Sunday 29 September 2013

Chile: Jailed general commits suicide

Well. Chile now only has nine prisoners to transfer from Cordillera jail to Punta Pueco. Former head of the national intelligence center (CNI), Odlanier Mena, killed himself while on weekend leave. He had been serving a six-year term in connection with the "Caravan of Death".

Mena's lawyer, Jorge Balmaceda, specifically attributed the suicide to the recent decision to close Cordillera and move its ten inmates to another military facility. He said that Mena had been in a delicate state of health with need of oxygen, and apparently believed he would not receive the necessary medical treatment there.

Presidential candidate Michelle Bachelet is reported as responding that the suicide was a "very tragic decision". That's very diplomatic of her. Whether Mena intended it or not, it will be seized on by supporters of the military perpetrators and they will attempt to use emotional blackmail to keep the prisoners' privileges.

Chile 'Caravan of Death' general commits suicide (BBC)
Pinochet-Era Intelligence Director Commits Suicide in Chile (LAHT)
Se suicida Odlanier Mena, ex director de la CNI y uno de los internos del Penal Cordillera (La Tercera)
Michelle Bachelet y suicidio de Odlanier Mena: "Me parece que es una decisión muy trágica" (La Tercera)
Abogado de Odlanier Mena: "Se suicidó por el traslado" (24 Horas)

Friday 27 September 2013

Chile decides to close "luxury" jail

Chilean president Sebastian Piñera has announced that the country's Cordillera prison, which holds just ten inmates convicted of human rights abuses, will be closed and the prisoners transferred to Punta Pueco jail. 

The decision, as The Pan-American Post points out, appears to have been provoked by an interview former DINA head Manuel Contreras gave to CNN Chile in which - besides coming across as an arrogant and completely unrepentant old man - he apparently mocks the conditions in which he is held. The prisoners reportedly enjoy special privileges (including use of a tennis court?!) and have over 30 guards for the ten detainees: hardly standard Latin American incarceration. 

Punta Pueco is also a jail specifically for holding human rights abusers, but is supposedly somewhat less luxurious than Cordillera. 

Most of the South American countries seem to have this issue to some extent - in Argentina, older prisoners supposedly under "house arrest" appeared able to come and go in the neighbourhood; in Peru, former president Fujimori has basically an entire appartment to himself and receives visitors whenever he wants. It seems to be a standard move of the military/former leaders: if history turns against you and insists on condeming you for your crimes, well, at least try and make the conditions as cushy as possible and live out your old age in peace. 

This two-tier system is completely unnecessary and allows the perpetrators to continue mocking justice. Many (all?!) South American jails need to have their conditions improved for all prisoners and all prisoners should receive necessary medical care, and apart from that there should be no special treatment. We're not there yet, but closing down a ridiculously lax prison for a tiny number of high-profile prisoners is at least a start. I wonder if Contreras regrets giving that interview now?

Piñera cierra el Penal Cordillera y pone broche de oro a su agenda personal por los 40 años del golpe (El Mostrador)
Piñera anuncia cierre definitivo del penal Cordillera y traslado de los condenados a Punta Peuco (La Tercera)
Chile to Move Ex-Pinochet Agents to No-Frills Jail (NY Times)

Chile: CNN interviews Manuel Contreras

To coincide with the 40th anniversary of the coup, CNN Chile interviewed the former head of the Chilean secret police (DINA), Manuel Contreras. In the interview, Contreras denies that there were human rights abuses in Villa Grimaldi; accuses former president Michelle Bachelet of lying about her own torture experiences; and says all the "disappeared" were killed in armed actions and are buried in the main cemetery (cemeterio general).

Manuel Contreras: "Los detenidos desaparecidos están en el Cementerio General" (CNN Chile)

Brazil/US: Archive partnership

Brown University, the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the National Archive of Brazil, and the State University of Maringá (UEM) have entered into a colloboration to digitise and make accessible declassified documents pertaining to U.S.-Brazilian relations from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. The documents will eventually be accessible via the internet to scholars around the world. The project is called "Opening the Archives" and involves students from the two universities.

Brown University, National Archives and Records Administration, and National Archive of Brazil Forge Partnership (Brown University Library News)
U. to help digitize diplomatic records (Brown Daily Herald)

Thursday 26 September 2013

Peru: Detonante: El arte peruano después de la CVR

I am almost too late with this, so if you are in Lima, hurry along this weekend - the exhibition "Detonante: El arte peruano después de la CVR" is on at the Museo Metropolitano until Sunday, and it looks really good. 

The exhibition focuses on Peruvian art responding to the country's truth commission, and is curated by Victor Vich, who has done some very interesting memory work, and Karen Bernedo, whose work I personally wasn't familiar with, but I'll be rectifying that. 

Featured artists include Rudolph Castro, Claudia Coca, Mauricio Delgado, Victor Delfín, Edilberto Jiménez, Alfredo Márquez, Jorge Miyagui, Nelly Plaza, Santiago Quintanilla, Lici Ramírez, Teodoro Ramírez, Miguel Rubio, Josefa Talovara. 

From the images on Facebook, I can see what I take to be some of Jiménez's retablos, and some of the images from Delgado's project Un dia en la memoria.
See also - El arte peruano después de la CVR (La mula, image credit)

p.s. Entry is free!

Thursday 19 September 2013

Peru: Fujimori on Facebook and Twitter

Peruvian social media is today noting with amusement the announcement of jailed former president Alberto Fujimori that he will be participating on Facebook and Twitter. Well, you know, not actually him, because he's in prison, but his official accounts will be managed by "young associates". He says he wants to share his "thoughts and memories".

It's hard to take this seriously really; it smacks of someone who just can't accept being out of the limelight. It remains to be seen, however, how far he tries to use these channels to achieve what appears to be his primary aim at the moment - a pardon.

Alberto Fujimori anuncia que usará redes sociales desde prisión (La Republica)

Argentina: 30th anniversary of El Siluetazo

Nothing to make you feel old in blogging terms like doing a "30th anniversary" post and realising you did a 25th anniversary one as well...

Anyway, 21 September is the 30th anniversary of the public art event known as the Siluetazo ("big silhouette"). This was part of the Marcha de la resistencia of 1983, a huge demonstration in support of human rights and democracy which took place under the military regime. By 1983, the junta was weakening and protest was easier than it had previously been, but still, it was not a risk-free undertaking. Activists cut out life-size silhouettes to draw attention to the issue of disappeared people. The idea was simple but highly effective. The symbol has become one of the lasting icons of the dictatorship and has been referred to and re-used in various contexts (see, for example, here).

It is remembered largely through the work of photographer Eduardo Gil, and an exhibition of his work opens tomorrow at the Centro provincial de la memoria in La Plata.

The image for this post was sourced from this excellent article, published earlier this year, on the origin and impact of the Siluetazo. There are more, larger images there.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Argentina: Abuelas documentary

Women Make Movies contacted me to promote a documentary by Noemi Weis, Abuelas: Grandmothers on a Mission. Here's the trailer:

Saturday 14 September 2013

Chile: 40 years on (3)

There are declassified documents on the US and Chile from the National Security Archive.

Chilean journalism research center CIPER criticizes the role of paper El Mercurio in supporting the Pinochet regime and failing to account for its actions afterwards. 

Steve Anderson provides a personal piece for the Santiago Times on how September 11, 1973, changed his life.  

The BBC has a slideshow of the commemorations and reports on the clashes between protesters and police. 

The lingering effect of Pinochet's policies and resulting inequality is discussed by IPS.

In an editorial for La Tercera, Robert Funk asks what happens after the commemorations are over. He argues that the 11th is for remembering, and the 12th is for opening your eyes and coming to terms with the past (Vergangenheitsbewältigung). It's a very good piece.

Thursday 12 September 2013

Don McCullin on the "shame of memory"

The "Lens" blog in the New York Times picks up on comments by renowned photojournalist Don McCullin recently.
“Photography was a beautiful thing to me... But once I started putting my hands in the blood and suffering of war I became really disillusioned. I would stand in front of men who were going to be executed in front of me, crying, looking at me and hoping I could stop their murder. There were dying children in Africa who were starving, and I would come to a feeding center. They would think here was a white man, he is going to bring some food aid. All I had was a Nikon camera around my neck... At the end of the day, after years and years of assuming you can steal the pain of people in your pictures and the suffering of soldiers, civilians and starving children and dying children that drop dead in front of you, you have to suffer the shame of memory and then you have to somehow live with it, sleep with it, understand it without trying to become insane... Nobody said that you have to get on this airplane and go to these wars and make these terrible images. I did it. I have to accept the responsibility.”
Strong words which raise pertinent questions about the point of photojournalism and the uses of photography. 

I think McCullin is right that claims about the power of photography (and indeed, memory) are often overblown. Recordar para no repetir, we hear. Nunca más. Never again. But atrocities do happen again. The Holocaust was unique, but it didn't prevent Rwanda, Guatemala, Cambodia, Argentina, Peru, and the rest. He is quite right that there is no sign of an end to war and bloodshed.

So why bother? Firstly, I think, there is a value in learning about and remembering historic events whether or not this can affect the future. It seems like a question of respect towards the victims as much as anything. Photography plays a role in illustrating this and giving it a "human face".

Secondly, let's not only see the negative. While countries continue to suffer trauma, there has been progress too. Argentina - a country which experienced six coups in the twentieth century - is about to mark 30 years of democracy. Brazil is examining its past in a truth commission. Peru has imprisoned both its main guerrilla leader and the president who combated terrorism with disregard for human rights.

The issue of shame is an interesting one. Yes, being a photographer is a job and they earn money from it - I have no idea how much, but I have a suspicion it's not that much when you consider the risks they run (which they choose to run). So are they merely exploiting their subjects? It's an issue with many sides, clearly, but my instinct is that we need to see, however imperfectly, what is happening in other parts of the world. Photographs can't work miracles, but they do form an important part of memory work, and memory might not prevent future disasters, but it is still important in its own right.

The “Shame of Memory” Haunts a War Photographer (NYT)

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Chile: 40 years on (2)

This anniversary is a big one for Chile.

Sergio Carrasco of the Associated Press recalls covering the coup.
Most communications were cut off by then, but AP photographer Santiago Llanquin persuaded a telephone operator to open a line. We reached a hotel in Mendoza, Argentina, and somehow kept that line open for days. AP photographer Eduardo DiBaia rushed from Buenos Aires to set up a makeshift bureau in the hotel, defying censors and transmitting news and photos of the attacks to the outside world. 
Much has been made of US support for the coup (and rightly so), but you don't hear much about British Foreign Office backing for it. Grace Livingstone at the Guardian online sheds some light; pretty shocking to read about criticism of "black propaganda against the Chilean armed services"! Joyce Horman also writes about the murder of her husband for the website. There is also a slide show of images from "Chile from within", a photobook by Susan Meiselas which is being reissued in electronic format. A further guest piece is from human rights judge Baltasar Garzón.

"Time" interviews president Sebastian Piñera on the occasion of the 40th anniversary.
This was a very dark part of our history. We should not forget it. But when we remember it, the question is what is the goal? To reproduce the same anger? Everybody has some lessons to learn. The only thing that [the left] would say is that nothing that happened before September 11, 1973 justifies what happened in terms of human rights abuses afterwards, and I fully agree with them.
In comments to media, Piñera also criticised the complicity of the media, provoking a reaction from journalists

Presidential candidate Michelle Bachelet has been very involved in the commemorations - understandable, since she was a victim of torture herself and her father was killed. She visited the Villa Grimaldi detention centre in Santiago and called for a full investigation into human rights abuses. 

A lot of people have been tweeting the BBC story about Carmen Quintana, who was set on fire by soldiers and lived to tell the tale. 
"I feel that I am the voice of so many other Chileans who died," she says. 
  Of the Spanish-language media, there is too much to mention, but just to highlight Robert Funk's column for La Tercera on the lasting divisions within Chile.

Photo of the day: Chile

Only one choice really.


Sunday 8 September 2013

Chile extradites Argentine judge

Former Argentine judge Otilio Romano has been extradited from Chile to face charges of human rights abuses during the 1976-1983 military rule. He had fled there two years ago. He is accused of complicity in forced disappearances, torture and illegal raids.

It occurs to me that this is the other side of the coin from the cooperation between Latin American countries under Operation Condor, where people fleeing persecution from one country would find themselves under attack in another. Now alleged human rights abusers do not find that crossing the border gives them a place to hide. And a good thing too!

'Dirty War' judge Romano extradited to Argentina (BBC)
Extraditaron desde Chile a un ex juez federal acusado por delitos de lesa humanidad (Clarin)
Former Judge Otilio Romano arrived in Mendoza, extradited from Chile (Telam)
Ex juez Otilio Romano llega a Argentina tras cumplirse proceso de extradición desde Chile (La Tercera)

Brazil: O Globo apologises for coup support

Brazilian paper O Globo last week issued an unexpected apology for its support for the military dictatorship in the country; however, it also implicated a number of other media outlets in the complicity.

It described its support for the regime as "a mistake".

As often in such situations, few were satisfied by the statement. Current-day coup supporters saw the editorial as an attempt to rewrite history. According to weekly magazine Carta Capital, the right-wing group Clube Militar - which still holds annual celebrations of the coup - said they were nonplussed with what they saw as a two-faced retraction. On the other hand, for opponents the apology did not go far enough and was condemned as a marketing strategy. 

Leading Brazilian newspaper O Globo calls support for 1964 military coup "a mistake" (Journalism in the Americas)
Globo media organisation apologises for supporting Brazil’s dictatorship (The Independent)
Brazil's Globo group apologizes for backing military government (LA Times)

Chile: 40 years on

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the September 11 coup in Chile and there has been a predictable flurry of memory-related stories.

Amnesty International UK is hosting an updated version of photojournalist Julio Etchart's 1988 exhibition Chile's 9/11 at the Human Rights Action Centre in Shoreditch, London, on weekdays from 9-20 September (you can see some of the images here).

Hugh O'Shaughnessy recalls witnessing the coup as a journalist in Santiago.

Joyce Horman, whose husband was killed by the military regime and became the subject of the well-known film Missing, continues to fight for justice for the disappeared. An event celebrating the judges, lawyers and human rights activists who led efforts to illuminate this dark period of history will be held at the Charles Horman Truth Foundation in New York on Monday.

Meanwhile, the family of Victor Jara has filed suit in Florida under federal laws allowing legal action against human rights violators living in the United States. The former officer accused of his murder, Pedro Pablo Barrientos, moved to the United States in 1989 and became an American citizen.

Chilean judges have made an unprecedented apology for their profession's involvement in the regime. Chilean courts rejected about 5,000 cases seeking help on locating missing loved ones abducted or killed by the authorities.

Chilean president Sebastian Pinera called for those with information about the disappeared to come forward.

Reuters and AFP also consider the legacy of the dictatorship as the anniversary approaches.  The BBC features the work of muralists who defied the regime.

Sunday 1 September 2013

Argentina: Disappeared of African descent

The Buenos Aires Herald drew my attention to research being undertaken by anthropologist Pablo Cirio of the university of La Plata on the Afro-Argentine disappeared. Little attention has so far been given to this small group - certainly I've never seen anything on desaparecidos of African descent in Argentina - but Cirio has apparently already uncovered ten cases. Cirio argues that the disappearances should be seen in the context of the "historic disappearance" of the community, first from Africa and then from the official history of Argentina. He points to, for example, remarks by dictatorship-era interior minister Albano Harguindeguy about Argentina being "one of the three whitest countries in the world". The research is at an early stage, but sounds promising.

The forgotten Afro-Argentine disappeared (Buenos Aires Herald)
Estudian casos de afroargentinos víctimas de la última dictadura como parte de su "desaparición histórica" (Telam)