Tuesday 21 May 2013

Argentina: Former Ford employees charged

An Argentine judge has ordered the trial of two former executives and the ex-head of security at Ford in Argentina on charges of illegal deprivation of liberty.

Pedro Müller, Guillermo Galárraga and Héctor Sibilla are accused of involvement in the abduction of 24 workers in 1976, during the early months of the military regime. They are said to have given the military lists of employees. They are also accused of having allowed the creation of a detention centre on the factory site in Pacheco. The former president of Ford Argentina, Nicolás Courard, was also part of the original case but he died in Chile in 1989.

According to judge Alicia Vence,

The violation of human rights was not exclusively the preserve of state agents but was realised with the collaboration of private actors, and in particular of companies which participate, assist and facilitate such acts as economic actors, as long as the violation benefits their economic interests. 
The factory, in the province of Buenos Aires, produced the Ford Falcon which became an icon of repression in the country.

This case will be interesting because of links between the Argentine junta and big business, of which Ford is not the only example (see also here). Economic complicity has not been pursued much, probably for a combination of reasons: other priorities, difficulties of proving it, continuing influence of large companies in the country. Some human rights groups may have been wary of accusations of politicisation (while others, of course, actively embrace this). The three defendants are all over 80 - Galárraga is reported to be 90 - so we'll see how far this goes.

Procesamiento para los entregadores de la Ford (Pagina/12)
Procesan a tres ex directivos de la automotriz Ford por el secuestro de 24 obreros durante la dictadura (Politicaymedios, also image source)
Por secuestros durante la dictadura, procesaron a directivos de la Ford (eldiario24.com)
Procesan a tres ejecutivos de Ford Motor Argentina de la época del “Falcon verde” (Los Andes)

Sunday 19 May 2013

Argentina: More on aftermath/reactions

I was struck by a piece in Pagina12 relating that there were only 18 death announcements published in (newspaper of record) La Nacion yesterday in response to the death of Jorge Videla.

By contrast, the paper writes, in May 1987, 5,400 people signed a request for "recognition and solidarity" for Videla and his work in "defending the Nation from aggressive subversion". Two months ago, after the death of former economy minister and high-ranking civilian member of the military regime, José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz, there were 91 notices in the conservative paper. Of the 18 notices now, only two of them referred to the "injustice" of the sentences he had received, with the most vociferous coming from retired lieutenant colonel and lawyer, Rubén Brandariz, who wrote that Videla "commanded the internal, revolutionary war against subversive terrorism".

I would be wary of concluding that this is a reflection of Videla's waning popularity. I think there is a certain class of Argentines which still backs the principles behind the "dirty war" (ultraconservative, catholic, nationalist). They just do not live in an environment where they feel comfortable expressing their views openly any more. The larger reaction to Martínez de Hoz's death could be explained by the fact that, as a civilian, he was less connected to specific violent crimes. This is probably the most we can hope for, to be honest, as you cannot force people to change their views... something the "dirty war" perpetrators found out too.

El pésame de sólo dieciocho avisos (Pagina/12)

Over at La Nacion itself, they're not beating about the bush and are referring to Videla as "dictator". They provide further information on his funeral:

Videla is expected to be buried in Mercedes, Buenos Aires province (his birthplace), in the coming hours. An autopsy has been carried out and the remains will not be released to his family until they have agreed with its results, to avoid future exhumations. The cause of death is said to be multiple fractures and internal bleeding resulting from a fall he suffered last Sunday, in addition to an underlying heart condition. The family could decide to pay for their own medical examination as well, if they wish.

Sepultarán a Videla en el cementerio de Mercedes (La Nacion)

Saturday 18 May 2013

Argentina: Videla is dead

Jorge Rafael Videla, former dictator and leader of the Argentine junta, has died in jail aged 87.
That is a pretty amazing sentence to write, actually. It's the "in jail" part that is amazing. I suspect that for most of the 30 years since the end of the dictatorship, most people in Argentina would not have put much money on the chances of any of the junta leaders seeing the inside of a jail cell. I've been blogging about Videla & Co. for getting on for six years now and the fact that such a key figure in the "dirty war" died while serving his sentence for crimes against humanity means that this post can be peaceful, and not angry. Do I wish he had spent more of the past three decades behind bars? Yes. Do I celebrate his death? No. I hope that it can to some extent be cathartic for Argentina and I also hope it can serve as a reminder that pending legal cases against other perpetrators need to be dealt with as quickly as possible.
In its headline, Clarin accurately picks up on Videla's iconic status, "The symbol of the last Argentine dictatorship died in prison". The paper writes,
Until the coup which put him at the head of the Process of National Reorganisation, as the last dictatorship called itself, Videla was unknown to a large part of society. He was a military man - grey, taciturn, enigmatic, more devoted to closed order than high strategy, punctilious and almost mysterious.


Certainly, his controlled features, his thin face, long nose and famous moustache will go down in history as a symbol of military cruelty against its own population.
The Guardian cites Argentine human rights activist and Nobel prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel as saying,  "He spent his life doing great damage, which left a mark on the life of the country. His death ended his physical presence but not what he did to the country." True, of course, and the process of remembering the dictatorship will go on.
Pagina 12, which runs the striking front page at the top of this post, also quotes Estela Carlotto, president of the Grandmothers, as saying, "He was a despicable human being. He never expressed remorse." The paper writes that there was no sadness for Videla, but for the information which died with him - details about the fate of the disappeared and their children, who are nowadays in their 30s and still unaware of their true identities.
Several commentators, including Carlotto as reported by La Nacion, mention a feeling of relief at his death - not vengeance or rejoicing, but just a sober awareness of relief that a mass murderer has left this Earth. That is a feeling I would share.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Argentina: Madres de Plaza de Mayo commemorate 36 years

Yesterday, 30 April 2013, it was 36 years since the first, small group of women got together in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires to call for the return of their detained-disappeared children. I'm sure they never imagined that they were embarking on a lifestyle of struggle.

The overwhelming majority of the mothers never got their happy ending: their children did not come back to them. Most of them do not even know what happened to them. But, as it says on the Madres' website, they made the best out of the worst. They turned their own tragedy into political activism - and that is, of course, why they are not uncontroversial figures, saints of the people.

The Asociacion Madres attended an event in their honour at the ex-ESMA site, where groups including the children of the disappeared, HIJOS, paid tribute to their work. The Linea Fundadora madres attended a separate event at the Plaza de Mayo.

Madres de Plaza de Mayo cumple 36 años (Pagina/12)
Madres de Plaza de Mayo conmemoró los 36 años de la primera marcha (La Capital)
Homenajearon a las Madres de Plaza de Mayo Línea Fundadora a 36 años de la primera ronda (Telam)