Monday 30 April 2012

Argentina: 35th anniversary of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo

On Thursday, 30 April 1977, a small group of women met in the Plaza de Mayo with the aim of handing over a letter to then-president Jorge Videla, appealing for information about the whereabouts of their children, detained by the military regime. At that time, unauthorised public gatherings of more than three people had been forbidden, so the police moved in to break them up. The women started to move around the square in a circle, linking arms in pairs - there was no ban on just walking in twos. And so one of Argentina's, and indeed the world's, most influential human rights groups was born.

Fast forward 35 years, and the Madres have endured humiliation, persecution, and a split within their own organisation. They have also been honoured internationally, travelled all over the world, assisted relatives' groups in other countries and finally been acccepted by their own country's establishment. Some have died, while others have been able to witness the generals on trial for their crimes. But the remaining mothers whose health permits it still gather in the square every Thursday.

The BBC article has published an excellent background article on the mothers for the anniversary, which also explains the division of the Madres into two separate groups.

Argentine Mothers mark 35 years marching for justice (BBC)

See also:

En la misma plaza como hace 35 años (Pagina/12)

Thursday 26 April 2012

Chile: Pinochet's will opened

It really is incredibly offensive how supporters of military dictatorships claim they are the victims of "political persecution", usually because they are expected to do something totally unreasonable like, say, obey the laws of their country, or face justice for heinous crimes. And they do it, regular as clockwork. Anyway...

Chile decided to go ahead and open the will of Augusto Pinochet. Why they are doing it now, I'm not completely sure, but the aim was to identify some of the state funds he was suspected of embezzling. He was said to have possessed a sum amounting to almost US$ 18 million which could not be explained by his official salary. In accordance with Chilean law, the contents of the will are not going to be published.

Ahead of the opening, his daughter Lucia gave an interview to La Segunda in which she stated that she "had no expectations" of the will and claimed that the move to check its contents was persecution.
"I've always said it and it's very clear. There's no doubt: This is part of the political persecution which started under the Lagos government... and has continued until today, because no one is brave enough to put a stop to the issue....They are looking for money which doesn't exist."

Meanwhile, Pinochet's grandson was telling La Tercera that
"This is political persecution which is intended to sully his image in any way possible". 

In any case, the will was read, but it seems to have revealed little new information. In fact, the only change from a previous version was the name of the executor. 

The Santiago Times quotes Claudio Javier Barrientos, director of the School of History at Universidad Diego Portales, on the issue of timing. He suggests that the government is looking to make-up to the centre right, while another possible reason for the review of the will, according to Barrientos, is that conservative politicians wanted to settle the problem of access to Pinochet’s funds now, rather than leaving the issue to the end of the year during the lead up to the municipal elections in October.

Lucía Pinochet, a horas de que se abra el testamento de su padre: "Buscan dineros que no existen" (La Segunda)
Nieto de Pinochet tras lectura de testamento: "No espero recibir nada" (La Tercera)
Augusto Pinochet's will to be opened despite family protests (Guardian)
Chile to open dictator Pinochet’s controversial will (Santiago Times)
Sólo cambio de albacea contenía testamento de Pinochet y CDE pedirá hacer público el de 2000 (La Tercera)
Contents of Chilean dictator's will fail to meet expectations (Santiago Times)

Colombia: Scars of Captivity Mark Freed Colombian Hostages

An excellent, if very sad, article from AP about the psychological consequences for freed Colombian hostages - well worth a read.

"At times, one thinks it would have been better to have stayed in the jungle than to leave it and encounter the series of very difficult problems one faces," he said, his voice shaking.

Santiago Rojas, a doctor who has written about stress and mental health, said being held hostage affects a captive's "entire perception of life. It is an open wound that can be healed or can remain open."

Scars of Captivity Mark Freed Colombian Hostages (AP, via ABC)

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Argentina: What happens to clandestine detention centres?

Two recent stories have raised the issue of what happens to clandestine detention centres (CCDs) and other significant places of memory. While some key sites, such as the ESMA, are preserved and used (in the case of the ESMA, as a museum and social centre), there were many more, smaller CCDs - see for example Memoria Abierta to find out more. Some of these are now kept as sites of memory, some might have a plaque or a small memorial and others have been completely destroyed or converted.

On Saturday, social and human rights organisations held a festival at the former CCD El Olimpo in Buenos Aires to raise awareness of what they criticise as the neglect of the site. El Olimpo was dedicated as a Site of Memory in 2005 at the instigation of local residents and human rights organisations. Last year, the city authorities made the decision to replace security personnel there with CCTV cameras. Since then there have been break-ins and broken windows.

Soledad Adeira, a representative of HIJOS (the organisation of children of the disappeared), claimed that the city has a practice of "emptying out" the detention centres, ie making their use impractical. Isabel Cerruti, a former detained-disappeared person, condemned the "lack of protection" for the site.

Meanwhile, last week demolition work started on another former CCD in Merlo, also in Buenos Aires province. The site was controlled by the air force during the dictatorship and is still the subject of legal proceedings. Again, it was local residents who saw what was going on and mobilised to get the work stopped - but by the time the legal order arrived, the building was two-thirds gone.

I've written before about the problems of preserving these sites, but it seems that these problems go on.

Un reclamo por la memoria (Pagina/12)
En Merlo, intentaron demoler un centro clandestino de detención (Tiempo Argentino)

Saturday 21 April 2012

Peru: Military offensive in the VRAE

Peruvian president Ollanta Humala has launched an all-out offensive to eradicate the remnants of Shining Path in the VRAE region. The move comes after a number of major developments recently - the capture of a couple of senderista leaders and the kidnapping and release of a group of construction workers. Even though the hostages were released, several police officers involved in the operation are missing.

Defence minister Alberto Otarol said that the security forces would wage "a fight without quarter and with no turning back" against the terrorists.

Peru in All-Out Push to Eliminate Rebel Remnants, Minister Says (LAHT)
Gobierno prepara gran ofensiva militar contra Sendero Luminoso en el Vrae (La Republica)

Thursday 19 April 2012

Argentina: Weapon of mass instruction

This memory/art project has been written about quite a lot, but I hadn't read about it until today, and I just think it's so great:

Raúl Lemesoff has modified a Ford Falcon, which, as I've mentioned before, is an icon of repression in Argentina. And just look at it!

It's been converted into a tank shape and absolutely covered with books, hence the name, "Weapon of Mass Instruction" (Arma De Instruccion Masiva). The books are all donations and are given away to anyone who wants them. What a quirky, positive idea!

Thanks to Richard Grabman of The Mex Files for drawing my attention to this initative on his Facebook page.

Sunday 15 April 2012

International memory trends

Just thinking aloud in more than 140 characters:

I was just looking at some pictures at the outing of dictatorship-era perpetrators on the Blog do Sakamoto, as pointed out by Transitional Justice in Brazil, and I noted the slogan "Se não há justiça, há esculacho popular". This obviously mirrors "Si no hay justicia, hay escrache" (Argentina) and "Si no hay justicia, hay funa" (Chile). I'm not claiming that it's surprising, in the digital age, that groups learn and share ideas across national boundaries, merely that it's heartening. It's kind of a counterbalance to all the Operation Condor stuff, no?

Saturday 14 April 2012

Peru: Telmo Hurtado admits Accomarca killings

This week, Peruvian former army office Telmo Hurtado, who was extradited from the US last year, admitted his role in the 1985 Accomarca massacre.

To be specific, Hurtado, also known under the charming nickname "Butcher of the Andes", admitted 31 of the around 70 murders. He claimed that "the persons executed were terrorists captured in the course of military action". But then, this is a person who believes that two and three year olds can be terrorists. Yes, you read that right. Cronica Viva quotes a hearing conducted by a government commission with Hurtado in 1985, just after Accomarca. The discussion went as follows:

Do you think that the ideological training affects them all?

TH: They start training them when they are very young.

From what age would you consider them dangerous?

TH: They start indoctrinating them when they are two years old, three, four, it just goes on.

This point about needing to eliminate them, even though they are children, did you read that in some manual?

TH: No, I didn't read it in a manual. Usually the children were killed as part of the operation we were taking part in out there. You don't see if it's a woman, child or an old person who's running. [...] You can't measure if a child is a dangerous element. You don't know. It could be carrying dynamite or a concealed weapon. You don't know.
Para Hurtado niños de 2 y 3 años de edad eran terroristas (Cronica Viva)
‘Butcher of the Andes’ Telmo Hurtado Admits Role in Peru's 'Accomarca Massacre' (International Business Times)
Telmo Hurtado admite responsabilidad en unas 30 ejecuciones (Terra Peru)

Argentina: Videla admits 7000-8000 murders

Incarcerated former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla has caused a stir by giving an interview for a new book in which he admits that the military regime murdered between 7,000 and 8,000 people during the 1976-1983 dictatorship.

It's interesting that he comes out and says this now - to journalist Ceferino Reato, author of Disposición final - since he generally refused to testify in court.

Videla addresses the issue of forced disappearance:
"In order not to provoke protests inside and outside the country, the decision was taken that these people should disappear," he said, adding "Each disappearance may be understood, certainly, as the covering-up of a death."
"There was no other solution. We were in agrement that this was the price to pay to win the war against subversion and that we needed to keep it hidden so that society didn't realise."

With regard to the existence of documentation about the victims, he stated that there are no lists detailing the ultimate fate of the disappeared, although he did say that there might be some partial, "messy" [desprolijo] ones.

I think we can have every sympathy with the view of Estela Carlotto, president of the Grandmothers of the Plazas de Mayo, who deplored Videla's "boasting" about the killings. He didn't speak up in court, because that would have meant acquiescing to a system which he didn't believe was qualified to try him (i.e., the civilian justice system), but now with little to lose he can use this book as his platform. It's not impressive. Nevertheless, any added information about this period is interesting.

Videla admitió el asesinato de más de 7000 desaparecidos (La Nacion)

Friday 13 April 2012

Argentina: Remains of Ana Teresa Diego Identified

Pagina/12 reports that the remains of one of the disappeared, Ana Teresa Diego, have been identified in an unmarked grave in Avellaneda cemetery, Buenos Aires.

Diego was an astronomy student and Communist activist when she was abducted in 1976. She even has an asteroid named after her, "Anadiego", Asteroid 11441. Her mother, Zaida Franz, is one of the founding members of the Madres de Plazas de Mayo. Now aged 84, she commented that the discovery "filled an emptiness with light" and also called for continued action for justice against the military perpetrators and civil accomplices of the dictatorships.

“Es como que está otra vez en la familia” (Pagina/12)

And here is an excellent English-language piece about naming the asteroid after Diego:

Asteroid named for ‘disappeared’ Argentine student (Inquirer News)

Friday 6 April 2012

Suriname: President granted immunity

This blog has rarely mentioned South America's smallest independent country, Suriname - in fact, it has linked to a story about it just once, back in 2009. Suriname has a total population around half of the city where I live. But now the former Dutch colony has made the international news for granting its president, Desi Bouterse, immunity for crimes committed under his previous military dictatorship.

The amnesty law, which was passed by 28 votes to 12 in the Surinamese parliament, seems to fall under the "look ahead, not behind" category of measures and is also an attempt to solve the difficulty of having a serving president on trial for murder.

Ronnie Brunswijk, leader of the Maroon party and former Bouterse foe who joined the coalition that elected him president, voted in favor of the amnesty legislation "with a lot of pain in my heart." He apologized to relatives of the victims of the December 1982 killings but said the country could not afford to have its president convicted at a trial.

A slightly odd argument really. I would've thought that if you have a president likely to be convicted of murder, the problem is more with the president than with the trial - but maybe that's just me.

Suriname lawmakers adopt amnesty for president (AP)
Suriname parliament gives President Bouterse immunity (BBC)

Good Friday news round-up

Half of Argentines believe Malvinas conflict ‘will never be solved’, shows poll (Mercopress)
Argentine Dictatorship’s Torture Continued in Malvinas/Falklands (IPS)
Argentine war heroes revealed to be henchmen in military dictatorship (Washington Post)

Colombia commemorates landmine victims (Colombia Reports)
Colombia “rolls up to show a leg” to honour thousands of anti-personnel mines victims (Mercopress)

Dominican Republic
Inter-American Court ruling condemns the 1994 forced disappearance of Dominican Republic journalist (Journalism in the Americas)

Peru Captures Shining Path Leader In Upper Huallaga (Peruvian Times)
Shining Path 'defeated' in Alto Huallaga stronghold (BBC)

Trailer: The 500

This is a trailer of a documentary about the disappeared grandchildren in Argentina and the Grandmothers' efforts to find them. It looks very good, with plenty of clips of the found grandchildren themselves (Spanish, with English subtitles).

THE 500 The Blood of Angels from INTUITION FILMS & DOCS on Vimeo.

Thursday 5 April 2012

Peru: Gorriti on 5 April 1992

It's 20 years since Alberto Fujimori dissolved Congress in Peru in what is known as the "autogolpe" (self-coup). There's not many people around who know more about that period than Gustavo Gorriti and he has written a piece for Caretas which is well worth reading in full for the Spanish speakers. I'm just going to translate a couple of extracts which I think are particularly relevant to this blog (emphasis mine):

Was there a real reason for the 5 April coup? Just one, and it was to take Power and never give it up. [Vladimiro] Montesino's plan, of which he convinced Fujimori as early as December 1990, was to use the emergency which Peru was experiencing as a result of the economic debacle caused by [Alan] Garcia and the rise of the Shining Path insurgency in order to overturn the democratic system and replace it with an "iron fist" regime based on the right-wing military dictatorships of the 1970s, with two important differences: 1) a civil leaders, based less on [Juan] Bordaberry than on Kagemusha, but without even a trace of the ultimate noblity of that personality; 2) the central organ of government would not be the armed forces, but rather the national intelligence service, which would have a puppet as its official head and another, actual leader. [...]

Was the 5 April coup necessary to defeat Shining Path? This is perhaps the biggest fallacy among the arguments put forward to justify the coup.

With regard to the Shining Path insurgency, 1989 was a crucial year. The actions of the civil war were covering almost all the country and it was obvious that the climax was coming. Sendero was proclaiming that it had achieved strategic parity and declared that the following decade, the '90s, would see its "takeover of power". The security forces, for their part, were concentrating on planning and controlling operations with the Joint Command. The system was highly imperfect but, with hindsight, it turned out to be the integral reponse to the national insurgency.

The same year, in a much quieter and more modest way, the small GEIN unit was set up within Dircote. Even though it was quite modest, it was a bold concept in the struggle against Shining Path, initiated by the minister Agustín Mantilla and police chief Fernando Reyes Roca, with a background from the experienced officials of the Dincote of the 1980s, such as Javier Palacios, and in the methodology of the first GEIN, the anti-drug squad led by general Edgar Luque in the 1970s.

With the limited amount of help provided by a government in the midst of economic crisis, GEIN started work and some months later, in June 1990, while Alan Garcia was still president, it broke into the house in Monterrico and found a veritable treasure trove of documents, which it was able to analyse quickly and well, and this changed the course of the war.

With firm clues and an impeccable methodology, GEIN carried on dismantling the apparatus of Shining Path without giving them any respite, and soon the police team had turned into the best hope of victory.

In 1991, Montesinos and the one who signed the orders, Fujimori, were trying to penetrate or invade the GEIN with the Colina group, their special action force. When, inevitably, the crisis erupted between the two groups, the GEIN was saved by the intercession of the then station head of the CIA, who had seen its effectiveness. Montesino's desire to reestablish a close relation with the Agency (which he managed) saved the GEIN from reprisals and permitted it to continue operations.

Shortly afterwards, Abimael Guzmán was captured in the move that decided the war, which neither Montesinos nor Fujimori had a part in. What they did do was to take the credit for victory and present it as the result of their supposed strategy. As Fujimori was the government, peple believed him and the result was that the achievement by the police which demonstraged the force of democractic methods ended up being exploited by a corrupt and dishonest dictatorship in order to hang on to power for years.

Monday 2 April 2012

Remembering the Falklands/Malvinas

On this day 30 years ago, Argentina invaded the Falklands Islands. The news is full of this so I want to concentrate on a few memory issues by showing the respective memorials and taking a brief look at media coverage.

The British official commemoration took place at the national memorial arboretum in Staffordshire. I've just seen it for the first time on the BBC news and to be honest I thought it looked a bit sterile, but it does receive 300,000 visitors a year apparently.
"I think it shows an ongoing need for remembrance," said the Royal British Legion spokesman Andrew Baud. "It used to be a place for veterans but now it is very much a place for families."
Falklands widows remember loved ones on war's 30th anniversary (Guardian)

In Argentina, president Cristina Fernandez is at the memorial in Ushuaia:

Cristina Fernandez leads main Malvinas war commemoration in Ushuaia (Mercopress)

As for the Argentine press, they fall into their accustomed roles. La Nacion goes for a very formal image and a nationalistic headlines about the "inflexible kelpers".

Meanwhile Pagina/12 focuses on the personal testimony of former soldiers - and they make tough reading. The desperate story of Silvio Katz, tortured by his anti-semitic superior officer, is just as horrifying as any other experience of the dirty war.

Meanwhile, Clarin squeezes the memory issue onto the bottom right of its cover.

Images: National memorial arboretum by NMAguide on Wikipedia, Malvinas memorial in Ushuaia by Miguel A. Monjas.

Argentina: Remembering the Malvinas in cartoons

Pagina/12 cartoonist Miguel Rep has been recalling the Falklands/Malvinas for the past week.

Sunday 1 April 2012

Argentina/UK: Scars of war

The Associated Press has produced an excellent article about the lasting, painful legacy of the Falklands/Malvinas war both in Argentina and on the islands themselves. It makes several points:

- The islanders have been left with mine fields and an increasing sense of nervousness over Argentine attempts to isolate them.
- Argentine veterans were largely abandoned by state and society. The government has recorded 439 suicides by former fighters, yet the first mental health clinic focused on veterans' care opened just last month.
- A large proportion of the Argentine graves on the Falklands remained unmarked, leading to the justice minister's recent promise to step up efforts to identify them.

Read the whole thing here:
30 years after Falklands war, visible scars remain (AP)