Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Peru: Fujimori's Lawyer Points Finger at Garcia

Former President Alberto Fujimori's lawyer on Monday asked how a court could convict his client of murder and kidnapping if Peru's current president was never charged for human rights abuses allegedly committed during his first term in office two decades ago.

I have wondered this myself actually, although I take a rather different slant from this one:
"The same logic that served for not charging President (Alan) Garcia should serve to acquit Fujimori if this trial is legal and not political," defense lawyer Cesar Nakazaki told the court

I see the issue from the other direction, and wonder why Garcia shouldn't also see the dock sooner rather than later.

Garcia denies any responsibility for rights abuses committed during his first term. They include the slaughter of 69 peasants — including 21 children under age 5 — by an army patrol in Accomarca village in 1985 and the massacre of 29 peasants in Cayara village in 1988 and the subsequent murder of 9 witnesses to the killings in a military cover-up.

Garcia already took the stand as a witness in the trial of Peruvian navy officers for the 1986 killings of some 250 inmates, many after they surrendered, in a military siege at two Lima prisons.

Fujimori's defense points to Peru's president (AP)

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Peru: A Museum of Memory After All?

Apparently, Mario Vargas Llosa has met privately with Alan Garcia and 'persuaded' him that Peru does need a museum of memory after all. I'm intrigued. Vargas Llosa is an old political adversary of Garcia's and his opinion has been clear since the debate arose. Why would one meeting suddenly change his mind? Is he still hoping this issue will go away? Or does he now see a benefit from it?

Vargas Llosa convenció a García de aceptar Museo de la Memoria (La Republica)

Uruguay: Good and Bad News

In Uruguay, six former military officials and two former police officers have been sentenced to between 20 and 25 years in jail for murders committed during the 1973-1985 dictatorship. The perpetrators are: from the armed forces Gilberto Vázquez, José Ricardo Arab, Ernesto Ramas, José Gavazzo, Luis Maurente and Jorge Silveira and from the police José Sande Lima y Ricardo Medina.

The victims included Adalberto Soba and Alberto Mechoso, who were arrested and abducted in Argentina and tortured in the Automotores Orletti detention centre before being secretly transferred to their native Uruguay. This is an example of the collaboration between the security forces in the various countries under military dictatorships in South America (see Operation Condor).

Uruguay: condenan a prision a ex militares y ex policias (AP)

Thanks to my reader, whose blog I wish I could read more of, for the tip

So much for the good news. At the same time, however, a UN rights expert has condemned "large-scale human rights violations" in Uruguayan jails.

“I received few allegations of torture in police stations that could be proven beyond reasonable doubt by forensic examinations and other means of evidence,” Manfred Nowak, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, said [...] “However, I did receive numerous credible allegations of ill-treatment and excessive use of force in prisons, police stations and juvenile detention centres,” [...]

He said he found Libertad Penitentiary particularly appalling, with convicted prisoners and pre-trial detainees held together “like animals in metal boxes” for almost 24 hours a day, often drinking from toilets because of restricted access to water.

Now, do I link these two stories because I feel sorry for the military murderers who now need to belatedly pay for their crimes? Hardly. I link them only because they illustrate the difficulty of breaking away from authoritarian institutions under democracy. Uruguay is no longer a military dictatorship; it is unacceptable that it continues to commit widespread abuses in its prison system. The moral victory under democracy lies not only in successfully prosecuting human rights violators (who, yes, get to enjoy fair trials and freedom from extrajudicial executions and all sorts of other things which they did not grant their prisoners when they were in power) but also in reshaping state institutions so that they are fit for a democratic society. Clearly, that is a huge and expensive challenge, and it's not just Uruguay that has a long way to go.

UN rights expert urges Uruguay to end 'appalling' prison conditions (UN news centre)

News Round-Up

In Mexico, there will be no prosecution of Luis Echeverría for his alleged role in the Tlatelolco massacre.
Verdict Strengthens Dirty War Impunity (IPS)
See also The Mex Files.

"Nothing to discuss" on the Falklands/Malvinas issue, says Brown.

And an Argentine motion to encourage UN members to use forensic evidence to clarify human rights abuses has been passed unanimously.

Pagina/12's cartoonist comments on the delays in bringing the 'dirty war' perpetrators to justice.

"They gave von Wernich life imprisonment."
"They were harder on him than on Etchecolatz."
"But he got life too?"
"Yes, but he's older...."

Friday, 27 March 2009

Peru: Edmundo Camana Is Dead

Recently, I wrote about Edmundo Camana and his photograph, which as one of the best known images from Yuyanapaq has become one of the icons of the Peruvian conflict. I pointed out that a new controversy had blown up surrounding the photograph and its subject; namely, that congressman Edgar Núñez had tried to claim that the image was a fake. This story has taken a strange and regrettable turn. Camana has died.

Peruvian blog utero de marita reports that, in summary, Ayacuchan congresswoman Huancahuari located Camana and found that he was in need of medical attention. According to various sources, he had been disabled for some years, apparently as a result of the injuries he sustained during the machete attack by the Shining Path in Lucanamarca. She arranged for him to be admitted to the Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Neurológicas (National Institute of Neurological Sciences) for treatment, which he duly was. The Institute found that he was suffering from paralysis in his legs, but did not consider his life at risk.

Then, a week later, Camana's nephew Raúl Jiménez Camana turned up and discharged him from the institute and readmitted him to the clinic of the military hospital. And, Jiménez Camana is a supporter of the APRA party. News sources are reporting that Edmundo's transfer was on the orders of aprista Edgar Núñez. Shortly afterwards, Edmundo suddenly died.

At utero de maria, you can also see copies of his death certificate and medical report from the first clinic. There is a mixed bag of responses to the post as well. Most are not rushing to believe in a conspiracy theory of Camana's murder by the government, but suspicions are already roused and such a theory will arise if the
background is not fully clarified in short order. Many accept that he was not a well man by any standards, and some lament that he was 'used' by the media, government, or human rights groups. There are certainly questions surrounding these events: why was Camana moved and was this the best option for him medically? Did the stress of recent publicity cause him further harm? Was he pressured in any way? Núñez will now be called on to explain his involvement in the man's treatment.

The CNDDHH is among those demanding an explanation.

See also
“Édgar Núñez usó a Camana para desprestigiar a la CVR” (La Republica)

[all links Spanish language]

Chile: Brown Meets Pinochet

British Prime Minister Gorden Brown has met Michelle Bachelet on a visit to Chile and 'praised her for her courage' under torture.
"President Bachelet was very courageous and brave," he said of the experience of the president whose father and boyfriend were tortured to death. "I will be telling her [...] that Britain abhors torture."

Honestly, I hope she managed to keep a straight face while he was saying that.

Brown praises Chilean president for her courage under Pinochet regime's torturers (Guardian)

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Peru News Round-Up

A whole pile of Peru-related news:

Alan, proudly displaying his democratic credentials, boasted that he can prevent a candidate he doesn't want taking over the Presidency, which has created a little stir:
Peru's President Stokes Poll Row (BBC)

IPS is also reporting on the alleged human rights abusers enjoying house arrest instead of standard jails - even though they don't actually fulfill the requirements for this privilege:
The Comforts of Impunity (IPS)

Plus, exhumations continue in the news:
Peru Extends Digging at 'Dirty War' Massacre (AFP)

Then, Fujimori is experiencing a little surge in the media polls as his trial draws to an end (how many more times will I have to type the phrase "draws to an end" in this context??):

Jailed Former President Alberto Fujimori to Personally Deliver Closing Statement Next Week
(Peruvian Times)

"Fujimori Gave the Order" (IPS)

Fujimori's Daughter: History Written at Ballot Box (AP)

In Peru, Former Leader's Lengthy Human Rights Trial Nears End
(Washington Post)

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Argentina: Different Ways of Commemoration

A email dropped into my in-box this morning which reminded me, if I needed it, that there is little consensus about the public remembrance of the Argentine dictatorship. It was a message from the Asociacion de ex-detenidos-desaparecidos (Association of ex-detained-disappeared people, AEDD) via their Yahoo group and here's a rough translation:


Today is 24 March, today we march from Congress to the Plaza de Mayo. Today we sing, we shout, we reject, we demand.

Meanwhile, in the ESMA - concentration camp and symbol of impunity - the close of the Festival of the Social Song will be taking place. We oppose any sort of festival happening in the ESMA, because there one can still hear the screams of our comrades tortured by murderers who continue unpunished, but we oppose it even more on 24 March. On that day, in the ESMA and in all the concentration camps, it is more necessary than ever that there is silence, so that the screams can be heard, can echo, can make a great noise, and to remind us that the genocide continues in the flesh, because 95% of the murderers are free to walk the streets, because 400 young people are still appropriated [ie the disappeared children], because Julio Lopez is still disappeared after two and a half years, because there have been over 4,000 people arrested for protesting, because the crisis is punishing the people with high prices, job cuts and suspensions, because 25 children in this country die of malnutrition every day...

Don't shut yourself away in the ESMA. Don't disappear from the streets. Come, we invite you to sing with us on the March for Memory, Truth and Justice at 15.30 from Congress to the Plaza de Mayo.

It doesn't take a great leap of imagination to guess why, of all the human rights organisations, the small band of survivors themselves feels distaste for returning to the actual site of their torture, for some, and to the greatest symbol of dictatorship and torture, for all. There is in general something of a split among the various Argentine groups in how they deal with the legacy of state terror. The more 'radical'*, and these would include the Asociacion Madres de Plaza de Mayo led by Hebe Bonafini, HIJ@S - the children of the disappeared - and the AEDD, reject purely commemorative acts as inappropriate given the incomplete state of justice in Argentina. In other words, while there are perpetrators in freedom and questions still unanswered regarding the precise fate of the disappeared, it is a distraction to create memorials, monuments, etc. These groups focus on different sorts of commemoration - educational programs for example (emphasising the leftist ideals of the disappeared), calls for justice, and open alignment with political groups such as the piqueteros. The upside of this is that groups such as Bonafini's Madres remain relevant, develop according to the contemporary situation, and retain influence. On the other hand, accusations that they are too politicised and have lost their original focus (they were, after all, always a one-topic group; where are the disappeared, we want them back) can dissipate support for the mothers.

More 'moderate'* groups are prepared to lay the disappeared to rest, in one sense - not by giving up the struggle for justice, but by accepting and participating in memorial acts. They also collaborate with government agencies, believing that they should try to influence state actions rather than cut themselves off from them. They also tend to define their human rights activities rather more narrowly, concentrating on their original purposes. Such organisations include the Madres de Plaza de Mayo - Linea Fundadora (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo - Founding Line), the Abuelas (Grandmothers), and non-relatives groups such as CELS (Centre for Legal and Social Studies). Disputes of this type were one reason (not the only one) why the mothers' group split into its current two factions.

On the one hand it's rather sad that there are disputes among the human rights community; the split of the Madres quite obviously involved a lot of pain for those concerned (this is described in detail elsewhere, anyone who has trouble finding sources feel free to contact me). In the statement I translated above, the AEDD present the commemoration of 24 March as a stark choice; are you with us or against us, in the street or in the ESMA. Perhaps though, there is room for museums and street protests, for singing, and for silence.

* I use both these words cautiously, and am painting with a broad brush throughout this post, but to avoid great length won't go into more detail here.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Guatemala: News Round-Up

Various news articles have concerned themselves with issues of memory and justice in Guatemala in the past week.

With echos of the situation in Argentina, it seems that children whose parents were killed during the civil war were put up for adoption, sometimes internationally:
Dirty war orphans put up for adoption (AP)
Guatemala: war orphans sold says gov't (The Latin Americanist)

Exhumations at La Verbena cemetery may reveal as many as 1,000 victims of the civil war:
Guatemala to open mass grave in search for war dead (Reuters)

Then, the rediscovered police archives are bearing fruit - the first arrests of police officers in a 1984 disappearance case. Declassified documents show that the US embassy knew that Guatemalan security forces were behind human rights abuses.
Historical Archives Lead to Arrest of Police Officers in Guatemalan Disappearance (The National Security Archive)
Group says files show US knew of Guatemala abuses (AP)

And, please, do yourselves a favour and go look at the amazing photographs of those archives. An estimated 75 million pieces of paper piled high in dozens of damp, rat-infested rooms. I have a post on photography and memory of the Guatemalan war coming up - and that's a promise!

Argentina: 24 of March News Round-up

The Argentine press on the coup anniversary:

Pagina/12's article is Festival y marcha a 33 anos del golpe, plus a special supplement on the current state of human rights in Argentina, which I'll deal with in more detail later if it's worthwhile.

Critica Digital links the commemorations with a national debate on the possible reintroduction of the death penalty, which is not supported by the Madres de Plaza de Mayo: Linea Fundadora or most other human rights organisations. It also has a photo gallery.
Almeida: "Pedimos justicia, jamas se nos occurio la pena de muerte"

Clarin's headline is Masivo acto en Plaza de Mayo por el aniversario del ultimo golpe militar.

Plus, former clandestine detention centre La Perla in Cordoba - the biggest torture centre in the region - was today inaugurated as a Space for Memory. Now that is good news.
Se habilito La Perla como Espacio para la Memoria (La Voz)

Argentina: 24 of March Sources and Materials

On the 33rd anniversary of the last coup d'etat in Argentina, I've compiled a selection of sources and materials about the dictatorship and the memory of it. All are freely accessible.

The government website, www.24demarzo.gov.ar, has a wealth of original materials (scans) and photographs. See the news headlines from the day of the coup and read Henry Kissinger's chilling green light for repression ("we won't cause you unnecessary difficulties"). Spanish language, except when the original document is English language.

The site of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo) offers a series of full-size books about its work for free download as PDFs - for example, La historia de abuelas: 30 anos de busqueda. Spanish language.

The archive Memoria Abierta offers a guide to archives dealing with human rights in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil and Peru, plus other reading material. Spanish language materials mostly, although the site is also available in English.

In 2006, left-wing newspaper Pagina/12 produced a special supplement to commemorate 30 years since the coup, which is still available online. Spanish language.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Argentina: Children of Disappeared, 30 Years on

As we approach the 33rd anniversary of Argentina's last coup d'etat, Pagina/12 brings together 5 children of the disappeared, all working in the cultural field, to discuss their work and their engagement with memory issues.

They are: documentary filmmaker Nicolás Prividera; director of, among others, Los rubios, Albertina Carri; writer Félix Bruzzone; and musicians Malena D’Alessio of Actitud María Marta and Gastón Gonçalves of Los Pericos.

It's an interesting piece. Apparently the interview took place in a bar near the ESMA where they were supposed to do the photoshoot, but at least two of the group were uncomfortable with that and photographs took place elsewhere. I mean, I'm hardly surprised. I know the ESMA is now a museum and cultural centre - or at least on its way to becoming one - but really, would you fancy posing for pics in the place where your parents were murdered? Honestly.

Aside from that, there's nothing morbid about the hijos' reflections. On the contrary, they seem to share a pride in the memory of their parents and a belief in the importance of cultural productions and their ability to do good. Gonçalves' younger brother was also disappeared and only discovered his true identity 20 years later - as it turns out, he was already a fan of Los Pericos, without realising that he was related to its bass player.

According to D'Alessio, whose band is profoundly connected with social movements, "music is a branch of the arts which influences young people. I think it's a tool with a really powerful ability to effect change". For Carri, "In some form, what we are doing artistically, with respect to the memory of those who aren't here, is a form of loving revenge". Isn't that a fascinating idea? Loving revenge. Sometimes people accuse the relatives of the disappeared of being bitter and stuck in the past, unable to let go. But these strong adults have taken their experiences and the memory of their parents as inspiration to create something and to work towards improving the world they live in. When, thirty years ago, the junta abducted young adults of around this age, in the midst of starting their own families, it was hoping to remake society into one in which social participation was crushed and fragmented and to indoctrinate the children into opposing all their parents' ideals. Some might argue that, in some measure, it succeeded. But it failed spectacularly in these cases.

"Los desaparecidos no pueden pasar desapercibidos" (Pagina/12)

Argentina: A Date for Your Diaries

6 October will mark the start of the ESMA 'megatrial'. Astiz, Acosta, and friends - I hope you're free. Argentina has only been waiting to see you brought to justice for 33 years.

Cerca de la Justicia, 33 años despues (Pagina/12)

Peru: Trials 'Hurt' Armed Forces

There's nothing like starting the weekend with one of those articles that fill you with rage, and so it was this morning with IPS's article focusing on Peruvian army chief Otto Guibovich. He's complaining that soldiers being held to account for all the torturing and murdering they did during the conflict is affecting morale. Aaaaah.

Sarcasm aside, it's not an uncommon argument: the army was just doing its job, fighting bravely against a vicious and clandestine enemy, and now it's just so unfair that the soldiers aren't receiving gratitude, but are being dragged through the courts by a bunch of lefty human rights activists who don't understand what war is about. OK, I didn't manage to drop the sarcasm for long. This is one of those really pervasive theories (along with "Fujumori saved us from terrorism", "Pinochet may not have been very nice but at least he fixed the economy", and the "two devils" theory in Argentina) which deserve ripping apart, so let's do it.

According to Guibovich:
the armed forces cannot be accused of committing human rights violations as a habitual practice. "The margins of error in the counter-subversive war are very small – highly regrettable, but small," he said.

"These are very specific, limited cases. In order for justice to be effective it must be specific, and must avoid generalisations. In the army, we weren’t taught to gather up suspects in a room and throw in a grenade. We were not indoctrinated to kill, to rape, to torture. That is just not how things are," the general said.

According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission:
The TRC affirms that at some places and moments in the conflict, the behavior of members of the armed forces not only involved some individual excesses by officers or soldiers, but also entailed generalized and/or systematic practices of human rights violations that constitute crimes against humanity as well as transgressions of the norms of International Humanitarian Law.

The TRC has established that the most serious human rights violations by military agents were: extrajudicial executions, forced disappearance of persons, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The TRC particularly condemns the extensive practice of sexual violence against women.

According to Guibovich:
"The work was extremely hard, but we had to do it. I have seen people under my command die. I have picked up dead soldiers, young men aged 18 or 20 who were doing their military service and defending democracy," he said.

"They were not killers: they were the sons of poor families, like the peasants massacred by Sendero Luminoso. But who is in the dock now? The military," said Guibovich.

The TRC devotes extensive space in its final report, and 21 separate points in its English-language summary, to pointing that the main responsibility for the conflict lies with the Shining Path. Let me say that again because human rights activists are sometimes accused of forgetting it (although I doubt they do): Sendero Luminoso initiated this period of violence in Peru. Sendero Luminoso showed disrespect for the democratic elections in 1980 which was the beginning of their 'armed struggle', and they were responsible for the majority of deaths. In addition, the TRC
recognizes the efforts and sacrifices made by members of the armed forces during the years of violence, and offers the most sincere homage to the more than one thousand brave agents of the military who lost their lives or were disabled in the line of duty.

But the army was not a terrorist organisation with the aim of bringing down the state. Its duty was to protect the people. Should it not have had higher moral standards than the Shining Path?!

The TRC notes that at the time of their intervention in the fight against subversion, the armed forces were prepared and equipped to engage in conventional conflict (external conflict). During the first years of their intervention (1983-85), they lacked adequate intelligence on the organization, military profile and strategy of the PCP-SL. By decision of civilian authority, their objective was to rapidly end the conflict without taking into account the cost in human lives. They set out to recover territorial control, assuming that the population was divided into communities loyal to the Peruvian State and subversive or red zone communities, without noting that the latter were not homogeneous and generally contained sectors dominated by the PCP-SL through coercion and even terror.

In the TRC’s view, although the military intervention hit the organization and the operational capacity of the PCP-SL hard, it also left in its wake massive human rights violations and turned the two-year period from 1983-84 into the most lethal of the conflict, mostly in Ayacucho. Worse still, the strategy turned out to be counterproductive, as the indiscriminate repression in the rural areas postponed the rupture between the PCP-SL and the poorer sectors of the peasantry, and failed to stop the expansion of armed action to other areas of the country.

In a nutshell:
1) Shining Path initiated armed struggle.
2) The army responded at first inadequately, and then with an extremely heavy hand. Unaccustomed to internal warfare and indoctrinated with institutional racism, they treated all indigenous people as potential terrorists. The years 1983-84 in Ayacucho were particularly bloody, largely due to state-sponsored human rights abuses. In this way, the army treated the population it was supposed to protect with the utmost cruelty and contempt.
3) The army's later change in tactics to a slightly more conciliatory approach, combined with the disillusionment with the violence of the Shining Path, paid off.
4) The army was ultimately responsible for around one third of deaths in the conflict, the great majority of these innocent civilians, in some cases including minors. The army also suffered its own losses.
5) The army is not being prosecuted as an institution, trials affect individuals. Clearly, this may end up being a large number of individuals and may reveal institutional failings.
6) The TRC acknowledges both sides of the conflict and gives the lion's share of responsibility to the Shining Path. It has no interest in persecuting the armed forces, but reports the facts.
7) In recent months, the army has shown that its human rights training has still not paid off, since 47 cases of forced disappearance and other crimes have been reported.

Army Chief Complains that Trials Hurt "Morale" (IPS)

TRC General Conclusions
(English-language summary)

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Peru: "Lukewarm" Response on Majaz

The prosecutor will charge some police officers with torture in the case of Minera Majaz, it is being reported today.

The response of human rights organisations is subdued; obviously, the torture charges are to be welcomed, but there will be no charges against local military commanders or the security company or the mining company itself. In short, only the direct perpetrators of the crime are affected and not anyone higher up who may have given the orders. Moreover, the accusations of abduction and sexual assault have been dropped - despite the fact that the villagers were held for 3 days, and the women among them underwent medical examinations which revealed signs of abuse. This is all according to the press release of the NGOs CNDDHH and FEDEPAZ, who call the results of the investigations "tibia" (lukewarm).

Denuncian a policias por tortura en Majaz
(La Republica)

Caso Majaz: Preocupante Resolucion Fiscal

News Round-Up

Here's some stuff which probably deserves commenting on, but that's not going to happen at this time of the evening, so just links instead:

Cocaine Trade Helps Rebels Reignite War in Peru (New York Times)

Inter-American Press Association worried about growing number of acts of aggression against journalists in Peru (Peruvian Times)
[mentions Majaz case]

Combating Impunity, Violence and Crime in President Colom's Guatemala

Argentina admits 1992 bombing unresolved (AFP)

Chile: Pinochet's Museum

The Pinochet museum got a fair amount of media attention when it first opened (I posted a few links at the time). You can get a really good look at it from this video, pointed out to me by Listen Yankee. By the look of it Daniel was quite right when he commented on my previous post that the building is very small and hardly an impressive site; nevertheless, surrounding all the talk of national monuments and representative spaces of memory, it's pretty fascinating to see a museal space which is rewriting history in this manner, with Pinochet as hero.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Note on El Salvador

Obviously, I've been following the news from the historic elections in El Salvador with interest from a 'memory' point of view. It's a fantastic example of the twists and turns of post-conflict history. Unfortunately I'm poorly qualified to comment on events there. Happily I've been able to get my information from other sources.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Peru: El ojo que llora

I saw the memorial, El ojo que llora, while it was being made in Peru. The workmen were laying out the stones in the Campo de Marte, while thousands more stones were waiting in bags:

Then I watched videos of the opening ceremony on Youtube. Later, I saw photographs of the vandalism inflicted on the memorial, as it was covered in red paint. It's pretty unpleasant to realise that there are those who have so little respect that they would attempt to destroy a memorial to people who died.

Heartening, though, is this post by Jaqueline Fowks on the continuing use of the memorial. In the image, you can see flowers left on the stones by visitors. It's a small gesture, but an important one. You can erect as many monuments as you like but if they are left forgotten in some park that no one needs to walk through they are completely useless. Memory sites need to be interacted with, and the depositing of objects is one way of doing that. The Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington is one such site where numerous items of memorabilia have been deposited and where people use the memorial as a means to express their feelings and to recall the dead. El ojo que llora is comparatively new, but it seems to be finding its place in the memory landscape of Peru.

Argentina: Children of Disappeared to Sue Banks?

First Chile filed suit against four banks for helping Pinochet hide his illicit fortune. Now, it seems, children of the disappeared in Argentina may follow its example. Pagina/12 is reporting that two 'children' (of course, they are at least thirty by now) from La Plata, Leandro Manuel Ibáñez and María Elena Perdighe, are planning to present a claim against the foreign banks that financed the 1976-83 dictatorship.

Apparently, one of the precedents for such a case is the Nuremberg trials, which ruled against companies which sold the deadly gas to the Nazi regime, used concentration camp labour and so on. The Geneva Convention also allows for sanctions against the accomplices of genocide. Said Perdighe,
"I want to know who gave the money to the Military Junta which was governing a broken country so that they could pay the wages of the murderers of my parents and buy the machines to torture them,"

The Nuremberg court stated that in order for a criminal plan to succeed, it required
"the cooperation of politicians, members of the armed forces, diplomats and businesspeople. They cannot consider themselves innocent if they knew what they were doing,"

Articles in the international press, reports from human rights organisations and the condemnation of the Carter administration will make it hard for the banks to claim they did not know about atrocities in Argentina in the late 1970s.

It remains to be seen what will come of this attempt to achieve justice for the disappeared. I wonder if such efforts would even be made if the actual perpetrators of the torture had been promptly tried and remained behind bars.

Los prestamistos de la muerte (Pagina/12)

Peru: La teta asustada/Yuyanapaq/CVR

Peruvian blog Utero de Marita has published a video interview with Magaly Solier, protagonist of La teta asustada, visiting the Yuyanapaq exhibition in the Museo de la Nacion. It's very interesting to hear her discuss her childhood memories and her reactions to the images. The post is here, I've also embedded the video here (both Spanish language):

Also, thanks to Conflictos sociales en el Peru for drawing my attention to the fact that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's (CVR) digital image bank is online. Woohoo!

It is only a slight exaggeration to say that I have been waiting for several years for this moment. Seriously, when I went to Peru in late 2005 I spoke to one of the curators of Yuyanpaq and asked her when the image bank was going to be up and running. She informed me that there were no funds available for the project at that time; in any case, all energy was going towards reopening the physical exhibition in the Museo de la Nacion, which was fair enough. Ever since, when you clicked on the 'Banco de imagenes' resource on the CVR it just had an "under construction" notice. I had pretty much given up that the digital archive was ever going to appear. But now there it is! The final Yuyanapaq exhibition was selected from these images, which in turn came from the collections of media sources, human rights organisations, government agencies and private individuals. You can see all the images or search by source, topic, date, location, key word or photographer.

This is a fantastic resource for those interested in memory, history, and human rights in Peru, and it's free and accessible to all with an interest connection (which, I am well aware, is far from everyone in Peru, but coverage is increasing all the time). I'll be using the image bank in the near future for some of my planned future posts on photography and memory, but in the meantime, go and check it out for yourself.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Peru: Attacks on Integrity of Yuyanapaq

Last week, I posted a partial translation of an article protesting the aspersions that military amnesty supporter Edgar Núñez was casting against the photographic exhibition Yuyanapaq (Para recordar/For remembering). Núñez is President of the Defense Committee of the Peruvian Congress. Now, on the website of magazine Caretas, you can see a video of the incident in which he discusses this image by Oscar Medrano (who works for Caretas, hence their particular interest):

Holding up the photograph, he stresses that its subject, Edmundo Camana, is still alive and in possession of his two eyes. I'm not sure who ever denied that; here is a range of photographs taken by the same photographer:

In her article 'Making Yuyanapaq', Robin Hoecker notes that
The photograph was taken by Oscar Medrano for the magazine Caretas, but it was never published. Instead, another image ran of the man where his bandage is raised, showing a gruesome and disfigured eye. Mohanna explained why the Yuyanapaq editors chose to use the version with the bandage: "For us, this photo [with the bandage] dignifies the victim. And the other one [without the bandage] documents the evidence of what happened, of the pain. But you can still see the pain in this [good] eye. And for us, this one [with the bandage] is much stronger than the other one [without the bandage]. We made decisions like this all the time. "

For Núñez to claim, therefore, that the image is a 'trick' designed to make the audience believe that the man had lost his eye is a nonsense. He goes on to state that the problem with the subject's eye is not that he had been attacked by Shining Path with a machete; oh no! He just had a stye, a simple eye infection. This is absurd. Finally, Núñez repeats that the man is still living - again, who denied that? Caretas sent Medrano to catch up with him last year, on the 25th anniversary of the photograph:

Núñez also states, with emphasis, that Camana has never received any compensation from anyone. It was not the CVR's job to hand out financial compensation; they recommended that the government do this.

After Núñez and a response by Ayacuchan congresswoman Juana Huancahuari, fujimorista Cecilia Chacon de Vettori shouts and waves her pen around while proclaiming that it is impossible to talk of state terrorism and that Peru was merely defending itself against terrorists. At the end of the video, Huancahuari takes the microphone again and begins by saying that some politicians feel a profound contempt for indigenous highland people (campesinos, lit 'peasants'). Quite frankly, given the ingrained racism in Peruvian society, I took this as a simple statement of fact. There are cries of protest and she is ordered to retract her statement. When she refuses, the session is called to a halt.

The whole scene is rather bizarre. But one thing is clear; Núñez is attacking the integrity of the photographer Oscar Medrano, of the curators of Yuyanapaq Mayu Mohanna and Nancy Chappell, and by extension of the truth commission (CVR) itself, which authorised the photographic exhibition. He shows a clear desire to undermine the memory of the Peruvian conflict itself and remember only one side; those unambiguously murdered by the Shining Path. The fact is that the state did commit crimes during the conflict as well and it needs to face up to the memory of those, but it will struggle against amnesia while those in power oppose an honest assessment of the past.

Video of the session of the congressional committee here, in Spanish:
Este ojo llora (Caretas)

Photography and Memory (1): Carlos "Chino" Dominguez

This is the first in what I hope to be a series of posts on photographers whose work is concerned with issues of memory in Latin America. One could argue all photography is 'about' remembering, in that photographs show us images from the past and are so often used as part of memory work. I'm interested principally in photographic images that are more explicitly concerned with political violence in twentieth-century Latin American and its aftermath. Some of the photographers featured will lean more to the 'arty' side, others to the field of 'photojournalism'.

Carlos Dominguez, known as "Chino", is a veteran of Peruvian photojournalism and has been working as a photographer for over sixty years. That's why he kicks off this series, even though there are other photographers who are better known for photographing the internal conflict - because his career spans some of the most turbulent periods in recent Peruvian history.

Considering himself 'a photographer of the left', he captured poets and members of the intellectual elite, social movements, and ordinary people. One of his well-known images is that of the 'Gran Paro' (1977), the great strike, which you can see in this slide-show.

Dominguez has a deep interest in the promotion of photography in Peru. In Youtube video below, he expresses a wish for Peru to have a museum of photography and is concerned that valuable work from provincial photographers may be irretrievably lost (around 2:30 of the 8 minutes clip):

Significant for this blog is his image of an Andean woman holding a small photograph of a missing relative, a 'disappeared' person (approx 1985):

There are many photographs of relatives protesting the disappearance of their loved ones, from many different countries, but this woman's clothes and hat clearly identify her as highland Peruvian. Her hands, made large by the camera angle, are simultaneously cradling her breastfeeding child and displaying the photo, in the format familiar to us all from passports and identity documents. It may have been the only image she possessed of her relative (husband, father, brother?). She looks right at the camera, demanding a response. This is a compassionate image, highlighting both the grief and the strength of the mother.

Recently, Dominguez, who is now in poor health, donated his entire archive of 1,000,000 negatives to the Universidad Alas Peruanas, stressing how important it was to him that the collection be kept together and not split up. What an important historical record this is for the Peruvian nation.

More on Dominguez:

Memorias del ojo - article from La Republica

"El Chino" Carlos Dominguez - tribute site put together by students of the digital journalism course at the PUCP (Catholic University) in Lima

Publications: Los Peruanos, first pubd 1989. There is a second edition but I have been unable to find a source where it can be bought online. There is a copy in the Peruvian National Library for anyone there.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Argentina: AMIA lawyer claims he was tortured

The story of Argentina's bloodiest bombing, of the AMIA Jewish community centre in 1994, is a long and complex one with no satisfying answers as yet. It has taken another twist recently with lawyer Claudio Lifschitz's testimony that he was abducted and tortured last week by men claimed to be associated with Argentina's intelligence services. The perpetrators apparently carved the letters 'AMIA' into Lifschitz's back and burned his arm with a blowtouch. Lifschitz formerly worked for judge Juan Jose Galeano - who is now off the AMIA investigation case and under investigation himself for allegedly covering up the involvement of high-up officials (possibly including ex-President Menem himself) in the terrorist attack.

Hard to know what to make of this really, but it's another sign that there are still forces within Argentina that can circumnavigate the judicial system and that do not hesitate to use terror as a means to do this.

Whistleblower in Argentina Bombing Allegedly Tortured
(Impunity Watch)

Argentina Bombing Whistleblower Allegedly Tortured (AP)

Inquiry in 1994 Bombing (NY Times)

Peru: Under House Arrest

This rogues' gallery is some of the people accused of serious crimes in Peru who aren't in prison, but under house arrest instead. They include people involved in crimes associated with former spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos and the Colina Group. Bit of a light touch from the Peruvian justice system? La Republica calls it "systematic abuse on the part of the courts".

Agentes de 'Colina' y masacrador de Accomarca con arresto domiciliario (La Republica)

Peru News

1) There's more on the new exhumations in Huanta (which I reported on here), and the 'disappearance' of the supposed perpetrator of the massacre:

On March 6th 1986, the United States Embassy in Peru sent a cable report to the State Department in which the disappearance of Captain Artanza [sic] was believed to be engineered by the navy to avoid liabilities and opening the door for further litigation on human rights abuses.

The cable said that the "possibility that terrorists kidnapped Artaza is remote, as the body would have surfaced by now. Police and military do not appear to be searching for the alleged kidnapped victim, nor have they approached us for any information in this regard. Although possibility exists that Artaza vanished on his own, it is more likely that he cooperated with the navy,"

From Impunity Watch

And Peruvian Times: Peru delves into violent past: 40 "disappeared victims" exhumed in highland village of Huanta

2) IPS also reports on the spying on leftist and human rights organisations (mentions the Majaz case too):

Spying on Social Movements (IPS)

3) IPS also uses the success of the film La Teta Asustada at the Berlin Film Festival as a springboard to discuss the sexual violence against women during the conflict. It's a harrowing read:

"I just want the state to apologise; what I want is for those who did this to me to admit that they did it," said Gamboa

Drama Exposes Rape as Weapon of War

4) Here's another article on the Museum of Memory from The Economist (thanks Otto!)

Don't Look Back

5) Finally, a march took place demanding justice for ex-President Fujimori, whose trial is coming to an end:

Miles de personas marcharon exigiendo justicia (CNDDHH)

News Round-Up

It's been a hell of a week, work-wise, hence my online absence. I have a few days off now so should get quite a few posts in.

Here's a brief round-up of the week's memory-related news:

Chile sues Miami bank branches over Pinochet funds (Yahoo)

Colombia's Victims' Rights Act (Plan Colombia and Beyond)

Groundbreaking Arrest Made in Guatemalan Disappearance Case (Upside Down World)

Oh, and a slightly tangential but interesting article:

Evo Morales' op-ed in the New York Times:
Let Me Chew My Coca Leaves (NY Times, h/t Latin American Musings)

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Peru: Flores Wants Soldiers' Exhibition

I didn't need any more evidence that Peruvian Defense Minister Ántero Flores Aráoz is a staunch opponent of human rights. But then I noticed this:

Just over a week after Peru’s government came under fire for rejecting a $2 million donation to build a memorial museum, Defense Minister Ántero Flores Aráoz said that the Armed Forces will put together a photo exhibit to honor the memory of soldiers who died during Peru’s bloody 1980-2000 internal war.

I got the idea for this project after visiting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s photo exhibit, said Flores, “and I felt that it had to be complemented by (the expression of) what our Armed Forces suffered.”

Oh, really? Was he actually paying attention when he visited Yuyanapaq? Because the exhibition shows victims of Shining Path AND of the armed forces. The widows of murdered policemen feature too. It's not a witchhunt against the security forces, but merely reflects the fact that they did commit almost half the killings of the conflict.

Another reason his suggestion is strange: two minutes ago he was arguing against the Museum of Memory because Peru couldn't be bothering with fancy cultural stuff while it still had poverty to deal with. How would that not apply to his idea too?

Peru Defense Minister to put together photo exhibit to honor memory of fallen soldiers during civil war (Peruvian Times)

Monday, 9 March 2009

Peru: Museum/Human Rights

It's another article from La Republica, this time by Fernando Rospigliosi. I don't have the energy to translate the whole thing, sadly, so here is my edited version:

The deterioration in human rights which has occurred during the government of Alan Garcia is remarkable. The official rejection of the construction of the Museum of Memory is just one of many manifestations of a policy which takes us back to the 1990s.

The attacks on the former Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR) from the government are a daily occurrence. One of the most enthusiastic detractors of the CVR is the APRA politician Edgar Núñez, president of the Commission of Defense of Congress.

His latest blunder was the attack on the photographic exhibition Yuyanapaq, claiming that many of the images shown there are faked. This assault is not coincidental. Yuyanapaq would be a central element of the Museum of Memory. Discrediting the exhibition helps to undermine the museum.

Therefore, on several other occasions, Núñezhas told bare-faced lies, like the good aprista that he is. The photograph of a peasant with part of his head and face covered with a rag [Note: he's referring to the first picture on this page] was taken by experienced Caretas photojournalist Oscar Medrano, which covered the civil war in Ayacucho and other key areas for many years, together with journalist Gustavo Gorriti.

Of course Medrano didn't create a trick photo. He didn't need to, having captured such scenes of horror. And it's not the style of a decent photographer.


The hand that rocks the cradle, in this case, are the members of the military involved in human rights violations, who have found a docile and malleable spokesperson.

So, while hundreds of bodies were being disinterred in the pit at Putis and in the military base of Los Cabitos, in Ayacucho, Núñez had the bright idea of proposing an amnesty law for the authors of those atrocious crimes.


Peru: Museum Update

As a follow-up to the museum debate: the Peruvian Ombudswoman's office and the German embassy have clarified the exact terms of the (non)deal, so just to spell it out:

The Germans offered 650,000 euros exclusively for the construction of the Museum of Memory and an information centre.
Plus, a million euros were intended for the maintenance of the museum for ten years, i.e. 100,000 per year, paid monthly, for maintenance, security, personnel and other costs.

See here.

La Republica also ran quite a long article at the weekend which is neatly summed up in its first paragraph:

In Argentina and Chile there are places to commemorate the victims of the dictatorships; in South Africa and the United States there are museums to remember those who suffered from apartheid and racism; and in Germany, Israel and other countries there are places which recall the Jewish Holocaust. By contrast, in Peru the government is opposed to the creation of a museum to remember the civil conflict which we experienced at the end of the last century. [Trans mine]

It then discusses some of these examples in more detail. It's not just the rich countries; even developing nations like Nicaragua are getting in on the memory act and building museums. And Peru?

Read the full article here.

Peru: Sendero Wants Guzman Dead

La Republica yesterday reported on the fractured - but still dangerous - remnants of Sendero Luminoso. It's well known that most of the surviving senderistas are no longer loyal to their former leader Abimael Guzman (AKA Presidente Gonzalo), but are involved in the drug trafficking business in the VRAE area. Now, apparently, they even want Guzman dead. The article speaks of splits in the remaining group of Shining Path, which I'm not going to discuss in detail, but it's safe to say that these groups tend to be prone to infighting. Shining Path itself originated from the leftist disputes which split the Peruvian Communist party in the late 1960s. And who they oppose, they tend to want dead.

Narcoterroristas del VRAE rompen con Sendero y piden la muerte de Abimael

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Peru: Remembering Maria Elena Moyano

On International Women's Day, it seems appropriate to remember a true Peruvian heroine, Maria Elena Moyano.*

This video (in Spanish) makes the point that some young people have never heard of Maria Elena Moyano, even in Villa El Salvador itself. I think her life is worth commemorating.

Moyano was an Afro-Peruvian grassroots leader in Villa El Salvador, one of Lima's largest shanty towns. She worked in community kitchens, 'glass of milk' schemes, and education committees. She became vice-mayor and spoke out bravely against the attacks of the Shining Path. The Shining Path was opposed to all forms of leftist and social organisation that were not Shining Path organised, because they believed that the moderate left bolstered the status quo and hindered the revolution. Therefore, all leftist, trade union, and community organisers were fair game for Sendero.

In 1991, Moyano said in an interview,
I believe that we women have a lot of strength. If we believe in what we are building, there's no reason to be afraid. We are working for the well-being of our people, solidarity, justice. I believe it's necessary for us to debate Shining Path members. I have done it. I say to them, "If you are ready to give up your lives, many other people also are and in this way fight for development and justice, but without terror and murder."
[Trans from The Peru Reader, ed. by Orin Starn, Carlos Ivan Degregori & Robin Kirk, p374]

Five months later, she was gunned down by the Shining Path in front of her children. Yet, as La Republica reported at the time, her struggle lived on.

* Hat tip to Daniel Salas at Gran Combo Club, whose post alerted me to the video of MEM.
** I somehow closed a tab too many and can no longer find the source for the last image in this post; apologies. I'm happy to add a credit if desired.

On International Women's Day

It's International Women's Day.
Do you perhaps wonder whether we still need a 'day' for women? Then perhaps you should take 7 minutes out of your day to hear the testimonies of the women raped in Haiti, and how the high rate of sexual violence stems back to the political violence in the country.

Here's a small selection of news stories for IWD, all from IPS:

Latin America: Everyone Pays for Domestic Violence

Venezuela: No Shelter for Women

Chile: Progress for Women, but Still a Yawning Gap

I have another, more memory-related post for today lined up, but first I'll just leave you with this quote:

BECAUSE our work is never done & under or unpaid or boring or repetitious
and we’re the first to get the sack
and what we look like is more important than what we do
and if we get raped its our fault
and if we get bashed we must have provoked it
and if we raise our voices we’re nagging bitches
and if we enjoy sex we’re nymphos
and if we don't we're frigid
and if we love women its because we cant get a real man
and if we ask our doctor too many questions we’re neurotic and/or pushy
and if we expect community care for children we’re selfish
and if we stand up for our rights we’re aggressive and unfeminine
and if we don’t we’re typical weak females
and if we want to get married we’re out to trap a man
and if don’t we’re unnatural
and because we still cant get an adequate safe contraceptive but men can walk on the moon
and if we cant cope or don’t want a pregnancy
we’re made to feel guilty about abortion
and for lots and lots of other reasons
we are part of the women’s liberation movement

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Peru: Exhumation of More Victims

The Equipo Peruano de Antropología Forense (EPAF, Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team) will begin exhuming around 50 bodies from a mass grave near Huanta, they have announced. The victims were presumably murdered by the Peruvian Army in 1984. The forensic anthropologists hope to take DNA samples to compare with those of relatives and try to identify the dead.

There are two interesting further points made in the article. First is that the human remains have not been lying under the earth since 1984. They were moved from Pucayacu, where the killings took place, but reburied in a common grave in a cemetery when it was decided that there was "not enough evidence" to prosecute anyone for the murders.

Second, former general and Ayacucho regional commander Adrián Huamán and former Navy officer and military base commander Gabilondo García del Barco are under investigation for the events. But the main wanted man for the killings themselves, Navy Major Álvaro Artaza, himself disappeared in mysterious circumstances and has been declared dead. A Navy man disappeared? It makes you wonder what happened to him.

Exhumaran 50 presuntas victimas del Ejercito peruano despues de 25 años (Que)

Argentina: Justice Debate (2)

Alongside its main article on the justice debate in Argentina (see my previous post), Critica Digital also publishes a "top ten" list of the worst cases it has found. Here's my translation of the gist, which I'll let speak for itself:

1. The case of the crimes committed in the Campo de Mayo during the dictatorship still does not have a state date. The Court in San Martín has a practical problem; it hasn't found a suitable room for the trial to take place in.
2. In Formosa, the federal court there is trying ex-governor Juan Carlos Colombo in a garage.
3. There is no concrete plan for the digitilisation of files.
4. In Jujuy, there are 115 cases involving violations of human rights, with a total of 158 victims. The local prosecutor ordered the number of cases to be reduced to six to speed up the process. Months later, no progress has been made.
5. In Tucuman, where the violence started, 600 cases of crimes against humanity are being processed. Almost all of them are in the hands of just one prosecutor and one federal judge.
6. Federal Court 4 in Buenos Aires has been focusing on the LAPA plane crash case for the past year, meaning that another court had to be located to take over other cases.
7. A similar situation is about to occur in Federal Court 5, which deals exclusively with crimes against humanity. It is about to take on the ESMA "megatrial", but it also had some other human rights cases open which will now have to be moved.
8. In Salta, the resignation of several judges has caused delays and confusion.
9. In San Martín, just two federal courts are expected to process 180,000 cases. According to official statistics, they receive 6,000 new cases each year.
10. In Cordoba, there are 19 cases pending regarding crimes committed in clandestine detention centres La Perla. In many of these, investigations have barely started.

(emphasis mine)

El top ten del default judicial
(Critica Digital)

Argentina: Justice Debate (1)

Against the background of the trial of the forgetful Astiz and Acosta, a discussion has blown up in Argentina about the judicial system and the trials of human rights abusers.

Last Sunday, during the opening of Congress, President Kirchner urged judges to speed up the trials of the military perpetrators and to stop delaying tactics.
Judge Carmen Argibay responded that, however much she and her colleagues might wish to process the cases swiftly, they do not have
“lugar ni infraestructura ni jueces ni dinero suficientes para pagar los empleados y la parte informática que se necesita”
"the space or the infrastructure or the judges or enough money to pay our staff or the technological resources which we need" (trans mine)

This has now turned into a bit of a tit-for-tat with ministers blaming the judiciary for stalling the trials and judges blaming the government for not funding them sufficiently. Kirchner has repeated calls for a more efficient justice system. Others have piled in, with Diana Conti, member of the Chamber of Deputies (Camara de Diputados), telling Argibay to "shut up and get on with her work"; I'm not sure exactly what she thought that would achieve. Judges insist that they are doing their best. Kirchner points out that 137 new judges have been appointed in the past year; the judiciary retorts that there are still many posts vacant.

Critica Digital represents this as as issue of the two prominent women involved, each on one side of the scales of justice:
Pagina/12 meanwhile, as befits a newspaper frequently preoccupied with human rights issues, turns to the memory of the victims and displays a Madre de Plaza de Mayo on its front page:

According to human rights organisations, there are currently around 500 cases regarding atrocities committed in the last dictatorship in the pipeline. Only a little over 30 cases have reached their conclusion since the amnesty laws (the so-called 'full stop' and 'due obedience' laws) were annulled.

I have written before on the problems that ensue when trials are not processed in time. There is a real urgency to get some of these human rights cases moving before everyone involved dies of old age, quite literally. While it's great that some prominent military figures, such as Astiz, are currently in the dock, there are numerous cases of less notorious perpetrators which also deserve a full examination in court. Thirty years of waiting for justice - enough already. As to the question of blame, I really think you can't deliver it to one 'side' alone. The Argentine judiciary is traditionally a deeply conservative body which largely collaborated with the military regime and was not particularly enthusiastic about trying its representatives. Moreover, even in times of democracy, some judges faced threats and even violence when presiding over cases of military perpetrators*. Nevertheless, times change, and thirty years on not all the judges are leftovers from the days of Videla and co. I can well believe that there are decent judges struggling with an overwhelming workload and an inadequate budget. It's a cliche, but true: the two bodies, judicial and legislative, need to work together to solve this issue, not trade insults.

I'll be posting again shortly with some concrete examples of problems in the judicial system.

Dura replica de Christina a Argibay: nego que falten jueces y presupuesto (Critica Digital)

"La Corte tiene que cumplir con su rol" (Pagina/12)

* See for example Patrice McSherry, 'Menem and the Military-Security Forces in Argentina', Latin American Perspectives, 1997, pp. 63-92 [p.77]

Friday, 6 March 2009

Colombia News

1) Excellent quote from politician George Miller on Plan Colombia and Beyond. Colombia's Vice-President didn't much like it though:

It was referred to a number of times here about the beauty of the country of Colombia. And, for those who have visited Colombia, it would not take more than a few seconds to realize why people say that, because of the spectacular nature of the country and its natural assets. And of course, when you meet its people. But that is not a substitute for a serious inquiry into human rights.

I can remember standing at the American embassy, with the American ambassador, at the height of the violence in Chile, and him telling me that this is a beautiful country, and that I should really go to Valparaiso and enjoy the beaches, and see the people who use the beaches, and I should go shopping and enjoy the people who are shopping, and that my concerns were misplaced, because it’s such a beautiful country. My concerns weren’t misplaced. It took almost 30 years, but we brought Mr. Pinochet to justice.

Colombia's Vice-President Attacks House Democrats

2) Meanwhile, there's more condemnation of Colombia's human rights situation:
Extrajudicial executions, difficulty for victims’ families to gain access to justice, persecution of human rights defenders, kidnappings, and continued armed activity by previously demobilised members of paramilitary groups are the main concerns of the office in Colombia of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR Colombia).

"Situations Remains Extremely Serious" (IPS)

3) A Colombian warlord has been extradited to the US. But this isn't good news for human rights groups, who suspect that he was removed from the country before he could reveal too much about official links to paramilitaries.

Columbia warlord extradited to US (BBC)

Human rights groups object to Colombian warlord's extradition (Guardian)

Guatemala: Archive Update

A reader pointed out a follow-up to Guatemala's announcement that it will open its military archives. Apparently, some members of the armed forces are not ready to accept investigations into their dealings.
"We have information that the defense minister's family members received death threats from a group of ex-army officials upset about the de-classification of potentially compromising archives," Colom said at a news conference.

Guatemalan Minister's Kin Threatened over Archives (Reuters)

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Argentina: Perps Suffer Amnesia in Court

Alfredo Astiz today denied participating in the task force which killed Argentine-Swede Dagmar Hagelin in 1977.

When asked about the 'death flights', in which living prisoners were dumped into the Rio de la Plate estuary, he replied "I don't know what you're talking about".

His superior, Jorge 'el Tigre' Acosta, explained that "it's very difficult to remember the events you are accusing [me] of".

Such claims stretch credibility, but are in themselves unsurprising, since the number of people who turn around after years of determinedly evading justice by every means possible and then make a full and contrite confession is, well - can you think of anyone? No, neither can I. Even telltale Scilingo, when he realised that his admissions could after all land him in jail, tried to backtrack and deny them again.

Astiz y Acosta olvidaron los vuelos de la muerte y los operativos de la ESMA (Critica Digital)

Astiz nego haber participado en la desaparicion de Dagmar Hagelin (Clarin)

Guatemala: Will Army Archives Be Revealed?

Recently, Guatemala's President apologised for the crimes of the civil war.

Now, he has gone further:
A new government commission will organize and declassify military documents that could shed light on torture, disappearances and other atrocities during Guatemala's 36-year civil war, President Alvaro Colom announced Tuesday.

On the face of it, this is great news, and should prove fascinating. Human rights group are cautious, however.
"It's not a matter of commissions. The president announced that the files would be handed over in 2008 and the military always spins its wheels,"

said Carmen Aida Ibarra of the Myrna Mack Foundation.
So now it's a matter of trying to hold the government accountable and hoping that they keep their word.

Guatemala team to release war-era military files (AP)

Uruguay: Impunity Law Declared Unconstitutional

In Uruguay, momentum has been gathering behind a campaign to annul the amnesty law, popularly known as the Ley de Caducidad, which prevents the prosecution of members of the armed forces accused of human rights abuses during the military dictatorship.

Now, the President and a majority of senators have declared that key articles of the law are incompatible with the constitution.

New Declarations Against Impunity in Uruguay
(Upside Down World)

[Speaking of amnesty laws, for a different national context see also:
Amnesty and impunity in case of the Jesuits (Tim's El Salvador Blog)]

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

London: Latin American Events

Another friend passed on the news that Argentina's Christina Kirchner will be speaking at the London School of Economics on 3 April. London readers can see here for ticket information (the event is free but you need a ticket). However if you can't make it - as I can't - it should also be made available as a podcast shortly afterwards.

Aside from that, all you lefty human rights types (AKA 'terrorists' in certain quarters) in Britain's capital will want to be making your way to the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival from 18-27 March. See here. Again, I won't make it, but this is where I saw the wonderful State of Fear for the first time, and I note that filmmakers Pamela Yates, Paco de Onis and Peter Kinoy are showing another documentary, this time about the International Criminal Court.

Bolivia: Torture Cells

I posted previously on Bolivia's discovery of cells under a government building which were apparently used for torture. A reader (and blogger) pointed me to a video of the underground rooms as they were visited by President Evo Morales. It's short but interesting to get a glimpse into the place,

Bolivia descubre los sotanos de la muerte (El Pais)

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

News Round-Up

Lots going on:

Peru government harshly criticized for turning down $2 million donation for Museum (Peruvian Times)

Colombia: Equal Rights for Same-Sex Partners (IPS)

A cheer goes to Fujimori on Trial for carrying on the long slog of reporting every single session of the marathon case. The gem in this report:
Fujimori’s lawyer announced that he had forgotten his work material, including his glasses and notes.
Fujimori's defense says crimes committed by Montesinos, not Fujimori (Fujimori on Trial)

Farc rallies its battered troops (BBC)

And two from Mr. Trend at Alterdestiny:
Argentina's Military Officers Now Can Be Tried for Torturing Their Own Soldiers

Plus, an excellent start to what should be a really informative series:
How to Overthrow a Government (I): Brazil in 1964

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Peru: Articles on Museum of Memory (2) and (3)

Also in La Republica today, columnist Rocio Silva Santisteban considers the issue of places, and museums, of memory in her article, ¿Museos?, ¿memoria?, ¿para qué?.

And finally, Carlos Castro also deals with the subject of the German donation and with the uses of memorial sites.

El Museo de la Memoria

Peru: Articles on Museum of Memory (1)

La Republica has a trio of articles on the potential Museum of Memory today.

In an interview, former head of the TRC Salomon Lerner accuses the government of trying to avoid dealing with a past that makes it look bad. What he says is very interesting (trans and emphasis mine):

The Prime Minister claims that the government did not reject the German donation for the Museum of Memory, but asked the ambassador if the money could be used differently...

The Prime Minister is becoming less and less credible. The government gave a negative response via then ambassador Kauffmann and one way of covering that up was to propose that the money be administered by the State for other things, knowing that the donation was intended exclusively for the Museum of Memory.

Did [Prime Minister] Simon lie?

In the German embassy they told me that the donation had the exclusive objective of constructing the museum and maintaining it for 10 years. Saying that they suggest another alternative is turning it down.

Simon claims the opposite...

He says one thing when you're along with him, and then in public he gives a different version. I've met him, in the presence of a witness, and he regretted the negative response of the State.

What did he say?

That he would try to change the decision, that there were ministers who had opposed it, that they wanted to counteract the project with some cosmetic measures. He told me to write a letter to the President, and that he would give it to him. I wrote the letter and it was sent off. I haven't heard any more from him.


Isn't it also worthy of attention that the government wants to use the money for another type of reparations?

The request to use the money differently is immoral, it is about evading responsibility. If the situation is so bad in Ayacucho with the abandoned children, why didn't the government deal with it before? Why did they expect other people, not the goverment, to make a move so that the German goverment would help with something which has a very high symbolic and moral value in the field of reparations.

They're excuses, then?...

Why didn't they assist the poor of Huancavelica, Ayacucho, Junin, if they claim that there has been great economical growth? That's just a way out, not very intelligent.

What is the background?

It's about memory. They talk about culture, but they deny memory, which is a fundamental element which affirms our identities, our judgements, our mistakes, and which brings to light behaviour which wasn't the best, by citizens, but also by the State.

They don't want to take their share of responsibility for the violation of human rights?

The thing is, this is 15 years of government by Alan Garcia and Alberto Fujimori which is immortalised in these photos, which do not lie; they are not paintings, fruits of the artist's imagination, but photos, evidence of facts.

Did they reject the donation because of the photos from the Yuyanapaq exhibition, which is in the Museo de la Nacion?

They say that it doesn't help reconciliation, but that contradicts all the testimonies of the thousands who have seen the exhibition and who have left their views written in the visitors books at the end*. What is happening is that, in the end, the government does not want to face the past which in some sense is incriminating, and they also don't like that the museum is a way of accepting those who have always been excluded.

Like the photos of the murder of prisoners in El Fronton(1)...

There are photos which deal with El Fronton, and los Molinos, I don't know if there are any of Cayara, but there are also photos of what happened to the villages because of Sendero, of Guzman in a wild state when they arrested him, of the Shining Path indoctrination in the prison. It is a balanced exhibition.

Do you believe that the President decided not to accept the donation?

I believe that we live in a democracy, strictly speaking, but that there is a very authoritarian tendency, and a personal, wilful, autocratic one, and in this sense the President Garcia is the one who decides, beyond the opinions of the ministers, those who are convinced by his arguments and cling to them.

“El gobierno no quiere enfrentarse a un pasado que es incriminatorio”

* I've seen the books and this is true.

(1) The prison massacre that occurred during Garcia's first presidency. The prisoners staged an armed uprising that was put down so brutally by the armed forces that there were hardly any survivors. The few who did survive suggest that even those prisoners who surrendered were summarily executed. Such an order is likely to have come from the very top of the chain of command; in any case, ultimately the buck stops with Alan.