Monday 29 March 2010

Argentina: Former Army Spy Resigns

Hector Cisneros has resigned as president of the Malvinas Families Commission three days after it was revealed by a Buenos Aires newspaper (“Critica”) that he had worked for Argentine military intelligence during the last dictatorship (1976/1983).
The name of Cisneros surfaced in a list of 4.300 agents, civilians and military that worked for the notorious Batallion 601, the Argentine Army’s intelligence branch, and which was declassified last year. According to the documents Cisneros worked from 1981 to 1983 as head of support and data processing, with the specific task of classifying reports collected by different agents.
Malvinas Family Commission founder resigns: he was Army spy (1981/1983) (Mercopress)

Batallon de Inteligencia
The full lists can be downloaded as PDFs here.
Los nombres del nefasto Batallon 601 (Clarin)
El fin del secreto en el Batallon 601 (Pagina/12)

Peru: Relatives Recognise Clothes in Umasi

In December, I posted about the exhumations of children in Umasi, Ayacucho.

Now, three months later, the Specialised Forensic Team from the Public Ministry, as Peru calls its Attorney General's office, has displayed the clothes of the victims for identification purposes.

According to La Republica, at least 5 people have recognised the belongings of a family member; horrifying, but perhaps somehow an answer for those families, who have been waiting for clarification on the fate of their loved ones since 1983.

Reconocieron las prendas de victimas de masacre en Umasi (La Republica)

Saturday 27 March 2010

Argentina: The "Biological Full Stop"

This is a dense article from Rosario/12 about legal proceedings in Argentina and the commemorations of the coup anniversary. The original is by Esteban Stanich, translation mine. I've tried to assist in the background by providing some links, but some notes also follow below.
Tucuman: Dying without convictions: HR organisations: "The slowness of the Justice system is confronting us with the biological full stop[1]"

The physical decline and death of those accused of crimes committed during the military genocide, in the context of the lack of speed of the judicial system, was one of the most urgent demands made yesterday in the mobilisation which took place to commemorate 34 years since the last dictatorship. "The sluggishness of justice is allowing impunity to continue its reign," warned human rights organisations. Of the two thousand people accused or tried for crimes against humanity, just 164 have been convicted. Alperovich is accused of keeping on officials who defended the military coup.

The fact that the justice system is failing to advance the cases against those reponsible for the military genocide promptly is both a retrograde step in the search for the truth and the longed-for convictions, and promotes the situation of impunity which is continually being criticised by various sectors of society.

This impunity manifests itself today in what human rights organisations called the "biological full stop": the worsening state of health and death of large numbers of those accused of being responsible for crimes against humanity.

An example of this is the death two weeks ago of the repressor Albino Mario Zimmerman, one the seven accused who confronted the oral trial[2] with the existence of a clandestine detention centre in the ex-police headquarters in Tucumán.

This was one of the major claims which was made yesterday in the commemorative act carried out in front of crowds in the Plaza Independencia, 34 years after the last military coup which took over the country.

"The apathy in the justice system has brought us to the situation which we face today: confronted with the biological full stop. The accused are dying without being convicted. This means that those guilty of these abhorrent crimes are dying in impunity and the families, victims, and the whole of society do not receive justice," stated the document produced by the organisations participating in the action, which was read out during the event after the march, which ended in front of the government building.

A mobilisation of the people, demanding justice and effective convictions

The massive crowd, which had started its journey from a wall on the corner of the streets of Santa Fe and Junín, opposite the former police headquarters - where a clandestine detention centre had functioned - was evidence of the large amount of ill-feeling of the victims' families towards the justice system and the government itself.

They noted that of the nearly 2000 people accused of or tried for crimes against humanity in the country, only 164 have been convicted.

Furthermore, the fact that of the 200 open cases, only 17 percent have been elevated to oral trial, and the majority of those do not have a precise date, was also criticised.

"Today, Tucumán is going through its first public, oral trial connected with the clandestine detention centre which was in the police headquarters. There were dozens of murderers there, both civilian and military. However, only six of them are on trial for just 22 victims. This is what we are talking about when we say that justice is slow and negligent," maintained Natalia Ariñez of the group HIJOS.[3]

In their pronouncement, the organisations also accused the provincial government of maintaining a structure of officials linked to the dictatorship. "We reject the impunity which is still prevalent in Tucumán and that (José) Alperovich continues to shelter defenders of the dictatorship such as Francisco Sassi Colombre (interventor[4] of the Caja Popular credit union), Pablo Baillo (former Minister of Security), and the Blaquier family (owners of the Ledesma sugar refinery which is accused of being complicit in the genocide).

Moreover, they demanded the continuation of the trials of the murders and their military and civilian accomplices - mentioning the names of the journalists accused of being army informants, Osvaldo "Cacho" García and Roberto Álvarez - as well as insisting that those convicted should serve out their sentences in common jails.

They also demanded the immediate appearance of the disappeared witness Julio López and the restoration of the identity of the 440 young people disappeared during the dictatorship.

Following the pronouncements, a commemorative artistic festival took place in the square with various invited groups.

This was not the only event which took place yesterday to mark the Day of Memory for Truth and Justice. Prior to this, the Partido Obrero and Familiares de Víctimas de la Impunidad (Workers Party and Families of Victims of Impunity) had held their own event in the Plaza Independencia having marched from Plaza Yrigoyen, while activists from the Pueblo Unido (United People's Party) and the Movimiento Libres del Sur (Free People of the South Movement) marched around the main public walkway after holding a meeting in front of the Casa Historica. They finished before 9pm, just minutes before the arrival of the participants from the human rights and social organisations who approached from 25 de mayo street

[1] el punto final biológico - Normally I would have translated this as something like "the biological endpoint", however in the case of Argentina, use of the phrase "full stop" was pretty much compulsory. The Argentine reader would immediately recognise the reference to the Ley de Punto Final, known in English as the Full Stop Law, which put an end to trials of perpetrators of human rights abusers following the dictatorship. The idea is that a second amnesty is taking place simply due to the failure of the justice system not to act more speedily.

[2] juicio oral - oral trial. Not the usual state of affairs in Argentina, or indeed the rest of Latin America, where most legal proceedings are drawn-out affairs behind closed doors, involving the lengthy production of large amounts of written documentation. Human rights organisations place great worth on significant trials being held orally, with hearings accessible to the public.

[3] HIJOS - Hijos e hijos por la identidad y la justicia, contro el olvido y el silencio - Sons and daughters for identity and justice, against forgetting and silence. The organisation of children of the disappeared (functioning mainly as separate regional groups). The rather lengthy full name creates the snappy acronym which itself means "children".

[4] interventor - offical auditor or receiver; government-appointed manager.

News Round-Up

March Into Memory (New Internationalist blog)
Good English-language account of commemorations of 34th anniversary of the last Argentine coup

El Salvador
How we killed Archbishop Romero (El Faro)
El Faro's explosive interview with Alvaro Savaria now translated into English

Recognition: Yes, Reconciliation: Maybe, Justice: No
(Guatemala Solidarity Network)

The Militarization of the Peruvian Countryside

Honremos su memoria (Espacio de memoria)
Post commemorating one year since the death of Edmuno Camana, also known as Celestino Ccente, survivor of the Lucanamarca massacre and subject of one of the most iconic photos of the Peruvian conflict

Wednesday 24 March 2010

And here's a group of people you don't see often... contrast to their more famous female counterparts. They're padres - fathers -of the disappeared, and they're also the subject of a new documentary.

Argentina: 34 Years On

34 years after the coup in Argentina, the children of the disappeared remain at centre stage in the memory of the dictatorship. The Madres and Abuelas of the Plaza de Mayo are still fighting on, and the grandmothers in particular are heavily involved in a number of cases going through the courts, but gradually they will start to hand over to the Hijos, the children of the disappeared. Former disappeared children in vastly differing circumstances are also becoming emblematic of the memory landscape in the nation.

Here's a quick scan of the Argentine press and the type of images they choose to emphasise:
Pagina/12 is always big on human rights issues so it was inevitable that the anniversary would make its front page. They go for a close-up on the children of the disappeared:

It's practically obligatory for children of the disppeared to be shown with photographs of their parents, the black and white images looking rather older than they actually are, silent reminders of the missing generation.

From Critica Digital, here are the mothers with their iconic white headscarves, and Estela Carlotto, president of the Grandmothers. Her voice has been particularly loud in recent times as she has coordinated the discovery of several disappeared children and spoken out against the prevaricating in the Noble DNA case (plus, she's the best looking 83 year old I know). Today she specifically named Ernestina Herrera de Noble, among others, as "accomplices of hunger" and supporters of neoliberalism.

Conservative La Nacion does not go for the anniversary as front page news, but does feature a photo slide show prominently on its website, which includes another typical Madres/photos of desaparecidos pose which could have come from just about anytime in the past twenty years.

Clarin also does not feature the commemorative actions on its front page and manages to misspell [president of the Madres] Hebe de Bonafini's name in this article (at least, in the version of it I am looking at right now). Well done there. Its images are mostly wide shots of large crowds in the Plaza de Mayo. Naturally, it would be striking if this newspaper were to have focused on a child of the disappeared as Pagina/12 did; Clarin's owner is accused of illegally adopting two such children herself.

There are too many articles today to list them all, but here's just a few:
Como contarle a un tribunal que es la ausencia (Pagina/12)
Carlotto: Los complices del hambre de hoy son los mismos que hace 30 años (Critica Digital)
La hija de un ex policia, en juicio contra su padre (Critica Digital)
Renovados reclamos en una multitudinaria protesta en Plaza de Mayo a 34 años del golpe del Estado (La Nacion)
Dos actos paralelos conmemoran en Plaza de Mayo los 34 años del Golpe (Clarin)

El Salvador: Oscar Romero Round-Up

It's a crucial memory day at both ends of Latin America today.

Funes asks forgiveness for Romero assassination (Tim's El Salvador Blog)
Oscar Romero: Thirty Years Later (The Latin Americanist)
Digital newspaper's exclusive reveals details of killing of Archbishop Oscar Romero (Journalism in the Americas)
Remembering Oscar Romero (LA Times)
El Salvador marks Archbishop Oscar Romero's Murder (BBC News)
Oscar Romero (Central American Politics)
24 de Marzo de 1980 (The Mex Files)
Alvaro Savaria speaks out about how he and his accomplices assassinated Romero (Central American Politics)

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Argentina: Another Anniversary Looms

This is the high season of memory in Argentina, where many events are based around the anniversary of the 1976 coup on 24th March (now a national day for memory, truth and justice).

One of them is the inauguration of the former Campo de la Ribera, in Córdoba, as an official site of memory. This site was used as a clandestine detention centre from 1975-79. Since the return to democracy in 1983, the space has functioned as various schools and educational establishments. This redeployment of torture camps is one of the more shocking aspects of Argentine redemocratisation. Can you imagine saying, "Hm, Auschwitz? Could we not make use of it, as a sports centre perhaps? How about putting a cinema in?" Yet Buenos Aires schoolchildren were expected to attend swimming competitions in the ESMA until about 2004.

Finally, this situation in La Ribera was resolved, and the space will now be officially devoted to photographic exhibitions, memory and human rights related events and so on.

Ex-CCD/La Ribera

Sunday 21 March 2010

From today's Pagina/12:"Mr Videla, what can you say in your defence?"
"Your honour, thanks to us, Argentine cinema has won two Oscars".

Saturday 20 March 2010

Argentina: Judge's Father Accused

"I told you, Colonel, some day society was going to recognise everything you did for society in the '70s."
"They gave you life."

Yesterday, a judge ordered the detention of retired colonel Luis Sarmiento for crimes against humanity. But the order didn't last long - a few hours later he had to retract it upon discovering that the former military man is far too ill to ever stand trial.

Sarmiento was accused of responsibility in illegal deprivations of liberty and torture in the province of Misiones during the dictatorship, when he was apparently known as "el mago de la picana" or "el rey de la picana" ("king of the cattle prod", picana referring to the electric torture device).

When officials turned up at his apartment to arrest him, they found an octogenarian in a wheelchair, in the advanced stages of Parkinson's disease and apparently unable to recognise even his family members. This sounds like a genuinely sick man rather than one of the prevaricators we've read about previously (of course, the chance has been missed, the dictatorship's been over for thirty years).

The case is particularly prominent because Sarmiento's daughter María José is herself a judge and has recently been overruled a decree by President Kirchner. For this reason, she suspects those seeking to prosecute her father of political motivation.

El padre de la jueza Sarmiento esta acusado por delitos de lesa humanidad
(Critica Digital)
Tres decados sin rendir cuentas (Pagina/12)
El represor no podra declarar (Linea Capital)

Argentina: Delay to Noble Case

Until yesterday, I was reading that on Monday morning, tests would begin to compare the DNA samples of Marcela and Felipe Noble, the adopted children of Ernestina Herrera de Noble, with the samples of relatives of the disappeared in the National Genetic Database.

Now, however, the testing has been suspended indefintely, after the Noble children's lawyer submitted a request to appeal to the Supreme Court (as you can gather, this case has been dragging on for years now. The Nobles are resisting attempts to clarify the biological identity of the children with every means at their disposal and are one of the reasons the law was changed to allow suspected disappeared children to have genetic material removed against their will).

The Grandmothers (Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo) are protesting the move, claiming that the justice system is showing bias towards the powerful and wealthy Noble family, and demanding that the case be treated in the same way as other cases of disappeared children, which were clarified much more quickly. Indeed, considering that the case has already been through every possible type of appeal, you really have to ask how much longer the Noble lawyers' delaying tactics will be allowed to continue.

Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo acuso a la Justicia de "dilatar" la cause Noble
(Critica Digital)
Un fallo de postergo la primera prueba (Pagina/12)

Tuesday 16 March 2010

News/Blogging Round-Up


"Inspectors discovered that former Gen. Luis Garcia Meza had installed a sauna, gymnasium, ping pong table, dining room and even a barbecue grill in his quarters at the Chonchocoro prison."
Bolivia Jailer Ousted over Favors for Ex-dictator (NY Times)

According to someone who REALLY knows, this is why Evo Morales should win the Nobel Peace Prize (IKN)


Brazilian former political prisoners call for creation of Truth Commission (Mercopress)


Here's an update to my post on the Graf Spee which has got quite a lot of hits recently. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has been expressing the opinion of his nation about the appropriate use of the wreckage:
Germany wants "Graf Spee" Nazi eagle displayed in a museum (Mercopress)

Argentina: Marcela Noble/Clara Anahi

A chain email is apparently circulating in Argentina (and beyond) which suggests that 'Chicha' Mariani, one of the founders of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, suspects that Marcela Noble, adopted daughter of Clarin owner Ernestina Herrera de Noble, could be her biological granddaughter Clara.

I'm not sure exactly why this being brought up again now, because according to what I've found, Mariani made these statements last December. In any case, she wants the DNA sample taken from Noble cross-checked with the samples from the Mariani family in the national blood database. The email further claims that this information is being suppressed by the mainstream media, among which the Grupo Clarin is the most powerful corporation in the country (owning television and radio stations as well as the largest-circulation Argentine newspaper).

This is currently speculation, albeit based on the ideas of Mariani, who has spent 30 years researching the case of her son and daughter-in-law. If true, however, it will be an absolutely explosive case linking one of the most prominent figures suspected of complicity with the regime - media mogul de Noble - with one of the most well-known human rights activists - Chicha Mariani - both of them household names in Argentina.

As an aside, it would also make Marcela Noble the baby mentioned in Laura Alcoba's The Rabbit House.

We will see what the results of the DNA tests are when they are finally made public, of course.

Clara y la oscuridad (Critica Digital)

Muchas gracias to reader Celina for sending me the email which provoked this post.

Monday 8 March 2010

On International Women's Day

1325 mujeres tejiendo la paz is a project presenting biographical sketches of women peace activists from all over the world with images by graphic designers. The '1325' refers to UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. Below are a couple of example relevant to this blog; more can be seen here.

Estela Carlotto, Argentina

Sofia Macher, Peru

Guatemala: Testimonies of Indigenous Rape Victims

“I didn’t speak to anyone, I kept my mouth shut and suffered all the pain alone. I went to Mexico to escape, but today I’m here to demand justice so that people know what I suffered,” she said.
Indian Women Raped by Soldiers Seek Justice in Guatemala (Latin American Herald Tribune)

Sunday 7 March 2010

Argentina: Calls for Amnesty

In Argentina, right-wing military supporters are planning to hold a march on 20 April entitled "An amnesty for a Bicentennial with political prisoners".

The group known as Asociación de Familiares y Amigos de los Presos Políticos de la Argentina (AFyAPPA; Association of Family and Friends of Political Prisoners in Argentina) and headed by Cecilia Pando considers military human rights abusers to be "political prisoners" and call for "reconciliation", or moving away from the past. They claim that human right activists are solely bent on revenge and accuse them of neglecting the memory of the victims of left-wing violence.

Former Argentine President spoke in a similar tone a few weeks ago, saying,
"in 2011 we have to give birth to a government for all of us" that respects "the ones who are keen on (Jorge) Videla and does who are not,"
[cited in the Buenos Aires Herald]
I'm always frustrated by such pronouncements.
1) It's simply a legal fact that there is no statute of limitations for crimes against humanity
2) The perpetrators of human rights abuses are not being hounded by lawless mobs, but brought before the courts as should happen in a civilised country
3) The only reason that trials are still dragging on thirty years after the fact is because the previous amnesty laws stalled the justice process for two decades

The issue of commemorating the victims of left-wing violence is slightly more complex. Certainly, there were such victims, but in terms of numbers they were far overshadowed by the amount of people killed by the armed forces (we are talking a few dozen on the one hand, and at least 10,000, and by some estimates as many as 30,000, on the other). Some incidents such as the assassination of former president Aramburu by the Montoneros have achieved a symbolic status in Argentine history. I can understand the families of the police and members of the armed forces killed by the Montoneros and the ERP still feel aggrieved - but then, so do the families of the disappeared. I do not believe that the amnesty call is really 'about' the dead, but rather about protecting the criminals who are still alive.

El la misma sintonia que Duhalde (Pagina/12)
Duhalde calls for a Gov't that respects "those who are keen on Videla and those who aren't" (Buenos Aires Herald)

Bolivia: Military Refuses Full Disclosure

Via Argentina's Pagina/12 comes a report on Bolivia's armed forces, which had been ordered to submit some of their archives to a court.

The documents relate to three cases of forced disappearance which occurred in 1980-81 during the dictatorship of Luis García Meza.

The armed forces have produced a list of military personnel for the judge, but this does not go far enough, since the order was for more detailed information.

"We are going to continue fighting until the armed forces comply with the law, and don't just produce the 1980 archives, but the ones they have from 1964 onwards, when they started to disappear 170 people," added Urquieta [president of Asofamd, an association of relatives of the disappeared].
The family members of the disappeared are demanding that president Evo Morales intervene to force the military to reveal the dictatorship archives. "We have received declarations of support and interest from the government, but when it comes down to it there is no political will. This doesn't explain why, as president Evo Morales is head of the armed forces, he doesn't instruct them to proceed with opening up the documents," said Erbol María Soledad Quiroga, daughter of Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz [a disappeared journalist and writer]. [trans mine]

Archivos escondidos (Pagina/12)

Cultural Sunday

The 50th anniversary of Alberto Korda's iconic image of Che Guevara has not gone unnoticed. This one photograph has grown a life of its own, overshadowing both the career of its maker and all other views of its subject. Having graced millions of t-shirts, it has also been adapted and reproduced in a multitude of different ways, which even formed the focus of an exihibition at London's V&A museum and resulted in this book.

Mas de 35,000 euros por las fotos de la revolucion de Cuba (El Pais, h/t IKN)
A certain famous photo turns 50 (News of the Restless)

The BBC also has a report on controversy surrounding Peruvian film The Milk of Sorrow (La teta asustada) which is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.

Peru's hard-hitting Oscar film hope divides opinion (BBC)

Finally, via PeruFotoLibre, a video clip from a documentary about Peruvian photographer Martin Chambi. Sadly the film itself seems to be unavailable.

Martin Chambi and the Heirs of the Incas (PeruFotoLibre)

Saturday 6 March 2010

Uruguay: Disappointment over Disappeared Search

In the first week of his presidency, new Uruguayan leader José Mujica has faced calls to step up action on the disappeared.

Much attention has focused on the fact that Mujica was himself a guerrilla fighter who was jailed during his country's military dictatorship (in this respect, he join other regional leaders with strong personal links to their nation's violent pasts, such as outgoing Chilean President Bachelet, who was tortured under Pinochet, and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, a former revolutionary leader).

However, such a connection does not automatically mean that a head of state will put justice for the victims of human rights abuses at centre stage. Montevideo Portal notes that:
Just a few days after José Mujica assumed power, there is discontent and anxiety among the families of the detained-disappeared because the president did not mention them or the human rights violations during his first speeches. [trans mine]
Mujica has said, rather weakly, that the search for the disappeared would continue if "there is an explicit request or new facts arise", which is considerably less than activists had been hoping for.
"I'm not very hopeful" that the new government will make progress in investigating the fate of the "disappeared," Luisa Cuesta, whose only son, Nebio Ariel Melo Cuesta, was kidnapped in 1976 at the age of 31, told IPS.

Jose Mujica enfrenta polemica por desaparecidos (Montevideo Portal, via Latin America News Dispatch)
New President Aims for Leap in Development (IPS)

Wednesday 3 March 2010

News Round-Up

Chile's Re-opened Human Rights Investigations and Piñera's Balancing Act (COHA)

Brazilian Air Force releases military-era regime files (Journalism in the Americas)
The Air Force had previously claimed these documents had been destroyed, so it must be a bit embarrassing to hand them over now...

Uruguay Inaugurates Ex-Rebel Leader as President (NY Time)