Sunday 28 December 2014

Argentina: Human rights achievements of 2014

Infojus Noticias provides us with a look back at Argentina's year in human rights, so here's a translation of the main points.

Found grandchildren:
The recovery of the identity of Ignacio Guido Montoya Carlotto on August 5 was the biggest media event of the year, but he was not the first grandchild to be found. On February 6, a young woman was confirmed as the daughter of Oscar Rómulo Gutiérrez and Liliana Isabel Acuña. Later, the forensic anthropology team found the remains of three pregnant woman who had been murdered before giving birth. In August, Ana Libertad Baratti de la Cuadra was found, and at the end of the this year grandchild number 116, the child of Ana Rubel and Hugo Castro, regained his true identity.

Trials for appropriations:
There were four trials linked to found grandchildren. On September 9, the appropriators (i.e. the illegal adopters) of Pablo Gaona Miranda (found grandchild no. 106), plus the person accused of handing over the child to them, were sentenced to between six and eight years in jail. Medical personnel linked to the births of disappeared children and the falsification of their documentations also received prison sentences.

Trials for state terrorism:
14 trials relating to clandestine detention centres drew to a close. In October, the trial over crimes in La Cacha concluded. Six human rights abusers were convicted of the murder of Osvaldo Tordo Sigfrido de Benedetti, six more for the Metán case, and ten for crimes in Rosario. 

The number of perpetrators convicted since the return to democracy is, therefore, 559.

Ongoing trials
There are currently 17 oral trials ongoing, 11 of which started this year. In these, 279 people are accused of over 2,220 crimes. These include the mega-trials for the detention centres of La Perla and ESMA, people accused of crimes under Plan Condor, and of the systematic stealing of babies.

Legal investigations
62 new legal investigations were initiated up to October.

49 alleged human rights abusers are currently on the run; this is down from 73 at the end of last year. Three were caught in early December.

Finally, the EAAF managed to identify ten disappeared people this year, in addition to the three pregnant woman mentioned above. This brings the total it has identified in Argentina to 651.

2014: 4 nietos, 17 juicios en marcha y otros 40 represores condenados (Infojus Noticias)

Most-read posts of 2014

2014 is drawing to a close and it's been a mixed one for the blog, with life getting in the way quite frequently. Nevertheless, there have been a few highlights in Latin America and in my posts. There's no question about the stand-out LatAm event of the year for me: it was Estela de Carlotto of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo discovering her own grandchild in August. A truly amazing moment, the kind that you didn't dare think would happen. There was a massive outpouring of emotion from Argentina, and indeed the world, in response.

These are my top five posts of the year:

"Escrache" is word of the year for Fundéu BBVA - 1 January

Book review: Carmen Castillo's Un día de octubre en Santiago - 8 March

Argentina: Grandmothers' president finds her grandson - 6 August

Peru: Exhibition of victims' clothing - 10 September

Response to "Memory is not history"- 15 September

Monday 15 December 2014

Uruguay: Update on Graf Spee eagle

Despite being a bit of a detour from the main focus of this blog, my 2010 post on the eagle of the Graf Spee pocket battleship is one of the most-read posts I've written.

We're over four years on and not much progress has been made. Now the BBC asks "What should Uruguay do with its Nazi eagle?".

The country's supreme court has ruled that the Uruguayan state is the owner of the artifact, but that the salvage company should also receive half of the profits in the event of a sale. Businessman Alfredo Etchegaray, one of the men who led the operation to recover the eagle, told the BBC that the eagle could be worth up to US$ 15 million."Having the eagle in a box doesn't benefit anybody," he said.

There has been reporting that the eagle is not appropriately stored, but Uruguay denies this.

I'm tempted to agree with Etchegaray that the country could make good use of the cash and possibly display a replica of the eagle instead of the real thing. It's an amazing historical piece and while I certainly understand the concerns of the German government, I think it should be on display somewhere. I was just listening to a piece on the radio this morning about the difficulties of knowing what to do with the house where Hitler was born, in Austria. These are always thorny issues because the last thing you want is a shrine for neo-Nazis, but letting the sites/objects rot hardly seems to be the solution either.

What should Uruguay do with its Nazi eagle? (BBC)

Saturday 13 December 2014

Brief update on Brazilian truth commission report

Obviously there's been a lot of reporting on Brazil's truth commission, happily Colin from Americas North and South has saved me the job of doing a massive round-up by providing an excellent one here.

I would just add this post by Nina Schneider at Transitional Justice in Brazil on the report ceremony itself.

Also, the report itself can be accessed here (Portuguese).

Uruguayan prison diary protected by Unesco

A diary written on cigarette papers by a Uruguayan political prisoner has been added to Uncesco's Memory of the World programme.

Jorge Tiscornia, a member of the MLN-Tupamaros, kept the diary (known as "El almanaque" in Spanish) during the 12 years he spent in prison during the 1970s and 80s, hiding the papers in a pair of hollowed-out clogs.

In a statement, Unesco said it was "a living memory of long isolation, revealing the strength of perseverance".

An amazing document.

Uruguay prison diary preserved by Unesco (BBC)

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Brazil releases truth commission report

Brazil's truth commission report is out.

Here are some of the stark facts:

- illegal arrests, torture, executions and disappearances were systematic during the dictatorship
- 377 perpetrators of human rights abuses identified, around 100 of whom are still alive.
- 434 deaths, probably more but findings limited by difficulty in gaining access to information.

As the Guardian notes,
“Under the military dictatorship, repression and the elimination of political opposition became the policy of the state, conceived and implemented based on decisions by the president of the republic and military ministers,” the report states. The commission “therefore totally rejects the explanation offered up until today that the serious violations of human rights constituted a few isolated acts or excesses resulting from the zeal of a few soldiers”.
The report points the finger at five ex-presidents as ultimately responsible for the atrocities.

Brazil has waited a long time for this information and it's good to see it out there and being reported on - and on International Human Rights Day. However, the report is not just an end in itself; now we need to see trials.

Brazil truth commission: Abuse 'rife' under military rule (BBC)
Brazil Truth Commission: Victims revisit torture cells (BBC)
Rousseff in tears as Brazilian report details junta’s killings and torture (Guardian)
Relatório final da Comissão da Verdade pede revogação parcial da Lei da Anistia e responsabiliza ex-presidentes (O Globo)

Monday 27 October 2014

Colombia: Calls for archives to be made public

Colombia's Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica (CNMH) is calling for documentation and archives on the country's violent conflict to be made public, and particularly to be made available to victims, reports "El Tiempo". It is seeking to consolidate an archive of documents of serious human rights abuses, a project which has been ongoing for over two years now.

The archives of the former intelligence agency DAS and of the armed forces, which are restricted "for reasons of national security", should be opened to those needing access "for the development of investigations, defense of rights and establishing of the truth", says the CNMH. It says that restriction should be the exception, not the rule.

'Archivos del DAS y de militares deben abrirse a ciudadanos' (El Tiempo)

Sunday 28 September 2014

Chilean exiles in East Germany

I was really interested by this half-hour documentary on Chileans behind the Berlin Wall which I found via Memoria documental.

Monday 15 September 2014

Response to "Memory is not history"

The Economist's Bello column this week has a column entitled "Memory is not history", which argues that "there are dangers [in South America’s] intellectual fashion for “historical memory”." It goes on to accuse "the left" of "rewriting history" - in fact, of imposing "memory" over an accurate "history".

I would argue that the piece contains several important distortions, aside from trying to lump together a region from Colombia down to the Southern Cone.
The historical truth silenced by “memory” is that the cold war in Latin America was fought by two equally authoritarian sides.

But it was not. To take the example of Argentina, yes, there were Montoneros and there were incidences of left-wing violence before the 1976 coup. But to suggest that the small leftist group, which was largely destroyed before the military took power, was in any way equivalent to the forces of the State is very far off the mark.

The Economist points out that some human rights groups in Argentina tend to use the figure of 30,000 disappeared and it contrasts this with the nearly 9,000 victims recorded by the CONADEP commission. It is inaccurate and unfair to use the CONADEP list to undermine estimates of the disappeared, and I explained why in detail years ago. See also here for more on the numbers.
None of this mitigates the inexcusable barbarity of Pinochet or of the Argentine junta. 

The problem is that it does. You can't equate State terrorists with their victims, suggest that calculations of the disappeared are deliberately inflated, and then claim that you're not weakening the accounts of the dictatorships' crimes.

Memorials are a shorthand, yes. You can't include the whole complexities of a country's experiences on a plaque. Memory, in its wider sense, tends to include the testimonies of victims and relatives and it encompasses a whole range of commemorative acts, both formal and informal. Pulling out the memory/history dichotomy and reiterating the dos demonios theory ("each side was as bad as the other") is a means of obscuring human rights abuses and seeking to paper over the crimes of the past.

Thursday 11 September 2014

Chile: Andrés Cruzat's photomontages of Santiago coup

Photomontages of old and new images which remind us "how things were" have become a bit of a fad recently.

See, for example, this photo slideshow of Cologne, Germany, on Youtube. The clip was extremely popular, but some people, including in the Youtube comments, express concern that it is somehow an overly patriotic view of history - something which is, from the German point of view, highly problematic. There are all sorts of questions surrounding the appropriateness of mourning Germany's loss of architectural heritage and nostalgia for "what could have been".

See also these images of the Second World War in Google Street View. The "montage" in this case is not subtle - it's just a photo pasted on top of the Google image - but the idea of the continuity of place and memory is there.

Now we come to Chile.

Andrés Cruzat's images of modern-day Santiago combined with original photos of the September 11 coup do not to me seem "suspect" in the same way that some Germans felt the Cologne ones did. Rather, they take the contemporary environment, where it is often easy to forget the past, and say "Look what happened here!". One comparison which often comes up in these montages is that of ghosts - but despite the colour, it seems to me that the modern figures here as just as "ghost-like" as the 1973 ones. You can't really decide which side is more "real", it's just a layering of memory and history - the urban palimpsest in an image, as it were.

Lots more photos to see at the link below, or look at Twitter account  @fotomemoria.

"La Persistencia de la Memoria" el fotomontaje de Andrés Cruzat (

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Peru: Exhibition of victims' clothing

Forensic investigators in Peru have set up an exhibition of items of clothing in the hope that victims' relatives may be able to recognise them and thus identify some of the disappeared.

The exhumations at Los Cabitos army base in Ayacucho took place years ago (see here and here) but the majority of those disinterred have not been identified. Not a single former soldier is in prison for any of the killings that presumably took place at Los Cabitos, notes AP.

The exhibition will be shown in Lima (because many displaced people moved there), Ayacucho and Huancavelica. If people believe they recognise items, DNA tests can be then be used for confirmation.

Clothing of 53 victims exhumed at Peru base shown (AP)
Buscan identificar a 50 personas exhumadas de Los Cabitos (La Republica)

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Argentina: Revenge is a dish best served cold

Here's a fantastic radio documentary about Victor Basterra, who worked as a photographer while detained in the ESMA (Spanish only). "Revenge is a dish best served cold", he comments as he explains how he smuggled images of military personnel out of the detention centre, which were later used to convict human rights abusers in court.

El fotógrafo (Radio Ambulante)

Thanks to Steven for drawing my attention to it.

Saturday 6 September 2014

Argentina: Photos of 1930 coup

When I write about a coup in Argentina, it's almost invariably the 1976 one - but in fact, this was the sixth coup of the 20th century in the country. Infojus Noticias has some amazing photos from the national archive of the one that kicked them all off, in 1930.

See more here:
Quince fotos inéditas del primer golpe de Estado argentino (Infojus Noticias)

Friday 5 September 2014

Brazil: Volkswagen spied on workers in 1980s

Reuters is reporting that German carmaker Volkswagen spied on union activists and passed sensitive information to Brazil's dictatorship in the 1980s.

VW covertly monitored workers and other unionists including former president Lula.

The news agency reports that the country's truth commission has uncovered documents Volkswagen gave to the military in 1983 and 1984.
In the documents, Volkswagen provided extensive accounts of more than a dozen union meetings in Greater São Paulo. The company relayed workers' plans for strikes as well as their demands for better salaries and working conditions. The company reported the names of Volkswagen workers who attended union events and, in at least two cases, noted the make and license plate numbers of vehicles present.
It's long been known that big companies - not just Volkswagen - were in cahoots with South America's military regimes, but there hasn't been much legal redress so some firm evidence on this would be really good.

This story is being covered in Spanish-language, Brazilian and German press, but all media are just referring to the Reuters report:

Exclusive: Volkswagen spied on Lula, other Brazilian workers in 1980s (Reuters)

Sunday 31 August 2014

Update on Chilean archives piece

I recently wrote a piece for NACLA on Londres 38 and the "No más archivos secretos" campaign. Well, there has been a development since I wrote that: the Colonia Dignidad files handed to memory organisations by Chilevisión may now be viewed online (in PDF form). There are thousands of pages here and huge PDFs may not be not the easiest way of accessing them, but the documents have only been out in the open for a very short time and it was apparently a priority to get them on the web asap. It's really amazing to see that an archive which was completely hidden at the beginning of the year can now be read by anyone with an internet connection and Adobe reader.

Argentina: The Madre with the camera

Infojus Noticias has a great piece on Adelina Dematti, a member of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo who photographed the group's struggle using a Kodak hidden under her clothes. She said she did it so that her disappeared son Carlos "would know he was not alone, that we were looking for him". She never found out what happened to him.

Her act of recording meetings and demonstrations was extremely dangerous under the dictatorship and provides us with a record of the Madres movement from an insider's perspective. The Madres are now active on social media and I think we can be sure if those options had been available to them in the 1970s and 80s, they would have used them, but as it is, Dematti's photos are unusual.

She photographed the Mothers' gatherings, the participation in the large Marches of Resistence, meetings with Nobel peace prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, writer Julio Cortázar and, later, president Néstor Kirchner. I particularly like the picture of the 1983 Marcha de la resistencia showing the silhouette cutouts of the disappeared - the "silouetazo".

See more here:
Las fotos de Adelina, la Madre que documentó la búsqueda de su hijo (Infojus Noticias)

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Chile: Lifting the Sentence of Secrecy

I've been doing a little writing elsewhere and have a piece up at Nacla on Chile's secret archives and recent moves to open them up. Read the full thing here.

Sunday 17 August 2014

Argentina: Appeals for those with doubts about their identities to come forward

Infojus Noticias has done a nice piece featuring several of the TV ads the Abuelas have used over the years to encourage people who think they might be children of the disappeared to come forward. This is my favourite:

Saturday 16 August 2014

Peru: Tempestad en los Andes

A documentary was presented at the Lima film festival this week called Tempestad en los Andes, directed by Mikael Winström. It focuses on Josefin Ekermann, the niece of the first wife of Abimael Guzmán, Augusta La Torre, as she travels to Peru from Sweden to find out "the truth" about her family's links to Sendero Luminoso (see trailer below, in Spanish - although the film is apparently in Quechua and English with Spanish subtitles). It also tells the story of Flor Gonzales, whose brother died in the prison of El Frontón.

I knew that Guzmán was married before Elena Iparraguirre but I knew almost nothing about his first wife and her role in the foundation of Shining Path, so this sounds really interesting.

La sobrina política de Abimael Guzmán es la estrella de este documental sueco sobre Sendero Luminoso (
Los estigmas de la guerra unen y separan a estas mujeres (La Republica)

Chile: Priest involved in irregular adoptions

While Argentina is well known for the stolen babies during its dictatorship, there have been allegations of irregular adoptions in other countries, such as Spain and now Chile.

The Catholic Church in Chile has confirmed that priest Gerardo Joannon was involved in the adoption of two babies without the knowledge of their mothers in the 1970s or 1980s, and also that he had an "inappropriate relationship" with one of the women. He apparently even conducted masses for "dead" babies whom he in fact knew to be alive.

The pattern seems to be that single pregnant women were pressured to give up their children for adoption, and if they refused, they were told that they had died during childbirth and the children were given up anyway.

The Church wanted Joannon to go to Spain on retreat but Chile has now said he cannot leave the country while police investigations are ongoing (good!).

The situation in Argentina was even more brutal and also less ambiguously linked to the military junta. There, "subversive" prisoners who were found to be pregnant were deliberately kept alive in detention centres until they gave birth and then murdered, while their babies were sold or given away, usually to families regarded as "good" or with military connections.

In Chile, it remains to be seen whether the practice of taking babies from women deemed "inappropriate" mothers was widespread; I think this certainly can't be ruled out. I'm sure it would be more convenient for the Church and the State if Joannon turned out to have been acting more or less alone, but this may not be the full story. Even without an organised "baby-stealing" plan, it is also possible that the atmosphere in Chile at the time - conservative, authoritarian - made it extremely difficult for vulnerable people to question or stand up to representatives of the Church, who judged that they had the intervene in the children's future.

Investigación por adopciones irregulares confirma participación de Gerardo Joannon en dos casos (La Tercera)
Chile's Catholic Church Says Priest Stole Babies for Adoption (Newsweek)
Chilean priest probed after 'stolen babies' scandal (BBC)

Argentina: 20 years since the AMIA attack

I missed the actual anniversary, which was 20 July, but just wanted to share this Youtube video from Memoria Activa on 20 years of impunity for the terrorist attack on the AMIA in Buenos Aires (Spanish only).

Monday 11 August 2014

Argentina round-up

Here's a bit of a round-up from Argentina over the past few days.

See here for the text of the press conference at the Abuelas offices.

IPS examines the response to the discovery of Guido Montoya Carlotto (Ignacio Hurban). Interesting stuff as always, although I have to say "speechless" doesn't seem that appropriate given the rate my Twitter feed has been moving the past week ;-)

The BBC looks at the "Guido effect", with a jump in calls to the Grandmothers - in Spanish or English

English-speakers can read about the press conference with Guido and Estela here, and check out the piece by Uki Goñi in Time; I like his description of Argentina as "exploding with joy".

...And wait, there's a non-Guido story! Bolivia has extradited an Argentine ex-officer, Jorge Horacio Paez Senestrari, accused of crimes against humanity.

Thursday 7 August 2014

Update: Carlotto family meet found grandson

The story of the discovery of Estela Carlotto's grandson has been moving fast, and yesterday the family got to meet their missing member in person. This will have come at the instigation of the man himself, as the Grandmothers said yesterday that he would choose when the time was right. The private meeting took place in La Plata.

Estela and her children Claudia, Remo and Kibo are reported to have spoken with Guido for more than six hours. Claudia told Pagina/12 that when they were saying goodbye, Guido said "Chau, Abu" ("Bye, grandma") "and my mother nearly fainted". She also said he looks like this father and is a very warm yet determined person.

All three of Estela's surviving children work in the human rights field, incidentally: Claudia heads the commission for the right to identity (Conadi), Remo is president of the human rights commission in the Argentine chamber of deputies, and Kibo is the human rights secretary of the province of Buenos Aires.

The Grandmothers have also called for Guido and his family to be given privacy to get to know each other, and criticized some of the reporting on the story, including the publication of the name by which he is known. It was noticeable yesterday that they had not given the name but it was quickly picked up on by the media. Apparently some details were revealed by the court involved in the case. Now, no matter how fascinating the story, it is time to give those involved some space.

“Estamos felices, hablamos de todo y nos superentendimos” (Pagina/12)
Argentina Plaza de Mayo activist meets 'stolen grandson' (BBC)
Guido Montoya Carlotto ya conoció a su verdadera familia (official statement from the Abuelas)

Wednesday 6 August 2014

Reaction to discovery of Estela Carlotto's grandson

Just a few highlights:

Here's the cover of Pagina/12, which also runs a wonderful interview with Estela Carlotto describing how she found out that her grandson had been discovered (via a DNA test).

Here's La Nación, which also reminds us that Guida has not just one grandmother, but two.

Here's the Buenos Aires Herald with an editorial from Robert Cox, talking of "a shining moment in a long struggle" and recalling his personal memories of the Grandmothers.

In English, see also the BBC and on the Guardian you can see a video of Carlotto with subtitles.

Argentina: Grandmothers' president finds her grandson

I am genuinely so pleased that I get to write this post; I think there can hardly have been a happier one since I started blogging.

Estela Carlotto, president of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, has found her own disappeared grandchild after over 35 years of searching.

Guido Montoya Carlotto, as his parents wanted to call him, is the son of Laura Carlotto and Walmir Oscar Montoya. Laura was abducted in November 1977, when she was two and a half months pregnant, and kept in captivity until she gave birth on 26 June 1978. A few weeks later, she was murdered. Both her remains and those of her partner have been identified.

Guido, or Ignacio Urban as he has been named, came forward himself to the Grandmothers with doubts about his identity which he had apparently had for some time. DNA testing confirmed his true parentage.

For decades, Estela Carlotto has stood at the head of the Grandmothers' group with dignity and determination as they fought for truth and justice. For decades, she has also watched while others were reunited with their relatives. Now it's her turn. That is just truly amazing.
Carlotto said, "I wanted to be able to hug him before I died, and now soon I will be able to do that."
There has been an absolute outpouring of emotion in Argentina and across the world on social media and in the news, and I will try to deal with some of those images separately.

Of course, there is always media attention when a grandchild is found, but it is much greater this time and that will surely make an already delicate situation for those concerned more pressured. Since the grandson's job puts him at least partly in the public sphere - he's a musician - it will be relatively easy to find out more about him and I have to wonder whether his "appropriators" might not be publicly identified soon.

Just to note, since questions about this sometimes arise among readers outside Argentina, the Grandmothers are well-equipped and have access to professional assistance, including psychologists. No one expects Guido to simply shrug off decades of upbringing in a moment. He was not present the press conference; they never are. Nor has he met his famous relative yet; that will have to wait until he is ready. For more on what it's like to find out your parents are not your parents and your real parents were, in fact, murdered by a military dictatorship, see my posts here and here.

But before all the questions and challenges that will have to be faced, let's just take a moment to reflect that truth has prevailed, the struggle was fought and won, and the junta's attempt to wipe people from the face of the earth spectacularly failed. Congratulations Guido, and Estela.

Official statement from the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo
Argentina's campaigning grandmother finds grandson born to death camp mother (Guardian)
Estela de Carlotto encontró a su nieto, Guido, tras 36 años de búsqueda (La Nación)
Al final, Guido también buscó a Estela (Pagina/12)

Sunday 6 July 2014

Argentina: Mothers' headscarf recognised as national symbol

The white headscarf worn by the Madres de Plaza de Mayo has been declared an Argentina national symbol by the country's chamber of deputies.

A little bit of background: the mothers looking for their children in the early, and extremely dangerous, years of the dictatorship needed a way of identifying each other. They chose a white cloth nappy (diaper) to wear on their heads, but this soon developed into the proper headscarf, often with the name of their child embroidered on it. The mothers of the Linea Fundadora group (see image above) still wear these, but the Asociación Madres do not single out any one of the disappeared over the others. The headscarves are now painted on the square in the front of the Casa Rosada where the mothers have been gathering for over 30 years.

The initiative of Leonardo Grosso (FPV) was backed by 176 deputies, while seven voted against and four abstained. 

There has been some opposition to the move on social media, however, with users drawing attention to the links between the Madres group and the Kirchner regime, and the allegations of corruption the Madres have been linked with.

An editorial in La Nación also criticises the decision as one of "political correctness" and accuses it of fostering division in the country rather than reconciliation.

I do see the headscarf as an important symbol for Argentina, but I cannot deny that the reputation of the Madres (by which I am referring to the Asociación Madres led by Hebe Bonafini) has suffered in recent years. The group has broadened its mandate very significantly from a focus on justice for the disappeared to education and explicit political aims. It has also been linked with a shady housing scheme. It's hardly surprising if these things stick in people's minds more than, or alongside, the original uses of the iconic headscarf.

El pañuelo blanco de las Madres (Pagina/12)
Siete diputadas opositoras rechazaron declarar “emblema nacional” al pañuelo de las Madres (Telam)
Los pañuelos de las Madres de Plaza de Mayo serán símbolos patrios (La Gaceta)
Un nuevo e inaceptable emblema oficial de la Nación (La Nación)

Peruvian interior minister accused of murder

The new Peruvian interior minister, Daniel Urresti, has been accused of the murder of a journalist in 1988 when he was an intelligence officer fighting the Shining Path.

Ideele Radio broke the news that Urresti - a former soldier - is alleged to have been involved in the killing of Hugo Bustíos, of Caretas magazine, in 1988. Bustios was investigating extrajudicial killings in the Ayacucho region, which was the centre of the violence. He was unarmed and riding a motorbike when he was killed by the army.

Two military men, Víctor La Vera Hernández and Amador Vidal Sambento, were later convicted of the crime. Vidal has now pointed the finger at Urresti as having given the order.

It almost beggars belief that someone could take up a ministerial position with this hanging over them, but Urresti claims president Ollanta Humala knew of the accusation when he was appointed.

The interior minister denies that he ever met Bustios, and says he had no involvement in his murder. He stresses to La Republica that he was "brought up to have respect for life" and claims there is no proof of his guilt.

Humala appears to be backing Urresti so far, saying the government "does not see his guilt" and "believes in the presumption of innocence". Writing in El Comercio, Fernando Rospigliosi points out that some think that if "Carlos" (the nom de guerre of Ollanta Humala) can be president, why can't "Arturo" (Daniel Urresti) be interior minister?

The case is certain an illustration of the unresolved cases at the heart of the Peruvian political system. When it will be resolved remains unclear, since the prosecutor has indicated that he has other major cases to process first.

Ministro Urresti está procesado por el asesinato de periodista Hugo Bustíos (Ideele Radio)
Ministro Urresti es procesado por asesinato de periodista (La Republica)
Daniel Urresti: “No existe ninguna prueba sobre mi supuesta participación en el crimen de Bustíos” (La Republica)
Ollanta Humala: no vemos culpabilidad en Daniel Urresti (La Republica)
‘Carlos’ y ‘Arturo’, por Fernando Rospigliosi (El Comercio)

Guardian special report on transitional justice

I thought it was worth linking to this special report from the Guardian newspaper on how various countries, including Chile and Colombia, have dealt with their traumatic pasts. The article is necessarily an overview so it doesn't reveal much to someone who is already well-read about a particular country - but I'd be surprised if anyone was well-read about all those countries, and the transcontinental comparison is really interesting.
[Colombian] President Juan Manuel Santos, re-elected in June to a second term, denies impunity is on the table, but says demanding full punishment would derail peace. "If you ask a victim today he would lean towards having more justice," said Santos. "If you ask a future victim, he will lean more towards peace."

Special report: Truth, justice and reconciliation (Guardian)

Colombia: Axis of memory

Bogotá's Centro de Memoria, Paz y Reconciliación has been worked on what it calls "axes of memory". You can see on the website how they use Google maps to pinpoint sites of memory in the city, with images and information.

Peru: Captor of Abimael Guzmán arrested

This is an odd postscript to the capture of Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmán.

This week Benedicto Jiménez, the leader of the police squad which arrested the terrorist head, was himself arrested on suspicion of involvement in moneylaundering and organised crime. He was acting as the lawyer of Rodolfo Orellana, who is accused of masterminding a network of corruption in Peru.

Jiménez generally comes out of the Shining Path period as one of the good guys, so if these allegations are true it's disappointing.

Héroe en 1992... Villano en 2014... La historia de Benedicto Jiménez (
¡Cayeron! Benedicto Jiménez, detenido. Rodolfo Orellana, prófugo. Estas son TODAS las acusaciones en su contra (

Thursday 19 June 2014

Argentina: RIP Clyde Snow

Forensic anthropologist Clyde Snow died just over a month ago aged 86. Sometimes known as the "Sherlock Holmes of bones", he played a key role in training Argentine forensic anthropologists to identify victims of the country's dictatorship. He also worked with remains in El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, Brazil and other countries outside Latin America. One of his major achievements was helping to identify fugitive Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele.
“Witnesses may forget throughout the years, but the dead, those skeletons, they don’t forget,” he told The Times in 2002. “Their testimony is silent, but it is also very eloquent.”
 Argentine human rights defenders expressed their gratitude to Snow.
Chicha Mariani, founder of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, told the Herald last week how grateful she was to him for his work: “He was such a good man, he dedicated so much of his time to us.”
The Argentine forensic team went on to advise others, including those from Peru, so Snow's pioneering work continues to contribute to clearing up atrocities all around the world.

Clyde Snow, Sleuth Who Read Bones From King Tut’s to Kennedy’s, Dies at 86 (NY Times)
Clyde Snow - obituary (Telegraph)
Stories in bones (The Economist)
Farewell to the Sherlock Holmes of bones (The Buenos Aires Herald)
Un hombre que hizo justicia con la ciencia (Pagina/12)

Chile: The Year I was Born

A couple of years ago, I wrote briefly about Lola Arias' play My Life After (Mi vida despues) in which the Argentine characters discuss their parents and their involvement in the dictatorship. Now, Arias has turned to Chile with a piece called The Year I was Born (El Año en que nací), which also uses material like photos, letters and old clothing in the performance.

As the name suggests, the cast were all born during the Pinochet dictatorship.
"To be part of this show was a big decision for all of those involved and not always an easy one," explains Arias. "Those whose family history includes relatives who were killed or suffered badly under Pinochet stand side by side on stage with those whose family members worked for the regime. Some come from families who chose to stay and resist, and others from those who went into exile."
While Viviana Hernandez was researching her history for the show, she discovered that the father she had been told was dead is serving a prison sentence for his part in the murder of two opponents of the Pinochet regime.

Pinochet generation draw on real-life tensions to play out Chile's dark days (Guardian)

For more on Hernandez' amazing story, see: The Father I Never Knew

Brazil: Dilma on amnesty law

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff recently discussed issues including the amnesty law which protects dictatorship-era human rights abusers in an interview with "The New York Times".
Rousseff said that as president, she respected the law, despite her personal views. “I don’t believe in vindictiveness, but I also don’t believe in forgiving,” she said.
“It’s a question of the truth,” she added. “It’s extremely important for Brazil to know what happened, because that will mean it won’t happen again.”
Brazilian President Rejects Criticism Over World Cup (NY Times)

Peru: Lugar de la Memoria, Tolerancia e Inclusión Social

This clip from La Mula shows the architects of Peru's "Lugar de la Memoria" discussing its design and showing us round the (as yet empty) interior - Spanish only.

"Este espacio nos lleva hacia la luz, para mirar al futuro" (La Mula)

See also: Perú ajusta cuentas con su pasado con el Lugar de la Memoria (El País)

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Argentine footballers' visit to Abuelas

Here's the video of the visit of Argentine national football players, including Lionel Messi, to the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. They encourage those with doubts about their identities to approach the Grandmothers as "we've been looking for you for ten World Cups".

Sunday 8 June 2014

Colombian victims to participate in peace talks

The Colombian government and the FARC have come to an agreement for victims of the country's violent conflict to contribute to peace talks, which are being held in Cuba. Guidelines were set for the next round of talks focusing on victims.

A delegation of victims is now set to travel to Cuba in the near future, although an exact date has not been set.

In addition, four victims' forums will be held in Colombia - three regional ones in Villavicencio, Barrancabermeja and Barranquilla and a natonal one based in Cali.

The BBC and some other English-language media are referring to this as "setting up a truth commission", but it must be noted that this is not the term used and the agreement is not supposed to replace a truth commission with a wider mandate which may be created at a later date.

In any case, hearing the voices of the victims is to be welcomed. Unfortunately, with elections looming next week, the progress of the peace talks is uncertain.

Colombia government and Farc rebels to set up truth commission (BBC)
Colombian peace talks turn toward victims (Reuters)
Víctimas del conflicto colombiano participarán en diálogos de paz en Cuba (Ultimas Noticias)
A vote for peace (The Economist)
Breaking News from Havana: Joint Declaration of Principles on Victims (Colombia Calls)

Saturday 7 June 2014

Argentina: Elisabeth Kaesemann (2)

See also my first post on this issue here.

I've just watched the documentary on German broadcaster Das Erste "Was geschah mit Elisabeth K?" (dir: Eric Friedler) and I must say, it was excellent. German-speakers can watch it here and I really recommend it.

Elisabeth Käsemann was a German citizen who was disappeared, tortured and murdered by the military regime in 1977.

The story presented in the documentary is of diplomats and sports officials who, firstly, had little or no interest in intervening in the disappearance of a young woman who was perceived as possibly having extremist views or of being "mixed up in something", and secondly, who conspired to cover up her eventual death until after a friendly match between Germany and Argentina so that there was no chance of it overshadowing the game.

In contrast to the British and French governments, Germany was noticeably relucant to protest at the mistreatment of one of its citizens. Not so incidentally, Germany was also the major supplier of armaments to the Argentine state.

The documentary interviews several former German national footballers about their visit to the country in 1977, a year before the start of the World Cup hosted by Argentina. Listening to them was very interesting; while it is disappointing they were not more outspoken at the time, their comments now were considered and self-critical, especially those of Paul Breitner.

Truly jawdropping, and not in a good way, were the views of Jörg Kastl, who was German ambassador to Argentina during the early part of the dictatorship and who died after filming was completed earlier this year. He openly explains directly to the camera how it was Elisabeth's own fault she was murdered. "She would have been prepared to throw bombs," he said. An odd tense, forced upon him by the inconvenient fact that she never threw any bombs, but paid with her life anyway. And most brazenly, "She was shot and buried, and not entirely without reason, because, as I said, she came to Argentina with really explosive thoughts". Yes, thoughts.

All in all, a disturbing look at how human rights and respect for life are subordinated to business and sport in the context of international diplomacy.

ARD-Doku über Argentiniens Junta: Fußball und Verbrechen (Spiegel Online)
Wie das Auswärtige Amt und der DFB in Argentinien versagten (Der Tagesspiegel)

Argentine national football team support Grandmothers

In the run-up to the World Cup in Brazil, the Argentine national players Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and Ezequiel Lavezzi have taken the time to visit the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo and express their support for the search for the missing grandchildren. They recorded an advert for the grandmothers, which doesn't seem to be available yet, but I'll keep an eye out for it.

Messi se suma a la búsqueda de nietos desaparecidos (, Uruguay)

Monday 26 May 2014

Brazilian torturer unrepentant

A former interrogator from the Brazilian intelligence agency DOI, Riscala Corbaje, has related how he was involved in the torture of over 500 people between 1970 and 1972. He made the admission in his testimony to the transitional justice group of the public ministry, reports O Globo.

According to Corbaje - known back then by his code name Nagib - the most effective torture method was the pau de arara (parrot's perch). Apparently, other forms of pain such as electric shock were "unnecessary" if this agonising position was used.

Corbaje appealed to the committee to be "left in peace", but he also said he did not have a guilty conscience.

Saturday 24 May 2014

Peru: 1964 stadium disaster

As the Hillsborough disaster is in the news again in the UK due to the ongoing inquest, the BBC has run a feature on Peru's 1964 stadium which, it is rightly pointed out, is little known globally. I had actually never heard of it. This is a very interesting, though sad, article:

Lima 1964: The world's worst stadium disaster (BBC)

See also this piece from the Guardian archives:
From the archive, 26 May 1964: Hundreds dead in stampede at football match

Thursday 22 May 2014

Peru: Part of Lugar de la memoria about to open

Peru's memorial project, the Lugar de la Memoria, Tolerancia y la Inclusión Social (LUM), is to open its first phase on June 4. The auditorium and two public esplanades will be opened, featuring the photographic exhibition "Chungui" by Max Cabello and other cultural events. The opening celebration will be held over three days and entrance is free.

The director of the project, Denise Ledgard, explains to Caretas that she conceives it not just as a museum but as a space for debate, education, and exchange of experiences.

Here she is as well discussing the plans in more detail on the programme "Buenas noches":

Both Ledgard and Diego García-Sayan, president of the LUM commission, stress the plurality of the space and García-Sayan told Caretas it is "not a museum about the violence of the 1980s". Predictably, this does not please everyone - with the blog Genocidio Ayacucho, for example, asking "then what's the point?" and calling it a disgrace. Ledgard also talks about her desire for "objectivity" which I think is always a difficult thing. You don't expect a site of atrocity like Auschwitz to be "objective" and present the views of Nazis as equally valid, do you? Equally, however, I understand the point about bringing together different groups. This is tricky and I will be watching to see what the content of the space looks like when it is open.

Deconstruyendo la Memoria (Caretas)
Madres reconciliadoras (La Republica)

Friday 16 May 2014

Urbes Mutantes: Latin American Photography 1944-2013

A new exhibition at the International Center of Photography in New York surveys photographic movements in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela.

One of the images shows the word "Evaporados" - evaporated - pasted in huge letters on an expressway wall in Lima, Peru. As the Lens blog writes, the artist Eduardo Villanes put them there in 1995, to protest the abduction and murder of nine university students and a professor by a military death squad (this is referring to the La Cantuta case), as well as the subsequent amnesty granted to the killers by Alberto Fujimori.

The exhibition, curated by Alexis Fabry and María Wills, runs until 7 September 2014.

Tales of Many Cities (The Wall Street Journal)
Latin America’s Mutating Cities, in Photographs (Lens blog, NY Times)

Sunday 4 May 2014

Argentina: Abuelas resolve three more cases

The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo have resolved three more cases, although the ending is not a happy one. The Argentine forensic anthropology team (EAAF) has been able to confirm the identities of three pregnant disappeared women who were murdered before giving birth, bringing a search for their possible offspring to an end. Two of the women were found some time ago but the announcement has only been made now.

The Abuelas expressed their pain at the news but stressed that at least they now know the truth.

Mónica Edith De Olaso's remains were found next to those of her partner, Alejandro Ford, in the cemetery of Ezpeleta, in Quilmes. She was murdered on 24 June, 1977, when she was nearly 19 and three months pregnant. 

Alicia Tierra was buried in a cemetery in Rosario. She was six months pregnant and aged 23 when she was killed on 31 December 1976. 

Laura Romera and her partner, Luis Guillermo Vega Ceballos, were abducted on 9 April 1976 when she was four months pregnant. They both became victims of the "death flights" and their bodies were washed up on the coast of Uruguay and identified at the end of 2012.

El Equipo de Antropología identificó a tres embarazadas desaparecidas (

Friday 2 May 2014

Paraguay: Trucks of terror

Spanish paper El Mundo has an interesting piece on the camionetas del terror in Paraguay. I've written previously on that icon of the dictatorship in Argentina, the Ford Falcon. In Paraguay, apparently, the equivalent was the Chevrolet Custom 10 in red, as donated by the US and used to transport those picked up by the security forces to police stations, prisons, detention and torture centres. For many, it was the last vehicle they would ever sit in. A survivor of the dictatorship describes the fear provoked by the sight of the red trucks cruising the streets of Asunción.

Now one of them has been recovered and will be displayed outside the memory museum in the Paraguayan capital (Museo de las Memorias de Asunción).

Las camionetas del terror llegan al Museo de las Memorias de Paraguay (El Mundo)

Wednesday 30 April 2014

Yuyanapaq visits Colombia

The Bogotá international book fair is currently going on and is featuring Peru as its invited country. As part of this, a selection of the Yuyanapaq photographic exhibition of the Peruvian truth and reconciliation commission is going on show in Bogotá. 

The exhibition is taking place at the Centro de memoria, paz y reconciliación until 22 May. So if you're in Colombia, take the opportunity!

Muestra fotografica itinerante "Yuyanapaq para recordar" (Centro de memoria)

Saturday 26 April 2014

Brazil torturer murdered

Brazilian former army colonel Paulo Malhães has been murdered in his home near Rio de Janeiro.

He was reportedly killed by three men who broke in and suffocated him, as well as stealing computers and guns.

Malhães recently testified to the truth commission about his involvement in torture, about which he expressed no regrets. Commission president Wadih Damous called for the murder to be fully investigated, saying that it could have been an attempt to prevent Malhães revealing further information about the military regime.

Brazilian military rule torturer Paulo Malhaes found dead (BBC)
Former security agent who testified to CNV is murdered (Transitional Justice in Brazil)

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Brazil: President's death an accident, says TC

The Brazilian truth commission has concluded that former president Juscelino Kubitschek was not murdered by the military regime, but died in a car accident. Kubitschek, who was an opposition leader at the time, died on 22 August 1976 following a car accident on a motorway between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. His driver was also killed.

Just as with other prominent deaths during the dictatorship-era in Latin America (Pablo Neruda, Joao Goulart, Salvador Allende...), there have been persistent rumours that the car crash may not have been all it appeared. In fact, a Sao Paulo truth commission declared that it had evidence that Kubitschek had been murdered. The national commission, however, disagrees. Its coordinator Pedro Dallari said it was "quite sure" it's version of events was accurate and that it had "not been convinced" of the version put forward by the Sao Paulo commission.

Brazil ex-president was 'not killed in political plot' (BBC)
Morte de Juscelino foi causada por acidente, diz Comissão da Verdade (O Globo)

Monday 21 April 2014

Peru: Anger at slow progress of Accomarca trial

There has been criticism of the slow progress of the trial taking place in Peru over the massacre at Accomarca in 1985. It has been running for nearly four years now and there is still no end in sight. Celestino Baldeón Chuchón, whose mother was killed along with nearly 70 others in the atrocity, calls it "a joke, a lack of respect".

Jorge Abrego, a lawyer from human rights organisation Aprodeh, points out that the lead judge is holding just one hearing a week and some witnesses, particularly those for the accused, do not turn up at the appointed time.

The lawyer of alleged perpetrator Telmo Hurtado (there are nearly 30 accused in total) says that the witness testimony should be concluded in July, followed by the examination of evidence, the defense, and then the sentence "on an unknown date".

Very disappointing. 

Accomarca: luego de casi cuatro años de juicio oral aún no se dicta sentencia (La Republica)

Peru: Links between Movadef and Shining Path

While I was off piling up overtime, there was news in Peru of the connections between the political group Movadef and the remnants of the Shining Path terrorist organisation. Movadef works for the release of the imprisoned senderistas, including the leader Abimael Guzmán.

In mid-April, nearly 30 Movadef members were arrested for alleged ties to the Maoist guerrilla group following a two-year investigation into terrorism-financing activities. Among them was head of the movement and Guzmán's lawyer, Alfredo Crespo, and Walter Humala, a cousin of the Peruvian president Ollanta Humala. They may reportedly face long prison sentences of 30-35 years if the case against them is proven.

Crespo is accused of acting as a go-between for the imprisoned Guzmán and the top Sendero Luminoso leader on the outside, "Artemio", until the latter's capture in early 2012. He is also said to have lobbied for and received money from Artemio for Movadef.

The US has welcomed Peru's move. Movadef, naturally, sees itself as the target of politicial persecution.

Alfredo Crespo, líder de Movadef, y Walter Humala fueron capturados por financiamiento del terrorismo (La Republica)
Peru Police Arrest 24 for Alleged Ties to Terrorist Group (Wall Street Journal)
U.S. Supports Arrest of Movadef Members (Peruvian Times)
Movadef: Hasta 35 años de cárcel podrían recibir dirigentes capturados (
Movadef solicitó dinero a ‘Artemio’ para retomar lucha armada (El Comercio)

Update: Insight Crime points out that IDL Reporteros has criticised some of the reporting by El Comercio on the depth of links between Movadef and Shining Path. 

Sunday 20 April 2014

Peru: Cipriani in Ayacucho

It's a while since I wrote about the cardinal and archbishop of Lima, Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne. Years ago, I noted that he opposed the memory museum, opposed the truth and reconciliation commission, raved against the commissoners, and called for the pardoning of Alberto Fujimori.

However, I've never written much about the fact that before being archbishop of Lima, he spent the 1980s and 1990s in Ayacucho and was appointed archbishop there in 1995. A recent book by Luis Pasara and Carlos M. Indachochea, Cipriani como actor politico, discusses this period. I have not read the book, but Fernando Rospigliosi reviews it for El Comercio today.

The slim volume describes how, once in Ayacucho, Cipriani immediately identified himself with the armed forces, despite the serious human  rights abuses they were accused of, and later became an ardent supporter of Fujimori. Apparently, he actually had a notice posted in the bishopric stating "Human rights complaints are not dealt with here" - and this in the region which saw the most tortures, disappearances and extrajudicial executions in the Peru.

As for the disappeared, if you believe the cardinal, they were killed in shoot-outs with armed forces; the exact official line of the military themselves.

The book goes on to look at the background of Cipriani's membership in Opus Dei and his alliance with the Fujimori regime. Its main thrust - of the archbishop's deep politicial involvement - is both evident and concerning.

On a personal note, I will say that those who know me know that I have little time for religion. That aside, I just find it incomprehensible that a leader of a religion which is purportedly about compassion and forgiveness can hold such views. I just don't get it. It's not that Cipriani is alone in this - across Latin America, the Catholic Church hierarchy was largely allied with military regimes and complicit in their abuses - but he is a particularly odious example.

Happy Easter...

El político Cipriani, por Fernando Rospigliosi (El Comercio)

Argentina: Doctor arrested on allegations of participating in torture

The Argentine human rights organisation APDH has announced that the doctor Omar Caram was arrested on 16 April. He is accused of participating in torture in the province of San Luis during the 1976-83 dictatorship. Former detainees had named him in their testimonies.

Detuvieron a un médico por denuncias de torturas durante la dictadura (Telam)

Friday 18 April 2014

RIP Gabo

Colombian author Gabriel García Marquez - justifiably regarded as one of the greats of world literature - has died. This is the cover of Argentine paper Clarín the day he won the Nobel prize for literature in 1982.

Saturday 5 April 2014

Brazil: 50th anniversary of coup

Here is a round-up of some of the coverage of the 50th anniversary of the overthrow of Brazilian president Joao Goulart.

The BBC reports how current president Dilma Rousseff stressed the importance of remembering the coup, explaining "We owe this to those who died and disappeared, owe it to those who were tortured and persecuted, owe it to their families. We owe it to all Brazilians." It also provides a video on the "house of death" and how its sole survivor has been helping the truth commission to identify torturers. There are plans to turn the site into a memorial.

In addition, BBC Brasil's Pablo Uchoa recalls the story of his father, who was detained during the dictatorship. Inocencio was long reluctant to discuss his experiences but is now also helping the truth commission.

The day after the coup anniversary, Brazil's defence minister agreed to investigate military facilities where human rights abuses were believed to have been committed during the dictatorship, reports the New York Times.The news was revealed in a statement on the truth commission's website. It is a step forward against impunity, as also discussed by The Pan-American Post.

At the National Security Archive, Peter Kornbluh discusses attempts to achieve the declassification of U.S. documents on the covert operations that contributed to the Brazilian coup and argues that now is the time to use declassified U.S. historical records as a unique diplomatic tool.

Transitional Justice in Brazil provides a far fuller round-up than I have done...

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Argentina: 10 years of the ex-ESMA as memory site

It is now a decade since Argentina's largest clandestine detention centre, the ESMA in Buenos Aires, was turned into a site of memory, and to mark the occasion the official inauguration of the new headquarters of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo has taken place there.

The new site is called "Casa por la identidad" and the Grandmothers have posted pictures of the opening here. It provides space for educational and cultural activities. President of the Grandmothers, Estela Carlotto, described it as a "dream come true" for the organisation. She also recalled how her legs trembled ten years ago, when for the first time she entered the place "soaked with the blood of our children". The human rights organisations described this as the recuperacion - recovery - of the ESMA, and they have truly turned it from a place of fear to one of memory, truth, justice and happiness.

“La Casa por la Identidad es un sueño cumplido” (Infojus Noticias)

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Argentina: Intimidating graffiti ahead of memory day

24 March, the anniversary of the 1976 coup, has been designated the "day of memory, truth and justice" in Argentina. Despite this official backing, it is always a sensitive time in the country and some recent incidents have shown that not everyone agrees with the new official story.

Graffiti has appeared on the human rights secretariat in Buenos Aires and on the Teruggi-Mariani house in La Plata referring to 24 March as "day of terrorist shame". The latter building contained a clandestine printing press during the dictatorship and was attacked by the armed forces in November 1976, leading to the death of militants including Diana Teruggi and the disappearance of her baby. The graffiti claims to be from a group calling itself "Vanguardia de la Juventud Nacionalista" (vanguard of nationalist youth).

Pintadas intimidatorias a "Chicha" Mariani y a la Secretaría de DD.HH. (Infojus Noticias)

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Chile: "Nazi" school causes outrage

This is one of those stories where you wonder whether you should give it the publicity, but for interest's sake, here goes.

A self-proclaimed advocate of Nazism from Chiloé, Godofredo Rodríguez, plans to open a school called the "Escuela de Arte Nazi Presidente General Augusto Pinochet" in Ancud. The school uses a swastika as its logo and has, not surprisingly, provoked a certain amount of indignation in the area. Various politicians have protested and today it was reported that Rodríguez has been arrested on an open charge of theft.

Rodríguez does appear to be crazy; the conflation of "Nazism" and Pinochet, and the claiming that "others do the same with Salvador Allende, and he was a Jew and a freemason" are pretty hard to take seriously. But of course, this is not to say that the people of Ancud want to see posters with swastikas around the place and it does raise questions about people's right to propagate their own view of history. In Germany, use of Nazi imagery would not be allowed and if Rodríguez tried denying the Holocaust, that would not be allowed either. There is nothing to stop anyone in Chile denying the disappearances and tortures that happened under Pinochet.

Amplio rechazo a “Escuela de arte Nazi Augusto Pinochet” en Chiloé (Diario U Chile)
Ex diputado Ascencio pide a intendente de Los Lagos prohibir "escuela Nazi" en Ancud (La Tercera)
A Nazi School in Chiloé (
PDI detiene a creador de escuela nazi de Chiloé (El Mostrador)

Saturday 15 March 2014

Peru: Forced sterilisation victims fight on

Dan Collyns in the Guardian has a good and detailed article on the continued fight of highland Peruvian women who underwent sterilisation without their consent during the Fujimori government.

Particularly shocking is the testimony of a woman who relates that her foetus was aborted and she was then sterilised; I had previously only heard of sterilisations being carried out after the women had given birth.
"What have you done to me? I asked the nurse. This is by order of the government, she said to me, you people have many children. This is the way it has to be."

Comments like this highlight the endemic racism which led to this situation: the perception that Andean families were having too many children and that the solution to this was not education, but compulsion, coercion or trickery. It's saddening to note that a couple of comments below the line seem to almost back this approach, in a "of course it was wrong but something needed to be done" way. The woman who relates that her husband beats her also shows that these women are oppressed by sexism from both sides, within the home and from the state. Reparations alone will not solve this problem, of course, but they may form part of a just response to it.

Peruvian women intent on bringing state to book over forced sterilisations (Guardian)

Saturday 8 March 2014

Book review: Carmen Castillo's Un día de octubre en Santiago

Carmen Castillo, Santiago de Chile: Ein Tag im Oktober (Rowohlt, 1981, trans. from the French by Anna Kamp) (out of print in German but used copies available; Spanish edition available for Kindle - no English translation, as far as I can tell)

I was walking home a few weeks ago when I passed a house with various old books laid out on the windowsill. It's quite common here to put unwanted items outside for people to help themselves if they want them, so of course I took a look at the rather bashed-up offerings and this caught my eye.

I initially thought it was a novel, but when I started reading I realised it was a memoir of a Chilean militant who went underground after the 1973 coup and eventually went into exile in France. Carmen Castillo was a member of the leftist Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR) and married to its co-founder, Andrés Pascal Allende (nephew of Salvador Allende). She went underground with another MIR leader, Miguel Enríquez, who was killed by the DINA (secret police) on 5 October 1974. This is the "day in October" referred to in the title of the book. Castillo, who was pregnant, was wounded in the attack that brought down Enríquez. She was detained for some time but eventually allowed to leave the country. Her baby was born in England but only lived for a few weeks. She wrote the book while living in Paris.

Castillo describes her life in hiding, the torture undergone by her comrades, and what various people were doing on the 5 October, the momentous day when Miguel was killed. The book is only about 150 pages long and her prose is sparse, but not unfeeling. The passages about the torture suffered by the militants are difficult to read, but the admiration Castillo feels for the bonds of loyalty between her comrades is very clear. A more ambiguous character is "la flaca Alejandra", an MIR militant who works for the DINA following her capture. Castillo does not merely condemn this treachery, she describes Alejandra's physical condition and her explanation that, when the DINA take her out on the street to point out MIR members, her uncontrollable trembling alerts her captors to the fact that she has recognised someone.

The book is interesting for several reasons: Castillo knew many important figures in the MIR and describes them as personal friends, not just as historic personalities; for the same reason, it can be somewhat confusing for the reader even with the translator's notes. She is also writing from the perspective of exile and grapples with the question of returning to dictatorship-era Chile (which, in the end, she did not). I had never previously really considered the practicalities of guerrilla movements in the pre-digital age: the assigned meeting points and back-up meeting points, the secret messages, the struggle to secure a safe house, the need to be able to rely on one's comrades. In a note to them at the end of the text, Castillo writes that "this is not a political book, but it does tell a political story". She sums it up well.

Castillo later became a documentary filmmaker; I haven't seen any of her work, but I will now seek it out.

Sunday 2 March 2014

Argentine lecturer resigns over dictatorship acusations

Enrique Pérez Albizú, vice-deacon of the faculty of medicine at the university of La Plata, has stepped down from his post after a Mother of the Plaza de Mayo accused him in court of complicity with the dictatorship.

In the trial concerning the detention centre La Cacha, Adelina Dematti de Alaye said that surgeon Pérez Albizú had signed false death certificates which were then used by the military to cover up deaths in custody by attributing them to deaths in "shoot outs". Another 20 doctors are said to have done the same thing.

Renunció el docente acusado de vínculos con la dictadura militar (Tiempo)

Argentine newspaper owner summoned to court

Vicente Massot, owner of Bahía Blanca-based newspaper La Nueva Provincia, has been summoned to testify in court on 18 March, in a groundbreaking move towards investigating the role of the media in the dictatorship.

La Nueva Provincia was known for its support of the military regime. Massot is also accused of killing two printshop workers and for helping the military regime cover up and justify the abductions and forced disappearances. The prosecutor’s indictment alleges his media group played a key role in legitimising the genocide that the military dictatorship carried out.

The printshop workers were trade unionists Enrique Heinrich and Miguel Ángel Loyola, who were both abducted on 30 June 1976. Their tortured remains were found on the embankment of Route 33, 17 kilometres from Bahía Blanca.

La Nueva Provincia owner to testify on dictatorship (Buenos Aires Herald)
Desde el diario a los tribunales (Pagina/12)

I was interested to note that the paper is still in existence and that it has reported on the upcoming testimony of its owner. It describes his court appearance as "spontaneous" and refers to the dictatorship as the "government of the national reorganisation process".

Massot declarará el lunes 18 de este mes (La Nueva)

Chilean human rights abusers continue to receive military benefits

Chilean online paper Cambio 21 reports on calls for former high-ranking military officers to be demoted to prevent them from receiving military pensions and benefits.

Jailed human rights abusers including former DINA head Manuel Contreras apparently continue to receive pensions - in the case of Contreras, amounting to 3,000,000 pesos a month. Human rights groups want them to be stripped of such benefits, as well as the right to use ranks, uniforms, etc. A proposal for demotion was made by deputy Gabriel Ascencio in 2010, but has yet to be carried out. Lawyer Nelson Caucoto says that the problem would be making the decision retroactive, ie, applying to those perpetators already jailed and not just those affected by future trials.

Pedirán degradar a Manuel Contreras para que no siga recibiendo un sueldo cercano a los tres millones de pesos mientras está preso (

Thursday 27 February 2014

Uruguay's army chief wants to "turn the page"

Uruguay has a new army chief, Juan Villagrán, replacing Pedro Aguerre. Villagrán has already stirred up controversy with his remarks about the disappeared.

On taking up his role, he said there was "no further information" about those disappeared by the State during the dictatorship. He added that "96% of those in the army joined after 1985, so they are not likely to know much about it". He denied that there was an internal order not to reveal any such information.

Subsequently, in an interview with Uruguayan paper El País, Villagrán said that "as a private individual", he believes it is time to "turn the page" on the events of the past. He said that the dictatorship is now a matter for historians; as far as the institution of the army is concerned, it has been dealt with.

Not surprisingly, the families of the disappeared were not so pleased by these statements. One relative, Oscar Urtasún, said that to turn the page, "it was first necessary to read the book". "We are the victims and he is part of the victimizers," he summed up.

It's disappointing, but not surprising, to hear such statements from a high-ranking military officer in Latin America. How about leaving it to the victims to decide if they are ready to move on for a change?

Jefe del Ejército: "no debe quedar información" sobre desaparecidos (
"Creo que hay que dar vuelta la página y mirar hacia el futuro" (
Hijos de desaparecidos respondieron a jefe de Ejército (

Sebastião Salgado as migrant

The Lens blog of the New York Times has an interesting piece about Sebastião Salgado's early work. It notes that he led dictatorship-era Brazil in 1969 for France, where he came into contact with other Latin American exiles.
“We were migrants and we settled in a world of migrants,” he recalled. “We worked a lot at that time with Brazilians who arrived in France after having been tortured. Today we don’t talk very much about this period, but it was brutal. All those people who in 1973 left Chile and came here after the overthrow of Salvador Allende. And Paraguay, Uruguay. …” 
The photography that came out of this period - immigrants at work and at home with their families in the high-rises of the Parisian outskirts - seem a far cry from the work of Genesis, but I think you can see the echos in the landscape shots of the tower blocks.

See more:
Sebastião Salgado: Migrant in a World of Migrants (NY Times)