Sunday 31 March 2013

Peru: Cipriani calls for Fujimori pardon

Peruvian cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani has given an interview to paper Correo in which he says that "the time is ripe" for former president Fujimori to be pardoned. 
I think that the division created by terrorism will not be closed while there is not a dimension of reconcilation and forgiveness. I think it will be difficult for Peru to regain its unity while we do not venture [to seek] reconciliation, forgiveness and mercy. I'm not just talking about the case of president Fujimori. [...] I think that the pardon is mature enough to take a decision. It's a benefit which is in the hands of the President when certain circumstances make it appropriate to pardon a certain person. [...] We are still living in a climate of hate, vengeance and disqualifications which is not reasonable.

Here's the whole interview:
Cardenal Cipriani sobre indulto a Fujimori: "No nos escondamos en el médico o la ministra" (Correo)

Of course, we wouldn't expect much else from Cipriani - who was also opposed to the truth and reconciliation commission. He sits on the fairly extreme end of the spectrum of church officials, according to whom anyone complaining about human rights terrorists is either a) a terrorist b) baying for revenge, or more probably c) both. Nevertheless, it's disappointing that a public figure displays such little understanding of justice and such a lack of compassion for the families of Fujimori's victims.

Argentina: New book on the death flights

This clip (Spanish only) features Fabián Magnotta discussing his book, Un lugar perfecto, on the death flights (vuelos de la muerte) which were used to dispose of the bodies of the disappeared during the Argentine dictatorship.

Saturday 30 March 2013

Argentina: Devoto prison - deadly riot or massacre?

Argentina's worst prison disaster took place on 14 March, 1978, at the Devoto prison in Buenos Aires. It affected so-called "common prisoners", ie not political prisoners. I stumbled across an article about it and then it occurred to me that there seemed to be little material in English available on it, so I thought it would make a good post. It turns out that there's not much agreement on the actual events of the incident either.

Clarin notes simply that the incident is known as the "mattress riot" (Motín de los colchones) because detainees set fire to their mattresses; around 60 of them died of asphyxiation and burns, while another 85 were injured, according to the paper.

Historias de fugas y motines sangrientos (Clarin)

In a 2005 article calling the riot "a tragedy", La Nación notes that the riot was sparked by an apparently minor incident; a prison refusing to turn off the television, having been ordered to do so by a guard. Other prisoners backed him up, and the following day (14 March) made barricades of mattresses and other flammable materials and set fire to them. They were trapped by the smoke and flames; the paper reports that there were 61 dead. 

It also states that following autopsies, the prison service found that there was no evidence the victims had been killed by shots, but rather that they were burnt to death or died of smoke inhalation. 

La peor tragedia, en la cárcel de Villa Devoto (La Nacion)

However, other sources suggest a very different story. In February 2013, for example, Daniel Enzetti wrote an article for Tiempo which claims that 64 prisoners were murdered by the State in Devoto. This report repeats the assertion that there was an initial arguement over television on 13 March, but then states that the argument was brought to an end, until state officials came in the next day with the intention of committing deliberate "genocide".
In this version of events, many of the victims were shot, the fire service was prevented from entering the building, and the crimes were covered up.
Some human rights organisations now want the case reopened. Supporters of this version call the incident the "massacre of pavilion 7".

Piden reabrir la causa por el "Motín de los Colchones" (Tiempo)
Una masacre que fue disfrazada de "motín" (Tiempo)

Pagina/12 puts the number of dead at "at least 64" in one article and "at least 65" in another. It reports on efforts to instigate legal proceedings against the supposed perpetrators of the massacre, the heads of the prison service at the time and the officials present at the time when the deaths occurred.

Más que motín, una masacre (Pagina/12)
Masacre del Pabellón 7 (Pagina/12)

One of the few descriptions of the deaths in English appears to be from former political prisoner Margarita Drago in her book "Memory Tracks", although she remembers the incident taking place to be in July, not March. She writes,
One cold July day, from the solitary confinement chamber where I found myself being punished, I heard a series of gunshots which came from the vicinity of the prison, and I thought that the shots were directed towards the windows of the cells. [...] After a few hours, the matron opened the door to my cell, and without any explanation told me that I had to go back downstairs to where I normally stayed [...] Once in my cell, the women gave me the news. The prisoners had rebelled and burned mattresses in protest of their living conditions. The response was their wholesale murder. For this reason, they kept us incommunicado, forbidding visits and canceling recreation. In repudiation, we refused our food and declared ourselves in mourning. 
In time, after they had lifted the sanctions, we learned that one hundred unarmed civilian prisoners had been massacred by their jailers. [p. 97-98

Elias Neuman wrote a book on 14 March 1978 called Crónica de muertes silenciadas and now apparently out of print.

It would be irresponsible of me to comment on what I think is the "true" version, because I honestly don't know. Certainly, 1978 was an extremely violent period in Argentine history and a great deal of atrocities were taking place at this time; however, this event would be unusual since generally speaking, being a "common" prisoner was a much safer situation to be in than being a "political" prison, which could easily turn you into a disappeared person. Some (few) disappeared people survived because for one reason or another, they were transferred to normal jails and given a standard record as a common prisoner. Certainly, though, even these regulated jails had standards way below those which were either desirable or safe (almost all accounts mention that Devoto was overcrowded, for example, surely heightening the fire risk). What is clear is that even with deaths on this scale, even the most basic facts such as the number of victims are not really agreed on.

Friday 29 March 2013

Peru: On Fujimori's non-existent cancer

...He's suffering from acute depression, because they said he doesn't have cancer...

Book review: El ruido de las cosas al caer

Juan Gabriel Vásquez, El ruido de las cosas al caer - winner of the Premio Alfaguara 2011, and also available in English as The Sound of Things Falling, translated by Anne McLean.

This story is narrated by Colombian lawyer Antonio Yammara, who strikes up a casual acquaintance with a man called Ricardo Laverde, who describes himself as a former pilot. When Laverde is killed in an incident which also seriously injures Antonio, the latter eventually sets out to discover what was behind it, and is drawn into a story of love, loss, violence and crime.

The book is beautifully written, quite sombre and wistful, and deeply concerned with issues of memory. Of Bogotá, for instance, Antonio muses,
Colombia produce escapados, eso es verdad, pero un día me gustaría saber cuántos de ellos nacieron como yo y como Maya a principios de la años setenta, cuántos como Maya o como yo tuvieron una niñez pacífica o protegida o por lo menos imperturbada, cuántos atraversaron la adolescencia y se hicieron temerosamente adultos mientras a su alrededor la ciudad se hundía en el miedo de los tiros y las bombas sin que nadie hubiera declarado ninguna guerra, o por lo menos no una guerra convencional, si es que semejante cosa existe. Eso me gustaría saber, cuántos salieron de mi ciudad sintiendo que de una u otra manera se salvaban, y cuántos sintieron al salvarse que traicionaban algo, que se convertían en las ratas del proverbial barco por el hecho de huir de una ciudad incendiada. 
However, the novel is not "about" the drug war or Pablo Escobar in the straightforward sense, it is rather a constant backdrop to the story and, you might also say, the situation of Colombia makes the events of the story possible. At the end, we are still left asking ourselves what will happen to Antonio and how he will move forward from his trauma, but there is grounds for hope. Highly recommended.

Monday 25 March 2013

Peru: Fujimori does not have cancer

Now, should this be a good news or a bad news story?

Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori does not have cancer, according to a medical report. There is "no current evidence" of the cancerous lesions the ex-president has previously had operated on on his tongue, examinations found. This was relevant because his supporters had been arguing he should be let out of prison on the grounds of his terminal illness. It's accepted that he has had cancer-related treatment on his mouth several times, but he does not appear to be terminally ill right now.

On the other hand, he is apparently depressed - the experts disagree on the severity of his condition.

I don't wish cancer on anyone and I do wish continued jail time on convicted human rights abuser, Alberto Fujimori, so for me - it's a good news story.

Junta Médica no encontró evidencia de cáncer en Alberto Fujimori (La Republica)
Informe revela que Fujimori sufre depresión, no cáncer (La Opinión)

Sunday 24 March 2013

Argentina: Leon Ferrari

Of course, an Argentina post on 24 March to mark the country's coup anniversary and key memory-related date.

An exhibition of the work of artist Leon Ferrari opened yesterday at the Centro Cultural de la Memoria Haroldo Conti, which is on the site of the former ESMA detention centre. It contains over 500 pieces, not all of them complete, and is intended to show the "creative laboratory" of the artist, according to curator Andrés Duprat.

Ferrari is a well-known and outspoken figure in Argentina, particularly because of his clashes with the Church. One of his best-known works, La civilización occidental y cristiana ("Western-Christian Civilization"), depicts Christ crucified on a fighter plane. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio - now Pope Francis - condemned his art as "blasphemous". In 2004, Bergoglio was involved in condemnations of an exhibition of Ferrari's which was closed amid protests, including the damaging of some works - although it was later reopened.

Ferrari had a very personal connection with the dictatorship in the country, as his son Ariel was disappeared. Leon himself lived in exile, from where he cut out clippings from newspapers reporting on deaths, disappearances and atrocities in Argentina. These records of state terrorism became part of the series Nosotro no sabiamos ("We didn't know"), which is an eloquent reply to those who pleaded ignorance of the regime's crimes.

The exhibition runs until 26 May and entrance is free

León Ferrari: Art, Archive, and Memory (Andrea Wain, Hemispheric Institute)
León Ferrari (official website)
Un paseo por el taller de León Ferrari (Telam)
El laboratorio de un artista inmenso (Pagina/12)

Friday 8 March 2013

Argentina/Iran round-up

There have been plenty of developments on the agreement between Argentina and Iran over the AMIA bombing, but unfortunately I was too snowed under with work to blog on it again. Here are some articles on the subject (since if I just tweet them they'll disappear soon enough).

Argentina Strikes Deal with Iran to Probe AMIA Bombing Suspects (IPS, 22/02)
Argentina passes deal with Iran to probe Amia bombing (BBC, 28/02)
Quorum fight in Argentina's Congress (Blogging by Boz, 28/02)
Argentine Congress Approves Iran Bombing Probe (NY Times, 28/02)
Jewish organization pledges to take Argentina/Iran accord to the Supreme Court (Mercopress)
Argentina’s Deal with Iran Could Carry Political Price (IPS, 01/03)

Argentina: Operation Condor trial starts

A trial with pan-American importance has started in Argentina, focusing on Operation Condor, the cooperation network between South America states to persecute (perceived and actual) dissidents.

Former Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla is one of the defendants, alongside 24 others, including a Uruguayan accused of commiting torture in the Argentine clandestine detention centre, Automotores Orletti. Orletti was a Condor base in Argentina and, thus, many of the non-Argentine victims of the junta ended up there.

Like the ESMA megatrial, this case has symbolic importance. It is also likely to drag on, as all major oral trials do in Argentina, and of course the majority of the defendants are very old. However, the key will be to shed light on the workings of the clandestine partnership between the South American countries.

Comienza el juicio por los crímenes del Plan Cóndor (this article from Spanish El País includes a full list of the victims in the case, as well as the defendants)
El plan de la represión sin fronteras (Pagina/12)
Operation Condor on Trial in Argentina (IPS)

Saturday 2 March 2013

Chile: Pinochet officials made secret visits to UK

Declassified documents in Britain have revealed how high-ranking dictatorship officials from Chile came to the UK in the 1980s.

General Fernando Matthei, commander of the Chilean Air Force, for example, visited London in 1982, ostensibly to "visit friends" and "buy a few books from Foyles" (the famous bookshop). However, he also met representatives of the defence ministry. A confidential memo from the Foreign Office noted that Matthei was a "controversial figure" and that his visit must be kept private so that meetings did not attract criticism from human rights groups.

Matthei's visit was apparently not the first of a Chilean official to Britain, the documents show; in fact some of these took place not just under Thatcher, but also under the Labour government of the late 1970s.

Papeles secretos Chile-Reino Unido: los generales fantasma de Pinochet en Londres (BBC Mundo)
Pinochet generals and ministers incognito and “non official” visits to UK (Mercopress; this is a translation of the BBC Mundo piece)

Peru: ANFASEP and the search for the disappeared

An excellent short documentary piece on the work of ANFASEP, the association of relatives of the disappeared in Ayacucho (with English subtitles).