Saturday, 31 October 2009

Chile: National Day to Commemorate Political Victims

As she enters the final months of her presidency, Michelle Bachelet has announced the creation of a National Day of Victims of Political Execution, to be held on 30 October, and in addition to the National Day of the Disappeared on 30 August.
The honor, she added, was aimed at "preserving the memory of what happened to our society, so that new generations learn the lessons from history and make a moral commitment to prevent the same mistakes, the same horrors."
Chile is not the only Latin American country to have a day - well, now two - dedicated to the memory of political violence. El Salvador appears to have one too, on 29 March, and Argentina holds a National Day of Memory for Truth and Justice on the anniversary of the coup, 24 March.

Bachelet establece Dia del Ejecutado Politico (Prensa Latina)
Chile declares day to honor victims of dictatorship (AFP)

Friday, 30 October 2009

Peru: Memory Museum Goes to Miraflores

In July, I reported that the Museum of Memory would be sited in Jesus Maria, near the monument El ojo que llora. Now the news seems to be that it will be situated instead on Avenida del Ejército in Miraflores, a more upmarket district of Lima. This appears to have been confirmed by Vargas Llosa himself, head of the commission, so I assume it's genuine.

I'm pleased to see that the museum plans are making progress, but think it's rather a shame that the new site has moved away from the memorials and human rights organisations based around the Campo de Marte. I'm sure that some will comment that Miraflores is far too middle-class and privileged to be able to empathise with the victims of political violence, but - while taking account of the fact that Ayacucho, and nowhere else, was the epicentre of terror - Miraflores has seen suffering too.

As usual, I'll be following progress on the museum. And, as usual, Rafael Rey will be seizing the opportunity to point out that the army is just so hard done by and it's all just sooooo unfaaaaair.

Museo de la Memoria se construira en Miraflores (La Republica, source of image)
Definen donde se construira el Museo de la Memoria: en Miraflores, frente al mar (El Comercio)
Peru's Museum of Memory will be located in Miraflores (Living in Peru)

Thursday, 29 October 2009

El Salvador: Clandestine Graves Are Back

"The people of this country suffered during the civil war and now, in peacetime, we are again seeing kidnapping, extortion, executions, disappearances, fear, and calls for curfews," Miguel Montenegro, head of the non-governmental Human Rights Commission of El Salvador (CDHES) which played a major role in denouncing detentions and forced disappearances during the armed conflict, told IPS.

"The question is, why, so many years after the end of the war in 1992, are situations that were common during the conflict happening again?" he asked.
El Salvador: Clandestine Graves Are Back (IPS)

Peru Round-Up

A memorial event is taking place on All Saint's Day in Peru to commemorate the disappeared.

Plus, the excellent BBC series From Our Own Correspondent looks at the aftermath of the Peruvian conflict.
Peru's lingering war wounds (BBC)

Lastly, I'm very excited because I'm finally going to see award-winning film La teta asustada (The Milk of Sorrow) at the weekend, and just in time, the blog Film Studies For Free has a post on Peruvian cinema.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Peru: Urgent Call for Action on Reparations

The Peruvian government has cut the budget for the National Council on Reparations (Consejo Nacional de Reparaciones), meaning that many thousands of citizens cannot be entered into the Unique Register of Victims (Registro Único de Víctimas) and therefore cannot be compensated for what they have endured. Human rights organisations are now calling on the authorities to recognise their obligations to the victims of the conflict.

I think the meaning of the first image in this post is probably self-evident. The one directly above states: "Teodora Pariona - She lost her children when they were taken to the barracks Los Cabitos in Ayacucho in 1984. She died without receiving any type of economic reparations from the State. Mr President: reparations are urgent."

En peligro las reparaciones (La Primera, via APRODEH)
Defensoria del Pueblo solicita al estado atender con urgencia requerimiento presupuesto del consejo de reparaciones (CNDDHH)
La obligacion de reparar a las victimas es impostergable (Espacio de memoria)
Sr. Presidente: Reparar es urgente (CNDDHH, also source of images)
Sostienen que urgen reparaciones economicas individuales (La Republica)

Uruguay: More on Failed Referendum

As I hoped, at least one excellent article has turned up on the result of the Uruguayan referendum which upheld the amnesty law known as the Ley de Caducidad. Although this blog opposes amnesty laws, it is interesting to note the opinions of those who chose to vote "no" to the annullment proposal.

Jeremias Elmasian, a hotelier in Uruguay who did not support the initiative, said over lunch on Saturday before the election that "we have to look to the future."

Gonzalo Aguirre Ramirez, a former senator and former vice president, said that annulling the amnesty law harmed legal stability and was "very dangerous." "Imagine if you get divorced and then you remarry. Then, the state annuls the marriage law and prosecutes you for bigamy. This is the path we're taking."... Aguirre Ramirez called the amnesty "a just solution. For 15 years it worked well. We amnestied the tupamaros" - the urban guerrilla group, which operated prior to and during the first years of the dictatorship - "and the military."

Others said that the amnesty was fair because political prisoners and guerrillas were amnestied as well. Marta Caraballo, a telephone center employee, said she did not vote for the law because "when you lose a war, you lose. We have to move on."
Uruguayan Voters Reject Chance to Prosecute Dictators (truthout)

Argentina: Memory Disputes

The Argentine press is reporting that politican Elisa Carrió has been expelled from the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (Asamblea Permanente por los Derechos Humanos; APDH). The reason? Her opposition to the policy of forcibly acquiring DNA samples from suspected disappeared children. She claims that this is designed to specifically target the owner of Clarin newspaper, Ernestina Herrera de Noble, whose adopted children may be the biological offspring of disappeared parents.

The statement of the APDH is short and to the point. Here it is in full:
Dadas sus declaraciones públicas absolutamente incompatibles con los principios y valores de los derechos humanos, la Mesa Directiva de la Asamblea Permanente por los Derechos Humanos ha decidido separar a la Sra. Elisa Carrió de esta institución.
Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires, 26 de octubre de 2009.
Mesa Directiva

In the light of her public declarations, which are absolutely incompatible with the principles and values of human rights, the Board of Directors of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights has decided to expel Elisa Carrió from the institution.
Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, 26 October 2009.
Board of Directors [translation mine]
It's an unusual move - the only other person to have been thrown out in this manner was Carlos Menem (for introducing the amnesty laws!). Carrió is defiant.

The issue of the DNA sampling is obviously a controversial one. On a broader level, though, I'm interested in the divisions which can occur between activists who should be on the 'same side'. Emotions run deep on all these issues and despite an awareness that in-fighting only harms their ultimate cause, different groups often find themselves unable to avoid treading very different paths.

One clear example is that of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (Madres de Plaza de Mayo). The original mothers' group split in the mid-1980s, torn apart by differences of opinion on the direction of their struggle. Very briefly, the more militant mothers led by Hebe de Bonafini wanted to continue to insist on Aparicion con Vida (Reappearance with life) and also to broaden their fight so that they did not concentrate on their actual biological children, but on all the disappeared, and on wider issues of social justice as well. The other group, who developed into the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo - Founding Line (Linea Fundadora), were slightly more conciliatory in that they were prepared to work with a democratic government, and they also continue to use the names of their own children on their white headscarves. In addition, it has been suggested that class differences played a role in the disagreement, with the more middle class of the mothers tending towards Linea Fundadora (see Guzman Bouvard, Revolutionizing Motherhood).

Do personal and political differences merely create a fragmentary situation which opponents of a memory culture can take advantage of, or can a variety of viewpoints enrich the memory landscape? As usual, the answer is probably a bit of both, but in Argentina, such debates are played out on the public stage and become part of the history of redemocratisation.

Carrio celebro su expulsion de las filas de la APDH (Critica Digital)
Tarjeta roja para Carrio (Pagina/12)

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Resources and Reading

A couple of articles and good web sites to pass on:

- An interview with British-Argentine journalist Andrew Graham-Yooll, author of A State of Fear and many other books

- El VRAE: Alan Garcia's Failed Domestic Policy (COHA)

- From Colombia, Verdad Abierta looks at issues of paramilitaries and the armed conflict

- On El Salvador, Stories of War and Hope (thanks to Tim for pointing this out)

Brazil: Establishment of Truth Commission

The BBC is reporting that Brazil is to establish its first official truth commission to examine the events of the dictatorship, although, as I commented on Mr. Trend's post (see below), there isn't much information about this around as yet. Apparently the official announcement will come in December.

Brazil has never had a real truth commission before, although a report on torture was made by the archdiocese of Sao Paolo (you can read a brief excerpt here).

I can't really comment on the specific case of Brazil, so I can only really refer to Mr Trend's post on Alterdestiny for that, and thank him for pointing me to the Portuguese articles as well. It's not surprising that I'm basically pro truth commission - as Priscilla Hayner, a prominent researcher on the subject, says:
"There is a need to come to terms with these periods and not leave unfinished business,"
Yet truth commissions require resources and can hardly be regarded as a panacea. There will be many questions to be answered on the establishment of any commission. If state-run institutions, including the military, are not going to cooperate fully, how will this be dealt with? What will be the mandate of the commission and how will perpetrators be treated - particularly in light of the 1979 amnesty law? I'll be looking out for more information.

Brazil to probe its military past (BBC)
Governo estuda criar "comissão da verdade" (Midiamax)
Ministro questiona versao de militares sobre arquivos (Estadao)

Monday, 26 October 2009

Uruguay Elections Update

As has been widely reported, the Uruguayan elections will go to a second round which ex-guerrilla José Mujica looks likely to win.

Ex-Guerrilla Ahead in Uruguay Vote (NY Times)
Next President to Emerge from November Runoff (IPS)
Uruguay set for run-off election (BBC)

The move to annul the amnesty law failed - the referendum did not achieve the required majority. In light of the presidential vote, there has been little comment on this. This brief note is the only English-language news items I could find specifically on that subject:

Amnesty law to stay in place following referendum (Radio Nederland Worldwide)

It's disappointing news for those of us who try to oppose impunity, but there are doubtless complex reasons why the population has confirmed its decision of twenty years ago - and it's surely not the end of the road for the human rights activists. I'll try to comment more in the next few days as, hopefully, others will too.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Argentina: Olivera Róvere Sentenced to Life

It was a mixed good news/bad news story which came out of Federal Court No. 5 in Buenos Aires yesterday, where Jorge Olivera Róvere was sentenced to life imprisonment for 116 cases of illegal deprivation of liberty and 4 cases of aggravated homicide.

During the dictatorship, Olivera Róvere was the 'right-hand man' of the late Guillermo Suárez Mason and in charge of the detention centres "El Banco", "El Olimpo" and "Automotores Orletti", among others.

First, let's look back at the trial itself which was examined in an excellent article for truthout a few weeks ago:
Though no witnesses identified Róvere as their torturer or kidnapper, Crous has argued that Róvere was an essential component of the "anti-subversive" operations in Buenos Aires, coordinating activities of the police, the navy and the army.
Norberto Giletta opened the defense with a charged, full frontal assault on victims in the case, telling the court that "we are here today because of leftist forces, national and international." To discredit the testimony against Róvere, he said that the vast majority of witnesses belonged to or had family members in "terrorist" organizations.

The defense's theory is that it was legal for Róvere to detain suspected terrorists. They argue that he was not aware of, or was not responsible for, what happened to his detainees - torture and execution - once they were out of his hands. They summarized the prosecutor's case as prosecuting their client for "wearing a uniform."

Argentina's Dirty War: How to Defend an Accused Mass Murderer? (truthout)

On Friday, he was indeed convicted alongside retired colonel Bernardo José Menéndez; but three other accused - Teófilo Saá, Humberto Lobaiza and Felipe Alespeiti - were acquitted. Naturally, the families of the victims and human rights organisations were not satisfied with this and there were angry scenes at the courthouse at the end of the nine-month trial.

According to Gerardo Fernández of CELS (Centre for Legal and Social Studies), "there was enough evidence to convict them all... the acquittal of the ex-area chiefs is a step backwards in comparison to the criteria applied in the Trial of the Juntas" [in1985].

Moreover, even the two convicted are still out on the streets as the sentence won't be applied until the case is finalised.

In his closing statement, Olivera Róvere maintained that the 1970s were a time of war which was started by "terrorism, even attacking democratic government". The culprits were "terrorists sent by Moscow to subjugate the country". However, he also denied having "received or given orders which infringed on human rights".

Here is a news round-up on the subject - there does, however, seem to be some confusion on the actual facts, including the spelling of Olivera Róvere's name, his age, and the exact number of his convictions, so be aware of this:

Mas absueltos que condenados (Pagina/12)

Condenan a perpetua a un general que fue mano derecho de Suarez Mason (Diario Los Andes)

Argentine general jailed for life for rights abuses (Inquirer)

Argentine: life sentence for 2 repressors, 3 acquitted (The News International)

Condenan a cadena perpetua al represor Jorge Olivera Rovere (Clarin)

El Salvador reclaiming its past

A interesting-sounding 'multimedia happening' called "Preservación de la Memoria Histórica Salvadoreña" (Salvadoran Preservation of Historic Memory) is taking place in Los Angeles over the next week.
"Memory is something that mustn't be lost," said Flores, who also serves as LATC's program director. "To kill memory is to kill the human being."
El Salvador reclaiming its past (LA Times)

Friday, 23 October 2009

Uruguay Elections....Vote Pink

The keen-eyed among you might notice that the blog is not usually such a garish pink ;-) Pink is the colour of the 'yes' vote in the Uruguayan referendum on the amnesty law, which is taking place on Sunday, so I'll just be leaving the blog like this for about 48 hours.

For more on the elections, see also:

Former Guerrilla vs. Neoliberal (IPS)

and I will be following posts from Memory in Montevideo, such as this one:
Vota SI (Memory in Montevideo)

Images from here

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Quick Link: Legacy of Violence in Guatemala

The Truth under the Earth: The Relationship between Genocide and Femicide in Guatemala (Upside Down World)

We need more people drawing parallels between an uncompleted examination of a past violent conflict and the consequences for a democratising society.

Argentina: Murderers and Thieves

Of all the crimes of the Argentine dictatorship, robbery is one that is often overlooked. It's hardly surprising - next to the abduction, torture and murder of tens of thousands of people, the disposal of their bodies in the sea and the illegal adoption of their children, who cares about possessions, right? Fair enough. But we can also note that fact that while the military stormed into people's homes to drag them away to clandestine detention centres, never to be seen again, they were also involved in the systematic theft of those people's private property.

Lila Pastoriza, a survivor of the ESMA, described this as follows:
Can you imagine a warehouse with high, very high ceilings, in whose gritty shadows floated mountains of furniture, appliances, clothes, shoes, all the objects that people use? That was what the sailors of the Navy School of Mechanics (the "Escuela Mecanica de la Armada" or the "ESMA") called "the storeroom", the place where they stole the goods that had been seized from their prisoners.
The looting of the kidnapped persons' homes - etched into collective memory by the images of military trucks packed to the bursting point - was an ever-present element of those incursions. It was the appropriation of "war booty," the stripping bare of the defeated. The plundering began right at the start, with members of the task force group distributing valuable goods like cash and jewels amongst themselves, and not always registering what they'd "skimmed off the top". The rest was transported to the storage spaces in the clandestine centers where they sorted out the booty.
[cited in Brodsky 2001, Nexo, pp. 42-42)

One of the things about this crime, like sexual violence against prisoners, is that it's so obviously criminal and self-serving that it's hard for even the most extreme supporters of the military to argue that this was part of some kind of acceptable security plan.

Now, two of those involved with the dictatorship, Jorge "El Tigre" Acosta and Jorge Radice, will face charges for their part in the stealing of victims' belongings, separately from the ESMA "megatrial".

Cortiñas: "El robo de bienes era un plan sistematico" (Critica Digital)

Uruguay: Dictator Sentenced to 25 Years

Former commander-in-chief of the Uruguayan army and the last president of its military dictatorship, Gregorio "Goyo" Alvarez, was today sentenced to 25 years in jail. The 83-year old was found guilty of 37 cases of "particularly aggravated" homicide (homicidios "muy especialmente agravados").

Most of the approximately 200 Uruguayan disappeared people were abducted across the other side of the Rio de la Plate in Argentina and later transferred to their homeland as part of the collaboration between military intelligence services known as Operation Condor.

Condenan a 25 años de prision al represor "Goyo" Alvarez (Pagina/12)
Gregorio Alvarez sentenciado a 25 años de prision (El Pais, Uruguay)
Former Uruguay dictator gets 25 years: lawyer (AFP)

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Colombia News Round-Up

Sexual Violence as Weapon of War (IPS)

Marquez targeted by Mexican intelligence agency, files show

Threats against mothers of Soacha victims
(Plan Colombia and Beyond)

UN urges Colombia to stop harassment of human rights activists (Colombia Reports)

US/Peru Events

An event, and a related exhibition, which may be of interest to New York-based readers - apologies for the short notice. The symposium has some truly excellent speakers, including Kimberly Theidon, Mary Louise Pratt and Diana Taylor, so I would highly recommend it for anyone who is able to attend. More info here.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Guatemala: Reopening Old Wounds

People in the town of Ixcán in northwestern Guatemala could relive the pain of the country's 36-year civil war if the army reopens a military base in the area, where more than 100 massacres of indigenous villagers were committed during the armed conflict.
"Seeing them (the soldiers) on the streets again brings back everything that happened," he added.

The town and surrounding rural villages of the frontier municipality of Ixcán, which is bordered by the Mexican state of Chiapas to the north, were among the areas that bore the brunt of the 1960-1996 armed conflict.

Between 1979 and 1988, 102 massacres were committed in Ixcán, with a total of 2,500 victims, and a full 96 percent of the population was forcibly displaced from the municipality, according to the United Nations-sponsored Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH).
Town that Suffered Military Terror Fights Reopening of Base (IPS)

Uruguay: Impunity Law Declared Unconstitutional

There are important moves in Uruguay regarding the amnesty law known as the Ley de Caducidad. In February, key parts of the law were already ruled unconstitutional. In June, enough signatures were collected to initiate a referendum. On Sunday, during the presidential election, the population of Uruguay will be asked whether or not the law should be annulled.

Now events have taken another turn. As part of the case regarding the death of Nibia Sabalsagaray, who was killed in a military barracks in 1974, the Supreme Court has ruled that the law violates the separation of powers and was not properly approved. Officially, the ruling applies only to this case. However,
A lawyer representing her family told the Associated Press that while each case was unique, "it's understood that this sets a precedent and that the Supreme Court won't change if presented with a similar case".
Sunday's referendum will apparently go ahead.
"If the law is annulled, there won't be any sense in ruling that it's unconstitutional, but if the referendum doesn't get enough votes, there is the possibility of making this argument in other cases," prosecutor Mirtha Guianze, who brought the Sabalsagaray case to the Supreme Court, told Reuters news agency.
It is questionable, however, whether the referendum will approve the annulment; polls are apparently showing those in support of it in the low 40%s. So the unconstitutional ruling could indeed turn out to be significant.

Uruguay dirty war amnesty illegal
Uruguayan Court throws out special amnesty for crimes under dictatorship (Mercopress)
Ley de Caducidad: sentencia de la SCJ establece importante precedente (Espectador)
"Ley violo separacion de poderes" (La Republica [Uruguay])
Para anular la ley de impunidad (Brecha) [requires registration, source for image used above]

Monday, 19 October 2009

Colombia Round-Up

A whole series of posts from Colombia Reports that I've been meaning to link to, and one other. Just the statistics in some of these headlines...

Colombia's military investigated for 2,000 murders of civilians
NGOs to present war crime cases to the ICC
Over 27 thousand people currently missing in Colombia
Criminals released due to inefficient prison system
Colombia holds record for most landmine victims in the world (all from Colombia Reports)

“The attempt on the life of Islena Rey is a tragic and all too common demonstration of the precarious situation still facing human rights defenders in Colombia,” said Marcelo Pollack, Amnesty International’s researcher on Colombia.
Colombian Human Rights Activists at Risk (Impunity Watch)

Peru: Monterrico Metals in the High Court

It seems to be only the Guardian reporting on this so far, but their articles are good and include the video embedded above.*

As regular readers will recall, this is about the mine at Majaz from where photographic evidence of torture emerged last year.

Two protesters were shot in their legs, one man lost an eye to gunshot wounds and a farmer called Melanio Garcia, 41, suffered a fatal gunshot. Photographs allegedly taken by a Monterrico supervisor, which the protesters say support their allegations of abuse by the police, show Garcia lying on the ground, apparently alive but badly injured. Several other pictures taken 30 hours later, according to their time and date stamps, clearly show Garcia to be dead.
Now the mining company is being sued for damages in London.

Richard Meeran, of Leigh Day, the London law firm bringing the high court case, said the evidence of torture was incontrovertible and that it was inconceivable the company could have been unaware of what was happening on its site.

"The company must have been aware of the inhuman treatment of the victims during their three-day ordeal at the Rio Blanco mine," he said. "Yet there is no evidence of it taking any steps to prevent the harm. On the contrary, it would appear that the company was working in cahoots with the police. It is vital that multinationals are held legally accountable for human rights violations occurring at their overseas operations."

The mining firm is denying the allegations.

Abuse claims against Peru police guarding British firm Monterrico (Guardian)

British mining company faces damages after allegations of torture in Peru (Guardian)

I'll try to keep updating on this.

*Richard, was it you who uploaded the video on Youtube? Thanks!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Paraguay: Dictatorship Archives Opened

Human rights activists in Paraguay, led by Martin Almada, now have access to military archives apparently containing information about the Stroessner era. In addition, the files seem to include material on Argentines as well, leading to hopes that it could reveal more about Operation Condor, the pan-Latin American intelligence campaign.
"Many relatives of disappeared prisoners don't know where their loved ones are buried. Maybe these documents will provide clues," Almada said.
Paraguay unveils archives from dictatorship (AP)

See also excellent photos here

Chile: Dictatorship Law to Quell Protests

Chile will use an anti-terrorism law criticized by human rights groups to try and quell a spate of violence over indigenous lands in the country’s south, a government official said.
Chile Invokes Anti-Terror Law to Quell Violence, Rosende Says (Bloomberg)

Peru: Impunity Update

There are some really worrying developments afoot in Peru right now, which I feel I have been remiss in not emphasising earlier. Here's a brief rundown:

1) Defense Minister Rafael Rey says that while soldiers may have committed "detestable" crimes during the civil conflict in Peru, they didn't commit crimes against humanity, because only "terrorists" can do that.

Rey niega graves violaciones a los derechos humanos (La Republica)

2) A package of bills being sent to Congress is attempting to limit the responsibility of members of the security forces involved in lethal confrontations in the "emergency zones".
One of the draft laws would modify the Criminal Code, so that no legal action could be taken against soldiers and police who kill or injure civilians in the so-called "emergency zones," areas controlled by the security forces by order of the executive branch because of "terrorist" threats or violent social protests.
The executive branch also sent a draft law to Congress on the purpose, scope and definition of the term "use of force" by the National Police, detailing situations in which a police officer is exempt from responsibility when his or her actions have a lethal outcome.

If the accused officer can justify the use of lethal force by the intensity and dangerousness of the aggression, the behaviour of the aggressor, or the hostile surroundings and situation, he or she will be exempt from criminal, civil and administrative responsibility, says the draft law.
A third draft law proposed by the government would give the military and police the prerogative to remove the bodies of members of the security forces without the presence of prosecutors, as the current laws require. This would mean that they could disturb a crime scene without judicial authorisation.

The package of bills follows an intense campaign by conservative and pro-military groups, which accuse non-governmental organisations (NGOs) of pressing for legal action against troops and police involved in putting down social protests and the guerrillas.
Gov't Seeks Legal Shield for Security Forces (IPS)

3) The accused in the cases of forced disappearance Samuel Ramos Diego, Jesús Liceti Mego and Esaú Cajas Julca have just been acquitted, leaving the crimes still unpunished. The victims were abducted in 1990 and the chiefs of the armed forces in the area were in court for the crimes, but now the judges appear to be calling into question whether the disappearances occurred at all.

Tribunal absuelve a ex jefes del frente Huallaga (La Republica)

4) Teodora Pariona Ventura, one of the founders of the relatives' group ANFASEP, has died, after 20 years of searching, without finding out what happened to her two sons.

Madre de desaparecidos murió en el olvido (La Republica)

Chile: La Cuidad de los Fotografos

Hat tip Colectivo por la memoria

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Peru: Museum of Memory Again

Today's statement on the Museum of Memory came from Defense Minister Rafael Rey - and surprise, surprise, he's against it.
"I do not sympathise with this idea (Museum of Memory), because enough time has not passed to be objective (...) two representatives came to visit me and explained to me that the museum would reflect the confrontation between two groups: terrorism and the State, and that society was the victim of this confrontation. I don't believe that, I believe that the Army defended society from the violence of terrorism."
Rey en contra del Museo de la Memoria (La Republica)

Monday, 12 October 2009

Peru: Obstacles to Museum of Memory

Mario Vargas Llosa, currently heading the Museum of Memory commission, has spoken out against an atmosphere of "hostility" from certain sectors. He believes that factions linked to the massacres are trying to prevent the museum coming into existence.

Second-in-command on the museum commission, Salomon Lerner, has recently received death threats. Aside from that, some people in high places have apparently wanted to interfere in the museum project.

Now, despite its initial reluctance to accept the funding for the museum, the government says it is giving its full support to Vargas Llosa and his team. Let's hope so.

Gobierno confirma apoyo a Vargas Llosa para construccion de Museo de la Memoria
(La Republica)
Vargas Llosa advierte obstaculos en creacion de Museo de la Memoria (RPP Noticias)

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Quick Link: Promises to the Disappeared

Promises to the Disappeared: Art in the Wake of Chile's 9-11 (World Up)

Argentina: 'Julian the Turk'

Many thanks to The Argentine Post for drawing my attention to this fascinating video from Al Jazeera in which a Uruguayan journalist interviews the man who tortured him in Argentina. It's a longer clip than I would usually recommend, but it's really worth watching, even if it does give you more of an insight into the motivation of the interviewer than the interviewee (English and Spanish with English subtitles, click on the screen to go to a larger version).

In the video, Julian the Turk/Turco Julián - real name Julio Simón - veers between denying he ever tortured and justifying what he did. He also attempts to present himself as the good guy, trying to get people free or 'go soft' on them in interrogation.

In fact, this was not the first time I had heard of the torturer. He is one of the very few perpetrators to have spoken out in the media albeit, as we see in this clip, in a highly inconsistent and prevaricating fashion. He appears in Marguerite Feitlowitz's A Lexicon of Terror, where he is quoted as saying,
"What I did I did for my Fatherland, my faith, and my religion. Of course I would do it again." (p.212)
Mario Villani, a survivor of the clandestine detention centres, recalls a figure who on the one hand spent his own money on toilet paper for the prisoners, and on the other was a vicious torturer who displayed particularly pronounced hatred towards Jews. Simón was identified in fifty-eight specific cases of torture following the dictatorship, but was protected under the amnesty laws, free to pass his former victims in the street (Feitlowitz 85-86). Following the repeal of the laws, he was the first member of the military to be convicted of torture during the 'dirty war'.

Argentina/UK: Malvinas Memorial Service

For the past two Saturdays, the families of Argentine soldiers killed during the Falklands/Malvinas conflict have travelled to the Islands to witness the inauguration of a memorial there.

This weekend, the group brought with it a statue of the Virgin of Lujan, Argentina's patron saint, to form part of the memorial.
[The statue] completed the assembling of the cenotaph that stands as two stretched out arms made of blocks, embracing the 237 graves and crosses, and with engraved plaques with just the names (alphabetic order and no service or rank) of all 649 Argentines that went down during the South Atlantic conflict.

“Our Lady of Lujan, Mother of God will watch over the eternal repose of our brothers who fought the good fight for independence and national sovereignty” reads the inscription at the foot of the statue.

Memorial inauguration marks positive chapter in Falklands-Argentina relations (Mercopress)

Malvinas Families with statue of Virgin of Lujan leave for the Falklands (Mercopress)*

Malvinas victims' families hold ceremony in Darwin (Buenos Aires Herald)

* The image above is from this article and shows an exhibition of Malvinas crosses in the Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Brazil: Too Much Focus on Dictatorship Legacy?

Those who died and "disappeared" during the 1964-1985 military dictatorship in Brazil represent a mere "one percent of the agenda" of the Special Secretariat for Human Rights (SEDH), but captivate "99 percent of the attention of the press," complained Human Rights Secretary Paulo Vannuchi.
The Secretariat also seeks to ensure the rights of young people, gays, indigenous citizens, and others - but the newspapers only want to hear about disappearances and torturers.

This is an interesting point which I have considered before. Implicit in it seems to be the idea that these 'past' crimes distract from (more pressing?) current human rights issues. To this I would say that to posit torture and disappearances as 'past' and other forms of discrimination - against the indigenous, say - as 'present' is a false dichotomy. For one thing, disappearance is a continuous crime; a person is not disappeared and then the crime is over. As long as the whereabouts of the victim, dead or alive, is not resolved and the family has no answers, the crime continues and thus is continually in the present. That's why there is no statute of limitations for disappearances. That's not just my opinion - it's Article III of the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons.

For another, these 'other' forms of discrimination were often ALSO present during periods of state terrorism. It's known that Jews were disproportionately victimised during the Argentine dictatorship and that their torturers expressed specifically anti-Semitic sentiment. Racism against the indigenous population was a huge part of political violence in Peru and also allowed the mestizo middle classes to turn a blind eye to it for so long. So it is really impossible to separate the two.

Finally, although Brazil is hardly my specialist subject, I was under the impression that it not one of the best examples of a country that has thoroughly examined its past and rooted out impunity, so it's not as if the topic has been completely exhausted and it's time to move on.

I can understand Vannuchi's frustration at only a certain aspect of his work being publicised, however. Obviously there are many worthy causes out there. Perhaps he is right to call for more balance from the media, but I personally see it as a hopeful sign that these 'historical' abuses continue to receive attention. The country that forgets its past is condemned to repeat it, as the cliche goes...

Brazil: The Long Shadow of the Dictatorship (IPS)

Argentina: What Did All Those Security Guys Do During the Dictatorship?

Well, they need to earn a living, right? Many former soldiers who were involved in human rights abuses during the 'dirty war' are now working for private security firms, according to civil rights groups in Argentina. In general, there are dubious links between state security systems and private enterprise. Here is just one example of a criminal getting back into the security business:

[Lawyer María del Carmen] Verdú mentioned a case that highlighted the lack of oversight and enforcement of the laws prohibiting the hiring of private security agents with a dubious past: the case of Buenos Aires assistant police chief Jorge Ramón Fernández, found guilty of torturing to death 17-year-old Sergio Durán in 1992.
The legal ruling against Fernández, handed down in 1995, was the first to prove that the police continued to use the "picana" or electric shock device - a favourite torture technique used on political prisoners during the dictatorship.
Fernández was released from prison in 2003, just eight years after he was sentenced to life in prison. Four years later, CORREPI discovered that he was working for the Segur Part security firm, whose headquarters is located 100 metres from the police station where Durán was tortured to death and 200 metres from the courthouse in the Buenos Aires district of Morón. "The most amazing thing was that the Parole Board and Criminal Court of Morón knew he was working there," said Verdú.

Laws against such practices exist, but are poorly enforced - another aspect to impunity in Argentina.

Dubious Past? No Problem for Private Security Firms (IPS)

Argentina: Menem Charged in AMIA Cover-up

Former Argentine President Carlos Menem has been charged with covering up and destroying evidence related to the so-called 'Syrian connection' in the 1994 AMIA bombing. Specifically, he is said to have ordered the destruction of 54 cassettes containing evidence regarding the terrorist attack.

Also charged are his brother, Munir Menem, who was presidential chief of staff at the time, former federal judge Juan José Galeano, two intelligence chiefs and two police officers. Yes, one of the latter is Jorge "Fino" Palacios, who recently almost became head of the Buenos Aires police, until forced to withdraw due to this very controversy.

Procesan a Menem y otros ex funcionarios por irregularidades en la causa AMIA (Clarin)
Menem charged over bomb inquiry (BBC)
Former Argentine president Menem indicted for alleged "terrorist cover-up" (Mercopress)

Peru: Salomon Lerner Responds

Salomon Lerner, former head of the Peruvian truth commission (CVR) and current vice president of the commission on the museum of memory, is interviewed in the current issue of Caretas about the death threats he has been receiving. The whole thing is worth reading, but here is my translation of some key parts on recent events and Lerner's view of the importance of memory for Peru:

- Was there any prior warning of what happened last week? [the poisoning of
Lerner's dogs and death threats against him]
- There were prior incidents of harm. At the beginning of the year, my Wikipedia entry was changed to present me as one of the principal allies of the terrorists. I tried to change it and it was changed back. This is people who are linked to the fascist right, among whom many are young people. [...] I understand that it was a very right-wing youth who attacked my page, he has a blog and claims to be a follower of Karl Schmidt.
What happens is that sometimes, without meaning to, one becomes a symbol for something. To my misfortune, I have become a symbol for what they call 'caviares' and what were previously called 'civicos'.* [...] But it's not just that. It's a collection of manifestations against me and the CVR which some newspapers, which are not very democratically oriented, have been making for some time.
- You are referring to Expreso and La Razón?
- And Correo. I've gone public about the matter with the dogs so that these situations do not happen with impunity. They accuse me of playing the victim because of the situation with the book by Abimael Guzmán. I shouldn't buy those papers but I do. A bit of it is masochism and also to know where they are coming from.
- But anyone who has read Guzmán's book knows that it is directed against the CVR.
- I was talking to a friend and he said that I should write a book called The Misfortune of Not Being Loved. But it's not true, I have received solidarity, even from people who I don't know. Ollanto Humala, Alejandro Toledo, prime minister Velásquez Quesquén. The Minister of the Interior has been in touch. Even [defence minister] Rafael Rey had some kind words. I am grateful to all of them. There are other people who want to deceive some people and they use a phrase which is no more than ten words long: I'm really sorry about what is happening to Lerner. But I disagree with him that... And they give eleven reasons why I'm not much more than a criminal. This is hypocrisy, manipulation. I don't accept that sort of solidarity.
- Don't you think that the members of the CVR placed an emphasis on work surrounding Memory? Doesn't this just perpetuate the pain?
- I don't say that one should continually recreate the pain, but that one should process it. This is the only way to free oneself from it. Understanding what happened, mourning and then looking ahead. If we don't do that, we are going to leave a little stone in our shoe which won't leave us in peace. Memory prevents the threat of fanaticism and intolerance. The grand masters of intolerance were the senderistas and Guzmán is the king of intolerance. Those who say that the wounds are closed, what is it that they said when Guzmán wrote his book?: Remember what he did! [...]
- What did you think of the book?
- I haven't read it, I don't intend to read it, I'm free to not read it. I've spoken with Guzmán. Knowing the author, I really doubt the quality of his ideas.
[emphasis mine, trans mine]
'Es la Derecha Fascistoide' (Caretas)

*'Caviar' - a derogatory word for a left-winger, particularly an intellectual, urban left-winger who doesn't understand 'the real world'. Wikpedia suggests 'champagne socialist' as a translation.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Peru: Review of 'Tarata'

Rodrigo Bedoya has reviewed the new Peruvian film Tarata for El Comercio: read the full piece in Spanish here. He has reservations about the movie, which he sees as being better conceived then executed.

Por momentos la cinta busca ser una especie de “Greatest Hits” del terrorismo: arrestos extrajudiciales, intervención del ejército en universidades, coches bomba, desapariciones, toque de queda, entre otros. Al querer abarcarlos todos, la película se queda solo en la ilustración: ninguno de esos temas están tratados con la pausa o la tensión narrativa necesaria para que podamos sentirlos como reales. Una mayor concentración le hubiera servido al filme para que pueda trabajar mejor su propuesta.

Sometimes the film is trying to be a sort of "Greatest Hits" of terrorism: extrajudicial arrests, the intervention of the army in universities, car bombs, disappearances, curfews, among others. In trying to cover all of these, the film only remains an illustration: none of the themes is treated with the depth or narrative tension required for us to feel that it is real. A better focus would have allowed the film to deal with its premise in a better way. [trans mine]

"Tarata" y el cine peruano (Mil ojos)