Saturday 27 July 2013

Colombia: Report finds 220,000 dead

The Colombian Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica (national centre of historic memory) has produced a report called "Basta Ya: Informe General de Memoria y Conflicto" detailing the country's internal conflict.

The report finds that 220,000 Colombians have died as a result of the conflict, over 80% of them non-combatants. That's a truly staggering number.

“Only in a Colombia without fear and with truth can we begin to turn the page,” said president Juan Manuel Santos at the presentation of the report.

You can download the entire report (in Spanish), here.

I was also interested to note that the CNMH is apparently also going to be involved the setting up of a memory museum, likely to be in the north of Bogotá.

Colombian conflict has killed 220,000 in 55 years, commission finds (Guardian)
Report Says 220,000 Have Died in Colombia Conflict (IPS)
Historical Memory Center Launches Final Report (Colombia Calls)

Peru: Exhumations of prison massacre dead

Peruvian prosecutors have been overseeing exhumations of victims of the Peruvian prison massacres of 1986 over the past month.

AP reports that over 100 bodies of Lurigancho prisoners were recovered. In addition, El Comercio writes that eight former inmates of El Frontón were disinterred. The massacres occurred when the military put down coordinated uprisings of Shining Path prisoners in various jails.

Security surrounding the exhumations, which are part of the investigations into extrajudicial executions, was apparently tight.

More Than 100 Bodies Exhumed in Peru (New York Times)
Exhuman cadáveres de presos asesinados 1986 (
Fiscal exhumó restos de ocho muertos en El Frontón (El Comercio)

Thursday 25 July 2013

Argentina: León Ferrari has died

Argentine artist León Ferrari has died at the age of 92. His polemical works are some of the best-known art to deal with the country's dictatorship.

Here he is next to one of this best-known works, La civilización occidental y cristiana. I think we can already see why he wasn't one of the Catholic Church's favourite artists. Personally, I think his work is fantastic. Here is "Alfredo Astiz (Photo: AFP, file Grinberg) + Drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, 1489" (source).

Murió el reconocido artista León Ferrari (La Nación)
Murió León Ferrari, el artista que cuestionó a las instituciones (Clarin)
Murió León Ferrari (Pagina/12)

Sunday 21 July 2013

Chile: Military childhoods of presidential candidates

There are bound to be plenty of comparisons of the similar-yet-different backgrounds of the two presidential candidates in Chile, Michelle Bachelet and Evelyn Matthei.

Bachelet, who of course we know from her previous term, is the daughter of Air Force Brigadier General Alberto Bachelet Martínez. He was loyal to Salvador Allende, was imprisoned following the coup and died in 1974 of heart problems caused by torture.

Labour minister and UDI candidate Matthei is the daughter of Air Force General Fernando Matthei Aubel, who was part of the military junta from 1977 to 1990.

The two have reportedly known each since childhood.

Chile Labour Minister Evelyn Matthei to run for president (BBC)
Weakened Chilean conservatives pick woman to take on Bachelet (Reuters)
Nueve hechos que han marcado la carrera política de Evelyn Matthei (La Tercera)

Edited to add that Otto got there first on this one. 

Saturday 20 July 2013

Argentina: Remembering the AMIA in images

The 19th anniversary of the AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires has just passed, so I thought I'd mark it with an image post.

 (Credit: Nbelohlavek)

This banner makes a deliberate link between the Holocaust (approx. 6 million victims) and the victims of the Israeli embassy bombing (22) and AMIA attack (85).

(Credit: Pablo D. Flores)

The monument in Plaza Lavalle, Buenos Aires, uses the names of the victims.

(Credit: Roblespepe)

(Credit: wallyg)

Argentina: Question marks over new army chief

Updated post, see below.

Argentine president Christina Kirchner named Major-General César Milani as the new head of the army about a month ago. The appointment is causing controversy because of Milani's presence in the early stages of the "dirty war" in Tucumán in 1976. (For those who don't know, the last military coup in Argentina was of course March 1976. However, severe military repression had been going on in the province of Tucumán for a year prior to that - almost as a "practice exercise" for the nationwide abuses which were to follow).

Milani was just 22 21 [he says] at the time and there is no suggestion he played a leading role in the atrocities. In fact, there seems to be very little information about his involvement at all. However, given the circumstances and given the fact that the Kirchner government parades its human rights credentials, it's only natural that people are going to ask questions.

The major human rights organisations - Abuelas, CELS - seem to be taking a cautious approach. They are not denouncing Milani outright but merely asking for clarification.

Milani is claiming that there is a "smear campaign" against him designed to discredit the government. He has shown up in person to courts in Tucumán and La Rioja to deny involvement in human rights crimes. The Senate is due to discuss his appointment next week.

Milani human rights record questioned (Buenos Aires Herald)
Skeletons out of the closet (Buenos Aires Herald)
Milani denounces 'smearing campaign' against Government (Buenos Aires Herald)
César Milani denunció una "campaña de desprestigio en su contra" para "perjudicar al Gobierno" (La Nación)
Milani también fue al tribunal tucumano (Pagina/12)
Perez Esquivel: Bedenken gegen neuen Armeechef (KNA)


On Sunday, 21 July, an interview with Milani appears in Pagina/12 in which he states that he never saw [General Antonio Domingo] Bussi in Tucumán and that he did not know Alberto Ledo, a soldier who became the victim of forced disappearance. He also denies that he was involved in the detention of the father of Ramón Olivera in La Rioja. He expresses incredulity that the accusations are surfacing now, after all these years.

“No puedo creer las cosas que se dicen” (Pagina/12)

Saturday 13 July 2013

Argentina: Sentences for appropriators

Earlier this week, I wrote that three people were standing trial for the "appropriation", as it is known, of a baby born during the dictatorship in Argentina.

The baby in question is Elena Gallinari Abinet, now in her mid-30s, and the defendants were the couple who brought her up, former police officer Domingo Madrid and his wife, María Mercedes Elichalt, and the doctor who signed their false birth certificate, Silvia Marta Kirilosky.

The sentences have been handed down, with the "appropriators" getting ten years each in jail, and the doctor five and a half.

Elena's maternal grandmother, Leonor Alonso, approached the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in her search for her daughter and grandchild. The child being brought up by the Madrid family had been on the radar of the Grandmothers since 1981. In 1986, Argentina set up its national genetic database to help identify the disappeared children, and the following year Elena's true identity was confirmed and, at the age of ten, she met her biological family. 

Elena was hoping that the trial would reveal more details about where she was born, but it seems that this wish was not fulfilled; Madrid insisted that the baby was given to him by a colleague and it is still unclear where the mother was held or where she gave birth.

The ten-year sentences were the maximum possible. It's a decent result, although of course late (since the crime has been evident since at least 1987) and unfortunately does not clarify everything which happened to Maria Leonor Abinet.

Tres condenas por apropiación (Pagina/12)
Condenan a 10 años a una pareja de apropiadores de una menor durante la dictadura (Telam)

Thursday 11 July 2013

Brazil: Former president to be exhumed

The remains of João Goulart, who was president of Brazil from 1961 to 1964 when he was ousted in a coup, are to be exhumed.

"Jango" died in Argentina in 1976, officially of heart problems, but there is a suggestion he could have been poisoned. He was apparently under surveillance in exile and his relatives have long called for more investigation into his death.

His remains will be transferred to the headquarters of the federal police in Brasilia where an examination will be carried out "probably by the end of the year," said an official at the National Truth Commission.

Goulart joins several other prominent figures in Latin America who have been exhumed in recent years, including Salvador Allende and Pablo Neruda.

Brazil to exhume ex-president Goulart (France24)
Brazil decides exhumation of ex-president Goulart, believed to have been poisoned by the military regime (Mercopress)
Restos mortais do ex-presidente João Goulart serão exumados (Exame)

Sunday 7 July 2013

Argentina: Appropriation case reaches court

The case of the very first grandchild found by the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo comes to court tomorrow.

Elena Gallinari Abinet was born in a clandestine detention centre in 1976. Her mother, Maria Leonor Abinet, was seven months pregnant when she was abducted in September 1976. Her father, Miguel Angel Gallinari, was also disappeared and killed in the same year.

Elena was registered as the biological child of Domingo Luis Madrid and María Mercedes Elichalt, who are now both charged with her appropriation, as is the doctor who signed the birth certificate. She was identified by the Abuelas in 1987.

The case is expected to last a week.

Just look at Elena and the likeness to the mother she never had a chance to get to know:

A new case of ‘Dirty War’ appropriation reaches court (Buenos Aires Herald)
Comienza el juicio por la apropiación de Elena Gallinari Abinet (Infojus Noticias)

Saturday 6 July 2013

"Staging" a coup

There was an outcry on Twitter yesterday over comments by the Wall Street Journal that "Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile's Augusto Pinochet". I'm not going to go on and on about my reaction to this. It should be obvious from the tone of this blog what I think about it, and it's been done well elsewhere.

Anyway, the BBC News Magazine ran an article this morning comparing the Egyptian coup with that of Pinochet in a rather different way, from the perspective of its staging/theatricality. A coup is, I would suggest, always a carefully-staged public event, often with a fairly long preparation period.

The BBC writes,
There are certain customs, established over many decades, to uphold when declaring a coup.
A rough-hewn general in a crisp uniform reads out a statement on state TV in which he declares that, reluctantly, the armed forces have decided to step in to save the country.[...]
First of all, the general has to get his image right. He needs a well pressed uniform, decked with medals. He needs a podium, or, at the very least, a solid table.
Sunglasses are optional. The general's look as he reads his declaration may become the defining image of his country to the outside world (it will certainly be the image for which he is most remembered by his own people).
The coup statement must follow a certain format. The general should stress that the military is responding to its patriotic duty. Above all, the coup leader must avoid calling his actions a coup - a word which may make him look like a gangster. More often, he will prefer to used the word "intervention". 
 It's true. The "sunglasses" element is of course most iconically represented by general Pinochet:

 Argentina's junta leaders tended to present a show of cooperation:

The military representatives in South America were generally serious, clean-shaven - aside from the neat moustashes sometimes worn - pale-skinned and - so obviously it almost goes unmentioned - always male. They talked about order, security, the eradication of terrorism, Christianity, upholding the family and the (Catholic) Church. Their paternal tenderness was backed up by tanks lining the streets of the capital and the immediate banning of public gatherings.

You can see how General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi's television statement fits into this expected show, this tidying up of the messiness of public display. I hope the Egyptian people are not "lucky" enough to end up with a Pinochet on their hands.

Friday 5 July 2013

Chile: Plaque for cameraman who filmed own death

Leonardo Henrichsen, the Argentine cameraman who was killed while filming in Chile in 1973, has been honoured with a plaque in Santiago on the 40th anniversary of his death on 29 June.

Journalism can be a hazardous profession for various reasons, but I blogged about Henrichsen nearly four years ago because of the highly unusual circumstances of him filming his own death. The final footage he shot is in the Youtube clip above.

Representatives of the city and human rights organizations were present at the plaque-unveiling, as was documentary filmmaker Patricio Guzmán and Henrichsen's daughter.

Here is the man killed just doing his job:

Alcaldesa Tohá instala placa en homenaje a camarógrafo asesinado durante “Tanquetazo" (Municipalidad de Santiago)
Homenajean a camarógrafo argentino Leonardo Henrichsen, muerto el 29 de junio de 1973 (
El cámara que grabó su asesinato (El País)

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Chile: Street name update

In an update to my recent post, the name of Avenida 11 de septiembre will now be changed to Nueva Providencia - and it's even made the English-language news.

This pretty much reflects what I wrote before,
The name was never meant to represent the victims’ memory but rather to celebrate the coup, Francisco Estévez, historian and coordinator of the group “Desmonumentar la Dictatura” told The Santiago Times.

“Memorials, if they are built to remember the victims and not the perpetrators, are a different thing altogether,“ he said. “Symbols are not neutral, and the Avenida 11 de Septiembre is a survivor of the dictatorship.“

The vote was four to one, with the one being Manuel José Monckeberg as discussed previously. The name change is to go through "within the year" apparently. 

Good decision.

Concejo municipal aprueba cambio de nombre de Av. 11 de septiembre a Nueva Providencia (La Tercera)
Chile Changes Name of Avenue Marking Military Coup (NY Times)
Street name celebrating Chilean Sep. 11 coup to be changed (Santiago Times)

Image credit: RiveraNotario / Flickr