Wednesday 30 January 2013

Argentina and Iran to investigate AMIA bombing

This is a significant move in Argentina: the government has reached an agreement with Iran to set up a truth commission to investigate the 1994 AMIA bombing. The commission will be made up of five independent judges, none of whom will be from either Argentina or Iran. Iran will now permit prosecutors to interrogate suspects in Tehran.

Amia bombing: Argentina and Iran agree truth commission (BBC)
Deal Reached for Inquiry on Bombing in Argentina (New York Times)
Argentina/Iran ‘Truth Commission’ to resolve 1994 bombing of Jewish centre in Buenos Aires (Mercopress)

Israel has condemned the decision. An Israeli spokesman said the move was tantamount to "inviting a murderer to investigate his own killings".

Amia bombing: Israel condemns Argentina-Iran probe (BBC)
Israel Rebukes Argentina for Deal With Iran to Investigate ’94 Attack (New York Times)

Argentine foreign minister Héctor Timerman has met with members of Jewish organizations and families of victims to discuss the plans.

Timerman meets with DAIA, AMIA and relatives of victims, rejects criticism (Buenos Aires Herald)

The Economist suggests that Argentina has "burnt bridges" with Israel over the agreement, which it sees as a further step in Christina Fernandez's "increasingly combative" foreign policy. Meanwhile, Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post says that the move is "disturbing" and predicts a "Mickey Mouse commission". La Nación also expresses scepticism in its editorial.

Here's Monday's cover of Pagina/12:

A dar respuestas ante la Justicia argentina (Pagina/12)

So that's a fair amount of criticism of the commission before it has even been formed. I agree with Boz that it's rash to prejudge. It would also be unwise to get one's hopes up too soon, but essentially, I think that barring all possibility of talking to Iran about anything gets you nowhere. We'll see how this develops.

Tuesday 29 January 2013

Peru: Uchuraccay postscript

La Republica has an article about a group of journalists retracing the steps of the journalists who went to Uchuraccay in 1983. Just in case there was any doubt about the iconic value of the group photo of the men, check out the image chosen to illustrate the new story:

Destino Uchuraccay, 30 años después (La Republica)

Sunday 27 January 2013

Peru: 5 minutes with Vera Lentz

Here's a short interview with Peruvian photographer Vera Lentz talking about her work on the  Peruvian conflict (Spanish).

Peru: Remains of Chungui victims returned to families

A number of bodies of people killed in Chungui, Peru, around 1984-85 have been released for proper burial. Exhumation work has been going on for some time.

The exact number seems to be unclear - La Republica is reporting 78, Correo 54, news agency EFE 65, and Argentina's Pagina/12 78, but only 68 of them identified.

I have mentioned Chungui a couple of times before, in connection with the work of artist Edilberto Jimenez.

Entregan 78 cuerpos de víctimas de las FFAA y Sendero en Chungui (La Republica)
Ayacucho: Fiscalía entregó 54 restos de matanza de Chungui (Correo)
Los restos de 65 asesinados en el conflicto interno en Perú recién serán sepultados (EFE)
Después de años, velan a sus muertos (Pagina/12)

Image credit: European Pressphoto Agency.

Saturday 26 January 2013

Peru: 30th anniversary of Uchuraccay

It is now three decades since one of the emblematic events of the Peruvian conflict, the killing of eight journalists and their guide in Uchuraccay. Here's my original post on Uchuraccay from 2009.

Uchuraccay is one of those events where, 30 years on, the truth seems as out of reach as ever despite two investigations and innumerable newspaper articles, events, protests, appeals to court, etc.

It is also a very visual contribution to social memory. Here are three images:

This is the classic picture of the murdered journalists (with the exception of Octavio Infante, who took it). It captures the men on their way up the village, posing, apparently relaxed, it could a snapshot of a group of friends on a day out. Its power derives from our knowledge of what happened next, that these men were almost at the end of their lives.

This image was taken by Willy Retto at Uchuraccay, very shortly before he was killed, and discovered in a film shortly after the publication of the report produced by the commission led by Mario Vario Llosa. How many instances are there of people capturing the very moments before their own death? The power of this image is located in its presentness, frozen just before the crime. What it does not do is deliver us an awareness of "the truth" or "the facts of the case". Retto's images have been used to argue both for and against the presence of the armed forces in the village. 

This photograph comes from the online edition of La Republica, in an article headlined "They live on in the hearts of those who loved them". It shows Oscar Retto, Willy's father, holding a photograph of his son. Retto senior has spent long years battling for justice for his child and the other victims. Like relatives in many other countries and contexts, his symbol is the enlarged image of his missing son. Unlike the families of the disappeared, of course, he knows where his son is buried, but he cannot be sure of the precise circumstances of his death. The image brings together a number of symbols - the Christian cross, the cemetery, the photograph, the memorial - yet Oscar Retto is also in a posture of defiance, not bowed in mourning. Also a photojournalist, Retto senior is aged over 80, but like the Grandmothers in Argentina, his pain keeps him fighting.

Here's further reading: in particular, Juan Gargurevich's posts on his blog Periodismo, Periodistas, Periódicos are highly recommended for Spanish-speakers.

Uchuraccay: la pesadilla de Vargas Llosa (I) (Periodismo, Periodistas, Periódicos)
Uchuraccay, la pesadilla de Vargas Llosa (II) (Periodismo, Periodistas, Periódicos)
Uchuraccay, la pesadilla de Vargas Llosa (III) (Periodismo, Periodistas, Periódicos)
Uchuraccay, la pesadilla de Vargas Llosa (FINAL) (Periodismo, Periodistas, Periódicos)
-¿Qué escribió Vargas Llosa sobre Uchuraccay? (Periodismo, Periodistas, Periódicos)
Uchuraccay (IDL-Reporteros)
30 años de la matanza de Uchuraccay (el Popular)
Mártires de Uchuraccay en el recuerdo de todos (La Primera)
Masacre de periodistas es una herida abierta en Perú (AFP)
Viven en el corazón de los seres que amaron (La Republica)

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Argentina: BBQ at the ESMA, anyone?

An odd scandal blew up in the first week of the year in Argentina. Justice minister Julio Alak was accused of taking part in an end-of-year barbecue on the site of the former ESMA clandestine detention centre. This was interpreted by some as a sign of disrespect for the victims disappeared at the site.

Alak has responded by denying that there was a barbecue, stating that there was an event organised by his ministry at which sandwiches were provided. He has also blamed the media for blowing the story out of proportion.

Madres' leader Hebe de Bonafini says that "anything" is allowed in the ESMA and has herself previously cooked there. On the other hand, the association of former disappeared people (AEDD) has criticised Alak and is organising a protest.

Pagina/12 has published an excellent article by Cecilia Sosa asking the questions which arise in this context:

What is a "space of memory"? What are the activities which it is possible to imagine in a site which is characterized by the unbearable? And further, is it possible to celebrate in a place of death?

Sosa recalls the work of Jens Andermann, who has identified three positions with respect to a place of memory like the ESMA: the "testimonial", which situates it as an unalterable place of witness to State Terrorism, the "museal", which focuses on the pedagogical function of the space, and the "performatic", which maintains that only by opening the space up to artistic and politic activities can it be taken back from death and the perpetrators.

Since the opening up of the ESMA in 2007, Sosa points out, the site has attempted to balance all three functions - human rights groups have offices there, there are guided tours, and there are concerts and lectures, among other things.

She concludes,

The future of the ex-ESMA has still not been discovered. The co-existence of distinct rituals suggests a different path to that taken by Auschwitz: a politics of pain which reveals its capacity for experimentation, where absences help to forge new links and where the past may live alongside a future to be invented. In this time to come, perhaps a barbecue for two thousand people or other types of celebration will not be so scandalous and will turn out to be a new way for people to be together in their loss. The table is laid. It's time to feed our guests. 

My gut reaction when I saw Tweets about the ESMA barbecue was "Really??". But reading this article reminded me of some of my usual understanding of memorials. I'm a great believer in using spaces of memory, not shutting them off from the rest of society. This was the problem with the Parque de la memoria when I was in Buenos Aires in 2004: far from the centre of the city and close to the (then-closed) ESMA, it was completely empty at the time I visited. Dead. What's the point of a park no one sits in, walks in, brings their kids to? It was also the problem with the Ojo que llora monument in Lima which, following vandalism, was shut behind a gate (I don't know if it's freely accessible right now, but the last I heard it wasn't).

No, I'm not suggesting a picnic in Auschwitz. I don't even know enough about Alak and the particular event he was attending to comment on whether or not it was "respectful enough" for the site. But I am still sure that I like to see places of memory woven into the fabric of the landscape and not preserved in aspic.

Apareció la foto del "asado" de Alak en la ex ESMA (Clarin)
Alak: "El asado en la ex ESMA es una absoluta mentira" (La Nacion)
Bonafini: en la ESMA "se puede hacer de todo" (Terra)
Crece el repudio al asado en la ESMA y convocan a una marcha (Clarin)
La mesa está servida (Pagina/12)

Tuesday 1 January 2013

Peru: Memory museum nearly finished

Here's some progress to start the year: Fernando Carvallo, director of the Peruvian memory museum (now officially called the Lugar de la Memoria, la Tolerancia y la Inclusión Social), has announced that construction work will be completed on 15 January 2013. The shell of the four-storey building in Lima will then be finished and can be fitted out, a process which will take several months.

Work started back in November 2010 and has been partially financed by Germany.

The building will consist of a basement, an auditorium on the first floor, the exhibition about the violence of the 1980s and 1990s on the second and third floors, and a terrace on the fourth floor.

"Access to the second to fourth floors will take place via a ramp and the visit will go from bottom to top, upwards. The idea is that the visitor will feel that they are passing from darkness to light, from horror to the hope of reconciliation in a democratic society," explained Carvallo.

Anuncian que obras en el Lugar de la Memoria terminarán el 15 de enero (La Republica)

Argentina: Andres La Blunda

Pagina/12 has an extensive profile of Andres La Blunda, whose parents were disappeared by the military junta in 1977. Although it's lengthy, it seemed to me worth translating so I've been working on it in bits over the past few days. I think it's a really interesting consideration of the process of finding out you're a disappeared child. It's also explicitly pro-Kirchner - as are quite a lot of human rightsy people in Argentina, and this article goes some way to explaining why.

"The only thing that goes with love is the truth"

He was born in January 1977 with his first and last names and his documentation in order, registered as the legitimate son of his parents, Pedro La Blunda and Mabel Lucía Fontana. When he was three months old and living with them in San Fernando, they were abducted and he was passed to a neighbour couple who did not know about his origins. His biological parents were never found and his adoptive ones did not tell him anything, not even that he was adopted. In 1983, he was tracked down by the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo aged 8 and met up with his biological aunt and uncle and cousins in Mar del Plata, but the lie continued. They did not tell him the truth about his history. An agreement pushed by his adoptive family turned the biological family into "distant relatives" who lived in Europe. In 1999, he found out the truth from a cousin and since then he has devoted his life to piecing together his story. That is how he found out that his irregular adoption was worked on by the same judge from San Isidro who approved of the adoption of the children of Ernestina Herrera de Noble. On 21 December 2012, Andrés La Blunda got back his name and the ID card to prove it. The found grandchild is now secretary general of the national liberation and integration movement (KOLINA) led by Alicia Kirchner, and he believes that the human rights policy which began in 2003 enabled him to regain his name "and hope".

In conversation with Página/12, La Blunda maintains that what happened on Friday, 21 December 2012 was "the rediscovery of my full identity and documentation, which had been lost for almost 35 years. When they took my parents, on 20 April 1977, I had a birth certificate, an ID card, a number and a name". 

He lost all of that on 20 April 1977 with the abduction of his parents from the ninth floor of the apartment black on Constitución 1274 in San Fernando. The soldiers who took Pedro and Mabel, members of the northern section of the Montoneros, gave the child to some neighbours who lived in the apartment opposite, a young married couple called Cabral-Benavide, who subsequently adopted him without knowing where he had come from. They registered him under the name Mauro Gabriel Cabral. "My adoptive parents did not know anything about my history. They were a family who ignored what was happening in those years, they ignored the political situation, the disappearances, and they had no links to the military", says La Blunda. He says that the only "positive" thing was that he escaped "the systematic plan to steal babies, perhaps because I was dark-skinned and not blond" and being appropriated by a family involved with the dictatorship. His biological parents had been living underground and had not had much to do with neighbours, but even so, over the years he has been able to put together some of their lives "because there was information in the collective memory, in San Fernando". The Cabral-Benavides first went to a police station, where they were advised to keep the child, "because my destiny could have been tragic".

After a while, the couple started the process leading to full adoption. "The first person to intervene in my adoption who knew what was happening was a youth judge from San Isidro, Ofelia Hejt." He points out that the judge Ofelia Hejt is the same one who presided over the adoption of Marcela and Felipe Noble Herrera, a case which had preceded his. "Their case was between 1976 and the beginning of 1977, while Hejt took on my case in May 1977". The judge "took part in very few adoptions of the children of disappeared, and one of them was mine". La Blunda claims that Hejt "did not make the enquiries which she should have made, as she knew that the family had said that it was military personnel who gave me to them, so the judge realized that my parents had been abducted by the armed forces. She started the adoption process quickly and not in accordance with procedure - it was an "express" adoption."

Judge Hejt was not the one who signed the final adoption some time later; she was the one who compiled the initial paperwork without taking into account the fact that Andrés La Blunda had a birth certificate and ID. The full adoption was only finalized in 1983 in Mar del Plata, where Andrés had moved with his adoptive parents and siblings, Martín and Melisa Cabral. The final judge was called Tamini, from court No. 9 (Civil/Commercial).

Up to that point, in 1983, right at the end of the dictatorship and before the imminent inauguration of president Raúl Alfonsín, Andrés La Blunda's file was classed as "N.N or Cabral". From the age of three months until the adoption was finalized, he was brought up by the Cabral-Benavide family, until months later he was found by the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, which at that time was still led by Chicha Mariani, helped by the biological family "who had always driven my search from the time that they found out that my parents had been abducted".

The Grandmothers found him in February 1984. He was the 18th grandchild found. The news appeared in Clarín on Sunday, 26 February, under the headline "Discovery of a child". Andrés La Blunda, who was then seven years old, never read the article and he did not find out via the radio or television either, given that in those early years of democracy, the rebellions and military pressure to try to erase the past limited all information related to the military dictatorship.

Today, La Blunda gives talks on the importance of human rights policy and the recovery of identity. "I made a folder with data and photos which include the clipping from Clarín newspaper, so that children and teachers can see how a paper which was complicit with the dictatorship published news about the appearance of children of the disappeared."

One of the family members he has met up with is Carlos La Blunda, the brother of his father, and some of his cousins. His adopted family, in a forced agreement with his biological relatives, accepted his reappearance but avoided mentioning Andrés' painful past at all. "My biological family was presented to me as "distant relatives" living in exile in Europe".

The meeting with his biological family was in summer 1984, in Mar del Plata. "What happens then is that the two families, by mutual agreement, decide not to tell me the truth and that was one of their big mistakes. It was a forced agreement, forced by the same dictatorship that had set up a mechanism not just of terror and fear, but of silence and secrecy as well."

The clue needed to find him had been provided by another of his uncles, Héctor La Blunda, who had once visited the disappeared couple in their apartment in San Fernando. "There he starts to make enquiries of the neighbours and then he goes to the local court. He starts looking at all the cases registered at that time (April 1977) and finds the case "N.N or Cabral", which fits with the place and the time of my story. My father's brother was not allowed to see the whole file, but later Chicha Mariana from the Grandmothers goes and then the whole story comes out: that I had lived for some years in San Fernando and then moved to Mar del Plata with my adoptive parents."

The discovery is confirmed by the Grandmothers in Mar del Plata. "The family that adopted me is not an appropriating family, but my case is still something like appropriation because my history was not dealt with truthfully, there were lies. That is the point where I ask myself to what extent there was an adoption in good faith when my whole life was a lie. When I give talks in schools, I ask if lies can co-exist with love. The only thing that goes with love is the truth."

- How did your relationship with your adoptive family continue?

I carried on with them without knowing anything, from the time I was seven until I was 22, when my cousin Carolina La Blunda told me the truth. She got tired of the secrecy and the lying and one day she went and told me. I didn't even know that I was adopted, still less that I was the child of disappeared people. 

- Had you never suspected that you were adopted?

I had sometimes felt that I wasn't that family's child, but I didn't question it. I felt different, for one thing because of the physical aspect. What happened is that you accept a lot of things as natural. There was always something, but it didn't come out. It takes a lot to rebel against the family, the people you called Mum and Dad all your life. We're talking about the era of liberalism. 

- And what happened with your biological family?

They came to visit me, because they had been living in exile in Spain. I had always believed that they were distance relatives of my adoptive family. It was the family from Junín who came to see me. They're all from Junín, like my father, while my mother was from Paraná. The Grandmothers weren't able to break this forced agreement either. My two families were accomplices in the lie. They all knew the truth, except me.

This continued until one night, in 1999, when my cousin Carolina broke the silence and told me everything. I believed everything she told me, I never doubted it for a moment. That proves that I suspected that there was a hidden lie." Despite being convinced of the truth, Andrés spent a year "without being able to talk to the (adoptive) family and say that I knew everything.  It took a lot to break out of this structure". At that time, he was studying economics and he even started to doubt whether or not he should carry on with his degree, although ultimately he did finish it. "I rethought everything in my life, but I didn't make radical decisions to break with what was there".

"I started to have more contact with my biological family, but I felt guilty about telling them everything I knew, because I didn't want to hurt either of [the families]. It was because I cared for them, I felt like it was my fault. This paralysed me, stopped me acting, stopped me from protecting myself." The only decision he made was to piece together his history, without telling anyone. 

This was met with opposition from his adoptive family. "When they found out that I knew the truth, they didn't help me to search because they thought that my decision was a lack of consideration after all they had done for me". They were "always afraid they would lose me. They'd always had that fear, from the time I was three months old until I found out the truth. I knew that they had never meant to hurt me. I have two siblings who I grew up with and they never treated me differently - on the contrary. I feel privileged to have my adoptive siblings." 

He continued living with his adoptive parents until he was 25, when he decided to move to Buenos Aires. There, he found out that his father, Pedro La Blunda, has been a friend of Alicia Kirchner from her student and militant days in La Plata. Early in 2003, he met Alicia. As he pieced together his story, he found out that his parents had started their relationship in the town of San Nicolás, when they were already members of the Montoneros. "Then I found out that my history was really spread all over the place - in Junín, in Paraná, in Mar del Plata, in San Nicolás, in the city of Buenos Aires and in San Fernando". 

This made the search more difficult. "I was working, but when I started the search in 1995, it was the middle of the liberal period and economic issues made it hard for me to travel". La Blunda maintains that his story "started to change when Néstor (Kirchner) came into power". The story of his parents "which had been denied to me all that time became part of the national political scene and became part of a history vindicated by the president". 

He recalls that at first, in Mar del Plata, he told his story to his childhood friends, and they reacted with absolute indifference. In 2006, "I got back in touch with lots of those friends and they apologized to me and said, 'it's crazy that we were with you and we didn't know what had happened'. I think that was when the new Argentina was born, it was another country which we were starting to create and I could feel it in my bones". In this regard, he says that getting back his name and his identity was "more than a personal decision, it was political. I'm sure that without Néstor, Cristina and Alicia, without this project for the country, I'd still be Mauro Gabriel Cabral".

“Lo único que puede convivir con el amor es la verdad” (Pagina/12)