Sunday 17 February 2013

Peru: US embassy warns of kidnap risk

The US embassy in Peru has warned its citizens of a possible risk of kidnap by "members of a criminal organisation" in the Cusco region. The organisation is apparently Shining Path remnants. Peru is irritated by the warning, concerned about a possible detrimental effect on tourism in the area.

Peru Objects to U.S. Embassy’s Warning to American Tourists (NY Times)
U.S. Embassy: ‘Credible’ Threat of Kidnapping in Cusco (Peruvian Times)

Premier: Alerta de EE.UU. sobre posibles secuestros no ha sido corroborada (La Republica)
Embajadora de EE.UU. sobre alerta de secuestro en Cusco: "Queremos levantarla lo antes posible" (La Republica)

Uruguay: Controversy over judge transfer

The transfer of a judge from the criminal to civil sphere has provoked protests in Uruguay, including public demonstrations outside the Supreme Court on Friday.

Mariana Mota has been involved with numerous human rights cases and, in 2010, sentenced former dictator Bordaberry to jail for his role in the 1973 coup. An official reason for her transfer has not been given, but the assumption seems to be that she is perceived as supporting the human rights movement too much - certainly, military circles have welcomed news of her departure. This sounds like a retrograde step for justice in Uruguay.

Numerous academics have signed an open letter opposing the decision. Mota has announced she will appeal against her forced change of role.

Human right activists in Uruguay storm the Supreme Court to protest judge’s transfer (Mercopress)
Informe de todo lo que pasó en la Corte con el traslado de Mota (Subrayado)
Carta abierta de académicos internacionales por DDHH (Diario La Republica, Uruguay)
Jueza Mariana Mota recurrirá decisión de su traslado a lo civil (Subrayado)

Sunday 10 February 2013

Brazil textbooks omit info on dictatorship

Textbooks used to teach history in Brazil's military schools omit essential information for the understanding of some episodes of the military dictatorship (1964-1985), reports Folha in a story that will astonish, I imagine, precisely no one, but is still important. 

In recounting the "revolution of 1964", a volume from the Marechal Trompowsky collection says that the coup was organised by "moderate and law-abiding groups."

The book says that Congress declared the presidency vacant before electing Gen. Castello Branco president shortly after the coup, but omits the fact that ousted President João Goulart was still in the country.

Another book, "500 Years of History of Brazil," says the Araguaia Guerrilla (1972-1975) ended after its leaders fled, without reference to the deaths and disappearance of the guerrillas carried out by the army.

There are 12 military schools in the country. They offer places from the 6th grade of elementary school to the 3rd year of high school and currently have 14,000 students enrolled, many of them children of military personnel.

The coordinator of the national truth commission, Cláudio Fonteles, said that the books may be subject to recommendations of the TC, set up to investigate violations of human rights which occurred especially during the dictatorship.

"This is an issue which it would be suitable to make recommendations about," he said. "We must respect the autonomy [of the military schools], but they cannot completely escape the curriculum adopted in other public and private schools."

For Carlos Fico, history professor at Rio university UFRJ , the government should promote a general reform of the military curricula. "We do not know how the schools for officers work," he says. "It is not a military issue. It concerns the safety of society."

The National History Association (ANH) intends to ask the ministry of education and the ministry of defence to assess the books used in military schools.

In a statement, the education ministry said it cannot interfere in the curriculum of military schools. For its part, the defence ministry said that it only oversees the educational content of institutions aimed at training officers and members of the armed forces.

Gen. José Carlos dos Santos, responsible for the Marechal Trompowsky collection of publications and head of the army education board (DEPA), declined to comment on the issue and suggested that any questions be directed to the staff of the army.

In a statement, the army said it took three years of research to produce the collection and said that it is updated annually by the authors, but declined to discuss specific issues.

Omissões marcam livros usados em escolas militares (Folha de S.Paulo)

Argentine torturer detained in Brazil

61-year-old Gonzalo Sánchez, an Argentine accused of human rights abuses, has been detained in Brazil. He is accused of participating in torture and murder at the ESMA during the dictatorship.

Sánchez, also known as "Chispa" or "Omar", is said to have been involved in the murder of prominent author Rodolfo Walsh and is wanted in around 70 cases. Pagina/12 reports that he told detainees in the ESMA the methods used to kill and dispose of the disappeared, including the "death flights". The media do not seem quite in agreement about his precise position - Pagina/12 is saying he worked as a naval engineer, while El Liberal says he was a police officer. As he was in the ESMA, I'd guess the former is correct, but obviously I can't be sure.

Gabriel Herrera from the Argentine embassy in Brazil told Folha that Sánchez was one of the main fugitives from Argentina. He added, without giving their names, that there were at least four other people in Brazil accused of involvement in dictatorship crimes.

Un prófugo hallado en una playa brasileña (Pagina/12)
Detienen a represor argentino en Brasil (El Liberal)
Argentino acusado de sequestro e tortura é preso em Angra (Folha de S.Paulo)

Saturday 9 February 2013

Chile orders exhumation of Pablo Neruda

It's over a year since I last wrote that the remains of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda might be exhumed in an investigation into his death in 1973. Now the Fundación Pablo Neruda has announced that a judge has ordered the exhumation - but still without a definite date.

As before, I'm still inclined to think that it was coincidence that Neruda succumbed to his cancer shortly after the military coup, but we'll see if anything new comes up.

Chile judge orders exhumation of Pablo Neruda's remains (BBC)
Fundación Pablo Neruda asegura que se ordenó la exhumación del cuerpo del poeta (La Tercera)

Sunday 3 February 2013

Argentina: Urban memorials

La Nación had a very interesting article about urban memorials this week. It's worth checking out for the pictures. Here's a translation of just the part dealing with the dictatorship:

Walking in the capital can turn into a journey back in time. On the pavements of Buenos Aires, hundreds of coloured tiles contrast with the boring grey of the city and interrupt the daily walks of pedestrians with a message which recalls the most recent dictatorship. 

"Here lived Roberto Fernando Lertora, abducted along with Adriana Mosso de Carlevaro, militants of the people, detained-disappeared on 27 March, 1977, in an act of State Terrorism", reads one of the mosaic plaques, which is almost a square metre large.
Photo: LA NACION / Sebastián Rodeiro

The project is the work of the local coordinator for memory and justice (Coordinadora de Barrios por Memoria y Justicia), a federation of local assemblies which started leaving traces of the disappeared on 2 December 2005, near the church of Santa Cruz in San Cristóbal.

Since then, they've never stopped. "There must be about 500 stones in the capital and other parts of the country," says Pablo Zalazar from the group.

"The idea of the tiles is that the 30,000 disappeared people won't be just a number, but a history of life," Zalazar explains. Before installing each mosaic, the coordinator investigates the person it is going to remember - who they were, where they lived, what they did, how and where they were abducted. 

Then, they record the data in a book edited by the space of memory institute (Instituto Espacio para la Memoria), which is currently working on the third edition.

Piecing together the history of the life of a disappeared person is a complex task. "Sometimes there were five or six of us. Not even the relatives got close," points out Esther Pastorino from the group. "But in other cases, there were families separated by the dictatorship who got back together because of the placing of a tile". 

Why do they do it? "It's a message that memory remains. For us, they're not tombstones, but a signpost for our fellow city-dwellers," reflects Zalazar, and brings up the point of the project: "We want young people to be aware of the issue, so it really will never happen again". 

The city's "Never Again"is also evoked by the memory park (parque de la memoria) next to the university campus, the memorial under the 25 de Mayo motorway, on the avenue Paseo Colón, and the 32 white headscarves of the Madres on the ground of the Plaza de Mayo. 

Painted 25 years ago by the Madres' support group (Frente de Apoyo a las Madres), the headscarves "represent life", Hebe de Bonafini told La Nación. "They don't bear any name because they represent all the 30,000 disappeared", the head of the Madres points out, adding "The headscarf has to do with the purity of the ideals of our children, whom we do not recognise as dead".