Saturday 27 February 2010

Argentina/US: Intelligence Files Move

Argentina has welcomed a vote by the US House of Representatives to force intelligence agencies to reveal information they may have on dictatorship-era human rights abuses. It's early days, but:
If approved by the US Senate and President Barack Obama, the measure could provide key evidence for human rights trials under way in Argentina and possibly help some 400 families find children who were stolen at birth from women who were kidnapped and killed by the dictatorship, according to Argentina's ambassador to the U.S., Hector Timerman.
(Ambassador Timerman, of course, has a personal interest in such matters).

US House Approves Sharing Spy Files on Argentina (NY Times)

Peru: Fujimori's Daughter to Wed in Jail

Alberto Fujimori is to give away his youngest daughter Sachi in the Peruvian jail where he is serving a life sentence for human rights abuses.

Keiko Fujimori had previously stated,
"My sister (Sachi) is prepared to marry in the prison yard, the parking lot, or any part of the jail; what she wants is for my father to walk her down the aisle,"
Such petitions are not always met with mercy.

In May 1994, Alberto Fujimori denied current President Alan Garcia's request to return from exile in Colombia for five hours to attend his father's funeral.

His chief of staff, Javier Velasquez, suggested the youngest Fujimori's wedding wish may come true.

"You do not do, in a democracy, the things you do in a dictatorship," Velasquez said. "We are not going to do what they did to us."

And, indeed, permission has now been granted. Fujimori is the only prisoner in the penitential unit of Diroes (Dirección de Operaciones Especiales de la Policía Nacional del Perú) east of Lima and some have complained that he is allowed too many special privileges. The wedding will not quell such concerns, but it does seem to be within prison regulations and reports suggest that Fujimori's "good behaviour" led to the request being approved.

Casamiento en una carcel VIP (Pagina/12 via CNDDHH)
Fujimori daughter wanted jailed dad to walk her down the aisle (AFP)
INPE: se le otorga permiso especial a Fujimori por "buena conducta" (La Republica)
Gobierno concede permiso a hija de Fujimori para que se case en Diroes (La Republica)

Guatemala: Exhuming the Disappeared

There has been some focus on the identification of bodies in mass graves in Guatemala recently. A few weeks ago, Latin America News Dispatch had a photo essay on exhumations outside Villalobos. The Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Association is now also investigating mass graves in Verbena cemetery, where they believe over 800 people may be buried.

Guatemalans are calling for further government action to resolve the cases of the disappeared, and so is the Red Cross.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

News Round-Up

Dirty War Corpses Identified (The Latin Americanist)

Ten year anniversary of El Salado massacre (Lat/Am Daily)
El Salado, 10 years later (Plan Colombia and Beyond)

Argentina: Another Grandchildren Found

Ladies and gentlemen, meet found grandchild number 101: Francisco Madariaga Quintela.

The Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo) are the tireless old ladies who investigate disappeared children and restore the identities - as they put it - to the grandchildren. As it turns out, DNA tests show that Francisco is the son of Abel Pedro Madariaga, who is currently the Grandmothers' own secretary (yes, despite being a dad, and not a gran). There must be particular celebrations in the Grandmothers' office this week.

Son Stolen at Birth 32 Years Ago Meets Father (NY Times)
"Tener identidad es lo mas lindo que hay" (Pagina/12, also image source - and as an aside, isn't this headline just begging to be translated as "Having an identity is the best thing ever!")

Sunday 21 February 2010

Colombia: Relatives of 'False Positives' Speak Out

From the excellent magazine Cambio, which, sadly is apparently soon to lose its current investigative format, comes a video clip focusing on the female relatives of men killed in Colombia's conflict. The victims were so-called 'false positives' - young men dressed up to look like guerrillas and murdered to boost the 'success rate' of the armed forces' counterinsurgency drive. It's Spanish only but I have attempted to provide a transcript below - it's not perfect and you can see that I had difficulties understanding one of the interviewees in particular, so if you speak Spanish, watch the original, but English-only readers should be able to get a rough guide.

Jaqueline Castillo: My name is Jaqueline Castillo, I'm the sister of Jaime Castillo, who was disappeared on 12 August 2008.

Ana Paez: I'm the mum of Eduardo Garzon Paez, disappeared 4 March 2008.

Ana Cecilia Arenas: My name is Cecilia Arenas, I'm the sister of Mario Alexander Arenas, disappeared 2 January 2008.

Screen text: Stories of families of three of the 16 young people disappeared in Soacha and then presented by the Army as fallen combatants.
False positives

ACA: On this journey, this year, it's two years already, during which we haven't had any type of support, whether financial or regarding justice. Personally, I've realised that the public prosecutors [fiscales] aren't doing anything for us. I'm a bit pessimistic in this case.

JC: Really, the idea of justice in Colombia makes one nostalgic. There is evidence, there is strong evidence, which shows that the army really did kill all those people, and the fact that this isn't enough to get convictions, it's very sad.

AP: We're really tired of them taking us, bringing us, using us and in reality, we are exactly where we were on the first day [...] Why? Because we don't have any answers. We don't have protection, we don't have anything.


[..] I don't think it's fair that the police can say to us, "Come here, come here, now, or for three days" and what for? [...] When I get there, they say, don't come now. I don't accept protection from them.

ACA: We have been threatened. We feel threatened, we can't have a quiet life thinking that if we go out, we are frightened, thinking that they are planning something, we don't know if someone might be following us. We're often even frightened to use the phone, because we know that phones can be bugged, so we can't even talk on the phone in privacy.

AP: [...]

JC: Yes, our intention and that of most of the families is that there should not be impunity here and we will go to the international court if necessary. We have asked the court to take action in this case.

AP: We are going to ask them to help us abroad. Because I don't believe in it here - there's nothing here. When are they going to help us here? There's nothing, nothing. We want the truth. We want the names of those who did it to appear in the media, in the newspapers. This is what I want.

ACA: We are waiting for an answer from the International Criminal Court, because here, I don't believe they are going to take care of us and the best thing we can do is go elsewhere. Go and look outside the country and see what we can do.


Saturday 20 February 2010

Chile: Museum of Memory

Via Dirty Wars and Democracy, I was pleased to find a first-hand account of a visit to Santiago's new museum of memory, complete with pictures.

I find the walls of photos of the disappeared particularly striking, and I'm not the only one.

Argentina: Focus on Domingo Antonio Bussi

(Image credit En Tucuman)

This elderly man with the oxygen tube in his nose is one of the accused in a human rights trial which started in Argentina this week. He is Antonio Domingo Bussi (1926-), a prominent figure in the nation's military past.

In 1975, General Bussi headed the military offensive to combat leftist insurgency in the province of Tucuman. This was, in fact, the true start of the so-called "dirty war", even though it predated the March 1976 coup. Torture and disappearances were prevalent in Tucuman even while Isabel Peron was still President of Argentina. Following her forced removal by the military, Bussi became Governor of Tucuman and a byword for cruelty, even by Argentine dictatorship standards.
The Spanish request for extradition contends that he insisted on supervising many executions himself, personally shooting prisoners in the back of the neck so as to encourage his subalterns not to falter.

Former policemen testified that he began one killing session by executing a 16-year-old honor student, Ana María Corral, who had been abducted from her school. ''Prisoners were bound with cable and made to kneel at the edge of a previously excavated pit that they were forced to look into before being blindfolded and shot,'' the indictment reads.

(Argentina Revisits 'Dirty War' - Will General be Tried? NY Times)

After the return to democracy in 1983, Bussi faced trial on charges of unlawful imprisonment, torture, murder, and falsifying documents, but was saved from jail by the Full Stop amnesty law.

And up to this point, his story is similar to those of many high-ranking military officers. But now here's the interesting twist: in 1995, Bussi was elected governor of Tucuman. That's right; the population of the province that he had terrorised and where he was suspected of responsibility of 500 people, at a conservative estimate, now freely invited him back. As often happens under such circumstances, some prefer to remember the supposed benefits of a strongman in power:

''Tucumán was a garden, absolutely clean and safe, when Bussi was in charge,'' said Armando Villagra, a retiree whose nephew was abducted and killed during the dictatorship. ''Besides, what was Bussi supposed to do, let this place become another Cuba? There is no point in hashing this over again now.''

In 2003, Bussi was elected mayor of Tucuman. But by this time, the Kirchner government had declared the amnesty laws unconstitutional and things weren't looking so rosy for human rights abusers.

He may be physically frail, but Bussi has not softened in his old age.

Bussi said that the armed forces carried out, during the 70s, a true "epic" against the "Marxist- Leninist aggression”, that the country was immersed in at the time.

The former Commander of the 5th Army Brigade chose to make a statement because he said he wanted to "contribute to the historical truth, nowadays distorted, managed and abused to satisfy selfish interests which are not faithful to the reality lived in Tucumán and in Argentina in the 70s".

(Bussi tries to justify repression during military dictatorship - Telam)

"Las FF.AA. hicieron una verdadera epopeya" (La Nacion)

See also previous posts

Monday 15 February 2010

Peru: Germany Happy with Museum of Memory

The German ambassador in Peru, Christoph Müller, said that his country, which is financing the museum of memory, welcomes the consensus which is developing to make the project a reality.

He emphasised the results of the recent meeting between Commander General of the Army, Otto Guibovich, and author Mario Vargas Llosa, who is heading the project. He was also pleased by the appointment between the Defense Minister Rafael Rey and Vargas Llosa. "I'm thrilled that a consensus is finally being formed within Peruvian society with regard to the museum of memory. This consensus seems to be going in the right direction," noted Müller.

"We are happy about the move towards a consensus because obviously, we were aware of the previous controversy. It's clear that to overcome such a sensitive topic there's a need for a basic consensus from all the sectors of society involved to achieve reconciliation," added the diplomat, who then said that the German government had not been involved in the initial concepts for the site; however, he remarked that "as observers we are delighted that a shared concept for the museum is now being discussed."
(Alemania contenta con Museo de la Memoria, La Primera, 15/02/2010, trans mine)

Sunday 14 February 2010

Chile: New Commission Founded

Following on the Rettig and Valech commissions, are they are known, Chile has founded another organisation to establish reparations for the victims of state terrorism in that country.
The commission's secretariat, made up of about 60 lawyers, psychologists, social workers and other professionals, will collect testimony for the first six months. Then the eight commissioners will work on the accreditation of the claims in each individual case during the following six months.

Victims who qualify will be eligible for monetary, medical, educational and housing benefits provided as reparations.
The official site of the new Comision Asesora para la calificacion de detenidos desaparecidos, ejecutados politicos y victimas de prision politica y tortura is here.

Another Chance for Reparations for Pinochet Victims

Uruguay/Germany: Eagle of the Graf Spee

The raising of the Graf Spee eagle, with swastika covered over as a mark of respect, image source

This article in Pagina/12 provoked my interest in the bronze eagle salvaged from the German pocket battleship Graf Spee. It's a story I knew nothing about.

The Graf Spee was a small German battleship which owed its dimensions to the Treaty of Versailles restrictions imposed on Germany after WWI. It sank 9 British ships in 1939 before becoming involved in the Battle of the River Plate. It was damaged there and sailed to neutral Montevideo for repairs. However, as the ship was unable to stay in port due to the terms of international law, its captain Hans Lansdorff took the decision to scuttle it delibarately rather than put his crew at further risk. Three days later, he took his own life.

In 2006, divers salvaged the huge bronze eagle with the swastika at its base from the waters off the Uruguayan capital. It's the swastika that is causing the trouble. The German government, as represented by its ambassador in Uruguay, is opposed to the display of the eagle with the Nazi cross. Germany, understandably enough, is sensitive about the ultimate symbol of National Symbolism. Public display of it is generally illegal in Germany although exceptions are made for historical and educational purposes.

There now seems to be some uncertainty about the ownership of the eagle. Germany believes the ship to be part of its cultural heritage. According to Uruguayan law, sunken ships predating 1973 in their waters are generally considered property of the Uruguayan state. Uruguayan businessman Alfredo Etchegaray has the rights to salvage the wreck and he doesn't believe that Germany even has the right to express an opinion on the matter. He points out that Germany has its own share of historical relics from other countries, including the head of Nefertiti which Egypt would very much like back. Uruguayan newspaper El Pais notes that Germany contributes money to the preservation of concentration camp Auschwitz, in modern-day Poland.

The latter example, obviously hinting at hypocrisy or a discrepancy of policy, seems to be somewhat of a red herring to me. Any suggestion that Germany is unilaterally opposed to the memory of the Nazi period is bizarre; surely no other country has been as concerned with apologising for and commemorating its past crimes. Germany is full of monuments and museums dealing with National Socialism, including the spectacular Jewish Museum in Berlin, which is a shining international example. Nevertheless, precisely because of its history, the German state attempts to carefully control public display and even freedom of speech on the subject - hence the fact that Holocaust denial is illegal. It now seems to be trying to extend this reach as far as Uruguay, something which Uruguay cannot really be obliged to accept. Judging by the fact that the planned exhibition of the eagle has not yet taken place, Uruguay is listening to Germany's concerns, but ultimately it should make its own decisions.

I can't say whether Germany's worry about the appropriateness or otherwise of plans for the eagle is justified. Yet Uruguay, with its own history of military dictatorship, is also an interesting backdrop for such an exhibition.

Disputa diplomatica y demanda por Graf Spee (El Pais, Uruguay)

****UPDATE**** More on statements from Germany regarding 'appropriate' use of the wreckage here

News Round-Up

''We want to get to the top of the chain of command,'' Farfan said.
2 Ex-Soldiers Arrested in Guatemalan 1982 Massacre (NY Times)

"Mexico is experiencing what Colombia went through in the 1980s and 1990s, when a systematic war was waged on particular groups, like journalists. It's a problem that requires immense political will," the head of the Colombian non-governmental Foundation for the Freedom of the Press (FLIP), Andrés Morales, told IPS.
Reporters, Activists Demand State Protection (IPS)

Former president of Peru's Supreme Council of Military Justice arrested in Mexico (Peruvian Times)

Friday 12 February 2010

News Round-Up

Think forced disappearance is a thing of the past? Think again.
Where is Luciano Arruga? Disappeared in Argentina's Democracy (Latin America Activism)

I am dismayed to hear of the demise of Cambio which was an indispensable source for Colombia news and reports of political pressure on the publication make it even worse
Magazine Closure Deals Major Blow to Investigate Reporting (IPS)

The bodies of 5 disappeared persons will be given a proper burial next week in Abancay
Programme of activities (in PDF) and background information, with some haunting photos
Caso Chaupiorcco (APRODEH)

Peru: Extradition Petition for Accomarca Suspect

Peru will petition the US for the extradition of David Eduardo Castañeda Castillo, detained in Boston in relation to the Accomarca massacre. A further suspect, Telmo Hurtado, is currently held in Miami.

The Accomarco case is one of the most notorious mass killings of the Peruvian conflict, in which over 70 people, including children, were murdered by the army.

Peru looks to extradite former army lieutenant from US for his role in 1985 massacre (Living in Peru)
Peru pedira a EE.UU extraditar a militar acusado de la matanza de Accomarca (Peru21)

Thursday 11 February 2010

Spain/Lat Am: Baltasar Garzon

I was really struck by this cartoon about Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, which is very relevant to this blog:

"And then there are those who think we shouldn't look to the past, yet act like we're living in it."

Credit to Memory, Amnesia and Politics, see the post there for a fuller explanation.

Argentina: Alejandro Rei, Found Grandchild

"I weighed everything that I had lived in my 26 years," Alejandro explained. "I thought, what I had received was a real love, a real affection, and so I determined that I would defend them as much as I could."
"You then begin to realize that the person who raised you was a participant in that situation," he recalled. "You feel everything: pain, anger, sadness, rage. Everything."
The Washington Post has a very detailed article on Argentine Alejandro Rei and his discovery that he was the child of disappeared persons. It describes his upbringing, the process of finding out about his true origins, the subsequent legal proceedings and Rei's emotional reactions to all this.

The latter is a particularly interesting aspect - surely all those who know of the plight of the disappeared children and the Grandmothers have asked themselves how they would feel if they suddenly found out that not only were they adopted, but their biological parents had been murdered by the State, and possibly with the complicity of their adopted family? The Grandmothers generally emphasise that many of the found children ultimately develop very positive relationships with their bio-families, but, as they would also never deny, it's a very difficult process to get to that stage.

Orphaned in Argentina's dirty war, man is torn between two families (Washington Post)

Uruguay: Ex-dictator Bordaberry Sentenced

Former President Juan Maria Bordaberry has been sentenced to Uruguay's maximum jail term, 30 years, for his involvement in the 1973 coup and in several cases of murder and disappearance. Bordaberry is the second Uruguayan ruler to be ruled in the past year, following Gregorio Alvarez's 25 year sentence last October.

Lawyer Hebe Martínez Burlé noted that Bordaberry has the right to appeal, since "he has rights which did not exist when he was in power".

Former Uruguayan Dictator Sentenced (Americas Quarterly)
Uruguay's Ex-ruler Bordaberry Jailed for 30 Years (BBC)
Former Uruguayan Dictator Sentenced to 30 Years (NY Times)
Condenan a 30 añosde carcel a Bordaberry (El Pais, Uruguay)

Thursday 4 February 2010

Peru: Museum of Memory Update

The 'Museo de la Memoria' will now, apparently, be named 'Lugar de la Memoria' (place or site of memory).
"The word museum is associated with an institution that preserves the past and we want the "Site of Memory" to be a reconstruction of the violence in Peru, giving a more worthy, fairer, more accurate view of the historical facts", said Vargas Llosa in a press conference.
(trans mine from El Museo de la Memoria en Peru cambia de nombre por Lugar de la Memoria)
The term is, of course, familiar to those interested in memory studies, coined as it was by French historian Pierre Nora. Nora's lieux de memoire are not necessarily actual places, but can be objects or ideas. According to Nora, however, these sites of commemoration are only needed because 'true' memory has been lost.
Modern memory is, above all, archival. It relies entirely on the materiality of the trace, the immediacy of the recording, the visibility of the image. What began as writing ends as high fidelity and tape recording. The less memory is experienced from the inside the more it exists only through its exterior scaffolding and outward signs-hence the obsession with the archive that marks our age, attempting at once the complete conservation of the present as well as the total preservation of the past.
(Nora, 'Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Memoire', 1989, p. 13)
One can somehow sympathise with this view when thinking about the setting up of memorial exhibitions. But I can only assume that Vargas Llosa and his fellow commissioners do not regard the act of collecting and displaying material about the past with quite the same suspicion that Nora does, or they would hardly be bothering in the first place. It remains to be seen, however, how the new museum will engage with the thorny business of memory and official history in a post-conflict society.

Vargas Llosa is making a start by meeting with the commanding general of the Peruvian army, Otto Guibovich, today. Guibovich, naturally, wants to promote military interests in the potential contents of the museum. The meeting is strictly behind closed doors, and it remains to be seen what will come of such discussions.

Vargas Llosa se reune este jueves con general Guibovich
(La Republica)

Argentina: Campo de Mayo Trial Update

The prosecution today demanded a jail sentence of 25 years for Argentina's last dicator, Reynaldo Bignone, and five other former generals. The elderly men are accused of being ultimately responsible for 25 cases of forced disappearance and dozens of cases of torture, illegal detentions and robbery committed in the detention centre known as Campo de Mayo.

Pedido de 25 años de carcel para el ultimo dictador (Pagina/12)
El estado pidio 25 años de prision para Bignone (Critica Digital)

The disappeared were also present in the public gallery of the trial:

(image from Colectivo Ex Presos Pol. y Sobrevivientes Rosario)

The photographs of the disappeared, which have featured in the marches of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, on the bodies of relatives, and on the Internet, are now watching over the courtroom, having lost none of their symbolic power.

In another act of public, visual protest, the organisation of children of the disappeared, HIJ@S, is also drawing attention to the ongoing legal process:

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Guatemala: Military Archives

"The release of the military archives would be a historic act of respect for human rights in Guatemala," the Dec. 21, 2009 letter says. "National security would be strengthened by reaffirming a state of law and bringing to justice those responsible for massive human rights violations."
Human rights groups call for greater openness in the treatment of military archives in Guatemala.

The Best-Kept Secrets - The Military's (IPS)

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Argentina: Von Wernich Still Saying Mass

More than two years after he was sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity committed during the 1976-1983 dictatorship in Argentina, former police chaplain Christian von Wernich has not been penalised by the Catholic Church.

IPS found out that the 71-year-old priest even celebrates mass in prison.

Von Wernich was sentenced on Oct. 9, 2007 by a court in the city of La Plata, 57 km southeast of Buenos Aires, as an accomplice in the murders of seven members of the Peronist guerrilla organisation Montoneros, which was active in the 1970s, 31 cases of torture, and 42 cases of deprivation of freedom during Argentina's dirty war.

Torture Priest Still Celebrating Mass - Behind Bars (IPS)

Monday 1 February 2010

Argentina: RIP Tomas Eloy Martinez

The fine Argentine author Tomas Eloy Martinez has died aged 75. Martinez's works are highly relevant for the themes of this blog and he was himself forced into exile during the Presidency of Isabel Peron in 1975. I read Santa Evita just before I started my Master's on Argentina and it impressed me deeply - I may need to dig it out again in his memory.

Argentine author Martinez dies at age 75 (AP)