Saturday 18 June 2011

Further coverage on the Madres scandal

With the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo well known internationally, it's hardly surprising that media outside Argentina has picked up on the whiff of scandal. I think the distraction is a shame though, considering that there are still pressing human rights issues to deal with in the country. Coverage has focused both on how close links with the now-tainted group could be damaging to Cristina Kirchner in the run-up to an election, and conversely, on how close involvement with politics has been damaging for the group in recent years.

53% of those questioned in a recent poll believe that the scandal will have far-reaching consequences for politics. Political scientist Carla Carrizo argues that the structure and working methods of Argentina's ruling Justicialista Party end up placing significant power in the hands of non-state actors.
Mothers of Plaza de Mayo scandal "toxic" for president (IPS)

The story is obviously a gift for anti-government papers La Nacion and Clarin, but the polarised state of Argentine journalism is not exactly beneficial for the reader.
Coverage of human rights group scandal sparks debate on role of Argentine journalism (Journalism in the Americas)

This is the example of the kind of headline that can undo years of hard work by the Madres
Argentina human rights group money spend on Ferraris, yachts and villas (Mercopress)

This is also a very critical article. Look at how it sets the scene for the foreign reader:
The group’s reputation in Argentina has soured, owing to the leftist activism of its leader, Hebe de Bonafini, who has praised the authors of the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001.
The image is also captioned "No longer a lily-white reputation". I mean, it is correct that Bonafini has long been a controversial figure and she does make blatantly anti-US remarks. She is arguably a poor figurehead for the Argentine human rights "scene". Still, snide coverage like this ends up leaving a nasty taste in my mouth because ultimately, the Madres are not Bonafini. Let's not forget the disappeared in all this.
The mother of all scandals? (The Economist)

Monday 13 June 2011

Dominican Republic opens museum of memory

Here's a first for me: I don't think I've blogged about the Dominican Republic before, and it's a positive post as well, so that's even better.

The island republic has inaugurated a museum dealing with its history under dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo.

"The Haitian genocide was the greatest crime against humanity of Trujillo's tyranny," said Luisa De Pena, director of the Dominican Resistance Memorial Museum. "Dominican society has to face the crimes that occurred and make them part of its public conscience so that way it can move forward."
Hear, hear. The Associated Press reports that the museum "will feature a re-creation of a prison torture chamber, along with audio of some of the actual torture sessions" - sounds pretty gruesome, but could be very effective if sensitively done. The museum has a website here.

DomRep museum to honor victims of dictatorship (AP)
Inauguration of Memorial Museum of Dominican Resistance (UNESCO)
Memorial Museum of Dominican Resistance inauguration (Colonial Zone News Blog)

Argentina: Madres face new storm

The Madres de Plaza de Mayo are no strangers to media attention, but this week they have hit the headlines again for all the wrong reasons. The case surrounds the group's legal adviser Sergio Schoklender, who has been accused of fraud connected to government-funded housing projects. Schoklender has apparently massed huge personal wealth while officially earning a modest income. The Mothers themselves are not officially accused of wrongdoing, but are clearly tainted by the apparent corruption from someone in their inner circle. They have hurriedly distanced themselves from Schoklender and, it is now being reported, wish to appear as plaintiffs in a case against him.

There's quite a lot going on here, I would say, and the shadow of the dictatorship is apparent in it all. On a general level, people worldwide often seem to have a desire to unmask others perceived as "too good to be true" - you seem to see the same kind of glee when a squeaky-clean family man, a Tiger Woods or a Ryan Giggs, say, is revealed as hiding some grubby secrets. The Mothers have been one of the key moral spokepersons in Argentina for decades. Strident, uncompromising, tough: their leader, Hebe de Bonafini, is seen as a heroine by many and an embarassment by some. She has been closely linked with the Kirchner regimes for several years and her unabashed politicism has not increased her popularity in some circles.

The scandal was apparently revealed by Clarin newspaper. Yes, that is the same Clarin newspaper which is rabidly anti-Kirchner and whose owner is fighting a court case seeking to prove that her adopted children were stolen from disappeared people. The Madres, other human rights groups, and the government have all unequivocally viewed this story as an attempt to attack human rights and memory activism in Argentina. The president of the Abuelas (Grandmothers), Estela de Carlotto, was quoted in Clarin and the right-wing La Nacion as accusing Bonafini of being compromised by the Schoklender case. She later told Pagina/12, the paper most sympathetic to the human rights groups, that her words had been "twisted" in an attempt to split the human rights movement. The Abuelas together with the Madres de Plaza de Mayo Linea Fundadora (a breakaway group of the Madres), HIJOS (the children of the disappeared) and Familiares (family members of the disappeared) issued a joint statement condemning attempts to tarnish their struggle.

The one thing that does really astonish me is why Bonafini was close to Sergio Schoklender and his brother Pablo in the first place. I had never heard of them before yesterday, but it turns out that they were involved in a notorious crime of the early 1980s, when both were jailed for the Linkmurder of their parents. I find it hard to understand why people convicted of such a serious crime would end up so closely connected with a human rights group whose entire purpose is justice for murder, after all - but clearly I'm missing something there.

I think the takeaway point for me would be the importance of the human rights struggle in Argentina and how crucial it is for that to continue. You can see from little turns of phrase like that in the Guardian article, "the headscarf has slipped", how people seize on such cases to invalidate an entire project, and as the groups say in their statement, that can't be allowed to happen.

Denuncian sobreprecios en los planes de viviendas sociales
Las Madres iran hoy a la Justicia para denunciar a Schoklender (Clarin)
En defensa de una historia (Pagina/12)
Buscan la oportunidad para disolvernos (Pagina/12)
Scandal hits Argentina's mothers of the disappeared (Guardian)
Corruption scandal hits Argentina's Mothers group (AP)

Sunday 12 June 2011

Chile: Exhumations

Chile's collective memory is currently focused on a couple of emblematic cases. After decades of general agreement that Salvador Allende had committed suicide during the military coup, this appears to have been thrown into doubt during the latest exhumation of his remains.

Exhumation of President Allende of Chile aims to settle mystery (NY Times)
President Allende’s death “may not have been a suicide” suggests forensic expert (Mercopress)
Chile military file suggest Allende may not have killed himself (NY Times)

Meanwhile, the death of poet Pablo Neruda is next in line for reinvestigation:

Pablo Neruda's death is next to be investigated as Chile exhumes its past
(LA Times)
Chile murder probe into death of author Pablo Neruda (AFP)
Inquiry ordered in poet's death (NY Times)

Colombia: Victims' Law

Colombia has enacted a law which will grant reparations to victims of its long-running civil conflict.

“Our country is not condemned to 100 years of solitude,” said president Juan Manuel Santos.
Colombia signs landmark "Victims Law" to redress victims of internal conflict (Mercopress)

The law has received widespread praise, including from UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, who, however, points out that, "The proper and timely implementation of this law will determine whether expectations raised are met."
UN's Ban Ki-moon commends Victims' Law (Colombia Reports)

The BBC points out that implementing the law will be a huge challenge in a country with over three million internally displaced people, and where violence continues.
Law for victims passed by Senate (BBC)

Colombian Liberal Party lawmaker Guillermo Rivera says "this is only the beginning and there is still much to be done."
Land and Victims Law Crucial for Millions of Displaced Farmers in Colombia (IPS)

Human rights activist Marco Romero discusses some of the shortcomings and challenges of the law:
"Full Reparations Must Be Guaranteed" for Displaced Victims in Colombia (IPS)

Everybody is right not to get carried away; Colombia is still a country beset with problems. But this is a positive step.

Peru: Election round-up

I'm not going to deal with the coverage and commentary of the Peruvian presidential election, which has been widely discussed elsewhere, but a few articles related the subject of this blog did catch my eye:

No easy choice for women in presidential runoff (IPS)

Shadow of disgraced president looms in Peru race
(Living in Peru)

Humala pledges justice for sterilisation victims

Peruvian journalism and politics after the election of Ollanta Humala as president (Journalism in the Americas)

Peruvian-Japanese wrestle with Fujimori legacy (AFP)

For what it's worth, I will say that I can't say what kind of president Humala will turn out to be, but I am relieved that there isn't another Fujimori leading Peru.

Saturday 11 June 2011

Peru: Un dia en la memoria

I'm always retweeting the images of Un dia en la memoria and now, thanks to Roberto Bustamente of blog El morsa, we can see a discussion of the project from its creator, Mauricio Delgado (in Spanish):

Sunday 5 June 2011

Book Review: Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo

Santiago Roncagliolo's Red April (orig: Abril rojo, translated by Edith Grossman) has been out for a while now, and it's been on my reading list for some time as well. I finally got around to ordering it and then devoured it in three days, putting aside my other reading to do so - which is pretty much a recommendation in itself.

The book is both a whodunit and an investigation into the darkest side of Peru's recent history, caught between the violence of the Shining Path and the violence of those sent to fight them. The descriptions of Ayacucho are recognisable to anyone who has been there, even those who have only visited briefly, as I did. It's set in the period leading up to Easter in 2000, when the terrorists have supposedly been defeated and tourists need to be encouraged to return, but it soon becomes very clear that the "peace" masks continuing atrocities and deep trauma.

Assistant District Prosecutor FĂ©lix Chacaltana is happiest behind his desk, writing well-punctuated reports which nobody reads, but he becomes drawn into tracking down a serial killer and also turns out to have a dark side of his own. Chacaltana is sensitively drawn and provides both comic relief and some of the book's most challenging moments.

This book keeps the pages turning and the reader guessing until the very end. Highly recommended.

See also:
'Red April' wins the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (Independent)
Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo (Guardian)