Friday 30 December 2011

Peru: New head of memory museum - and new name as well

After the resignation of artist Fernando de Szyszlo, the current president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Diego Garcia-Sayan, has been named the new head of the commission charged with setting up Peru's new memory museum in Miraflores, Lima.

Peru Appoints Garcia-Sayan to Lead Memory Museum Commission (Peruvian Times)

In addition, a new name for the project, initially called the "museum of memory" and then the "place of memory", has been announced: "Lugar de la memoria, la tolerancia y la inclusion social" (Place of memory, tolerance and social inclusion).

While tolerance and social inclusion are certainly worthy causes, this messing around with the name makes me a bit weary. For Spanish speakers, the blog Genocidio Ayacucho explains very clearly why it is uncomfortable with these changes and I have to agree. Come on Peru, keep focused, give us a museum and stop tinkering with the name.

Oficializan denominación de 'Lugar de la Memoria, la Tolerancia y la Inclusión Social' (La Republica)

Argentina: Concerns over new terrorism law

Having just written about a positive development on Argentina's human rights scene, I also wanted to flag up an issue causing concern: the new anti-terrorism law. The new package of measures is intended to combat financial crimes, but opponents are worried that its vague terms could be employed against legitimate protesters. As a major feature of Argentina's last dictatorship (and, indeed, its previous ones) was the labelling of all dissenters as "terrorists" , it's easy to understand why people are very sensitive to this possibility.

The law has been criticised by Abuelas' president Estela de Carlotto, their lawyer Alan Iud, human rights group CELS, and others.

Tougher Argentine terror laws concern opponents (AP)
Anti-Terrorism Law Upsets Harmony Between Government and Activists (IPS)
Argentine human rights reference openly criticizes the Anti-Terrorism law (Mercopress)
Argentina: Fears Over Terror Law (NY Times)

Argentina: Bignone convicted (again)

Convictions are just piling up for Argentina's last military president, Reynaldo Bignone. Having already been found guilty of crimes against humanity once this year, he has now been convicted of setting up a clandestine torture centre in the hospital Posadas de Haedo during the dictatorship.

Bignone was found to have personally overseen the takeover of the hospital in Buenos Aires province 35 years ago, leading soldiers in tanks and helicopters in search of medical personnel who allegedly treated leftist guerrillas. Various hospital staff were tortured.

He's got 15 years, which was less than the prosecution asked for, but considering he's 85 and already jailed for other crimes, I think we can be reasonably satisfied with that result. The year ends on a high note for human rights in Argentina.

Argentine dictator guilty of torture in hospital (AP)
Argentina: Ex-President Gets 15 Years (NY Times)
Condenaron a 15 años al ex dictador Bignone (La Nacion)
Represión: tercera condena para Bignone (Clarin)

Chile: Allende case closed

Hm, I actually thought this had happened already, but now it seems that the case is officially closed: Salvador Allende committed suicide during Chile's 1973 coup. Most people had never doubted this, but the additional transparency is to be welcomed.

Chile closes Allende case after confirming suicide (AP)
Mystery over Chile ex-president's death solved (BBC)
Justicia chilena cierra investigación sobre muerte de Allende (Prensa Latina)

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Chile: Controversial choice for Supreme Court president

The members of the Chilean Supreme Court have selected Rubén Ballesteros to take over presidency of the court for the next two-year term, beginning on 6 January 2012. The choice has been condemned by human rights groups, who accuse Ballesteros of having supported military impunity for Pinochet-era crimes. He is said, among other things, to have backed the amnesty for human rights abusers on multiple occasions. His election was condemned by Mireya García of the Association of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees (AFDD).

Chile's Supreme Court elects new president
(Santiago Times)
Rubén Ballesteros, una carrera marcada por fallos polémicos (La Tercera)

Peru: Mass graves reported

Peruvian media is reporting that a group of indigenous people has travelled to Lima to report the existence of mass graves in Ayacucho. They were referring to around 14 graves containing about 100 bodies, assumed to be victims of the Peruvian conflict of the 1980s. These are located in the district of Ayahuanco.

Congressman Alberto Beingolea, who heads the justice and human rights commission, said that the indigenous people wanted justice and the right to give the dead a dignified burial. It will now be up to the public prosecution service in Ayacucho to open investigations into the case(s).

When thinking about this story, I'm struck by the casual horror of the photo used in La Republica, of people just kneeling beside a heap of bones and skulls. On the other hand, I think it's positive that people now feel able to report such findings to the authorities and demand action - local people are generally well aware of the location of such graves but for many years were too afraid to speak up about them.

Denuncian hallazgo de 14 fosas comunes en Ayacucho (RPP)
Campesinos denuncian haber hallado 14 fosas comunes en zona del VRAE (El Comercio)
Revelan existencia de 14 fosas con más de 100 cuerpos en Ayacucho (La Republica)

Sunday 11 December 2011

Chile: Call for law banning honouring of Pinochet

Chilean daily La Tercera yesterday ran an article on the efforts to introduce a law regulating the public commemoration of Augusto Pinochet. Here's my translation:

Opposition calls for law prohibiting pro-Pinochet monuments to be pushed through

On Thursday, opposition members of parliament criticised the lack of progress on the draft law which would ban the exhibition of images and public monuments which honour the memory of the late general Augusto Pinochet.

The legislators believe that the human rights committee of the lower house needs to resume discussion of the initiative presented a few months ago, following a series of court rulings that established the existence of a conspiracy by government agencies.

The MP for the Democracy Party (PPD), Tucapel Jimenez, son of the iconic trade union leader of the same name murdered during the military regime, explained that the decisions of the courts confirmed the crimes committed by repressive bodies such as DINA or CNI, which were acting on Pinochet's direct orders.

The National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) was the first repressive apparatus of the state and was replaced years ago by the National Intelligence Centre (CNI) with the aim of reducing the harsh criticism which the former body had attracted because of its serious violations of human rights.

In fact, its mentor and director, retired general Manuel Contreras, is serving successive sentences totaling around 300 years for the deaths of dozens of opponents who were detained and in the majority of cases disappeared by that agency.

Jimenez said that "no one would imagine that, for example, in Italy there were public monuments or statues in honor of a drug lord or a criminal."

He said that approving the law, which prohibits the display of any image that honors the memory of Pinochet, "will be a very strong signal to show that Chile does not accept or honour the criminals who participated in a conspiracy."

The bill specifies that "images, statues, plaques or shields honouring or remembering the former commander in chief of the Chilean army, General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, are prohibited in public spaces, institutions and educational establishments".

The text also specifies that this applies to "all members of the military junta that ruled our country from September 11, 1973 until March 11, 1990".

The document clarifies that the law will not apply to instances of strictly private memory, however, this rule shall apply also to the army, navy and air rorce of Chile.

If the initiative is approved in parliament, the complete removal of all pictures, plaques or shields in which Augusto Pinochet appears must take place within 90 days from the publication of the law.

Here's the original:
Oposición pide apurar trámite de ley que prohíbe monumentos en honor a Pinochet (La Tercera)

I live in Germany - a country where it is illegal to display a swastika except in certain educational contexts (ie in a museum exhibition) or own Mein Kampf or make the Heil Hitler salute - so this concept is very familiar to me. Of course, to some extent it may be regarded as a suppression of free speech (Holocaust denial is illegal here too) but given Germany's history, I don't think it is too much to ask that its public institutions and armed forces do not display any pro-Nazi imagery, and the same applies to Chile. I was also reminded of Argentina's move to change the names of certain streets which commemorated dictatorship figures.

Friday 9 December 2011

News Round-up

Latin America
Human rights agenda has expanded (IPS)
IPS takes the conference of human rights defenders organised by CELS in Buenos Aires as its cue to survey the state of human rights in the region. It finds that the range of issues has expanded from a focus on authoritarian regimes to include environmental and other concerns. However, there is a broad range of threats as well:
"Today it is not only the state that violates human rights, but also companies, para-state agencies and organised crime," said [Gastón] Chillier [of CELS].
Human rights activism is still potentially deadly in Latin America, and I take my hat off to all those brave people who do it anyway.

US donation to help Paraguay fight guerrillas (Guardian)
U.S. Government to Help Paraguay Fight Guerrillas (Americas Quarterly)
The US government is giving Paraguay more than $1 million in equipment and training to help it combat a small guerrilla group, the Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (Paraguayan People’s Army–EPP. I know practically nothing about this group, which is estimated to have just 20 armed members, but will keep an eye out for more detail.

Keiko Fujimori: "Quizás está llegando ya el momento de solicitar un indulto" (El Comercio)
Keiko Fujimori: Moment Is Coming To Request Pardon For Father (Peruvian Times)
Keiko says her father is very ill and the time is coming to pardon him because "it would be terrible if he died in prison". My sympathy is limited, I have to say.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Today's Google doodle honours Diego Rivera

Peru: Interview with Shining Path's "Artemio" (2)

As I thought, the Artemio interview has made the English-language media (but my blog post was first! ;-))

Artemio unmasked: Peru's Shining Path commander comes in from the cold (Guardian, this is the Dan Collyns piece and includes the video embedded above, which is Spanish with English subtitles and voiceover)

Peru guerrilla leader pledges no more attacks (AP)

The Mercopress link unfortunately got kicked out of this round-up for misspelling the world "Shining" in its headline. Ridiculous.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Peru: Interview with Shining Path's "Artemio"

Gustavo Gorriti and Romina Mella today published the first part of an interview with Shining Path leader "Artemio" for IDL-Reporteros today. It's pretty fascinating stuff watching him sitting there in the jungle acknowledging the group's failure and calling for a process of disarmament. His quiet voice is at such odds with Abimael Guzman's public image as well.

For the non-Spanish speakers, here are some highlights:

- Initially, they describe the arduous journey to the camp in the Huallaga valley and how the journalists slept, fully clothed and guarded by armed guerrillas. Incidentally, they were accompanied by, among others, Dan Collyns who writes for the Guardian, so maybe we will see an English-language article on this soon - I've searched and haven't found it at the time of writing.

"Artemio" gave his real name as José ‘Pepe’ Flores Hala and his age as 47 - both these facts have been disputed by others who have investigated him.

Do you agree that the war that you initiated on 17 May 1980 has ended in failure for you?

Yes, that's true. We're not going to deny it.

So, the sort of actions which you are carrying out now are not the actions of an insurrection which seeks victory, but merely defensive.

The political objective is the same as when we took up arms, although practically speaking, today it is not possible. I think that is easy to understand. Secondly, we maintain an armed force to guarantee our position with respect to our imprisoned comrades - and I think that that may be easily understood. We do not have the least intention of brandishing our arms, of armed struggle. No. Honestly, we want to point out that we want a political solution; we want it to come to an end, using the methods of the negotiating table.

You want to demobilise.

Of course. The issue is that is happens via a military ceasefire.

A ceasefire. That's not the same thing as demobilisation.

Right, but it's the first step. A military ceasefire which gives the space and the corresponding guarantees in a particular are with the aim of starting up talks moving towards negotiations. It depends which decision the State and the government in power takes.

That is to say, demobilisation and the handing over of weapons as the final result of negotiations?

The demobilisation and putting weapons out of use publicly.

To destroy them?

To destroy them. Publicly. I think that there have to be mediating organisations such as the International Red Cross or the Church which have intervened in cases like this to verify what happens. But it all needs... the political will of the State and the government if they really want to solve this problem of the armed comflict and for it not to be like what happened before with previous governments.
[He then goes on to discuss secret talks which took place with previous governments]

But, do you still believe that violence is the only way to end class war?

We have Marxist principles. We think that the only form of power is to change the capitalist system into a socialist system. But at this time, that isn't possible. And if it isn't possible, what has to be done now is to end what started yesterday.

What will you do if you manage to give up your weapons?

I'm a politician, I will take up politics, I will work on the land, I could study agriculture, something that would be useful in the current reality. Or, I don't now, you can't know what you will do tomorrow.

The Huallaga front has been one of the most violent of the war, in general, and it has also been one in which there has been most murders or "selective eliminations" carried out by your group. This was the case in the '80s and '90s, and also in the first decade of the 21st century. How do you explain that and how would you explain it to the relatives of the victims?

[...] I repeat [sic]: we committed excesses, we made mistakes, in the case of Lucanamarca, Tarata, and some cases in which we eliminated innocent persons considered to be informers. I understand the pain which this caused and sometimes self-criticism is not sufficient, but it is necessary to ask forgiveness of the families which we bereaved, believing them to be enemies, when really they weren't.

And, while you are not demobilised, what military activity are you going to carry out? Are you going to continue with ambushes, attacks, annihilations, assassinations?

No, nothing like that. We will restrict ourselves to organising political work. To carrying out politics. We will maintain an armed force for security, to defend ourselves. If we are attacked, we will defend ourselves. We will respond in kind.

That is to say, you maintain a strictly passive position.

A defensive position, militarily speaking.

There will no sort of attacks?

There will be no sort of attacks. I can guarantee it. We are not going to attack.

Does that include selective annihilations?

Yes it does.

Incredible stuff. Spanish-speakers, read the whole thing, and look out for part two tomorrow:

Entrevista a "Artemio" en el Huallaga (IDL-Reporteros)

News Round-up

Pass notes No 3,091: Pablo Neruda (Guardian)
For anyone not familiar with the Guardian's "Pass Notes" column, it takes a wry look at current issues in a question-and-answer format. This is a good one, though it overstates the importance of this latest call for Neruda's exhumation.

In pictures: Colombia protests (BBC)
Interesting images of the anti-FARC protests.

Peru women fight for justice over forced sterilisation (BBC)
I always welcome international attention on this important issue. This article contains one of the most vile quotes I have seen:
"You give birth like pigs or hamsters!"

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Chile: Call to exhume Neruda

The Chilean Communist Party has asked for the remains of the poet Pablo Neruda to be exhumed due to allegations that he may have been poisoned. Neruda died, apparently from prostate cancer, shortly after the 1973 coup, but his former driver alleges that he was given a suspicious injection which could have induced a heart attack.
The Pablo Neruda Foundation, which guards the poet's legacy, said in a statement in May that there is "no proof whatsoever that suggests Pablo Neruda died of causes other than cancer". (BBC)
I'm not giving much credence to these allegations at this point, I think that it probably was just a coincidence that Neruda's death occurred so soon after the coup, but given some the circumstances, his fame and the long uncertainty surrounding the fate of Salvador Allende, it's hardly surprising that some questions can resurface.

Chile Communists request poet Pablo Neruda's exhumation (BBC)
Party asks to exhume Neruda's remains in Chile (AP)