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 (ilovechile.cl)
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 (cambio21.cl)