Monday 30 December 2013

El Salvador family reunited

Here's a good news story to end the year on.

Salvadoran Josefina Flores Osorio has been reunited with the daughter, Xiomara, she had not seen since 1984. The reunion marked the 389th case of a "disappeared" child to be successfully resolved by the tiny charity Pro Búsqueda Association for Missing Children since the conflict ended 21 years ago. 
Margarita Zamora, a Pro Búsqueda investigator, said many investigations were still hampered by the military. "The army holds important details – dates, names and places – which would help us solve many more cases as families are often too traumatised to remember. We have been asking them for years to release their files, they always say yes, but these are just words."
 It's a fascinating story and, of course, a hugely significant event for the family involved.

El Salvador mother and daughter meet 29 years after civil war abduction (Guardian)

Saturday 21 December 2013

Peru: Consultation process for memory museum

Peru's memory-museum-in-progress, the Lugar de la memoria, la tolerancia and la inclusion social, is conducting a consultation process with various groups about the contents of the exhibitions to be contained within the building. The construction itself is apparently nearly finished and at least part of the site could open in the second quarter of 2014.

Groups being consulted include human rights organisations, victims' families, the police and armed forces, journalists, artists, and the Ashaninka community.

The current plan is for the site to include a space where people will be able to visit and reflect without entering the museum proper. The ground floor of the museum is to be the permanent exhibition and the upper story will be used for temporary exhibitions. A special section will be devoted to the truth and reconciliation commission (CVR).

The consultation process is scheduled to go on until February.

Lugar de la Memoria recoge opiniones de la sociedad civil (La Republica)
Un museo vivo que contará las diversas historias de la violencia (La Republica)

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Peru: Yuyanapaq exhibition to stay open until 2026

The Yuyanapaq photo exhibition will remain part of the permanent exhibition of the Museo de la Nación in Lima until 2026, according to the terms of the renovation agreement signed by the Peruvian govenment ombudsman and the culture ministry. The exhibition has already been seen by over 240,000 people in the last seven years and is part of the legacy of Peru's truth commission. It contains more than 200 photographs from various sources depicting the armed conflict of 1980-2000. It can be viewed for free on the sixth floor of the museum, every day of the week except Monday.

Very pleased to read that the immediate future of Yuyanapaq is secure: it's such an important exhibition for the country.

Exposición fotográfica “Yuyanapaq: para recordar” se quedará en Museo de la Nación hasta 2026 (Idehpucp)

Sunday 15 December 2013

Places of memory in Chile: Casa de los derechos humanos, Punta Arenas

This is the Casa de los derechos humanos, situated on Avenida Colón 636, Punta Arenas. The plaque next to the door states that it was a detention and torture centre during the dictatorship.

As far as the history of the site is concerned, informs us that the building was the principal site of interrogation and torture in the province of Magallanes and that "hundreds" of prisoners passed through there. It was known as "Palacio de las Sonrisas" (Palace of Smiles) and had previously functioned as a naval hospital. The building is three storeys high and, according to, contained both offices and rooms used for torture, including electric shocks.

It's worth noting that this building in right in the centre of Punta Arenas, just off the main shopping street. It's not hidden or in an isolated position at all.

This place was closed up when I went past, but it is apparently used for human rights-related activities such as this one and these. I did a little research and it seems that last year there was talk of the Chilean ministry of national assets taking back the building and changing its use. This was met with protests and as far as I can tell, it was resolved that the building would continue to be used for community activites and even become the site of a memory museum. At the end of 2012, Patagonian paper El Pinguino described the building's future as "uncertain", but this June it reported in brief on the approval of a museum project. Good news, if accurate.

Antiguo Hospital Naval, Punta Arenas (

Friday 13 December 2013

Places of memory in Chile: Parque Cultural de Valparaiso

Valparaiso has an unusual cultural park situated in a former prison, which operated from 1906 to 1999.

The site is still very obviously an ex-jail. At one point, Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer was controversially commissioned to change it into a fully-fledged cultural centre, but the plan was eventually dropped. Instead, the park was designed by Jonathan Holmes, Martin Labbé, Carolina Portugueis and Osvaldo Spichiger - the Architectural Review has a lot more detail on this.

This message, drawing to the jail as a detention and torture centre during the dictatorship, was sprayed onto the pavement outside the site.

La Tercera has an article about a photographic exhibition which took place in the park this year, which unfortunately I didn't get the chance to see, but it featured works by Nelson Muñoz Mera taken just after the prison stopped working. Very interesting images, check them out

Someone in Valparaiso remarked to me that it was a bit odd to go to a concert in a former prison, but as regular readers of this blog know, I am a fan of using sites of memory and not locking them away or preserving them in aspic, so I don't really have a problem with it. Whether former prisoners would want to go back and see it now is of course another matter, but the city is not sweeping its past under the carpet here, it's making use of it, and I like that.

Sunday 8 December 2013

Places of memory in Chile: Memorial in Valparaíso

This is the monument for the detained-disappeared and persons executed for political reasons of the region of Valparaíso (Monumento a los Detenidos Desaparecidos y Ejecutados políticos de la Dictadura Militar de la Región de Valparaíso), Chile's second city and major port. And, as you can see here, it also acts as a convenient seat for students of the nearby university.

The memorial was designed by a team formed of sculptor Eliana Herrera, architect Hernán Bustamante and anthropologist Javiera Bustamante, who won a public competition. 

The stone base of the memorial contains the names of 177 victims of the dictatorship between 11 September 1973 and 10 March 1990.

The top part of the memoria resembles a wave and is formed of 86 iron sheets of varying heights. The designers said that it represented the sea as a source of life and symbolised a fragment of the history of Chile. The names of the men and women were "engraved there forever to defeat forgetting". 

Memorial por desaparecidos y ejecutados (El Mercurio de Valparaíso)

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Peru: La Hoyada declared protected zone

The region of La Hoyada, Ayacucho, has been declared a protected zone and is expected to be declared a "memory sanctuary" in the near future. This ensures that the area is protected and it is to be set aside to commemorate the victims of Peru's conflict who were killed there.

Over 100 bodies have been exhumed in La Hoyada.
In 2008, after three years of forensic work, the head of the Legal Medicine Institute, Luis Bromley, said “More than 1000 people came through the barracks as arrested persons and never left.”   He added that “it’s chilling what we have been discovering in each grave — men, women and children murdered. A child and an unborn child are not terrorists, there is no justification for these deaths.”
Ayacucho Seeks to Preserve Site of Atrocities Committed During Conflict (Peruvian Times)
Declaró La hoyada como zona de protección (

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Places of memory in Santiago: Monument to the disappeared

Municipal workers in Chile were striking during my visit and there was a notice on the entrance to the main cemetery in Santiago saying that it was only open for funeral services, but the guards weren't stopping people going in, so I managed a quick visit to the monument to disappeared people and executed political prisoners.

Its full name is the Memorial del Detenido Desaparecido y del Ejecutado Político (memorial for detained-disappeared people and those executed for political reasons).

At the side of the monument itself are niches, some of them empty and some with victims' names and flowers.

The main monument itself is a large, stone wall with a list of victims carved into it. As with other such walls, the effect is largely due to the sheer number of names. In the very centre is president Salvador Allende.

The memorial is topped with a quotation from Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, who you can hear reading here.

I always really like seeing a memorial used, actually part of the fabric of life. In this case, at the bottom of the memorial are many notes, photos, little plaques, flowers, and so on. It's a sombre site but then, it is in a graveyard. The important thing is these victims did not previously have anywhere where their families could go to mourn them and to mark their lives, and now they do, and they are acknowledged in the chief cemetery of the capital city as being part of the country's history.