Saturday 31 March 2012

Argentina: Menem to stand trial over AMIA cover-up

An Argentine judge has ordered former president Carlos Menem to stand trial for perverting the course of justice in the investigation of the 1994 AMIA bombing. Former judge Juan Jose Galeano is also accused.

Menem was initially charged with concealing and tampering with evidence in 2009. According to news agency AFP,
Prosecutors now say there is evidence that Argentine state intelligence services and security forces covered up and erased tracks for local accomplices of the attackers during the Menem administration.
In particularly, he's said to have been involved in concealing the role of a Syrian businessman and family friend, Kanoore Edul (now deceased). Menem is currently a senator; he can stand trial, but if sentenced his fellow senators will have to impeach him before he can serve a sentence.

Friday 30 March 2012

Argentina round-up

March is always the month of memory in Argentina, with the anniversary of the attack on the Israeli embassy on the 17th and the coup anniversary on the 24th. This year, with the 30th anniversary of the invasion of the Falklands/Malvinas coming up, the commemorative trend is particularly obvious and continuing into April.

Here's a selection of articles of interest from this week:

- On Monday, the memory commission of the province of Buenos Aires submitted an appeal to the Argentine supreme court requesting that the mistreatment of recuits during the Malvinas conflict amounted to crimes against humanity:
Piden a la Corte que se defina por las torturas en Malvinas (La Nacion)
Legal actions against Argentine officers who tortured conscripts during Malvinas war (Mercopress)

Not everyone in Argentina is convinced that the country has a right to the Falkland Islands. The BBC gives space to historian Luis Alberto Romero, who says,
"I'm not really bothered about the claim over the Malvinas. [...] What does worry me is the rise of a nationalistic feeling that can cause traumas in our society," he says, referring to public support for the country's military regime when it decided to invade the South Atlantic islands in 1982.
I'd agree with that.
Falkland Islands: Argentina's dissenters (BBC)

Oh, and incidentally, if you're a bit hazy about the exact dates of all the Falklands stuff, the BBC has sorted that with a handy timeline:
The Falklands War: Key dates (BBC)

And definitely check out The Atlantic's amazing images from the war:
30 Years Since the Falklands War (The Atlantic)
- One of the major human rights trials, dealing with the abduction of babies during the dictatorship, is drawing to a close. IPS particularly looks at the story of found grandchild Francisco Madariaga. However, on a broader front, "the aim of this trial is also to show that there was a systematic plan to steal children", according to Grandmothers' lawyer Alan Iud.
Argentine Baby Theft Trial Nears End (IPS)

The Grandmothers want a 50-year jail term for former dictator Jorge Videla for his role at the top architect of the baby stealing.
“La Justicia consolidará la democracia y el Nunca Más” (Pagina/12)

- This week also saw 35 years since the death of writer Rodolfo Walsh, murdered by the regime in 1977. A monument to him by artist Leon Ferrari was unveiled at the former ESMA site. Walsh is best known for his "Open letter from a writer to the Military Junta" and the entire text of it is reproduced on the 14 glass panels of the memorial.

Carta abierta por la memoria de Walsh
“Se quedó acá y lo mataron” (Pagina/12 - an interview with Ferrari)

Argentina: Death squad cars discovered

Among numerous stories from Argentina this week, one of the most intriguing for me was the discovery of 43 Ford Falcons in a warehouse at the Puerto Belgrano naval base. The cars, which turned up as part of judicial investigations, may have been used by the "task forces" which abducted suspected dissidents during the "dirty war". They are to be searched for evidence that might link them to human rights abuses as part of a federal court investigation of crimes against humanity.

The Ford Falcon is an icon of the dictatorship in Argentina. I always thought that black ones, in particular, were used, but some of the reports on this recent find include a photo of the dusty vehicles and you can clearly see that they are various colours. How amazing that so many cars have been found after so long. Survivor Miriam Lewin, who was herself abducted in such a model, said, "If the Navy has these 43 cars stashed in a dark warehouse on a military base, that means they could be a clue to something. Otherwise they would have sold them". She's probably right, but I'm surprised they weren't simply destroyed if that was the case.

Suspected death squad cars found at Argentine base (Reuters)
Secuestran 43 Ford Falcon en una cause por crimenes de Lesa Humanidad (Chaco Dia por Dia, with photo)

Brazil: Protests against coup celebration

Protesters in Brazil have drawn attention to a military commemoration of the country's 1964 coup.
Former officers have gathered every year to mark the occasion, but now they're facing a growing tide of opposition and had to push through about 200 people screaming "murderer" and holding up photos of those killed during the regime.
Brazil protests counter military coup celebration (AP)

Although I am pleased by the protests, watching this video from the BBC in particular, I was saddened by the gulf between the two sides of opinion:

Protests in Brazil on anniversary of 1964 military coup (BBC)

O Globo has an excellent selection of photos of both the anniversary event and the responding protest and police repression of it, which may be seen here.

See also:
Comemoração de militares termina em pancadaria no Centro do Rio (O Globo)
Ausschreitungen nach Diktatur-Gedenkveranstaltung (Blickpunkt Latinamerika)
In the News… (Transitional Justice in Brazil)

Monday 26 March 2012

Argentina: 2 April 1982

I was struck by the cartoon by "Rep" in today's Pagina/12, entitled "The ideal Plaza de Mayo on 2 April 1982*". I think the cartoonist has his priorities right.

*The day Argentina occupied the Falklands.

Sunday 25 March 2012

Colombia: Short film "Violeta"

Thanks to Sara Koopman from Decolonizing solidarity for drawing my attention to this short about forced disappearances and violence against women in Colombia:

Saturday 24 March 2012

Argentina: Dia de la memoria

News Round-up

A few bits of recommended reading for today:

Argentina declassifies scathing review of blunders committed during Malvinas war (Mercopress)
As the article points out, little "new" info here, but the declassification is still a good thing. For the seriously interested, you can download the whole thing from the official presidential website - transparency in action.

Brazilian Supreme Court Will Consider Continuous Crimes (Transitional justice in Brazil)

Guatemala ex-police chief Marlene Blanco arrested (BBC)

International Right to Truth Day

Although this blog generally focuses on 24 March as the anniversary of the 1976 coup in Argentina, the day also has wider significance: it's been declared the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims by the United Nations. That date was chosen in particular because it was the day on which Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, of El Salvador, was assasinated in 1980.

The International Center for Transitional Justice is also supporting the day with a special website. In particular, it is concentrating on Indonesia, Colombia, Kenya, Lebanon and Bosnia & Herzegovina. Particularly interesting from my point of view is this piece about a travelling memory museum project in Colombia:

Memory Reconstructs Society and Reestablishes Rights (ICTJ)

Thanks to Cameron Sinclair from the ICTJ for drawing my attention to this issue.

Thursday 22 March 2012

Uruguay: Update on yesterday's acknowledgement of abuses

Here's an update because, due to international time differences, my blog post yesterday preceded the actual commemorative act in which Uruguay acknowledged its blame for dictatorship-era human rights abuses.

Uruguayan daily El Pais reports that president José Mujica gave a 15-minute speech in which he said that the country "acknowledged its institutional responsibility" in the disappearance of María Claudia García de Gelman and its failure to properly investigate the crime due to the amnesty law. He also pledged that the state would continue to work to locate her remains.

Moreover, Mujica acknowledged the responsibility of the state in the fact that "hundreds of people were the victims of torture and forced disappeared as part of the systematic practice of State terrorism".

That's a pretty big statement, I think you'll agree. Macarena Gelman did, saying that she was "very moved" by the speech.

Just to offset this, we have to have the obligatory statement by a military man, in this case the chief of staff of the army, Carlos Loitey, who claimed that "the armed forces are not criminals". "We are not a horde or a band," he continued. "Our career obliges us to make sacrifices, we can die and kill in combat. We are men of honour, we are simple, we are comrades and patriots." He added that his hands were clean. Well, there you go.

"El Estado reconoce las violaciones" (El Pais, Uruguay)

And here's a brief piece in English:
Uruguay president apologizes for dirty war death (AP)

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Uruguay takes responsibility for dictatorship crimes

Uruguayan president José Mujica will lead an important public act of commemoration today in which he will take responsibility, on behalf of the state, for the human rights abuses committed during the dictatorship (1973-1985). This is following a ruling by the Interamerican Court of Human Rights (CIDH) and refers particularly to the Gelman case.

The ceremony is due to start at 4pm local time and will be broadcast on television and radio. Various important people will be there, including the president, vice-president, head of the supreme court, and the leaders of the three branches of the armed forces. I think that's a pretty significant symbolic gesture, although Uruguayan daily El Pais points out that there is still political oppostion to the move and that various ex-presidents will not be attending and that the military will still be thin on the ground.

Macarena Gelman and her grandfather Juan Gelman will be present and will also attend a prior unveiling of a commemorative plaque in honour of Macarena's mother María Claudia García Iruretagoyena de Gelman and other victims outside the military defence service building.

Uruguay was more or less pushed into this by the CIDH, but nevertheless, I'm going to class it as good news.

Caso Gelman: acto sin el apoyo político esperado por Mujica (El Pais, Uruguay)
Estado uruguayo reconoce responsabilidad por crímenes de dictadura (Prensa Latina)

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Guatemala: Documentary could help nail Rios Montt

I just have to flag up this comment piece from the Guardian about Pamela Yates' documentary film Cuando las Montañas Tiemblan, for which Efrain Rios Montt was interviewed.
Although Ríos Montt's defence claims he did not have command responsibility over his officers in the highlands, and that he is not responsible for the massacres and human rights violations, Yates's interview suggests otherwise. On camera, Ríos Montt states: "If I can't control the army, then what am I doing here?"
I haven't seen the film myself, but I can't speak highly enough of Yates' film about Peru, State of Fear (Estado de Miedo), which I have mentioned repeatedly here. It's certainly interesting to think that the footage could contribute to evidence against the former dictator.

US film could help nail Guatemala's former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt (Guardian)

Sunday 18 March 2012

Argentina: Children of disappeared sent to home

Pagina/12 carries a desperately sad interview today with María Ramírez, who was sent with her siblings to a children's home in 1977, aged four, after her mother was detained by the armed forces. Her father was in prison at the time, and despite the fact that an aunt wanted to take the three children, judge Marta Pons (now deceased) said "They're the children of a Paraguayan montonero who challenged the national constitution and doesn't deserve to get them back".

The children were then sent to a home, where their names were changed and they were ordered to call the couple that run the place "mum" and "dad". Ramírez tells a horrific story of the seven years of "hell" that followed, with insufficient food, inadequate education and sexual abuse by the home owner and his son. Eventually, she was found by the aunt who had wanted custody, emigrated to Sweden and was reunited with her father. But this is not a "happy every after" story. She speaks clearly of the terrible, and ongoing, pyschological consequences of her childhood - there could hardly be stronger proof that the crimes of the dictatorship are not finished, but ongoing.

“Era un infierno y yo me sentía enterrada viva” (Pagina/12)

I did a bit of searching for the judge involved in the case and found some other, equally damning, testimony about her complicity with the regime. A former assistant related that two of the founding members of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo came to visit Pons, trying to find out what had happened to Emiliano Ginés, a nine month old with Down's syndrome.

"It was the old women," the assistant, María Felicitas Elías, heard Pons saying to Buenos Aires police chief Ramon Camps. "I told them I didn't know anyone about the boy they were searching for". She then ripped up the documentation the Grandmothers had left and threw it away. The baby was kept in the hospital Sor María Ludovica and died there some months later.

Las complicidades de la jueza Pons (Pagina/12)
Denuncian a una jueza (La Nacion)

Saturday 17 March 2012

Guatemala: Legacy of the civil war

The recent long jail sentence for Pedro Pimentel Rios for his role in the massacre of 201 people has been widely reported, but I just wanted to highlight two articles that go a bit deeper into the aftermath of the violence for English-speaking readers.

IPS does its usual sterling job at discussing the issue of reparations.
"The programme distributed 576 housing units here in 2011, but they were only half-built," another survivor, Manuel Tay, told IPS from the northwestern province of Chimaltenango. "We had to buy cement and steel, pay a builder, and even haul in construction materials to finish the houses."

Tay, who lost five of his siblings during the conflict, said the houses are made of such "simple materials that some of the houses weren’t even three months old and the floor was already cracked."
Victims of war, victims of oblivion (IPS)

Meanwhile, the BBC turns its attention to the pyschological consequences of the war with the story of former guerrilla and pyschologist
Maria Tulia Lopez Perez.

"Judicial justice is the best form of compensation for victims, much better than money or anything else," says Maria, but she says too few people have been tried.

[...] But she says there in post-war Guatemala there has not been enough focus on healing people's psychological wounds.

"We must liberate the victims from all this weight they are carrying which stops them from living normal lives."

Healing Guatemala's emotional scars from the civil war (BBC)

Brazil: Attempt to prosecute military man blocked

This week in Brazil an attempt was both made and rebuffed to bring charges against a former army colonel for dictatorship-era human rights abuses.

Prosecutors brought charges against Sebastiao de Moura over the kidnap of five guerrillas in the 1970s. The five had never been found - that is, they remain disappeared rather than murder victims - and thus the prosecution argued that their cases could be regarded on "ongoing crimes" and not subject to the country's amnesty law. The same argument is used in Argentina and is the reason why there is no statute of limitations for forced disappearance or, for that matter, the appropriation of the children of the disappeared.

Brazil to charge army officer over military rule abuses (BBC)
Brazilian Prosecutors Try to Bypass Amnesty to Try Human Rights Crimes (IPS)

However, a judge disagreed and refused to allow the case to come to court. The various English-language media translate the comments of Joao Matos rather differently, but what is not in any doubt is that he dismissed the claim that the cases did not come under the amnesty law. Prosecutors have said they will appeal, so the issue is not quite finished.

Brazil judge rejects attempt to try former army colonel (BBC)
Brazil judge blocks charges for junta-era kidnaps (AP)
Brazilian judge dismisses first dictatorship era case involving an Army officer (Mercopress)

Of course the real problem is the existence of the amnesty law at all. With this and the recent announcement of a weak TRC which has yet to even be formed, Brazil is lagging behind its Southern Cone neighbours.

Argentina: 20 years since the Israeli embassy attack

It's 20 years today since the terrorist attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, when 29 people died, two years before the even more deadly AMIA attack (the official commemorations took place yesterday so as not to clash with the Jewish Sabbath). Iran has long been linked to the attack but the perpetrators remain at large and the government acknowledged yesterday that justice has not been done.

Justice minister Julio Alak summed up the state of events by saying "I'd like to talk about memory, truth and justice, but unfortunately, I can only talk about memory. Not about truth. Or about justice." He characterised the attack as "a wound which will never heal". He's quite right that focusing on memory without justice is completely unsatisfactory.

It's a disappointing situation and this is reflected in the media coverage of the anniversary events:

Dos décadas sin justicia (Pagina/12)
El Gobierno admite que no hubo justicia por el ataque a la Embajada (Clarin)
Call for justice marks 20th anniversary of Israeli embassy attack (Buenos Aires Herald)

(Image of the trees planted in memory of the victims from Wikipedia)

Sunday 11 March 2012

News Round-up

This first article draws a direct comparison between identifying soldiers killed during the Falklands/Malvinas conflict and the importance placed on identity because of the "disappeared" from the dictatorship
Argentine veterans insist with [sic] identifying remains of 123 comrades buried in Falklands (Mercopress)
A modern Falkland Islands, transformed by war (AP)

A rare look at state-sponsored violence in Ecuador
Ecuador director's homage to her abducted brothers (BBC)

El Salvador
A Landmark Decision for War Crime Accountability (COHA)

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Latin American women who shake the world

Newsweek has published a list of 150 women who shake the world for International Women's Day. Here are the Latin Americans, along with some memory-related notes from me:

  • Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff. In her youth she resisted the dictatorship, was captured and tortured - read more about her experiences here.
  • Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. A rather ambiguous figure from our point of view, what with disputes with the media and some strong-arm tactics, but on the whole, progress on the human rights front has been made during the administrations of CFK and her late husband Nestor. I'm thinking mainly of the major trials of the ESMA perpetrators and so on, and the memorial projects such as the museum in the former ESMA.
  • Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. The Abuelas are of course a constant presence on this blog and if you ask me, Estela de Carlotto should be one of everyone's role models. Their struggle for justice for their grandchildren is awe-inspiring.
  • Former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, now head of UN Women. Another formidable woman with a dictatorship history who is not consumed by bitterness but instead works for progress.
  • Chilean student activist Camila Vallejo.
  • Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez.
  • Brazilian graffiti artist Panmela Castro.
  • Guatemalan attorney general Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey. She leads the effort to prosecute human rights abusers under tough conditions.
  • Mexican attorney general Marisela Morales. Another one where you just want to go "Well, that's not going to be an easy job...".
  • Mexican journalist Adela Navaro Bello. Fighting the cause of press freedom in one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist.
  • Mexican congresswoman Rosi Orozco. Particularly active against human trafficking.
  • Mexican supreme court minister Olga Sanchez Cordero.

Take your pick of inspiration.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Peru: Another Shining Path leader captured

Following the recent arrest of "Artemio", his potential successor has also reportedly been captured. Walter Diaz Vega, also known as "Freddy", was taken in Huánuco, according to the Peruvian chief of police. He is to be brought to Lima.

Capturan a sucesor de "Artemio" (La Republica)
Peruvian police capture 'Shining Path boss' Walter Diaz
Peru Police Capture Shining Path Leader’s Successor (Peruvian Times)

Argentina announces Malvinas museum

Argentine president Cristina Kirchner has announced plans for a museum about the Falklands/Malvinas war, to be based in the Museo de la Memoria on the former ESMA site. Members of the Madres, Abuelas, Malvinas veterans and family members were present for the announcement. The president also stressed Argentina's "great commitment to peace".

The plans for a new museum of course fits in with the 30th anniversary of the war which has focused attention on it recently. The issue is also quite appropriate for the ESMA; I'd just like to see more consideration of the war in its dictatorship context, which generally seems to get lost.

“Un compromiso por la paz”
Argentina to open Falklands museum, says Fernandez (BBC)
Argentina to open museum dedicated to Falklands (AP)
Argentina announces a museum for the ARA Belgrano marines killed during the Falklands conflict (Mercopress)

Sunday 4 March 2012

Argentina: On aging perpetrators "unfit for trial"

Pagina/12 has a great article today about the issue of aging defendants being declared unfit to stand trial for health reasons or, once sentenced, being granted house arrest rather than sent to jail. It focuses on Argentina but there is a wider issue here across the whole continent, given the advanced age of many of the human rights abusers coming up for trial. Here's a summary:

Judges and prosecutors are concerned at the ease with which sentenced perpetrators are receiving diagnoses of disability and house arrest, claims the Argentine daily. In some cases, the medical department of the Supreme Court (Cuerpo Médico Forense [CMF]) appears to be giving very lenient verdicts, or there are even cases in which the same medical professionals act as expert witnesses during the trial and then as medical advisers.

Some judges believes that this has the effect of safeguarding perpetrators and allowing them to serve their sentences at home.

A Rosario prosecutor, Ana Oberlín, explicitly links the process of medical assessments with impunity and calls for the process to be more demanding. There are criticisms of the structure of the CMF and even accusations that its structure favours the perpetrators. It is pointed out that this is the body charged with examining the unidentified ("NN") bodies during the dictatorship.

If an accused wants to claim ill health, he provides a report from his doctor, and then the CMF acts to support or refute this claim, and this support seems to be occurring in a striking number of cases. A further structural problem is that the judge only notifies the prosecutors when the decision has already been made. A possible solution to this would be the establishment of a medical board.

In the case of former Buenos Aires governor Ibérico Manuel Saint Jean, the court's medical reports had stated that he was not fit to stand trial. But the CFM's report was discredited when judges heard him responding ably to questions.

If the court had followed the recommendations of the CFM in 2010, they could never have judged Omar Alonso, who confessed to appropriating María Natalia Suárez Nelson, registering her under his name, and remembered the name of the person who gave her to him.

Former colonel Manuel Fernando Saint Amant
was initially declared unfit to stand trial. This decision was then reversed, then upheld again on grounds that he suffered from depression as a result of the death of his wife and mother-in-law. This was upheld by one psychologist, but disputed by another who held that he was intentionally and crudely overacting during the medical assessment. One of those who held the view that he was insane had also been involved in the cases of Luis Patti, Emilio Massera, and others.
Represores con médico propio (Pagina/12)

I'd say this is definitely an issue in which perpetrators attempt to play the system to either escape trial or get softer conditions after sentencing, and it seems likely that there are people around who are prepared to help them do this, either for ideological or financial reasons. Of course, it's one of the hazards of waiting until people are aged 80+ to start prosecuting them. But given the seriousness of their crimes, there needs to be an efficient and transparent system put in place to judge their fitness to stand trial - and that's not got much to do with choosing your own doctor, using someone who's been in their job since the dictatorship, and the like.

Saturday 3 March 2012

Peru: Capture of Artemio vs. Guzman

This post is composed of some preliminary thoughts and does not pretend to be a finished analysis.

It’s now a couple of weeks since Comrade Artemio/Florindo Eleuterio Flores, the top active Shining Path leader, was wounded and captured by Peruvian security forces. The arrest invites comparison with the capture of senderista leader Abimael Guzman back in 1992, but there doesn’t seem to have been much reflection on that as yet. In fact, aside from brief mentions, a Google search only really turned up this:

Fujimori capturó a Abimael Guzmán, ...Humala a Artemio (La Voz Hispana de Connecticut)

It’s illustrated with a nice composite image which highlights the comparison between Fujimori’s triumph over Guzman and Humala’s over Artemio:

But that aside, let’s go back a bit. For old time’s sake, here’s how the New York Times reported the capture of Guzman in 1992:

Fugitive Leader of Maoist Rebels Is Captured by the Police in Peru (NY Times)

Here’s a detailed look at the capture of Artemio:

Peru: Shining Path’s Last Major Leader, Artemio, has been Captured (COHA)

There are various points of comparison here. One is the method of capture itself – despite the fact that Guzman was arrested from a middle-class district of the capital city, while Artemio was hunted down in a remote rural area, I’d say that the major point of overlap is that both were taken alive (albeit injured, in Artemio’s case). By contrast, the MRTA kidnappers who took over the Japanese embassy in 1997 were summarily executed during the release operation. Guzman would likely have been killed too if Vladimiro Montesinos had had his way, but the Shining Path supremo was instead taken in a covert operation by a special police unit. Due process for two of Peru’s most wanted criminals is a positive testament to Peru’s justice system and has the additional advantage of preventing the fallen leaders from becoming martyr figures.

Both Artemio and Guzman were publicly exhibited to the media, leading to the show of defiance on the part of the latter which has become one of the iconic images of the Peruvian conflict.

Then comes the obligatory self-congratulatory speeches by the head of state at the time.

This is followed by attempts to sum up the significance of the capture and to look to the future. The arrest of Guzman was immediately recognized as extremely significant, of course, but there was perhaps not an appreciation that it would lead to the almost total collapse of the group – I say “almost” total, as clearly Sendero Luminoso has limped on into the 21st century. However, it would have been reasonable to assume that another leader would replace Guzman more effectively than actually occurred. A downside of the personality cult he encouraged.

It's a bit premature to gauge the consequences of the downfall of Artemio, but to sum up I would suggest that it's obviously a good thing in that it's a blow to Shining Path, but the group as a whole will continue in some ragged form allied to the drug trade, particularly in the VRAE area led by "comrade Jose". The importance of the arrest is not equivalent to that of Guzman, but it is a step forward. The forthcoming trial(s), I hope, will also be a good opportunity for Peru to discuss memory issues more widely, particularly in light of the recent attempted rise of Shining Path-allied MOVADEF.

For those who are interested, here’s more:

An old post of mine on Abimael Guzman as the iconic prisoner of South America

Another old post of mine on missed opportunities to capture Guzman