Monday, 28 April 2008

Temporary Absence

I will be quiet with posting over the next week as I prepare for an exam... tempting though it is to procrastinate online!

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Peru Headlines

La República, in particular, has a number of memory- and human rights-related headlines today:

APRODEH is facing a political backlash and investigations into its financial backers after its letter to the European Parliament, seen as detrimental to Peru's bid to get the MRTA classed as a terrorist organisation.

APCI investiga a APRODEH por abogar por el MRTA en Parlamento Europeo
(El Comercio)

Up to a thousand civilians may have died in army barracks in Ayacucho.

"Cerca de mil personas fueron recluidos en Los Cabitos y no salieron nunca más"
(La República)

And V
íctor Quispe Palomino, leader of the remaining senderista group in the Valleys of Apurímac and Ene (VRAE), styles himself "Abimael's successor".

El cabecillo terrorista del VRAE se autotitula sucesor de Abimael
(La Rep

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Argentine Dirty War Suspect Detained

'Authorities detained a politician and former police officer targeted in a Dirty War-era human rights probe in Argentina, just hours after Congress barred him from taking up a seat that would have afforded him immunity.

Luis Abelardo Patti is suspected in the disappearance of a leftist activist under the military dictatorship that seized power by a coup in 1976. He was elected to Argentina's lower house in 2005 but only this month won Supreme Court approval to take up his seat.'

Patti claims this is 'political persecution' - a comment which would be funny if it weren't sick. 'Political persecution' is what Argentine leftists experienced in the 1970s and 1980s, when thousands of them were tortured and killed.

Here's the full article from Yahoo.

updated to repair broken link

Peru: 81 Bodies Found in Los Cabitos

More chilling than the political debates about recognising the MRTA as a current terrorist organisation is this story from La República: large numbers of corpses and bones have been discovered in a mass grave in Ayacucho, Peru, including the remains of young children and babies. The exhumations were made at the recommendation of Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Ovens were also found, which were apparently used to cremate torture victims, preventing their identification. These people were tortured in an attempt to force them to confess to being members of Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and then killed, as part of the brutal 'counter-insurgency campaign' of the Peruvian armed forces.

Warning: original article contains graphic details of torture and images of skeletons.
Los Cabitos: 'hablan' las fosas del terror

Peru angry at EU's decision not to class MRTA as terrorists

Peru's front pages are filled with righteous anger over the decision of the European Parliament not to include the MRTA in its list of terrorist organisations. President Alan García is also furious at the intervention of human rights organisation APRODEH, who sent a letter to the European Parliament pointing out that the MRTA have been practically inactive for the past eight years and that their main leaders are currently imprisoned.

García sees this as an affront to the memory of conflict in Peru, I guess, but I have to concur with APRODEH: as far as I'm aware this is a current list of terrorist groups, and the MRTA are no longer a serious threat. This is not to dismiss the past crimes they committed.

Alan García califica de lamentable y grave decisión europea sobre MRTA (El Comercio)

Thursday, 24 April 2008

That's the Plaza We Want to See

This article in Pagina/12 caught my eye not specifically because of its main purpose - which is to report on a new educational initiative in Buenos Aires - but because of comments made by the mayor of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri.

"I want to congratulate you for this photo and for this image of the Plaza [de Mayo] full of children, which is what we want to see, not that other Plaza which has to do with the past, violence and frustration", he declared, in a clear reference - and insult - to the campaign of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo in that very square which, as the newspaper comments, has become 'an emblem of the struggle for memory and justice'.

Macri's comments are strongly reminiscent of the attitude of former President Carlos Menem, who insisted that "the past has nothing more to teach us" (cited in Marguerite Feilowitz, A Lexicon of Terror, 1998, p. xi). Menem also warned, chillingly, that an "exaggerated use of liberty" (public protests, harking back to the past and so on) could lead to "another contingent of the Plaza de Mayo demanding their children" (cited in Diana Taylor, Disappearing Acts, 1997, p. 15). In other words, if you insist on remembering past abuses, they could happen again - to you.

Despite the miserable state of justice in Argentina during his leadership, Menem ultimately failed to draw a line under the memory of the 'dirty war' and force everybody to move on. It's simply not possible to tell parents whose children were murdered that they should now give up, go home, and be quiet like good little citizens. Nevertheless his point, that the past holds us back, is clearly still expressed in some quarters.

Anyway, the whole article is here: De guardapolvo y desmemoria.

Colombia Marks a Deadly Date

A little late with this one, but I just noticed it linked from the BBC's Americas page.

Colombians remember 9 April 1948, the day on which populist leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan was assassinated, as one of the key events which led to the country's long civil conflict, known as La Violencia. Here is the full article.

I'm always interested by the iconic events which a nation identifies as changing the course of history, and these special dates which are chosen to be commemorated. They are often presented as self-evident, but, as Malcolm Deas of Oxford University comments in the article, there is always another side: "You can't eternally remember one assassination, especially in a country where there has been so many", he points out (although, it seems to me that you CAN in fact lay disproportionate emphasis on particular deaths, and that this happens often... perhaps it would be better to say that you SHOULDN'T?).

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Peru: 11 Years Since Embassy Hostages Rescued

Peru commemorated the eleventh anniversary of the end of the siege of the Japanese embassy yesterday. The Defense Minister expressed pride in the armed forces, as reported by El Comercio, in their article, 'Conmemoran el XI aniversario de la operación "Chavín de Huántar"', although the military operation is hardly uncontroversial. The resolution of the hostage crisis was generally regarded as a success, since all the hostages were brought to safely except for one, who sadly had a heart attack and died at the scene; however, all the hostages were killed and there are strong suggestions that they were summarily executed rather than being captured and tried. This is one of the aspects of his rule that Fujimori is now facing trial for.

Another Grandchild Found

Pagina/12 is reporting that the identity of another child of disappeared parents has been confirmed in Argentina.

In an article headlined 'Cuando una verdad demora treinte años', the newspaper reveals that DNA test results have confirmed that Evelyn Vazquez is the biological daughter of Susana Beatriz Pegoraro and Ruben Santiago Bauer, both of whom were abducted by agents working for the State in 1977 and last seen in Argentina's largest clandestine detention centre, the ESMA. Evelyn was illegally adopted by a couple with ties to the armed forces and brought up in ignorance of her true parentage.

Of course it's always satisfying for the Abuelas (Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo) to find another missing child, but this story in particular is an extremely sad one. The adopted daughter has fought the DNA test by every legal means, and the comparison was eventually made with items seized from her home by the courts. She is quoted as saying that 'I panic at the thought of discovering that they [her putative parents] are not my biological family'. How can guess how she can come to terms with the truth now it has been irrefutably confirmed?

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Paraguay Looks Past Dictatorship

'After living more than 60 years under one-party rule, Paraguayans finally mustered the strength on Sunday to wrestle the ghost of the dictator Alfredo Stroessner to the ground.' More from the New York Times...

My comment: I don't know a great deal about Paraguay, and even most Latin-Americanists that I know don't seem to either, but this looks like generally good news. However, it's also obvious that while former priest Fernando Lugo will get a honeymoon period in office - possibly a significant one - he will face a mountain of obstacles to improve Paraguay's current lot, and unless he actually can perform miracles people, desperate for real change, may start to get impatient.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Blogging Memory in Latin America

For some years I kept a file on my bookshelf labelled 'Latin America in the news', and stuffed with clippings and printouts. This then became a digital version; an unwieldly mess of 'bookmarks' on my internet browser. This third incarnation, then, is a tentative attempt to keep up with the news coming from Latin America - and if it proves to be a useful resource to others, so much the better. It's also a result of seeing a lot of interesting articles which aren't appropriate to include on my other, more personal, blog about living in Germany, but which I'd really like to comment on or acknowledge in some way.

It will:

1) focus primarily on issues of memory, by which I generally mean the continuing attempts to clarify, achieve justice, commemorate, and otherwise deal with the dictatorships and periods of state terrorism in Latin America.

2) focus on Latin America, with a probable bias towards South, rather than Central, America, and on the countries of Peru and Argentina - since these are the ones which which I am most familiar with. I will include other relevant stories however.

3) draw from English- and Spanish-language sources, but any comment here will be in English. Any translations are my own unless otherwise stated.

It won't, however, include copies of entire articles... many news blogs seem to, and I'd like to follow suit, but it seems it is a breach of copyright so I think I'll settle for quoting and linking. The majority of news sources now use stable URLs for their articles so the links shouldn't really disappear in the near future. Let's see how it goes.