Sunday 25 September 2011

Argentina: Disappeared child fights to keep name

This amazing story is a real insight into the complexities of the "found" children and a different perspective on the struggle of Marcela and Felipe Noble to avoid finding out about their past.

The Guardian picks up on the case of Hilario Bacca, who was born to a detainee in the ESMA and illegally adopted. He was another instance of the law which allows compulsory DNA testing of suspected "disappeared children".
"I was born in a death camp, then the dictators killed my parents, then during a democracy they entered my home at gunpoint and took a DNA sample without my consent and opened a court against my adoptive parents," Bacca said. "And now they want to change my name."
Yes, you can see his point.
For Bacca, the knock on the door at his Buenos Aires apartment three years ago was a traumatising experience. "I didn't want to deal with the story of torture and murder I suspected lay in my past," he said. The sample showed conclusively what the Grandmothers had long suspected, that Hilario Bacca, as he was named on his falsified birth certificate, was actually Federico Cagnola Pereyra.
Bacca has appealed against the changing of his name. I was actually unaware that there was even a legal provision for forcing a person to change their name; I knew that the found grandchildren generally do change their names, but I had no idea this was compulsory. The response of the Grandmothers;
"This had never happened to us before in the about dozen cases of compulsory DNA testing we've pursued," said Alan Iud, a lead lawyer for the Grandmothers. "But there is no way we can allow the courts to validate a false surname that is the result of an aberrant crime against human rights."
But is Bacca opposed to the Grandmothers' work? Well, no:
Despite the legal battle, Bacca has joined the Grandmothers organisation, moving to work at its office in the resort of Mar del Plata south of Buenos Aires and establishing a solid bond with his birth grandmothers.
"The relationship gets a little complicated sometimes," Bacca said. "I'm the black sheep among the recovered grandchildren."
Yes, "a little complicated" is one way of putting it. I actually disagree with the Grandmothers on this one, even though I'm generally sympathetic to the idea of the DNA testing. The man is an adult, he's had this name for over 30 years, he does know where he comes from and who his parents were, but why should be forced to change his name as well?

Child of Argentina's 'disappeared' fights for right to keep adoptive name (Guardian)

Saturday 17 September 2011

Dominican Republic: Memory Museum (2)

Back in June, I mentioned that the Dominican Republic had opened a museum of memory. The New York Times now goes into more detail about the museum and the idea behind it, and it's worth a read. "This museum all but shouts for the era’s pain to be heard", writes the paper.
“We are rescuing the memory,” said Luisa de Peña Díaz, the director of the museum and one of its founders, whose father was killed in 1967 as he plotted an insurrection against the president at the time, Joaquín Balaguer.

Meanwhile, however, this version of history is facing a new challenge from a virtual competitor to the museum: the Museo Generalisimo Trujillo.
The counter-museum is the brainchild of L. Ramfis Domínguez-Trujillo, grandson of the dictator, who acknowledges his forebear was a “military dictator who did not tolerate freedom of speech” but believes that the death toll ascribed to him is inflated and includes killings by collaborators he was unaware of.
[...] “Did he commit a number of excesses? Absolutely. He was human. Was he a monster? Absolutely not,” Mr. Domínguez-Trujillo said in a telephone interview from Miami, where he lives.

It's an odd website, I have to say, with chirpy Dominican music and a layout more suited to a video game than a serious academic endeavour - not particularly user-friendly and takes a while to load even on my super-fast internet. A video clip explains that the memory of Trujillo and his rule has become "distorted" and the museum - currently only online, but with ambitions to become an actual place - wants to set the record straight. Well.

The "official" museum sounds like a well thought-out exhibition which will be useful, particularly for the younger generations who might not otherwise learn a great deal about their country's recent history.

A museum of repression aims to shock the conscience (New York Times)

Making tyrants do time

A fascinating opinion piece by Kathryn Sikkink in the New York Times compares prosecutions of human rights abuses across the globe. Often, one excuse given for not pursuing atrocities is that it leads to "destabilisation", including the threat of a (further) military coup (see the justifications for the introduction of the "Full Stop" and "Due Obedience" laws in Argentina in the '80s). Yet, according to Sikkink,
transitional countries — those moving from authoritarian governments to democracy or from civil war to peace — where human rights prosecutions have taken place subsequently become less repressive than transitional countries without prosecutions, holding other factors constant. [...]
Of 100 countries that underwent a transition from 1980 to 2004 (the period for which extensive data is available), 48 pursued at least one human rights prosecution, and 33 of those pursued two or more. Countries that have prosecuted former officials exhibit lower levels of torture, summary execution, forced disappearances and political imprisonment.
What is more,

trials seem to project deterrence across borders. If a number of countries in a region pursue prosecutions, nearby countries also show a decrease in the level of repression, even if they have not held trials. [...] In Latin America, young military officers need only look to Argentina and Chile, where 81 and 66 individuals, respectively, have been convicted for crimes during previous dictatorships, to absorb the lesson that the possibility of punishment is much greater than it was in the past. This may help explain why military coups are now so rare in the region.

This is important stuff; let's have more cross-border comparison of post-dictatorship and post-conflict democratisation processes, please.

Making tyrants do time
(NY Times)

Friday 16 September 2011

Guatemala: Video of mass grave

Looking down into this mass grave is incredible, as is the presenter's casual tone when she says "The team try to ignore the death threats...".

Thanks to Mike at Central American Politics for posting this.