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)