Saturday 28 July 2012

Brazil: Truth commission online

Quick hit: the Brazilian truth commission has a temporary website up and running, here, and a Twitter account, here. Thanks to Transitional Justice in Brazil for drawing my attention to this - English speakers looking for news on the Brazilian TC are well-advised to go there too.

Friday 27 July 2012

Argentina: News Round-up

San Francisco is considering naming some of its streets after disappeared citizens.
San Francisco, Córdoba: quieren que calles de la ciudad lleven nombres de vecinos desaparecidos (Telam)

President of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, Hebe de Bonafini, has received threatening phone calls which she believes were connected with Sergio Schoklender, who was recently released from jail. Certainly not the first time the Mothers have faced threats, but of course this time the suggestion is that they originate from a former associate.
Las amenazas contra Hebe (Pagina/12)

A large march has taken place in Jujuy to commemorate the Noche del Apagón, as it does every year, but this year is particularly focused on the trial of Carlos Pedro Blaquier.
Con todas las miradas sobre Blaquier (Pagina/12)

Almost three decades after the end of the “Dirty War” in Argentina, prosecutors have begun to hold speedy trials before those accused of human rights violations pass away.

Read more here:
Argentina speeds up trials of leaders of ‘Dirty War’ (Miami Herald)

Love her or loathe her, Argentina's most famous woman is still remembered 60 years on and will soon be the face of the 100 peso bill.
Evita Peron remembered 60 years after her death (AP)
Evita Peron 100 Pesos bill to commemorate 60th anniversary of her death (Mercopress)

Read more here:

Thursday 26 July 2012

Argentina: The Abuelas and the Olympics

Well, here I am jumping on the Olympics bandwagon - because the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo have done as well, asking various Argentine sportspeople to feature in their latest video campaign. Here's Carlo Retegui, coach of the women's hockey team, talking about the disappeared children:

You can see more clips here.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Peru: More on Colina Group ruling

Amnesty International has called the Peruvian Supreme Court’s recent decision to reduce the prison sentence of members of a paramilitary death squad as “a grave reversal” for human rights in the Andean nation.
Amnesty International Against Grupo Colina Court Ruling (Peruvian Times)

Humala Says State Attorney to Appeal Supreme Court Ruling that Lightens Sentence of Death Squad and Montesinos (Peruvian Times)

Peru: Death Squad Sentences Reduced (New York Times)

Fujimori's lawyer, Cesar Nakazaki, said the Supreme Court's ruling could strengthen an appeal he has been working on for his client.
Fujimori emboldened as Peru court cuts death squad's sentence (Chicago Tribune)

Saturday 21 July 2012

Argentina: Perpetrators want to study

IPS has picked up on a very interesting story from Argentina, where some "dirty war" criminals want to be allowed to take part in a prisoner study programme run by the University of Buenos Aires - a state institution which itself lost many faculty members and students during the dictatorship. Current faculty members are refusing to teach the four prisoners in question: Carlos Jurio, Juan Carlos Rolón, Adolfo Donda and Carlos Guillermo Suárez Mason [son of Guillermo Suárez Mason].

So, the prisoners have the right to receive an education, but the teachers have the right to refuse to provide it: an impasse. The university authorities are considering the situation, and the prisoners could decide to take further legal action as well.

I completely sympathise with the individuals who wish to have nothing to do with these mass murderers. However, I also have to agree with the founder of the study programme:
Interviewed by IPS, the founder of the UBA XXII programme, B.Ed. Marta Laferrière, said, “denying the right to education to a person who the justice system has sentenced to jail is a very hard decision.”
[...]“We’re not judges. I can be outraged by certain crimes, but it is not the place of the university to be pointing fingers,” she said.
[...] She agreed, however, that teachers must be allowed to exercise their right to “conscientious objection” and refuse to teach them. But the university cannot deny them the service, she said.

Prison Study Programme Shuns Argentine “Dirty War” Criminals (IPS)

Peru/US: Oscar Medrano exhibition

An exhibition of the work of Peruvian photojournalist Oscar Medrano has just opened in New York.

Medrano is a longstanding photographer for Caretas magazine and took one of the best-known pictures of the Peruvian conflict, which I wrote about here.
In this exhibit the author shows some pictures of wives, mothers and daughters who suffered the loss of their loved ones, as well as orphaned children, members of self-defense committees (ronderos) that emerged during the years of political violence. The author went to places almost inaccessible in Peru after the terrorist attacks such as the towns of Lucanamarca and Huaychau. The image of the wounded face of Edmundo Camana Sumari, one of the seven survivors of the slaughter of Lucanamarca became famous for his photo with a bandaged head covering his eye. 
 His work can be seen at the Instituto Cervantes, but only until 31 July, for those who are in NYC.

Thanks to Perufoto for drawing my attention to this.

Peru: Montesinos & co. have sentences reduced; "not crimes against humanity"

In a ruling which will dismay human rights activists in the country and beyond, the Peruvian supreme court has cut the sentences of Vladimiro Montesinos and other key perpetrators of state terrorism. The decision affects the so-called "Grupo Colina" responsible for the massacres of La Cantuta and Barrios Altos.

Montesinos and the former generals Nicolás Hermoza Ríos, Julio Salazar and Juan Rivero had their sentences reduced from 25 to 20 years, death squad heads Santiago Martin Rivas and Carlos Pichilingue had theirs cut from 25 to 22 years and other members of the group had their jail terms cut from 20 to 17 years.

One reason given for the reduction was the excessive delays in the trials .

Moreover, the court ruled that the crimes of the Colina group "were against human rights, but were not crimes against humanity". It judged that the group was targeting "terrorists" and not the civilian population as a whole.

Rebajan pena a miembros del grupo Colina (Peru 21)
Poder Judicial disminuyó de 25 a 20 años condena al grupo Colina (El Comercio)
¿Por qué la Corte Suprema rebajó las condenas de Montesinos y el grupo Colina? (El Comercio)
Sala Suprema abre las puertas de la impunidad al grupo Colina (La Republica)

In my view, the ruling is unfortunate for several reasons:
- It sends a message that the human rights abuses were not as serious as previously thought.
- It also seems to be reverting to a war/two equal enemies theory which positions the killing of civilians as "collateral damage" or crimes by a few "bad apples" among the military. This ignores the entrenched racism in Peruvian society and institutions which contributed to the extreme violence suffered by the indigenous population during the conflict.
- It may raise questions about the sentence of former president Alberto Fujimori himself, as he was convicted of crimes against humanity and the court has now cast doubt on whether there was such a thing. Supreme court judge Javier Villa Stein merely said that the case of Fujimori would have to be looked at separately.
- Finally, there are possible repercussions for other trials involving Colina group members which are still pending.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Chile: Charges over Bachelet's father's death

Two former Chilean military officials, Ramon Caceres and Edgar Ceballos, have been arrested on charges of torturing to death General Alberto Bachelet, the father of former president, Michelle Bachelet.

Bachelet, who was loyal to President Salvador Allende, is thought to have been tortured to death in 1974.

Chile charges two over General Alberto Bachelet's death (BBC)

Sunday 15 July 2012

Argentina: AMIA/Mauricio Rosencof

"Memory is a barricade"

Pagina/12 today carries an interview with Mauricio Rosenhof, a former political prisoner, writer, playwright, poet and ex-minister of culture for Uruguay. He is an invited speaker at the commemorations of the AMIA attack on Tuesday. I was interested by what he says because he draws explicit parallels between the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust, the Southern Cone military dictatorships, and the memory of the terrorist attacks. This is often implicit in memory discussions but here it it spelled out.

"I think we owe a lot to the old Left, which had a very important presence in the Jewish collective. There were a thousand young people disappeared during our dictatorships who were of Jewish origin. In the international brigades which fought fascism [in Spain], 25% were Jewish. I grew up among tailors, shoemakers, carpenters who spoke in Yiddish. Workers with a clear conscience. In their honour, I'm going to talk at the event organised by Memoria Activa in memory of the victims of the AMIA."

"My presence at the event for the victims of the AMIA is emotional for me. It's remembering and putting things in their place. The voices of the Jews of the Left do not have the presence which they had and which they have to have."

"As a moral reference and example of resistence, I have Mordechai Anielewicz in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and Primo Levi, who struggled against the Nazis together with his students and then gave that example of resistence in Auschwitz. Rosa, my father's sister, was the only survivor in her family. They all died in the concentration camps. Raúl Sendic, my friend and the leader of the Tupamaros, said that he took the Kibbutzim in Palastine as a model. Shimon Peres was secretary-general of the Socialist International*. This is why it is necessary to remember the Jewish militants, those who were disappeared and the victims of the two attacks in Buenos Aires. This is what made me accept the invitation. I'm Uruguayan to my toes, Gardel-ian, tango-lover. And I'm Jewish."

*Actually, vice-president, according to my research.

The whole thing is here:
“La memoria es una barricada” (Pagina/12)

Saturday 14 July 2012

News Round-up

Truth commission to investigate Operation Condor (Transitional Justice in Brazil)

Document Friday: The Mapiripán Massacre “Cover-up” (Unredacted, the National Security Archive)
The Colombian military falsely blamed a junior officer for complicity in a 1997 paramilitary massacre “as part an effort to confuse and cover up the responsibility of others,” according to a 2003 State Department letter.

Guatemala frees ex-colonel who killed campaigning bishop (Guardian)
Byron Disrael Lima Estrada was in jail for killing of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi, who wrote report on civil war crimes by army

Peru's anti-riot tactics unmatched in lethality (AP)
Since 2006, bullets fired by Peruvian security forces to quell protests have killed 80 people and wounded more than 800, according to the independent National Coordinator for Human Rights watchdog.[...]
"These numbers would be a scandal abroad. And I'm not talking about a comparison with Europe, but with Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, where there are protests but not so many deaths," said Jorge Mansilla, investigator for Peru's national ombudsman's office.

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Argentina: Complicity at the fore in new trial

As Argentina has recently made progress by condemning some of the key figures of its dictatorship, such as Jorge Videla (although there's still a long way to go), the focus of attention has broadened somewhat. Human rights groups including HIJOS - the children of the disappeared - have been organising this year under the slogan "los grupos económicos también fueron la dictadura" (the economic groups were the dictatorship too), i.e. focusing on complicity.

Now a new trial is bring this issue even more to the fore. Carlos Pedro Blaquier, president of sugar company Ledesma since 1970, is accused of involvement in the disappearance of 30 people.

As I understand it, the case will focus on the events of the "Noche del Apagón" (Night of the blackout) on 27 July 1976 - or more accurately, the nights in the week running up to that date. During those nights, the electricity was switched off in the town of Libertador General San Martín (also known as Ledesma), Calilegua and El Talar. Police and members of the armed forces then went through the towns and arrested and took away large numbers of people, some of whom remain disappeared. There are accusations that they used trucks belonging to the company Ledesma and also that foremen were involved in the repression.

Another of the disappeared from the town was Luis Arédez, a doctor who had at one time worked for Ledesma but was dismissed for "giving out too many medicines to the employees" (yes, that does sound like a bad joke). He was disappeared in May 1977. His wife, Olga del Valle Márquez de Arédez, became a human rights activist and testified before the CONADEP truth commission. She died in 2005 - many sources say of the consequences of bagassosis, a lung disease caused by inhaling molasses dust. 

Blaquier denies lending company vehicles to the security forces. He has also complained of aggressive behaviour by protesters who shouted threats and thumped on the car he was travelling in. Leader of the social organisation Tupuc Amaru, Milagro Sala, responded scornfully that he is attempting to turn himself into the victim, rather than the perpetrator.

Anyway, there seems to be relatively little information in English on this issue, so I hope this is helpful for someone. The trial starts tomorrow; I can't promise I'll be following it day to day but I'll try to post the big news!

Blaquier negó haber participado en la represión (El Dia)
Milagro Sala: "Blaquier quiere pasar de acusado a víctima" (Telam)


El horror de “La Noche del Apagón” (Clarin)
Olga Aredez, sinónimo de memoria, verdad y justicia en Jujuy (Telam)
The case against Argentinean sugar company Ledesma (ECCHR)

Friday 6 July 2012

Argentina: Videla and others convicted of baby thefts

Yesterday was truly a historic day in Argentina as Jorge Videla, Reynaldo Bignone, and others were convicted of the systematic theft of babies during the dictatorship. There has thus been an official acknowledgement that children were taken from families by the military regime and that these were not isolated incidents by one or two corrupt officers. It is a massive boost for the Grandmothers and others who have struggled for so long for justice on this issue.

Here's a couple of the front pages this morning:

Here is some of the sentence being read out:

Sunday 1 July 2012

Argentina: Videla denies plan to steal babies

Former Argentina dictator Jorge Videla has been testifying in the trial regarding the appropriation of minors this week and has denied that the State had a systemic plan to steal the babies of those it regarded as its enemies.
"Si la sustracción de un menor tuvo lugar, ello no respondió a una orden ni a una convalidación implícita de cualquier índole encuadrada en un plan sistemático emanado de los mandos superiores de las Fuerzas Armadas en el marco de la lucha antiterrorista."
"If the removal of a minor took place, this was not in response to an order or an implicit order of any form coming from a systematic plan formed by the higher powers of the Armed Forces during the war against terrorism".

At the same time, he has characterised the pregnant women abducted by the State as terrorists who used their unborn babies as human shields.
"Las parturientas aludidas por la querella, aludidas por las fiscalías, a quienes respeto como madres, eran activistas y usaron a sus hijos embrionarios como escudos humanos al momento de operar como combatientes."
"The pregnant women referred to by the prosecutor, whom I respect as mothers, were activists and used their embryonic children as human shields when operating as fighters."

You can watch the relevant clips from his testimony here:

The Abuelas put the number of pregant detained women whose babies were removed shortly after birth at around 500. The trial, which includes not only Videla but also Bignone, "Tigre" Acosta and others, is scheduled to end on 5 July.

Videla Denies Argentine Dictatorship Baby Thefts (ABC)
Videla denies a systematic plan (Buenos Aires Herald)
El exdictador Videla llama terroristas a las madres de los bebes robados en Argentina (
Videla acusó de terroristas a mujeres presas que estaban embarazadas (Clarin)

Argentina: Exhibition Sacco/Brodsky

An exhibition of the work of Graciela Sacco and Marcelo Brodsky, "Entre Aguas", is currently taking place in the Rolf Art Showroom in Recoleta, Buenos Aires. Entry is free and the show runs until 27 July.