Sunday 27 March 2011

Chile: Memoria Rebelde

I had to post this video linked to by Adriana Goñi Godoy on Twitter, from Chilean hip-hop artist Subverso. The version I've found has subtitles in either Spanish or English, but also just visually the clip is amazing...

Friday 25 March 2011

Uruguay: Amnesty law ruling

In an important ruling, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has said that Uruguay must remove obstacles to prosecuting human rights offenses committed during its "dirty war" in the 1970s.

The case related specifically to María Claudia García Iruretagoyena de Gelman, the daughter-in-law of Argentine poet Juan Gelman.

As the New York Times explains,
Ms. Gelman was abducted in Buenos Aires in 1976 at age 19 while seven months pregnant. She was later transferred to a clandestine detention center in Uruguay. Her daughter, María Macarena Gelman, was born in captivity and left in a basket at the door of a Uruguayan police officer; the couple adopted her, giving them their name. The child’s grandfather, the Argentine poet Juan Gelman, tracked her down more than 20 years later and she restored her identity.
The court has now ruled that Uruguay must ensure that the amnesty must never again become an obstacle for investigations into the events of the dictatorship.

Human Rights Court calls on Uruguay to remove ‘dirty war’ amnesty law (Mercopress)
Court Condemns Uruguay for a Disappearance (New York Times)
OAS court: Uruguay must drop 'dirty war' amnesty (AP)
Macarena Gelman "conmovida" por la sentencia de la CIDH (Pagina/12)

And the truly interested can read the full ruling (in Spanish) here.

Argentina: 35th anniversary of the coup

Yesterday, 24th March, was the 35th anniversary of Argentina's last coup. First let's take a look at the front pages:
Anyone familiar with Pagina/12 editorial stance won't be surprised that they devoted their entire front page to the anniversary.
Tiempo chooses an interesting photo for its front page - the late president Nestor Kirchner supervising the removal of the official portraits of the junta leaders in 2004.

La Nacion and Clarin did not flag up the anniversary on their covers, but the former does have this very interesting video of the ESMA.

See also:
Argentina probes role of US financial institutions in dirty war (Latin America Activism)
Argentina recalls 35 years of one of its darkest periods in recent history (Mercopress)

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Peru Round-Up

Alleged Shining Path terrorist is captured in Huanaco, Peru (Living in Peru)

Fujimorismo Candidates Allegedly Tied to Drug Trade (IPS)

Authorities investigate 18 police officers in VRAE (Peruvian Times)

Peruvian prosecutor charges owner of award-winning radio station with broadcast piracy (Journalism in the Americas)

Peru: Blog recommendation

Spanish speakers interested in Peruvian memory issues shouldn't miss Un dia en la memoria, which daily publishes illustrated pieces about some aspect of Peru's political violence that happened on that day. I'm not going to copy their images regularly, but here is an example below, and I encourage you to go and check it out for yourself.

Argentina: The night before the coup

"The commanders suggested, gently but firmly, that if the president holds power what she has to do is wield it."
On the eve of the anniversary of the 1976 coup, Argentine paper Perfil carries extracts from an interview with one of the leaders of that coup, Jorge Videla. He answered the questions in writing from his prison cell where he is serving life for crimes against humanity.

This is a really interesting account of the final months of 1975 and the beginning of 1976, when top army figures began holding private meetings in the face of president Isabel Peron's manifest lack of leadership. Videla describes a meeting in January 1976 in which the three leaders of the armed forces were asked what suggestions they could make to solve the political crisis. He claims that they produced a document to this effect, but the matter was then immediately dropped and never mentioned again.

The day before the coup, on 23 March 1976, they met with the defence minister José Alberto Deheza and told him they could not give Peron their support, saying it was her job to exercise power. And the rest, as they say, is history. But this stresses the combination of factors that go into provoking a coup: Argentina had a shaky democratic tradition and there had been five previous coups that century; institutions were weak; inflation was very high; the Montoneros had committed some emblematic acts of political violence; and Isabel Peron was undoubtedly an incapable president. None of this is to excuse Videla and co., on the contrary, but it is to see how these events could come about.

Videla: “Le dijimos a Isabel que no sabíamos cómo darle nuestro apoyo”
The night before the Argentine military coup 24 March 1976, according to Videla (Mercopress)

Chile: Obama's visit (2)

So, here's an update on how Obama's trip to Chile turned out. As expected, there was no apology, but Obama did say that would consider requests for US information regarding the deaths of Salvador Allende and another former Chilean president, Eduardo Frei Montalva, who died in suspicious circumstances in 1982.

Piñera responded that he would formally request the intelligence material on the matters. He also stressed the "equality" of the relationship between the two countries. To be frank, I don't imagine for a second that Obama sees Chile as an equal to the US, but I do agree that a great deal of progress has been made. A prompt request for any classified documents which could shed light on the Frei and Allende cases, and a swift reponse to this, would be another positive step.

Obama cites Latin Americans as examples for others (NY Times)

Frei Montalva, Allende's predecessor, was a leading Pinochet critic when he died in 1982 after hernia surgery in what many people consider mysterious circumstances.

Pinochet agents allegedly hung his body from a ladder, drained it of fluids and removed organs. Six people were charged last year in an alleged poisoning of Frei Montalva and a cover-up, but the judge in the case has failed to get formal support from the governments of Chile and the U.S. for uncensored files and other evidence.

Frei's son Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, a former center-left president who lost to Pinera last year, met briefly with Obama on Monday. Chilean media quoted him as saying that he personally asked for help solving his father's murder and that Obama promised to cooperate.

Pinera's government formally supported the Frei investigation this year after a leaked U.S. Embassy cable suggested the case would never be solved.

Obama says US ready to help Chile in rights cases (AP)
US ready to help Chile solve human rights crimes but no apology for 1973 events (Mercopress)

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said Tuesday that he'll accept President Barack Obama's invitation to formally request classified U.S. intelligence documents that may identify Chilean agents responsible for more than 1,200 human rights violations during the Pinochet dictatorship.

Pinera made this pledge — his most specific yet on Chile's unresolved human rights cases — during an interview with The Associated Press in which he described Obama's visit as a validation of his country's regional leadership and rejected complaints that it was short on concrete results.

[...]"If there's information that a friendly government such as the United States can provide to us, that advances the speed and strength of Chilean justice, of course we're going to ask for it," Pinera said.

AP Interview: Chile president to ask for CIA files (AP)

Monday 21 March 2011

Chile: Obama's visit

US president Barack Obama and his family are spending the day in Chile, causing some to wonder if Obama will take the opportunity to discuss the country's past, and the States' role in it. Errrr, I think it's unlikely. Nevertheless, several hundred people are reported to be protesting, demanding that Obama apologise for the US interference which paved the way for Pinochet taking power.

Chile protesters want Obama to apologize for CIA encouragement of Pinochet dictatorship (Washington Post)

In a comment piece in the Los Angeles Times, Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman calls on the US president to prioritise the victims of what he calls "the defining experience of Chile's recent history". Dorfman points out,
A scant seven blocks from the presidential palace, La Moneda, where [Obama] is to be feted by President Sebastián Piñera, 120 researchers are busy all day long compiling a conclusive list of Pinochet's victims so that final amends and compensation can be made.
He suggests,
If Obama prefers places to people, he could acquaint himself with Villa Grimaldi, a former torture house turned into a center for peace, or devote 10 minutes to the Museum of Memory, where exhibits recall the darkest days of Chile's history.
He could even, writes Dorfman, visit Allende's grave.

Ghosts of Chile
(LA Times)

The Miama Herald also notes that "some are wondering what he won't say".

Obama has busy schedule during Chile stop (Miami Herald)

I don't expect to see this visit straying from its official schedule, but at least the issue of memory, and the legacy of the Pinochet dictatorship, is being raised in the mainstream US media, so in that sense, what Obama isn't saying is being said quite loudly.

Sunday 20 March 2011

Argentina: Exhibition

Artists Rosana Fuertes and Daniel Ontiveros have their first joint exhibition in Buenos Aires, running until 31 March - and you can probably see why I've chose to highlight this on the blog. An even more impressive photo can be seen here.

Luchar, amar, trabajar (Pagina/12)

Saturday 19 March 2011

Argentina: Court ruling

In an update to this post, the court has ruled that DNA samples may be taken from Marcela and Felipe Noble "with or without their consent". However, this doesn't mean the medical tests will be done next week. The case will rumble on and could reach the Supreme Court.

Confirman los análisis de ADN (Pagina/12)

News/Blogging Round-Up


"Nostalgia for the Light" (dir. Patricio Guzmán) opens Friday in New York
(Memory, Amnesia and Politics)


6 soldiers to stand trial for 'false positive' killing (Colombia Reports)

El Salvador

Obama to visit human rights activist's tomb (AP)


Nations close in on Guatemalan massacre suspects (AP)


Nicaragua reiterates its right to sue US in the Hague (Inside Costa Rica)

Spain/Lat Am

Spain celebrates Latin American liberation with bicentenary films (Guardian)

Sunday 13 March 2011

Peru: Montesinos and Guzman evacuated over tsunami fears

The devastating earthquake in Japan has repercussions across the globe, even affecting some of Peru's most notorious prisoners.

I noticed yesterday that the lawyer of Alberto Fujimori's former sidekick, Vladimiro Montesinos, had expressed concern about her client's situation in the face of a possible tsunami reaching Peru. But I dismissed this as attention-seeking; it didn't really seem worth blogging about.

However, it seems the authorities weren't taking any chances and they did indeed move prisoners from the naval base in Callao to the maximum security prison of Piedras Gordas, north of Lima. As well as Montesinos, they included former Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman, MRTA leader Victor Polay, and three other leading members of the two terrorist groups. The danger has now passed, and La Republica is reporting that the prisoners will be returned to Callao.

Peru Spared Tsunami Damage …. Montesinos & Guzman to Star in New “Swept Away”
(American in Lima)
Evacuan de Base Naval del Callao a Montesinos, Guzmán y Polay (RPP)
Vladimiro Montesinos y Abimael Guzmán fueron trasladados a Piedras Gordas (El Comercio)
Montesinos y Abimael volverán a la Base Naval, tras suspensión de Alerta de Tsunami (La Republica)

Saturday 12 March 2011

Chile: Allende's family agree to exhumation

The family of former Chilean president Salvador Allende have agreed that his remains may, if necessary, be exhumed again as part of the investigation into the circumstances of his death.
“We will collaborate and do all that is necessary, present our testimony and if a new exhumation is necessary, an exhumation will be done,” said the late head of state’s daughter, Sen. Isabel Allende [not the novelist!]
“We have to set the example if we’re asking that other actors provide complete cooperation,” Sen. Allende said, abandoning her earlier opposition to a second exhumation of her father’s remains.
Kin of Chile's Allende Agree to Exhumation (Latin American Herald Tribune)

Friday 11 March 2011

Uruguay: Threats against judges in human rights cases

A video in which apparent members of the military threaten judges and prosecutors who conduct investigations into crimes against humanity during the last military dictatorship (1973-1985) has caused alarm in Uruguay, writes Mexican daily El Universal. The tape was revealed on Wednesday by weekly Búsqueda. It shows three men in combat uniform, with their faces covered in balaclavas, who announce the start of "military operations in the whole country" to "secure the freedom of the political prisoners", as they call the members of the military accused of torture, forced disappearance, and other crimes. Defence minister Luis Rosadilla confirmed the existence of the video and said that it was the job of the police to investigate.

Video consterna a Uruguay
Rechazo general por un video con amenazas de supuestos militares (El Pais, Uruguay)

Argentina: Court to rule on extraction on blood

I take six months off from blogging and when I get back, the Herrera-Noble case is rumbling on with apparently little progress having been made. The Argentine justice system certainly knows about delayed gratification.

Anyway, Pagina/12 is now reporting that a court will rule within the next five days whether to uphold the ruling of judge Sandra Arroyo Salgado that samples of blood and saliva should be taken forcibly from Marcela and Felipe Noble Herrera, adopted children of Clarin director Ernestina Herrera de Noble and suspected biological children of disappeared persons.

The court yesterday heard from lawyers from both sides. The Nobles' lawyers repeated their refusal to submit to a voluntary extraction of their DNA and criticised the ruling that this should be taken by force. It was argued that taking DNA without consent was equivalent to "an act of torture, humiliation, inhuman and degrading treatment."

In reply, lawyers for the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo and two families of the disappeared pointed out that DNA testing was routinely compulsory in the cases of crimes. "If it was an act of torture, no one would be allowed to take blood samples from anyone, whether accused or victim", they said.

You could argue for or against the rights and wrongs of forcing the two adults to find out whether their biological parents were murdered by the State, but in the light of the torture perpetrated against thousands of Argentina citizens during the dictatorship, it seems pretty crass to use the word to refer to a blood test.

Para definir si se extrae la sangre (Pagina/12)

Sunday 6 March 2011

Argentina: Image of the day

From today's Pagina/12

Judge: Why did you steal babies?
Videla: So that they weren't taught subversive ideas.
Judge: What would be a subversive idea?
Videla: Putting people who steal babies on trial.

Street harassment

I am not generally on my soapbox too much on this blog but I think it's time, especially with International Women's Day coming up. This post was inspired by this Guardian article on the Hollaback! initiative. Hollaback! aims to empower women to confront street harassment. The international movement was inspired by a woman who photographed a man masturbating in the train across from her and, as the police were uninterested, posted it on Flickr.
Men who harass, says Gray, are defensive and confused when confronted. May also points to numerous examples of men being surprised when challenged: "They say, 'But I love women – I have a daughter!' They often have no idea that what they're doing hurts women." Hollaback! isn't just about fighting back but about rebuilding the foundations of what people consider appropriate public behaviour.
Let me just recount briefly my experiences of street harrassment, beginning with the least offensive and working up. Apparently I naturally have a rather serious expression when walking along on my own (I think that walking along on your own giggling away to yourself is more unusual, personally, but whatever). Apparently this isn't good enough for some men, who call out variations on "Cheer up, it might never happen" and "Smile!".
Then there's the "compliments" which men in Latin America feel obliged to pay on a daily basis. It happened often in Buenos Aires, more often in Quito, and was absolutely unrelenting in Lima. Day after day, multiple times a day, men would ask to be my friend, tell me I was beautiful, tell me they loved me, whistle at me, ask me where I was going, and on, and on, and on. Was I flattered? No. I longed to be invisible. I covered up more than necessary for the weather, I hunched my shoulders, I looked at the ground, and of course I never, ever, made eye contact with anybody. Not that that stopped it. I've had my way across a footbridge blocked by a man insisting he was just being friendly, and I've been followed by a wealthy-looking male in a flashy SUV.
And I've also experienced the man masturbating in a train carriage late at night. That one was in Europe.

I never confronted any of those men. I just assumed that that would make it worse, and also could be dangerous. Hollaback! has this to say on that:
Question: Confronting street harassers can be dangerous. What about safety issues?

Answer: While everyone is vulnerable to stranger rape and sexual assault, studies show that those who are aware of their surroundings, walk with confidence and, if harassed, respond assertively, are less vulnerable. Nevertheless, direct confrontations with street harassers may prove extremely dangerous, particularly alone or in unpopulated spaces. While it is each individual’s right to decide when, how, and if to Holla Back, do keep issues of safety in mind. Upon deciding to photograph a harasser, you may consider doing so substantially after the initial encounter and from a distance, ensuring the harasser is unaware of your actions. [source]

I am not sure exactly what the answer is. I would still be very wary of confronting a harrasser in a different culture unless I was very sure of what I was saying, where I was going, where there were other people who might help me, and so on. In general, it's worth pointing out that calling on other people for support, middle-aged women in particular, is sometimes helpful. I do know that I would think about the treatment I received differently having read about Hollaback! The campaign has a Buenos Aires branch:
Twenty-nine-year-old Argentinian Inti Maria Tidball-Binz has kickstarted Hollaback! in her home city of Buenos Aires. "Spanish-speaking countries call street harassment piropo, which unhelpfully also means a short poem that compliments the recipient," says Binz. "For this reason, the question I am asked most frequently is why am I so against the 'harmlessly flirtatious' piropo. Street harassment is not a poetic artform but rather on the scale of a kind of systematic violence against women."
It's online here - the group has translated "Hollaback" as "Atrévete!" (Dare!).

So come on ladies and gents, let's keep chipping away for social change and let women walk down the street in peace. Is that so much to ask?

Photojournalism in Ibero-America

Thanks to Peru Foto for pointing out the photojournalism prize of the Fundación Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano. It has a beautiful website featuring some fantastic work. Particularly relevant to this blog is the photography of Nancy Chappell in the Peruvian highlands - her photos also show a Carnival celebration, and it is Carnival this week, so that fits too. Chappell was co-curator of the Yuyanapaq photo exhibition which I've written about on several previous occasions.

Saturday 5 March 2011

Argentina: Congratulations to the Grandmothers

Congratulations to the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, who have been awarded the 2010 Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize from UNESCO for their “tireless battle for human rights and peace by standing up to oppression, injustice and impunity.”
“With all my heart I congratulate the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and their president Estela Carlotto,” said the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova. “Their ceaseless effort has made it possible for a hundred young people to rediscover their true identities, thereby setting right a flagrant injustice. This is an inspiring example of the defense of human rights.”

Hear, hear. I'm sure the US$150,000 prize money will be put to very good use and will hopefully enable a few more grandchildren to be found.

Argentina's Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo awarded UNESCO peace prize (UN News Centre)
Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo receive Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize (UNESCO)

Argentina: Grandchild 101 speaks out

I think one of the reasons that Videla and Bignone's new trial caught international headlines this week is that the idea of "baby stealing" has a horrfiying fascination for outsiders. I mean, stealing someone's baby - isn't that just about as low as you can get? (Yes, it is.) And how did it work exactly?

So it's not surprising that some media sources choose to dig deeper and give their readers an idea of the human interest story that lies behind the statistics.

Just over a year ago, I posted on the finding of "disappeared grandchildren no. 101", Francisco Madariaga, and his connection to the Grandmothers/Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. Now he is featured in an article on the BBC.
"I spent 32 years living a lie," he says.[...] "For decades my captors [as he describes his adoptive parents] told me I was their biological son. But lies can't last forever," says Mr Madariaga.
Madariaga is clearly one of the children whose discovery of their true origins leads them to break off all contact with their adopted family; this is hardly surprising in his case, as he states that his father was also physically abusive. It's not the case for all the found children, particularly those whose adopted families were not military.
"I think I was like a prize of war," Mr Madariaga says.
Madariaga has not coined this phrase; botín de guerra (spoils of war) is a common term to describe the attitude of the military towards the children of disappeared people, which were appropriated just as the prisoners' belongings were. It's also the title of a 2000 documentary about the disappeared children, directed by David Blaustein.

Anyway, this is an interesting article, and it also mentions the Noble (Clarin) case.

Argentina 'stolen baby' cases legacy of Dirty War (BBC)

Thursday 3 March 2011

Peru: Keiko Fujimori justifies "self-coup"

Presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori has spoken out in favour of her father's "self-coup" of 1992, when he dissolved congress. An interesting view of democracy from someone looking to be the head of state in a democracy. But she has promised that she wouldn't do such a thing herself. Well, that's alright then, isn't it?

Keiko Fujimori justified her father’s self-coup in 1992 (Living in Peru)

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Argentina: RIP Matilde Mellibovsky

I learned from the website of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo that Matilde Mellibovsky has died. Mellibovsky was the mother of Graciela Mellibovsky, disappeared in 1976, and the author of a book about the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Circle of Love over Death.

Argentina: Dictators on trial (2)

As always, Pagina/12 takes the lead on human rights issues and gives the trial of Videla & Co. its entire front page. It runs the headline "Ladrones de bebes" (baby thieves/babysnatchers) which is pretty unequivocal. This is followed by a long article describing the trial and its background.

Clarin runs the story too, but if you go to the "edicion impresa" section of its website which reflects the stories in the print edition, the trial is the 23rd story down. On La Nacion, I had to do a search to find the article at all and the resulting piece is less than 300 words.

Interestingly, both the latter make far more of the fact that Videla nodded off during the hearing than Pagina/12 does. Why is this something worth highlighting, I wonder? It could be flagged up as a sign of his disrespect for the justice system, but it could also be used to induce sympathy for the poor old man dragged in front of a court for something that happened so long ago.

I know that boz has pointed out this major point - that Argentina's top-circulation dailies did not choose to run this as a main story - before me. He attributes this to the lack of interest in issues of memory among the general population and sees the possible connection of Clarin and La Nacion to the dictatorship as a red herring. I tend to disagree. Oh, I do think that a large section of Argentine society probably is somewhat indifferent to the discussion of the dictatorship, but I don't see the leanings of Clarin or La Nacion as irrelevant. In the case of Clarin, considering its owner is embroiled in legal proceedings designed to determine if her two adopted children are themselves the children of disappeared people, this is hardly an issue in the past. If they put Videla and Bignone on the cover, how they could justify not doing so when the Herrera Noble case develops?

El robo de bebes en el banquillo de los acusados (Pagina/12)
Arrancó el juicio oral por el robo de bebés contra Videla y Bignone (Clarin)
Empezó el juicio oral a Videla (La Nacion)

Argentina: Dictators go on trial over disappeared children

So, yesterday's big news was the opening of the trial of former Argentine junta leaders, Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, on charges of involvement in the systemic theft of babies during the 1976-83 dictatorship.

Here's your international news round-up:

Like many sources, Mercopress picks up on the comments of prosecutor Federico Delgado that the abductions and subsequent changing of the children's identities was a way of cutting them off from the ideologies of their parents:
"You had to break family ties” between the children and their parents, who were later executed, he added. “It's one of the darkest chapters of Argentina's history.”
Argentine military dictators on trial for stealing hundreds of babies (Mercopress)

IPS has its usual excellent analysis and cites Rosa Roisinblit, vice-president of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. She eloquently expressed her disgust that Videla dozed off while the charges were being read - and she's older than he is.
Trial over baby theft opens at last (IPS)

Also on trial are:
Jorge Luis Magnacco, a doctor who worked in the navy detention center; Antonio Vanek, the junta's former navy attache in Washington; Jorge "Tigre" Acosta, who allegedly ran the navy center's torture sessions; former army Gen. Santiago Riveros, responsible for gathering intelligence from detainees at Campo de Mayo; former admiral Ruben Franco; and former prefect Juan Antonio Azic, who allegedly tortured detainees under Acosta's direction.
Argentine dictators go on trial for baby thefts (AP)

Several international press articles also choose to cite one of the adult disappeared children themselves to bring home the human aspect to their readers, who may not be particularly familiar with this area of history:
"We were the regime's war spoils," said 33-year-old Leonardo Fossati, who will be testifying at the trial.
Argentines in court over baby kidnappings (AFP)

"I lived a lie for 32 years," Francisco Madariaga said. "We're not normal like everyone else — we have problems that most people can't relate to. For example, when someone tells me he lied, but it was just a little white lie, I can't stand it."[...]"The wound will never heal. Everyone in the world has the possibility of burying their loved ones, but I couldn't do it with my mother," he said.
Former Argentine dictators tried for baby thefts (AP)

Argentine press round-up to follow.