were made before the originals were destroyed: one for the now late Rubén Chamorro, head of the ESMA, one for dictator Emilio Eduardo Massera, and the third for Jorge "el Tigre" Acosta, who is currently standing trial.

Coquet further described his tasks of falsifying documents for the task forces who carried out the abductions.

This testimony certainly seems to fit with that of Victor Basterra who photographed in the ESMA. I wonder if any of those microfilms have survived. While I don't think we are really lacking in evidence to convict the perpetrators, the contents might clarify what happened to some of the disappeared.

Los archivos del Tigre Acosta (Projecto Desaparecidos)
Entrevista a Ricardo Hector Coquet, sobreviviente de la ESMA (radio nacional - audio interview, Spanish)
"Hay microfilms de 4700 secuestrados" (Pagina/12)

Colombia: Uribe's Legacy

As Uribe's presidential term draws to a close this weekend, the media is starting to assess his legacy. The general conclusion seems to be "he got the country under control, but those human rights abuses weren't very nice". IPS claims,
his fiercest critics console themselves by drawing a parallel with former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), who ended up in prison on corruption and human rights charges.
But the Fujimori criticism seems to me more than fair, given 1) the long-running question of a possible third term, 2) the witch hunt against human rights activists and indeed, anyone who raised their voice against the administration and 3) the connections between the official state and paramilitaries.

At least it is practically impossible to sum up the Uribe regime without mentioning the 'false positive' scandal, and both of the articles considered here do so in some detail. However, both place more emphasis on the outgoing president's strong popularity ratings and purported success in improving the security situation.

Dismal Human Rights Record Has Not Dented Uribe's Popularity (IPS)
Uribe's Colombia: The dark side of a country transformed (Guardian)

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Event in Ayacucho, Peru

The EPAF is holding a campaign in Putis, a name which long-term readers of the blog will remember (and others can click on the key word below to see related posts).

Opening for the development process in Putis

Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team- EPAF and non profit organization, Vecinos Peru, invite you to participate in our campaign “Paradero Esperanza” or (Stop of Hope). This campaign will begin on Sunday, August 8th in the Centro Poblado of Putis, Ayacucho. The mission of this campaign is to promote human development in the communities most affected by Peru’s internal conflict. It is intended to help break and overcome the victimization and stigmitization that has impacted those most affected. EPAF is aware of the potential that Putis has for growth and wants to strengthen this potential through sustainable development projects.

The first “Stop of Hope” will be in Putis. However, we aim to promote development projects in other communities also affected by the violence, and by doing so, will create a “route of hope” both containing visible and symbolic stops in each community where EPAF has done forensic work.

The “Stop for Hope” in Putis will open its doors on August 8th, with a symbolic ceremony that will begin with “El Pago a la Tierra” (or “Payment to the Earth”). This ceremony will pay homage to the earth in thanks for the discovery of the disappeared family members of Putis in 2008 and for the beginning of this new development stage. Later, the project will be ratified by the presence of local authorities, and finally the implementation of the first phase of the project through the establishment of a native potato seed bank. Native potatoes are highly desirable within both the national and international markets. The implementation of the native potato seed bank is extremely important in that it will improve the quality of the potatoes grown there which will increase their market value.

We hope that with your presence on Sunday, you may help us promote the circulation of this event and by doing so, also contribute to the recitizenship of the victims of Putis.

Jesús Peña Romero
Proyectos Epaf

Monday 2 August 2010

Argentina: Honour for Journalist Robert Cox

British journalist Robert Cox, who worked for the Buenos Aires Herald, has - somewhat belatedly - received honorary citizenship of the Argentine capital in recognition of his brave work during the dictatorship.

Under military rule, the Buenos Aires Herald was one of the very few examples of independent journalism which reported the truth about the abductions, disappearances and extrajudicial executions which became features of everyday life. Media boss Jorge Fontevecchia, for one, credits Cox's reporting with saving his life after he was abducted and taken to El Olimpo. The writers of the English-language daily faced threats and Cox, fearing for the safety of his children, was eventually driven into exile.

Modestly, he claims that he was "just doing his job", but publishing lists of the dead in the early months of the dictatorship really was a bit more than that and he deserves this public acknowledgement.

Heroic British journalist Robert Cox honoured in Argentina (Guardian)

(For more, see this book by Robert Cox's son David, and this one by fellow Buenos Aires Herald journalist, Andrew Graham-Yooll)

Sunday 1 August 2010

Peru: News Round-Up

Peru Wages 'Slanderous Campaign' Against Inter-American Court (IPS)

Peru Purchases 8 Helicopters from Russia for Use in the VRAE (Peruvian Times)

No Reparations Yet for Families of Civil War Victims (IPS)

President Admits Corruption Has Tarnished Government

Families of Victims of Biggest Shining Path Massacre Seek Justice (IPS)

Colombia: US Funding, Increased Civilian Murders

Several media sources have picked up on a study by the Fellowship on Reconciliation and the U.S. Office on Colombia which has found that Colombian army units which receive U.S. military funding have committed more extrajudicial executions of civilians.
The extrajudicial executions reviewed by the FOR/USOC report are mostly cases in which military units have killed civilians in order to inflate the body count of guerrillas they have supposedly killed in action. “The majority of cases we are analyzing are not misidentifications,” said John Lindsay-Poland of the FOR, but rather the deliberate targeting of civilians. “Success” in the anti-guerrilla fight is measured by kills, says Lindsay-Poland. “It is not about whether there is greater security for civilians or whether there is justice in the country.” [NACLA]
In other words, these are the so-called "false positive" cases.

This is a deeply concerning report which also raises questions about the legality of U.S. financial support in Colombia.

The report [...] studies the application in Colombia of the so-called Leahy Law, passed in 1996, which bans military assistance to a foreign security force unit if the U.S. State Department has credible evidence that the unit has committed gross human rights violations.

The Leahy Law is one of the main U.S. laws designed to protect against the use of U.S. foreign aid to commit human rights abuses.

"If the Leahy Law was fully implemented, assistance would have to be suspended to nearly all fixed army brigades and many mobile brigades in Colombia," Lindsay-Poland said.
Report Suggests "Correlation" between U.S. Aid and Army Killings (IPS)
Plan Colombia Linked to Increased Military Abuses (NACLA)
Colombia: US Military Aid May Have Sparked Civilian Killings (truthout)

You can also read the full report here.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Chile: Church Amnesty Call Rejected

As a follow-up to my last post, Piñera has rejected calls for an amnesty for human rights criminals. This is good news, and shouldn't really be too surprising - I agree with Greg that there wasn't much to gain politically from a pardon - but with the influence of the military in the Southern Cone, you can't always be sure.

Chile denies pardon for dictatorship-era crimes (Reuters)
Chile rejects pardons proposed by Catholic Church (AP)
Piñera rejects Bishops plea to pardon military involved in human rights abuses (Mercopress)

Chile: no amnesty for you (Two Weeks Notice)

Thursday 22 July 2010

Chile: Church Calls for Amnesty

Chile's bishops' conference is calling for an amnesty which could affect some members of the military imprisoned for Pinochet-era crimes. They describe this as a "humanitarian act which will contribute to reconciliation".

According to the BBC, the Catholic Church in Chile is suggesting that "any members of the country's military who show repentance for the crimes they committed under military rule" should be pardoned, but AP specifies that "the church's proposed amnesty would apply to prisoners who are sick or older than 70 or those who have served half their sentence". The prospective amnesty is in fact not exclusively for or limited to military criminals, but includes them, and this is the group which will receive attention from the media and rights groups.

The president of the bishops' conference, Alejandro Goic, has defended the appeal in the face of outrage from relatives and human rights group, demanding, "Do they want us to call for hate?" (La Tercera).

Sigh... I don't know. I accept that my position on organised religion in general and the Roman Catholic leadership in particular is not unbiased, to put it mildly, but it still gets to me: how do they manage to be on the wrong side every single time?! Where are they with their demands for justice for the victims? Why do they insist on confusing justice with "hate" or revenge? It just seems like a wilful attempt to misrepresent the struggle of the victims' families, to be honest. Please, go ahead and forgive the torturers, if you want - give them all the Christian love you like. I just don't see why you have to fight for their freedom when there are innocent people out there waiting for a fair deal from the Chilean judicial system. But honestly - if anyone wants to explain to me how this will assist reconciliation, fire away.

Chilean Church seeks clemency for aging prisoners (AP)
Church call for pardon angers Chile rights groups (Reuters)
Chile bishops seek pardons for military-rule crimes (BBC)
Indulto: Iglesia pide que se estudie caso a caso situacion de condenados por delitos de Derechos Humanos (La Tercera)
Obispo Goic defiende propuesta de indulto: 'Querian que llamaramos al odio?' (La Tercera)

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Peru Round-up

U.S. State Department offers reward for Shining Path leaders (Peruvian Times)
US offers up to $5 million for Peru's "Artemio" and "Jose" (Living in Peru)
Here are the official wanted pages for Artemio (real name Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala) and Jose (real name Victor Quispe Palomino).

Guilt, repentance and innocence: Lori Berenson and her baby might be goin
g back to prison (Peruvian Times)
The English-language media has largely moved on, but legal wranglings over Berenson's future continue.

Tejen Chalina de la Solidaridad por las Victimas de la Violencia (CNDDHH)
"Ellas tejen para no olvidar a sus seres queridos" (La Republica, via APRODEH)

A group of indigenous women has been knitting a giant scarf as a visual symbol of their struggle for justice and memory of their relatives, who were lost in the political violence. I find the combination of the homely act of knitting with human rights activism quite striking, and somewhat analogous to the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, who have also spoken of their leaving the private space of the home to struggle in public.

Finally, from Jo-Marie Burt,
Reflexiones, a 18 años de La Cantuta (Noticias Ser)

Friday 16 July 2010

Peru: Consequences for Children of Imprisoned Mothers

The recent Peruvian film La teta asustada focused on how violence inflicted on a Peruvian woman continued to have repercussions in the next generation, on her daughter. In the real world, Peru's Centro de Atencion Psicosocial has carried out a study on the children of women imprisoned during the civil conflict, concluding that these children have suffered a negative psychological impact.

The mothers reported that their offspring had displayed various negative effects in including emotional changes (sadness, crying and depression 44%), problems at school (34%), consumption of drugs and alcohol (10%) and suicide attempts (8%).

This was a relatively small study and I don't know enough of the details to know whether these issues are more severe than those suffered by the children of women incarcerated at other periods or for other reasons. Nevertheless, it's a further reminder of the continuing legacy of a violent era in a society. Especially under Fujimori, many thousands of Peruvians were imprisoned, often with very little evidence against them and without having undergone a fair trial, so although the study cohort was fairly small, there must be a lot more people out there whose family life was disrupted in this way.

Hijos e hijas de madres detenidas durante etapa de violencia politica presentan consecuencias negativas en su salad mental

Argentina: Gay Marriage

- The Chilean Church wants an amnesty for the [military] human rights abusers.
- What odd people... you kill a load of people, they want to give you an amnesty... You marry someone of the same sex and they send you to hell.

(from today's Pagina/12)

Thursday 15 July 2010

Spain: Against Impunity

Here's a video from Spain with famous figures including Pedro Almodóvar and Javier Bardem drawing attention to the disappeared from the Franco era (Spanish only). Very moving.

Thanks to decolonizing solidarity for drawing my attention to this one.

Peru: Lugar de la Memoria

Here's an interview with Fernando Carvallo, who is involved with the development of the Lugar de la Memoria in Peru. He discusses the point of the project and its link with the photographic exhibition Yuyanapaq (Spanish only).

Monday 5 July 2010

Argentina: From the Archive

The Guardian's From the Archive series turns to Argentina today, and it's a fascinating piece originally published on 3 July 1974:

Peron is dead. Long live Peron. This is the slogan with which the right wing of the Peronist movement which holds power in Argentina will attempt to bamboozle the public into believing that with the death of the old general, nothing has changed. The real name of Mrs Peron is Maria Estela Martinez de Peron, and technically she should be known as President Martinez, but whatever her name she will be projected as the rightful heir to the mantle of the old caudillo. Those who have been running the country in the name of Peron for the past year will thus be able to carry on their game without changing the name of the business.

When great men die, there is an interregnum. It takes time before social forces, crushed by the weight of a single individual's personality, reassert themselves. However much advance planning may have been made among the various groups jockeying for power in Argentina, to take account of an event that everyone knew was inevitable, the actual physical removal of Juan Peron will leave Argentina stunned, and the first inclination will be to close ranks behind the new president, however inadequate her qualifications.

While civil war still seems a somewhat remote prospect, there is no doubting the explosive nature of Argentine society. For 20 years an articulate and organised working class has been deprived of any power within the community and has seen its standard of living drop. For nearly 10 years a left wing guerrilla movement has been growing in strength. It has established strong links with the working class, skilfully exploiting their legitimate grievances. This is no mere bunch of idealistic students, but a powerful military movement. It could only be crushed by repression on a scale unknown even in Chile or in Uruguay, or by seeking some kind of political accommodation.

This is no simple battle between Left and Right. Every group and every institution in Argentine society is deeply divided, but not along lines that can easily be categorised. And it is this lack of a clear distinction that makes a civil war seem improbable.

A further enigma is the army. It too is not a monolithic force. It contains Peronists and non-Peronists, reactionaries who support Brazil and progressives who support Peru. No one tendency can be seen to prevail. As long as the political struggle within the Peronist movement continues as a fight between individuals, violent and bloody though this will be. the army is unlikely to intervene. But once the struggle extends to the streets, martial music will soon be heard as the armed forces declare that it is their "historic destiny" to reassert control over the affairs of the nation.

Richard Gott

This really gives you an insight into what was already visible nearly two years before the military coup happened. Gott predicted the coup d'etat, and he predicted "repression on a scale unknown even in Chile or in Uruguay", and he was right, and at the time he was also right to point out the leftist violence as well, although nowadays you probably wouldn't see that suggestion that the Left 'got what they asked for'. Plus in actual fact, the guerrilla movement was crushed without significant difficulty - largely in 1975, before the coup even happened - and the violence still continued. Interesting stuff though.

Juan Peron's Delicate Heiress

Sunday 4 July 2010

Peru/Chile: Disgusting Ad from LAN

I couldn't believe my eyes when I clicked on a tweet from the EPAF (Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team) and it took me to this ad from airline LAN:

"MISSING: Last seen looking at an irrestible offer from LAN. Disappear from Lima with this promotion..."

Where do you even start? Peru still has thousands of people unaccounted for following its conflict. Organisations like EPAF are still painstakingly recovering their remains some two decades later. Chile, where the LAN concern hails from, also suffered numerous incidences of forced disapperance during the Pinochet regime - incidentally, the new Chilean president previously owned a majority stake in the airline. And elsewhere in the continent, those disappeared people were disposed of by throwing them out of aeroplanes.

But it's still acceptable to use the idea of the disappeared for an ad for cheap plane tickets? Accompanied by a photo of smiling young people just like those who were never seen again?

In case any English speakers are thinking "Well, but it's just a word, surely it could be a coincidence?", let me just say: no. The verb desaparecer and the related desaparecido have a very particular resonance in Latin America. If you say "S/he was disappeared", everyone knows instantly what you mean and there is an immediate connection with the actions of authoritarian regimes. The struggle for the disappeared has been absolutely central to human rights in numerous countries in the region for nigh on thirty years. So this is kind of like using an image of two burning towers to sell something in the US and then arguing that it doesn't necessarily have to be connected to 9/11. We're talking about icons here; people know what they're looking at.

This is pretty disgusting. I hope that there is enough of an outcry that LAN decides to remove the ads.

Saturday 3 July 2010

Film Trailer: Mi vida con Carlos

My Life With Carlos TRAILER from German Berger on Vimeo.

A Chilean documentary (h/t Memory, Amnesia and Politics)

This Week in Argentina

The good news:
Videla is standing trial... again. The 84-year old former dictator, along with previous head of the Army Luciano Benjamín Menéndez and 29 others, is accused of crimes against humanity. He's already serving life in jail, so in that sense the trial is purely symbolic - but it's an important symbolism.

El día en que el dictador estaba ansioso por hablar (Pagina/12)
Videla trial opens in Argentina (BBC)
Former Argentine dictator to go on trial in rights abuse case (CNN)
Argentine ex-dictator faces human rights charges (AP)
Secret list shows fate of Argentine disappeared (AP)

The not so good:
The DNA tests on Felipe and Marcela Noble Herrera's belongings didn't work, because the samples were contaminated, i.e there was genetic material from other people on the clothes and brushes. Both the government and the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo are suggesting that the pair arranged this deliberately to thwart proceedings.

El Gobierno argentino acusa a la familia Noble de "obstrucción a la justicia" (Europa Press)
La polémica por la contaminación (Pagina/12)

Sunday 20 June 2010

Ecuador: Truth Commission Report Out

Ecuador was my first taste of South America and has a special place in my heart, but it features rarely on this blog. That is generally a good thing; it's basically because Ecuador has been spared the devastating internal conflicts and massive human rights that have afflicted some its neighours. But Ecuadorians have suffered their share of abuses, and President Correa set up a truth commission in 2007 to investigate some of them. Now the final report has been published.

There were just 4 commissioners, led by nun and human rights activist Else Monge Yoder, and supported by a variety of other specialists and interested parties. They have a very good website (in Spanish), where you can also download the entire final report.

Key findings:
  • Between 1984 and 2008 there were 456 confirmed victims of human rights violations in Ecuador (clearly, there will have been more, but a TC always has budget and time limitations and is also only mandated to investigate particular crimes - in this case essentially murder, disappearance, and torture).
  • Over half of these took place during the Presidency of León Febres Cordero in 1984-88.
  • The Commission identified 32 instances of extrajudicial execution, 12 attempted homicides, 9 cases of forced disappearance, 214 illegal deprivations of liberty and 275 victims of torture.
  • The report blamed police for 50 percent of human rights abuses, the military 28 percent, government officials 10 percent, court officials 6 percent and foreign agents 6 percent.
  • The Commission found that the government consistently overstated threats from rebel groups and that the abuses were not isolated occurrences but part of a consistent counterinsurgency strategy.
The International Center for Transitional Justice has praised the publication of the report but called on the Ecuadorian government to implement the Commission's recommendations and to move forward with taking concrete steps for justice.

Ecuador: Use Truth Commission Report for Practical Action (ICTJ)
Ecuador: Informe de la Comision de la Verdad identifica a 456 victimas (CNDDHH)

I didn't find much about this in the English-language media, just this rather curious report from the Associated Press. What really struck me was the way it used the phrase "so-called truth commission". I'm baffled. Considering it's now over 25 years since the Argentine CONADEP commission, and that since then, over 20 such commissions have conducted investigations (depending on how you define the commissions, etc), is there really still doubt over the term?! Also, take the first sentence:
A commission named by Ecuador's left-leaning government to investigate human rights violations in the previous quarter century on Monday blamed late right-wing President Leon Febres Cordero for two-thirds of such cases.
This sentence may be purporting to merely fill in the political leanings of Ecuadorian regimes for the benefit of international readers who probably know little about the country, but it seems to me to contain a thinly-veiled suggestion that the report's findings are politically motivated. Anyway, here it is:

Ecuador panel blames 2/3 of abuses on '80s leader (AP)

Peru Round-up (II): Impunity and Intolerance

Accusations have been flying between government ministers and human rights activists over the past week.

Gloria Cano of APRODEH has claimed that the state is trying to create a 'favourable climate' for the release of the members of the paramilitary Grupo Colina.

And in general, groups such as the CNDDHH are denouncing a culture of impunity in the judicial system:
Since early 2009, the Sala Penal Nacional, the highest-level court dealing with the human rights cases against armed forces and police personnel, has acquitted 65 members of the security forces and convicted only 15, according to human rights organisations that defend victims of the 1980-2000 civil war. (IPS)
In the face of this, Defense Minister Rafael Rey has said that human rights defenders are "intolerant" and persecuting the armed forces.

In response, Cano has published a truly blistering speech which deserves to be read in full, but here is the opening:

The Peruvian Minister of Defense, Rafael Rey, has accused the defenders of human rights of being intolerant. And I respond, Mr. Minister, that you are correct: we are intolerant.

And we won’t stop being intolerant in the face of the crimes committed against our people, nor in the face of governmental abuse of or apathy before the outcry of hundreds of Peruvians—of women, children and families that, thirty years after the start of the internal armed conflict, continue to search for the bodies of their children, husbands, brothers and fathers that have disappeared. They continue hoping to uncover the truth and achieve justice.

We are intolerant when the state—whose role is to protect the life and integrity of its citizens—tortures, rapes, and kills in the supposed “defense” of democracy.

Read the whole thing here.

Severe Setbacks for Justice in Cases Involving Military (IPS)
"Buscan excarcelacion del grupo Colina" (La Republica, via APRODEH)
En defensa a militares, ministro Rey desafia a IDL y a CNDDHH (La Republica)

Saturday 19 June 2010

Peru Round-up (I): Shining Path at San Marcos

The University of San Marcos was the scene of a pro-Shining Path demonstration on Monday with some students demanding the release of Abimael Guzman. Apparently it was pretty small, but clearly, such an occurrence would trigger a lot of uncomfortable memories.
“The scenes that were recorded Monday night in [San Marcos] university seem to come from the dark history lived by the university when, at the end of the 1980’s, the terrorists walked by as if it were their home and welcomed new students,” the article said.

These shots by Jaime Razuri and Vera Lentz are part of the archive of Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

University Administration Says Pro-Shining Path Demonstration Organized by Outsiders (Peruvian Times)

Saturday 12 June 2010

Argentina: DNA testing begins for Noble kids

So, I've been following the case of the adopted children of Ernestina Herrere de Noble for some time now, but it has been dragging on for much longer than that. Finally this week the lawyers belonging to the Clarin group head* suffered a major loss; DNA testing began on personal material seized from Marcela and Felipe Noble Herrera. Results are expected in around a month. There's no doubt in my mind that Marcela and Felipe are indeed the children of disappeared people, but indisputible evidence of this is, of course, essential. How many more twists and turns will there be in this long process? Anybody's guess.

Rights conflict in Argentine court battle over DNA
Argentina media heirs submit to 'Dirty War' DNA tests (BBC)
Argentine media heirs forced to undergo DNA testing to see if they were abducted as babies (Journalism in the Americas)
Argentine media heirs face 'adoption' DNA tests (The Independent)
DNA testing pits media family against Argentina government (LA Times blog)

*Marcela and Felipe make use of their adopted mother's lawyers, which the Abuelas human rights group argue is not right, since there is a conflict of interest between the two (ie, what is best for the children is not necessarily best for the parent).

Argentina: Paula Luttringer

For the second time, I'm pointed to a stunning Latin American photographer by a non-LatAm focused blog, Prison Photography. This time it's Paula Luttringer, a former disappeared person, and her images "El lamento de los muros". See more at the blog post mentioned.

Bolivia: Military Agrees Archive Access

This story is from a couple of weeks ago now, but I haven't seen much about it so I thought it was worth mentioning. Apparently the Bolivian military has declared that it is ready to comply with an order to open its dictatorship-era files - let's hope they see it through.

Bolivian military agrees to open dictatorship-era files (Journalism in the Americas)

This Week in Latin America

Chile's ambassador in Argentina said that the Pinochet dictatorship was really quite pleasant for most Chileans, and then resigned. Such remarks crop up now and again, but at least now they are met with such disapproval that the official in question could not continue in his post. Contrast that with the situation in Colombia:

A Colombian ex-army officer was jailed for 11 cases of torture and forced disappearance. Uribe commented that the sentence was a shame and the multiple murderer had been merely "trying to do his duty". Incredible.

Meanwhile, Brazil's military amnesty law is facing question at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights - see also this article from Latin America News Dispatch.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Peru: Condemnation of Memorial Destruction

UPDATE 20/06/2010: Apparently the incident will be investigated and the memorial hopefully rebuilt, see here.

The National Coordinator of Human Rights (CNDDHH) has condemned the 'vandalism' of a memorial in Lima - on the orders of the local mayor.

The memorial in question was designed by Jaime Miranda for the Comité Cívico Para Que No Se Repita de Lima Sur (Civil Comittee 'So that it does not happen again' of Lima South) and was privately financed. It consisted of a dead eucalyptus tree suspended inbetween three columns representing the three districts of Villa María del Triunfo, San Juan de Miraflores and Villa El Salvador, all of which suffered greatly during the civil conflict, and the sculpture was located at the intersection of the three. It might sound odd from this bald description, but I just saw photos of the site for the first time, here, and I think it looks really impressive.

Anyway, sadly photographs are all that is left of the sculpture as it is supposed to be, because last week the mayor of Villa María del Triunfo, Juan José Castillo, ordered its removal - see image. The CNDDHH commented:
Destruir una obra de arte es ya un comportamiento bárbaro; destruir además un memorial que busca contribuir a la reconciliación y al recuerdo público de lo sufrido por los peruanos en el terrible periodo de violencia política, sólo puede ser considerado como una renovada forma de violencia.
Destroying a work of art is already a barbarous action; destroying a memorial which is supposed to contribute to reconciliation and public memory of what was suffered by Peruvians in the terrible period of political violence may only be considered a renewed form of that violence. (trans mine)
I had not heard of the memorial before today, but I do find its destruction pretty shocking and would be interested to hear the justification for it. Without a very good reason (and plans for relocation?) it seems like an act of vandalism against memory.

CNDDHH condena atentado vandálico contra la cultura y la memoria cometido por Alcalde de Villa María del Triunfo (CNDDHH)

Sunday 30 May 2010

Peru: Lori Berenson

A selection of coverage of Lori Berenson's release:

Lori Berenson in Peru: A Story of Lobbying (Living in Peru)

Lori Berenson to be released on parole after 15 years (IPS)

American Lori Berenson freed from Peruvian prison after 15 years (LA Times blog; this article calls Berenson an activist and places the word terrorist in quotes, as if it is an unfounded accusation. I find it very interesting to consider this in context of the disgust shown in the American media when, for example, convicted Hamas members are released to scenes of celebration. Yet Berenson was convicted in a democracy - in her retrial - and has not distanced herself from the activities of the MRTA)

US terror convicts freed in Peru after 15 years (AFP)

U.S. citizen Berenson freed from prison in Peru (Reuters)

NY woman who aided Peru rebels free after 15 years (AP)

Peru's executive to look at proposals to expel US citizen Berenson (Peruvian Times)

Colombia: Tanja Nijmeijer

“How will it be when we take power?” Ms. Nijmeijer asked in one entry. “The wives of the commanders in Ferrari Testa Rossas with breast implants eating caviar?”
I had never heard of Tanja Nijmeijer previously, but the New York Times has an interesting article on the Dutch-born FARC guerrilla - also interesting to compare with the coverage of Lori Berenson.

Dutch Guerrilla in Colombia Leaves Puzzling Trail (NY Times)

Saturday 29 May 2010

Tracing the Shadows of Operation Condor

Please check out this stunning photo slideshow by João de Carvalho Pina of clandestine detention centres, victims and perpetrators of the abuses of Operation Condor.

Tracing the Shadows of Operation Condor (NY Times)

(thanks to Prison Photography for drawing my attention to this)

Friday 21 May 2010

Argentina: Laura Alcoba's The Rabbit House

Back in September 2008, I reviewed Laura Alcoba's The Rabbit House, and that has remained one of my more popular posts in searches. I've now seen that this was the book of the week on BBC Radio Four's Woman's Hour last week. You can listen to the five 15-minute readings on BBC iPlayer - but only for the next few days! Programmes are available for a week after broadcast, so last Monday's episode is available til Monday, Tuesday's episode til Tuesday, and so on. I haven't listened to them all yet, but I will try to get to it over the weekend. Highly recommended.

Peru: 30 Years On

AFP has published an article to mark thirty years since the Shining Path's start of 'armed struggle'. I'm not convinced I agree with the description of them "sweeping" into Chuschi to burn the ballot boxes in 1980, as everything I've ever read suggests that that incident was not a spectacular one but really only gains significance with hindsight. Nevertheless, this quote is succinct and to the point:

The war left 100,000 orphans, displaced 600,000 people, and resulted in material losses of some 20 billion dollars, the Truth Commission said.

"That cost, heavier than all of Peru's wars combined, is Shining Path's most lasting legacy," said Peruvian analyst Ruben Vargas. [emphasis mine]

30 years on, Peru's Shining Path remnants live on (AFP)

Peru: Special Treatment for Fujimori?

Not for the first time, there are suggestions that former President Fujimori is receiving preferential treatment in jail. Caretas has published a video apparently showing the disgraced politician outside his cell, supervising repair works. I must say the distance and film quality make him difficult to identify in the clip, but from the last few seconds it does seem to be him, and the still photographs look unequivocal. The article also claims that he is allowed to receive large numbers of visitors.

Sunday 9 May 2010

Guatemala/US: Hope for Dos Erres Deportations

Cristales, one of only two known survivors of the massacre, saw his entire family murdered. He said he was frustrated it has taken so long for the men to be brought to justice. But he said he hoped U.S. and Guatemalan officials might work together to make that happen.

“They have to do something... The only thing I ask is justice,” said Cristales, who is now hiding in an undisclosed location.

The Global Post has produced a detailed report on investigation into Guatemalan perpetrators of human rights abuses who are now living in the US. There is now some hope that four men may be convicted of immigration offences and eventually deported to Guatemala where they could face further charges relating to the notorious massacre at Los Dos Erres in 1982.... yes, I know. That's not exactly a foregone conclusion. But honestly, ladies and gentlemen, click through and look at the photos with this article of the mass graves and the waiting relatives. They say more about the necessity of thorough investigations than words ever could.

Although, on the subject on words, it is worth remembering former President Reagan's assessment of Guatemalan dictator Rios Montt as
“a man of great personal integrity…[who] wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.”
Right. In a further piece of astute social commentary,
Reagan said that Rios Montt had received a “bum rap” from human rights groups.
Poor guy.

US rounds up Guatemalans accused of war crimes (Global Post)

Sunday 2 May 2010

- The courts said that Martinez de Hoz isn't allowed to leave the country.
- I don't know if that's tougher for Martinez de Hoz or for the country.

Guatemala: "La Isla"

This looks like a very interesting film, focusing on the archives of terror in Guatemala (h/t Guatemala Solidarity Network). I was particularly struck by the physical work of uncovering the archives, left to rot in the dust. I've seen similar pictures from Argentina.

On a related note,
Guatemala's government handed over a military document on Thursday containing evidence soldiers massacred villagers during the country's civil war which could help prosecute top officials for genocide.

Guatemala Hands Over Key File Army Genocide Case (NY Times)

Chile: Paul Schaefer's Death

Nazi Germany, Pinochet's Chile, torture, enslavement, child abuse, a religious cult - if this was a film, you'd call it sensationalist. But it was real. Here's a round-up of the some of the response to the death of Paul Schaefer, founder of the notorious Colonia Dignidad.

For the background: The Torture Colony (Bruce Falconer, 2008, The American Scholar)

Jailed Chilean Cult Leader Schaefer Dies at 89 (NY Times)
Ex-Nazi Paul Schaefer dead in Chile age 88: prison (AFP) [his age seems disputed...]
Chile cult leader Schaefer dies in Chile prison (BBC)
Leader of notorious German colony dead in Chile (AP)
Grim Chapter of Chilean History Closes with Death of Former Nazi and Cult leader (Mercopress)
Paul Schaefer - Nazi, pedophile, murderer - was buried today (Structurally Maladjusted)

Saturday 1 May 2010

This Week in Argentina

Hello again guys. It's been good to remove the pressure to post regularly, but I can't quite leave the blog behind ;-) Now it's the weekend, and here's an update of the memory news out of Argentina this week.

It's the usual good news/bad news combo from the human rights trials. Following the triumph of Bignone's conviction, there was further cause for optimism when the Supreme Court overturned the pardon of dictatorship-era economy minister José Martínez de Hoz. Once known as the "wizard of Hoz" for the magic he practised on the Argentine economy (for a brief period), Martínez de Hoz was one of the most powerful civilians in the military regime. Pagina/12 ran with the headline "Up to his ears in it" - can you guess why?

At the same time, however, IPS is repeating complaints that the justice process is plagued by delays and setbacks.
"The judicial branch is mainly responsible for the delays. There are cases of complicity with the dictatorship, because certain sectors entrenched in federal power want to guarantee impunity," lawyer Andrea Pochak, deputy director of the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), told IPS. [...]
"Nowadays, Mendoza is our main concern. Because of complicity, some judges delay the prosecutions and leave the trials in limbo, waiting for the accused to die (of old age) before justice can be done," she complained.
The Madres de Plaza de Mayo have been as busy as ever, commemorating their 33rd anniversary. President Kirchner was the main speaker at the event at the cultural centre in the former ESMA site. They also staged a symbolic 'people's trial' on Thursday against journalists whom they claim were complicit with the military regime. According to the leader of the Madres, Hebe de Bonafini, who was acting as 'judge',
"This trial has to do with denouncing the sellouts, the accomplices, those who never said anything when we were imprisoned," she told crowd of several hundred people. "What we don't want is for the same journalists who lied then to keep doing it now."
The event had an extra political charge because of the government's ongoing conflict with the media group Clarin. This Reuters article makes the case that the issue surrounding the biological parentage of Felipe and Marcela Noble Herrera is politically motivated. I'm quite sure that the Kirchner adminstration will be celebrating if Ernestina Herrera de Noble is officially outed as an accomplice of the dictatorship, but such a charge also strikes me as deeply unfair to the main group behind the struggle, the Abuelas de Plazas de Mayo. No, the grandmothers aren't saints, and they have their political opinions, but they been fighting to discover the disappeared children for over thirty years now. They simply won't back down because this family is rich, powerful, and prepared to fight them through the courts.
"For the Grandmothers this is not a fight between the government and a media group... It's not about politics. It's about human rights," Estela de Carlotto, head of the Grandmothers, told state-owned Channel 7 television last week.
Finally, there's an article from the National Security Archive on how the Madres provide inspiration for relatives of the disappeared all over the continent - in this case, Mexico.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Happy Birthday Blog/Bye Bye

When I began thinking about this post this morning, I didn't realise that it was two years to the day since I started the blog. Seems like some kind of a sign...

The point is that I set up the blog with no idea if anyone would ever read it, and well, gradually some did (hi, all of you!). There is something very satisfying about sharing an interest with others all across the globe, and I remain fascinated by the subject of this blog. Thanks to everyone who has commented, emailed, and otherwise provided feedback.

Two years ago I was working part-time and living somewhere where I hardly knew anyone. In short, I didn't have much of a life ;-) Things have changed, happily for me, and I no longer have the time to devote to the blog as I want to. That is generally a good thing, but I'm still disappointed because I really enjoy blogging. But seeing interesting stories continually pass me by is getting frustrating. I simply can't keep up with all, or even a good selection, of the memory developments in Latin America.

So with regret, I'm taking a back seat, at least for a while. The archives will stay, and perhaps I will write again if and when circumstances allow, but I will no longer make any claim to blogging daily. Those of you who have your own Lat Am/memory blogs - keep up the good work!

p.s. Let's end with some good news.

Sunday 18 April 2010

Peru: Guzman Threatens Hunger Strike

The jailed leader of Peru's Shining Path rebel group and his girlfriend say they will go on hunger strike unless they are allowed to wed.
It's difficult to take Guzman seriously these days, to be honest - even his own followers don't seem to. I think it would be an odd end for him to starve himself to death over a marriage ceremony, and to be honest I doubt he would go that far, but I have to agree with Otto that there wouldn't be many tears shed for him. There was discussion of him facing the death penalty at the time of his capture, but the fear was that an execution (or the not unlikely possibility of an extrajudicial killing by some faction of Peru's armed forces) would turn him into a martyr for his loyal band. I think that fear has passed. Peru is still dealing with the legacy of the bloodbath he unleashed, but it is no longer in thrall to him as a person.

Peru Shining Path leader Guzman in hunger strike threat (BBC)
Jailed Shining Path founder plans hunger strike if he cannot wed (Peruvian Times)

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Argentina/Spain: Turning the Tables

Spain's adherence to the principle of universal justice led judge Baltasar Garzon, now himself facing trial, to pursue Argentine human rights abusers, among others. Now it's Argentines who are looking for redress for crimes committed during the Spanish Franco regime.

The three cases being presented in Argentina on Wednesday are the civil war shooting deaths of Spanish citizens Severino Rivas, Elias Garcia Holgado and Luis Garcia Holgado, and Argentine Vicente Garcia Holgado. The plaintiffs, both Argentines, are Dario Rivas, son of the first victim, and Ines Garcia Holgado, the niece and grand-niece of the others.

The plaintiffs want the Argentine courts to expand the case to include any murders and disappearances committed by Franco's forces between July 17, 1936, the day before Franco's military turned against Spain's Republican government, and June 15, 1977, when Spain held its first democratic elections following the dictator's death in 1975.

Argentines Try Probing Crimes of Franco's Spain (NY Times)

Argentinian Court Considers Spanish Civil War Inquiry (Guardian)

Relatives of Franco's victims file lawsuit in Argentina (AFP)

Saturday 10 April 2010

Argentina: First Lesbian Marriage

Heartfelt congratulations go to Norma Castillo and Ramona Arévalo, who yesterday became the first female couple in Argentina to be married. The two 67-year olds have been together for over 30 years. They lived in exile during the dictatorship but returned to their country, as they explained in a press release, "to break down prejudices and share their belief in the necessity, not just of rights, but also of judicial equality in people's lives". They seem like people we could learn from.

A los 67 años, Norma y Ramona sellaron el tercer matrimonio gay de la Argentina
"El amor nos toco con la varita magica" (Pagina/12)

Argentina: Noble Case

Here's this week's update on the case of Marcela and Felipe Noble, adopted children of Clarin owner Ernestina Herrera de Noble and suspected children of desaparecidos.

You may recall that the DNA testing was facing yet another delay after Marcela and Felipe's lawyers had submitted another appeal against it. Well, yesterday the appeal was rejected. This is another small victory for the Grandmothers in their quest for the truth. But the ruling was on technical legal grounds and the DNA tests still have not taken place; the case lumbers on.

Comunicado de prensa
(Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo)
Casacion Penal rechazo planteo de los hijos de Herrera de Noble (Centro de Informacion Judicial)
Mas cerca del examen de DNA para los Herrera Noble (Pagina/12)

Spain/Lat Am: Good News/Bad News

First the good news: Spain has approved the extradition of Julio Alberto Poch to Argentina. The Dutch-Argentine pilot is accused of flying some of the 'death flights' in which prisoners were thrown, still alive, into the Rio de la Plate estuary during the dictatorship. Ah hem, I am aware that I have reported this before, in January, but extradition procedures are long and convoluted things; at least it seems that progress is still being made.

Spain Approves Extradition of Pilot to Argentina (NY Times)

Now the bad: renowned Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón is apparently to face trial on charges of overreaching his powers in his investigation of the disappeared from the Franco regime. This will be close to the hearts of many Latin Americans, and others, who have followed Garzón's tireless pursuing of Pinochet and Scilingo, among others. One can only echo the words of the New York Times editorial:
The real crimes in this case are the disappearances, not Mr. Garzón’s investigation.
An Injustice in Spain (NY Times)
Spanish Judge Garzon Faces Trial over Franco Probe (BBC)
Profile: Judge Baltasar Garzón (BBC)

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Peru: More on Design for Lugar de la Memoria

A couple more articles about the winning project for the design of the Lugar de la Memoria in Lima, including positive remarks about the transparency of the competition and the results.

Un lugar para la memoria
(La Primera, via CNDDHH)
Aqui vivira nuestra memoria (El Comercio, here via CNDDHH, here in PDF, also source of image above)

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Argentina: Judges under Suspicion

This story has some pretty incredible aspects, and it's also a good illustration of the challenges facing those pushing for justice in Argentina.

Two serving judges are now suspected of involvement in the appropriation of babies during the dictatorship. One of them, Jorge Martínez Sobrino, works in Federal Oral Court No. 6 - yep, that's the court that the major human rights trials take place in, and the same court in charge of the "appropriation of babies" megatrial. Anyone smelling a conflict of interest yet?!

According to the accusation made against him by Isabel "Chichi" de Mariani and the Human Rights Secretariat and now facing Attorney General Esteban Righi, Martínez Sobrino was part of the process in which Simón Riquelo was adopted. Aged just three weeks, Simón was kidnapped along with his mother, Uruguayan citizen Sara Méndez, in 1976. While she was detained in the site known as "Automotores Orletti", her baby son was given up for adoption, and the court made no effort to discover his true origins. Instead, they handed him over to Osvaldo Parodi, part of the taskforce which had kidnapped his mother.

As it turned out, Méndez was among a tiny minority of the disappeared - she survived. 26 years later, she was reunited with her child. How amazing for them... but how terrible for justice in Argentina that people like Martínez are still in their jobs. Indeed, Martínez and fellow judge Wagner Gustavo Mitchell have not yet been convicted of a crime, but I think it's safe to say that there are professionals still working in the courts who were complicit with the dictatorship. How is this supposed to inspire trust in due process?

Denuncian a un camarista y a otros dos jueces por el robo de un bebe (El Litoral)
Dos jueces en manos de Righi (Critica)

Monday 5 April 2010

Latin America: Memory Museums

At their best, these museums are an attempt to inoculate societies against their basest inclinations. "We must consolidate a democratic culture that can save us from fanaticism and drive home [the idea] that terror cannot be combated with terror," says Mario Vargas Llosa, the novelist who heads the planning group for the Peruvian museum. The danger is that remembering turns into a political banner, reviving historical animosities and institutionalizing an ideological battle over who controls memory. "In Latin America this is not a disinterested process, much less an effort to work at forgiveness," says Brazilian political analyst Amaury de Souza. "It's a struggle over who gets to write history."
Newsweek has a comparative article on the various commemorative museum projects underway in Latin America. I could quibble on a few points (plus the word 'memoria' is sporting an additional accent!), but it's good to see a piece like this, and with a nice photo too.

The Politics of Memory Museums

Peru: Architects for Museum of Memory Announced

The winning proposal for Peru's Lugar de la Memoria was announced today.

The international jury, consisting of architects Kenneth Frampton (UK), Rafael Moneo (Spain), Francesco Dal Co (Italy), José García Bryce (Peru) and Wiley Ludeña (Peru), selected the design submitted by Paris and Lima-based Sandra Barclay and Jean Pierre Crousse (see their website here).

Head of the commission for the museum, Mario Vargas Llosa, stated that the project was chosen for the functionality of its structure, sobriety of its design, and harmony with the surrounding area. Barclay explained that visitors will travel from the lower part of the space, where the tragedy of the victims will be emphasised, to the upper areas with views over the ocean and a focus on liberation and reconciliation. Building is now slated to begin in three months.

Construccion de Lugar de la Memoria se iniciara en tres meses
Eligen dos arquitectos para construir el Lugar de la Memoria (RPP)
Seleccionan proyecto arquitectónico para Lugar de la Memoria (via APRODEH)

Sunday 4 April 2010

Argentina: Ex-detention Centres Under Threat

Los ex centros clandestinos estan en riesgo (Critica) - trans mine
The Former Clandestine Centres are at Risk
They are buildings where torture took place during the dictatorship. The Buenos Aires government is supposed to maintain them, but it is not using its budget

Seven of the clandestine detention centres (CCD) which functioned in Buenos Aires city are spaces of memory today. In the majority of these, time and lack of maintenance is wearing away their structure on a daily basis and with it, their legal and historical value. In 2009, the Buenos Aires administration used just 6% of the budget intended for the conservation of the sites where thousands of people were tortured and disappeared. To guarantee their preservation, a bill is proposing to declare the structural conditions an emergency. "The maintenance work for the detention centres is really behind schedule, often because the necessary funds aren't available and in other cases because the local executive branch is using the budget earmarked for this end for other purposes," according to Social Equality deputy, Martín Hourest, who also warned that the Buenos Aires government may not avail themselves of these funds without prior authorisation from the legislature.

The Instituto Espacio para la Memoria (Memory Space Institute, IEM) is a decentralised organisation which is tasked with "ensuring the preservation, protection and valuing of the various sites where CCD functioned", such as Olimpo, Atlético, Automotores Orletti, ESMA y Virrey Cevallos. However, this often does not happen and the deterioration continues.

Hourest's proposal intends to provide the IEM with the necessary resources to attain the objective which is not expressed in concrete works, generally because the city authorities have not transferred to it the funds already approved by law. In some cases, also, a lack of staff has caused delays to the tendering process.

One of the most urgent cases for conservation is the site on which El Atlético was situated, at the intersection of Paseo Colón and Cochabamba. The demolition of the building to construct the motorway 25 de Mayo, which occurred during the dictatorship, meant that only the basements where the detained-disappeared prisoners were held could be saved. This space is open to the elements. Exactly two years ago, the space in front of it was inaugurated as a Memory Square, which remains closed until today due to lack of funds. It is essential that restauration takes place to save the remains which are already 33 years old. In the past year, inscriptions made by disappeared persons have been found on the walls of the Capuchita (Little Hood) in the ESMA. Even more than artefacts for memory, such marks and any object which can be identified in the detention centres becomes evidence in the trials of the murderers.

News Round-Up

A bill awaiting a vote in the Chamber of Deputies would permit documents classified as "ultrasecret" to remain sealed forever by allowing an unlimited number of 25-year renewals
Brazilian lawmakers want to keep documents secret for 75 years (Journalism in the Americas)

Mass graves uncovered in Colombia (Presente!)

Gen. Delgado is accused of aggravated homicide of 11 students and kidnapping of six others, Gen. David Jaime Sobrevilla of the murder of one student and the kidnapping of five, and Gen. Pérez of the kidnapping of eight students.
Generals on Trial for Murders of 36 Students (IPS)

Spain's Most Famous Judge May Be Suspended (IPS)

Saturday 3 April 2010

Brazil: Dealing with the Dictatorship Past

The following post is based on the points made in the article 'Vom Umgang mit der Diktaturvergangenheit' by Klaus Hart, from the supplement Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, 12/2010.

In the article mentioned, Hart posits that Brazil is far behind other countries in the hemisphere in the clarification of its dictatorship history.

In December 2009, President Lula signed a decree to create a truth commission to investigate the crimes of the military years. But, faced with threats of resignation from his Defense Minister and the heads of the armed forces, he partially backed down and softened the wording of the decree. This, despite the fact that the official figures for deaths during the dictatorship are suspiciously low - 376 killed by the armed forces, and 119 by the armed resistance movement.

Amnesty International representative Tim Cahill is cited as stating that, "Torture and extrajudicial executions carry on, conditions in jail are still terrible - and even death squads and slavery still exist. It just goes on like before - Brazil is the Latin American country to have made the least progress in the examination of its past. The biggest problem of the country today is that official discourse has nothing to do with political practice" [trans mine]. Officials active during the dictatorship also continue to enjoy political power.

The author also points to a generalised apathy in the population when it comes to looking back and to political commitment, which he attributes to a lack of education and widespread functional illiteracy.

Hart takes the case of Argentina as a contrast, noting the progress that this nation has made under the Kirchner administrations. This is true, although the situation is painted rather more rosily than it actually is; there is still a great deal of work to be done in Argentina, dangers remain for human rights activists, and the majority of the military perpetrators will probably die before they can be tried. Nevertheless, within the confines of the space afforded the article, the point stands that Argentina has made greater strides than Brazil in assessing its dictatorship legacy.

Photo credit: Blog Sao Paolo Urgente of the Memorial de Resistencia

Friday 2 April 2010

Argentina News

"What happened to the fathers?"
More on the fathers of the disappeared, who are the subject of a new documentary film Padres de la Plaza: 10 recorridos posibles (Fathers of the Plaza: 10 Possible Journeys). This is a fascinating article and I'd love the chance to see the film too.
Fathers of the disappeared (NACLA)

Remembering the Falklands/Malvinas invasion
On the 28th anniversary of the 1982 invasion of the islands:
Message from the Falkland Islands Government on the 28th Anniversary of the Invasion by Argentina (Mercopress)
Argentina to See Biggest Anti-British Protests for Years (Mercopress)

Anti-Semitic Grafitti in Buenos Aires
Anti-semitic slogans appeared on the walls near a hotel where Jewish families were celebrating Passover. Note that the article says that these were in German; I strongly doubt that they were painted by a native speaker, as "Morten" is not actually a German word ("Tod" means death, "Mord" means murder). Still, the point is pretty clear.
"Repudio e indignacion" (Pagina/12)

Noble Case Still in Limbo
The magistrate who was involved in the case which led to the brief arrest of Ernestina Herrera de Noble in 2002 discusses the current controversies
"Felipe y Marcela Noble son hijos de desaparecidos (Proyectos Desaparecidos)
Meanwhile, legal disputes continue about the fate of the DNA samples:
Aceptan "recurso de queja" de los Noble Herrera (Critica, via Proyectos Desaparecidos)

National Database of Torture Victims to be Founded
Registro Nacional de Casos de Tortura: Un banco de datos a prueba de golpes (Pagina/12 via Proyectos Desaparecidos)
Primer Registro Nacional de Casos de Tortura (Comision Provincial por la Memoria)

Argentina Revisits Dictatorship: A Year of Human Rights Trials (Latin America Activism)
Photos of one year anniversary of Raul Alfonsin's death (Critica)