Wednesday 27 July 2011

News Round-Up


Just in case there was any possibility of forgetting Evita...
Giant portrait of Eva Perón unveiled in Argentina ministry (Guardian)


Guatemala massacre trial begins (AFP)
Ex-soldiers link troops to Guatemala massacre (AP)


This is an update of a previous post of mine; the actual number of missing books may not sound that large in the great scheme of things, but as it says, these were selected, valuable works
932 books stolen from the National Library of Peru (Living in Peru)

This is a very interesting look back on Garcia's presidency as he leaves office:
Peru's Garcia leaves conflicts unresolved (AP)

Thursday 21 July 2011

News Round-Up

*Post updated to correct error in Peru section*


The anniversary of the AMIA bombing causes the annual reconsideration of the case, this time with Iran making cooperative noises and the victims' groups responding with suspicion.
Jews: Argentina and Iran both failed in bomb probe (AP)
Jewish community complains lack of progress in AMIA bombing investigation (Mercopress)
Argentina welcomes Iran's offer on Jewish centre bombing inquiry (Guardian)

The investigation into Salvador Allende has found that he did indeed commit suicide. I don't think that this has surprised many people, but it is a positive result.
Chile can finally begin the process of healing (Guardian)
End of story: family confirms Chile’s former leader Allende committed suicide in 1973 (Mercopress)
Allende’s Death Was a Suicide, an Autopsy Concludes (NY Times)
Chilean president Salvador Allende committed suicide, autopsy confirms (Guardian)

Shining Path remants have killed two soldiers in the VRAE
Attack on military base leaves two soldiers dead (Peruvian Times)

In a postscript to the events at Majaz which I blogged about fairly extensively in 2009, Monterrico Metals has paid compensation to 33 Peruvians who had alleged mistreatment during a 2005 protest. The company did not admit liability, however.
Mining firm pays compensation to Peruvian mine protesters (Guardian)

*Updated to correct error* Peruvian president-elect Ollanta Humala has picked Salomon Lerner as his new prime minister. This is Salomon Lerner Ghitis, not to be confused (as I previously did) with Salomon Lerner Febres, former head of Peru's truth commission. So now I understand why my previous blog posts have seen a spike in hits, but unfortunately it's the wrong guy.
Leftist Humala picks centrists for Peru Cabinet (Reuters)
Free market champions named in Peru’s cabinet (Financial Times)


Former dictator Juan María Bordaberry has died.
Juan María Bordaberry obituary (Guardian)
Bordaberry's death yields conflicting emotions (COHA)
Juan Bordaberry, Who Led Uruguay in Dark Era, Dies at 83 (NY Times)

Monday 18 July 2011

Argentina: AMIA anniversary

It's a big memory anniversary in Argentina, that of the AMIA bombing.

Even as recently as when I started looking at memory issues, this site would not have been imaginable. "Tweet de luto" (tweet of mourning) is a use of social networking for commemorative purposes, simple yet highly effective.

Sunday 17 July 2011

Peru: Humala meets De Szyszlo on Memory Museum

Peru's president-elect Ollanta Humala met with the head of the commission in charge of the memory museum (Lugar de la Memoria), Fernando de Szyszlo, this week. Humala expressed his commitment to the project and de Szyszlo reported that the future president had made "a good impression" on him.

Humala y De Szyszlo se reunieron y hablaron del Lugar de la Memoria (El Comercio)
Humala, De Szyszlo meet to discuss Memory Museum (Peruvian Times)

Peru: Accomarca suspect extradited

A Peruvian former army officer, Telmo Hurtado, has been extradited from the US to face trial over the 1985 Accomarca massacre. Hurtado has served jail time in Peru before, but was let out in the amnesty. When the amnesty law was annulled, he went to the US.

Hurtado bears the nickname 'butcher of the Andes'. Believe me, if your behaviour during the Peruvian conflict was brutal enough to earn you that kind of nickname, it was really brutal.

'Butcher of the Andes' faces trial in Peru (AFP)
"Butcher of the Andes" returned to Peru by Interpol (Living in Peru)
US extradites Telmo Hurtado to Peru over 1985 massacre (BBC)

Argentina: NEGATIVE

The results are out, and they're negative.

Yes, this is a sentence I had hoped not to write. The DNA of Marcela and Felipe Noble, the adopted children of Ernestina Herrera de Noble, has been compared against the samples in the Argentine national genetic database set up in the aftermath of the dictatorship, and no match has been found.

Of course, this does not mean that the Nobles are NOT children of the disappeared, as not every family has general material in the bank. There are still "irregularities" in the manner of their adoption. But there is still no concrete evidence of their biological families.

This is undoubtedly a blow for the Grandmothers in their most high-profile case. They have been fighting for this for a very long time and they undoubtedly believed (as do I, incidentally) that they had strong ground for their suspicion. They have called for investigations to continue. Associated Press explains how this could happen:

So far, the DNA of Marcela and Felipe Noble has been compared only to samples from the families of people known to have been detained in 1975 and 1976. While their official identity documents say they were born in March and July 1976, respectively, rights groups allege their adoptions were irregular and the birth dates could have been invented to obscure their origin.

Also, the National Gene Bank is constantly being updated with new samples despite the military junta's efforts to remove any trace of their opponents. This year alone the Grandmothers group sought court orders to open 40 more graves to collect more DNA.

"The National Bank of Genetic Data communicated last night that, in three of the 55 families whose genetic profile was compared to that of Marcela, it can't be determined whether or not there's a biological link with the young woman, and that parentage also could not be determined with one of the 57 families compared to the profile of Felipe," the Grandmothers announced Saturday.

"The genetic information of these three families must be completed to determine whether or not Felipe and Marcela maintain parentage with them," the group said, adding that many families don't know if their daughters were pregnant when they disappeared.

No DNA match for Argentine publisher's children (AP)

This is also explained in greater detail in Pagina/12 in an interview with the Abuelas' lawyer, Alan Iud:

"Tenemos que esperar el resto de los resultados" (Pagina/12)

Clarin, Argentina's largest circulation newspaper which is owned by Herrera de Noble, is predictably reporting the results as a victory against government persecution.

In a piece headlined "Ten years, four samples and unprecedented persecution", the paper describes the attempts to discover the truth about the Nobles' origins as "harassment" and claims that the two offered their DNA willingly as far back as 2003. It tracks the judicial to-ing and fro-ing that led to the failed DNA samples of last year, and eventually to these ones.

Diez años, cuatro muestras y una persecución inédita

Clarin group heirs DNA-test negative to 1975/76 families, victims of dictatorship (Mercopress)

Right-leaning paper La Nacion takes the same tack, writing in an editorial that the negative result is "proof" that the case was politically motivated and claiming that the government has attracted criticism "from all sides" for its role in the case.

Caso Noble Herrera: ADN negativo (La Nacion)
Unánime crítica de la oposición al Gobierno por el caso Noble (La Nacion)

I think it's a shame that this case has become inextricably tied up with the political situation in Argentina. To an extent it's inevitable as the issues are political, but the Abuelas' struggle for justice pre-dates the Kirchner regime (Nestor, as well as Cristina).

So there we have it: it's not quite the end of the story, as undoubtedly some investigations will continue, but a huge milestone has been passed in the Noble case, and they have not been definitively identified as disappeared children.

Friday 15 July 2011

Argentina: Verdict in Vesubio Case

As promised in my post on Elisabeth Kaesemann, the verdict is in in the El Vesubio case. Although the camp commander died during the trial, two other former officers, Hector Gamen and Hugo Pascarelli, were sentenced to life imprisonment. Five former prison guards also got custodial sentences.

Sebastian Soler's son, now 41, clearly remembers the day his father and mother were kidnapped.

"A group of men entered the house breaking windows and doors," he said.

"They dragged my mother out to the street by the hair. They left me and my two siblings, ages four and six, with a neighbour and the next day she took us to our grandmother. We never knew anything more about my parents."

Argentina dictatorship officers get life in prison (Telegraph)

Life sentences given in Argentine torture trial (AP)

Vesubio: perpetua para dos militares (La Nacion)

El general y el coronel, de la casa a la cárcel

Thursday 14 July 2011

Argentina: Elisabeth Kaesemann

The online edition of German weekly Der Spiegel has published an excellent article on the El Vesubio trial, which I felt it was worth translating in full:

Argentina's judges to rule on the sadists of "El Vesubio"

She was young, fought for what she believed and was brutally tortured. The German citizen Elisabeth Käsemann died 34 years ago in Argentina. Now her alleged killers are facing judgement. In a historic step, Germany is involved as a joint plaintiff in the case.

His victims describe him as a sadist. As a person who ordered the deaths of others without flinching. Who tortured with electric shocks. Who raped pregnant women. They are talking about Pedro Durán Saenz, then the head of the former torture centre “El Vesubio” in the Argentine province of Buenos Aires.

It took over 30 years to try Durán Saenz and his accomplices in Argentina, and the judgement is expected in the next few days. The public prosecutor and joint plaintiff asked for life imprisonment for him and two co-defendants. A total of eight men are in the dock. But Durán Saenz won’t hear the verdict against him: he died in June, aged 76, of heart failure.

It was a shock, including for lawyer Pablo Jacoby, who is representing Germany’s interest in the trial. The country is represented as a joint plaintiff in the case, because Durán Saenz was responsible for the death of, among others, Elisabeth Käsemann from Tübingen.

30,000 people still classed as disappeared today

He reigned over "El Vesubio" when the young woman was brought to the camp in 1977. Käsemann was regarded as „subversive“, just like many other opposition figures, intellectuals, trade unionists and students. She had come to Argentina in 1968, worked in the poor districts of Buenos Aires and had links to an underground group.

Those who knew Elisabeth Käsemann describe her as loving to travel, well-read and politically aware. On 8 March 1977, she had arranged to meet an American friend for breakfast, the friend said later, but she never arrived. She had disappeared, just like so many other supposed opponents of the regime.

30,000 people are still classed as „desaparecido“, or disappeared, today. During the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983, they were abducted, murdered and thrown into unmarked graves or out of aeroplanes into the Rio de la Plata. In secret centres like “El Vesubio”, they were tortured.

Elisabeth Käsemann’s American friend was abducted too. As she was being interrogated, she heard Elisabeth’s voice and screams in the next room. She was released, but Elisabeth Käsemann was not. She was taken to El Vesubio, where Durán Saenz ruled.

Lack of help from German diplomats

What she must have suffered there has been described by survivors during the current trial. Prisoners were beaten, tortured with electric shocks, many women were raped. Some had to watch their partners being mistreated in front of them. It smelt of fear, burnt flesh and vomit.

These were the conditions in which Elisabeth Käsemann spent her 30th birthday. Those who saw her in El Vesubio describe her as very thin and seriously injured from days of torture. One prisoner recalled later how she had met the German woman. Käsemann had whispered the address of her parents to her, almost soundly. Another detainee claims to have seen her in the night of 23 Ma7 1977, being brought into the camp kitchen, bound and with a hood over her head. That was the last time she saw her.

By that time, her family had already been applying pressure to find her for weeks, with the help with the protestant church. They appealed to the foreign office. “All her parents’ efforts were ignored and treated with indifference,” wrote the Nuremberg Human Rights Center (NMRZ) later. It concluded that German diplomacy had “failed” in the Käsemann case.

Elisabeth’s father, the well-known theologian Ernst Käsemann, is bitter about the lack of help from the foreign office. “A Mercedes sold is surely worth more than a life,” he says, because back then, Argentina and Germany were doing good business. The state secretary from the foreign office, for example, negotiated the sale of a German power plant for three billion marks, while the ambassador from Bonn thought that Argentina was experiencing a “state of exception” as the “consequence of the international terror situation”. The armed forces were merely aiming to “return power to the hands of civilians”, he said.

Helping to work through the past

True, diplomats later pointed out that the Argentine ambassador in Bonn had been called into the foreign office several times about Käsemann, but the accusation still hit home. In the current trial, Argentine intellectual Osvaldo Bayer, who now lives in Germany and has made a film and published articles on Käsemann, said that “The German government had not acted very democratically”.

While Ernst Käsemann was still fighting for his daughter’s release in spring 1977, she was murdered. In the night of 23 May, she was taken, with 15 others, and killed in the early hours of the following morning. The official version: a shoot-out with guerrillas in the region of Monte Grande. Newspaper Clarín later headlined their report „16 insurgents shot dead in Monte Grande, surprised at a gathering.“ A doctor later determined that the German social worker was shot in the back at close range. The Käsemann family even had to fight to have her body returned to them – and pay 22,000 dollars.

Many people describe the behaviour of the German government back then as disreputable. The foreign office does not want to listen to such accusations anymore. Germany has become the first European country to act as joint plaintiff in a trial against the perpetrators of the “dirty war” of the Argentine military dictatorship. A historic step, in the opinion of lawyer Pablo Jacoby. “Germany is doing a lot more than other countries today.” There is a great deal of interest: members of parliament have been to visit him to learn about the case, he says.

The trial is particularly important, says a spokesperson of the foreign office, "because we want to help to work through the past." Is it also an attempt to atone for the case of Elisabeth Käsemann? The foreign office did not want to comment on the historic events, saying that they should be evaluated by historians.

Just a few stone slabs are left of the camp now

In 2003, the German judiciary issued arrest warrants for leading members of the Argentine military dictatorship, including former junta leader Jorge Videla, for involvement in the murder of Käsemann and student Manfred Zieschank from Munich. In the following years, Germany pressed for their extradition. It was intended that Pedro Durán Sáenz should answer before a German court as well.

However, in all cases the Argentine justice system decided to bring charges itself. In December last year, Videla was condemned to life imprisonment. The case of El Vesubio began in February 2010.

On the site where Duran Saenz tortured defenceless prisoners and where he actually lived, there are just a few stone slabs as a reminder today. The armed forces destroyed El Vesubio in 1978, when Argentina hosted the World Cup. They wanted to cover their tracks when a human rights commission visited the country. Nature did the rest.

But the victims have not forgotten. Those who were released, who remember the dead like Elisabeth Käsemann and can point the finger at perpetrators like Durán Saenz. It is also thanks to the survivors that there are the trial and judgement now. Even though one of those principally responsible is no longer alive to see it.

Here's the source again:
Argentiniens Richter urteilen über die Sadisten von "El Vesubio" (Spiegel)

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Argentina: First DNA tests negative

Sometimes it has felt like I would never be able to report concrete progress on this case, but here are the first answers... even if they are negative ones.

Having finally agreed to undergo DNA testing, Marcela and Felipe Noble do not match the samples taken from two families who had hoped they might be their biological relatives. The blood from the adopted children of Clarin owner Ernestina Herrera de Noble will now be compared against the entire genetic database set up in the wake of the dictatorship. Apparently this only take a few days.

According to Reuters,

State news agency Telam, citing legal sources, said the Noble Herreras' DNA did not match samples given by the Lanoscou-Miranda and the Gualdero-Garcia families.

The children's lawyer said,

the Noble Herreras' decision to voluntarily submit DNA for cross-analysis showed they were willing to cooperate with efforts by rights group the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo to find children stolen from prisoners at torture centers during the so-called Dirty War.

Well, yes - after a decade of resistance. Seriously, I sympathise with the Nobles. They don't want this. I can't imagine the pressure of having your DNA pored over by the media. Sadly putting them through all that is just a consequence of the crimes committed by the junta.

Estela Carlotta, president of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, has said that she is not particularly surprised by the negative result and is waiting for the results of the extended testing. As must we all.

Adopted heirs of Argentine media group test negative to first DNA tests (Mercopress)
Argentine heirs' first DNA tests come back negative (Reuters)
Estela de Carlotto: "Estamos con expectativa" (Pagina/12)
El primer cotejo de ADN dio negativo (Pagina/12)

Sunday 10 July 2011

Argentina: Sexual violence during the dictatorship

*Trigger warning, this post contains details of sexual violence*

I recently came cross an article which contained a nugget of information which was new to me:
So far, there have been scant results with respect to prosecuting sex crimes committed during the dictatorship. Only one sentence has been handed down so far, against non-commissioned officer and torturer Gregorio Molina, in June 2010. (IPS)
I knew that this had not been an area of particular focus for the justice system in Argentina, but one? ONE?! That is truly shocking. Numerous testimonies from victims mention sexual violence.
Added to the already intolerable conditions facing all prisoners, women prisoners suffered an extra dimension of sexual violence and rape. Their sexual integrity and physical and mental dignity were directly attacked. The repressors aimed the torture toward the most vulnerable and intimate parts of the female body, the sources of life itself: "With women, they would insert the wire in the vagina and then apply it to the breasts, which caused great pain. Many of them would menstruate in mid-torture." (Arditti 1999, Searching for Life, p. 20)
Yet, as Arditti points out (p.47), certain crimes were even excluded from the Punto Final (full stop) amnesty law: theft, kidnap of children, and rape. So in theory it has always been possible to prosecute these. But it seems there was a combination of unwillingness on the part of the justice system to regard sexual violence as a (separate) category of abuse, difficulty on the part of victims and society to discuss the issue at all, and perhaps an element of sexual violence being pushed aside in comparison to other atrocities.
"In the first case involving the First Army Corps (one of the clandestine prisons), the number of victims who reported sex crimes was appalling, but these crimes become invisible in sentences that broadly refer to cases of torture," [sociologist Lorena] Balardini said.

[...]"Within the context of the horror you experienced in the concentration camps, a rape seemed like something secondary," said another of the women who spoke anonymously.
It's interesting that researchers seem to be identifying an increase in willingness to discuss sexual violence, specifically, within the context of dictatorship-era crimes. It is, of course, just another aspect to add to the long list of atrocities still waiting for the judicial system to deal with.

Shedding light on dictatorship's sex crimes