Saturday, 28 February 2009

Peru: More on that Museum Donation

Peru's apparent rejection of a German donation to build a museum of memory has reached the ears of the English-language media. Says the BBC:
The government in Lima initially failed to respond to the offer, saying the money would be better spent tackling poverty and hunger.

It continues:
Peruvian Defence Minister Antero Flores has said a museum to remember victims of the conflict would be of no use to anybody.

Hmm, Defence Minister Flores? That's the same guy who attacked the TRC commissioners as interfering busybodies who were just looking to attack the armed forces. I think it's safe to say he's not big on memory gestures.

When the news of the rejection was first leaked, the government refused to comment.
Now it has changed tack.
Prime Minister Yehude Simon has suggested the money go towards reparations for the victims not a museum.

The BBC's final comment is that
...the German donation has opened old wounds between those who want to remember and those who would rather forget.

The 'opened old wounds' phrase rolls easily off the tongue, but it's not sure it's quite like that. I don't see that Peru's wounds in this respect were ever closed, quite frankly. Nevertheless, I sincerely hope that this doesn't end up being framed as a 'memory vs. reparations' issue.

Here's where I stand on this, for what it's worth:
- Reparations are an issue, especially in a country where the majority of victims were very poor. Their families deserve reparations in some form (I've heard that some communities would be in favour of services, e.g. a village school, rather than a cash payment to individuals, and that would seem reasonable to me - no, I don't have a source for that though).
- I understand finances are always stretched, but it shouldn't be presented as a question of "well, do you want to compensate some deserving people or do you want to make a fancy museum for middle class people". It's not either/or. I suspect that the easy remarks about hunger are straw arguments because no one would disagree that starving children are crucial; the German government wasn't offering the money for that, however. We can't wait until every single other challenge in Peru has been met before, maybe, sparing a few coins for cultural issues, because by then the dead are already forgotten. Justice for the victims includes memorial projects, otherwise reparations can easily become pay-offs.
- A huge amount of time and work has already gone into really important projects like Yuyanapaq; I have personally met some of the people involved in this and they are so dedicated and their work is stunning. It's a vital tool with which to teach the next generation of Peruvians - as well as visitors - about the discrimination which led to such horror in their country.
- A whole patchwork of complex issues comes together in the commemoration of a tragedy like this, but I believe that a national centrepiece may a useful part of this. In Argentina, after decades of prevaricating, this is coming together in the ESMA. It would be great if it didn't take as long in Peru.

Peru furore over museum donation (BBC)

Argentina: Civil Courts for Armed Forces

I've mentioned repeatedly that I'm in favour of civilian trials for military officials accused of human rights offences. In Argentina, this is becoming reality. This is good news for Argentina in general, since the armed forces have been delaying and protecting their own for too long now. But this article also points out why it's not bad news for the rank-and-file either:
For example, service members can now choose their own lawyer rather than being appointed one by the military. The measure also means troops are no longer subject to the death penalty and cannot be imprisoned for engaging in homosexual acts.

New judicial system for Argentina's armed forces (AP)

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Guatemala: President Apologises

The Guatemalan President has apologised for state failings during the civil war and called the deaths of an estimated 200,000 people genocide. This is an important statement of respect to the victims and their families; let's hope that it is backed up with action.

Guatemala leader apologizes to civil war victims (AFP)

Latin America: Disappearances

From Otto: images speak louder than words.

Peru: Cartoon on German donation

Comment on the story of Peru's apparent rejection of a German donation for a memory museum:

"The Peruvian goverment rejected a German donation of 2 million dollars for a "Museum of Memory" in memory of the victims of the years of terrorism. The thing is, I prefer a Museum of Amnesia, said President Garcia."

(h/t to Matt and to the source,

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

News Round-Up

A trio of legally-related stories...

: armed forces should keep their right to stand trial in military tribunals, even in human rights cases, according to the Defense Secretary.
In 1998 the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture issued a report on Mexico, in which he affirmed that “military personnel appear to be immune to civil and criminal justice and generally protected by military courts.” The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) has also criticized the systematic and absolute use of military tribunals to judge military personnel: “independence and impartiality are clearly compromised (…), producing de facto impunity.”

Mexican Defense Secretary Opposes Civilian Trials for Military Human Rights Abusers (Narconews)

Colombia: Human Rights Advocates Detained without Just Cause (Impunity Watch)

Plus, in Guatemala,
Amnesty said no high-ranking officials or officers have yet been brought to justice over the atrocities and the few investigations which have taken place have been "deplorably slow and inadequate".

Call for Guatemala War Justice (BBC)

Peru: DNA identifies Putis victims

Investigators in Peru say they have for the first time successfully used DNA to identify victims of the country's civil conflict in the 1980s and 1990s.

The technique identified 23 victims, who were buried in Peru's largest mass grave in 1984.

The director of the Peruvian forensic anthropology team, Jose Pablo Baraybar, said they expected to identify several more victims in the next few weeks.

This is obviously good news in the midst of the pain connected to places like Putis: some families will get definite answers about their fate of their loved one. It's also a sign of the painstaking forensic work going on in remote areas of rural Peru.

DNA identifies Peruvian victims

Information in Spanish can also be found at the blog Justicia para Putis.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Peru: Gov't Rejects German Cash for Museum

Susana Villaran is reporting on her Spanish language blog that the German government has made an offer of two million dollars to help construct a museum of memory in Peru, and that Peru has turned the money down. The museum is intended to house the excellent photographic exhibition Yuyanapaq, which is currently located temporarily in the Museo de la Nacion.

The most detailed report on this I could find (I couldn't find many) is from Spanish news agency EFE.

German diplomatic sources explained to Efe that the offer was rejected by the Peruvian Government despite the fact it "had been made via different channels", but no official Peruvian source - from the President's or the Chancellor's offices - wanted to comment on the matter.
(trans mine)

The offer apparently stems from the visit of German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, to the Yuyanapaq exhibition last year. The donation would apparently be managed primarily by the Defensoria del Pueblo (government ombudsman), but a spokeperson for the Defensoria said that while the offer was made some time ago, they had no official notice of its rejection and if true, this would be something that that department would regret.

A petition has apparently begun circulating among academics and human rights activists calling on the Peruvian administration to reconsider. Clearly, the presumption seems to be that the Garcia administration is not particularly interested in keeping alive memories of Peru's conflict; and this might well be the case considering how some of the images in Yuyanapaq reflect on the first Alan Presidency. I'd like to know more about this case, but whatever the reasons for not taking up the cash to build a museum, the fact remains that Peru is in need of a central site for acknowledge the horrors of the 1980s and 1990s, and to secure a permanent home for Yuyanapaq. What are the grounds for not pushing ahead to create one?

Peru rechaza donacion alemana 2 millones de dolares para Museo de la Memoria (adn)

News Round-Up

Allegations of illegal wiretapping continue to plague the Colombian government:
Uribe denounces illegal wiretap (BBC)

Chile is invoking anti-terrorism legislation against Mapuche protesters:
Gov't Unleashes Anti-Terror Law on Mapuche Activist (IPS)

IPS also reports on A Hundred-Year War on Drugs in Colombia.

Finally, the blog Collective Memory Project reminds us that disappearances in Argentina are not just a thing of the past, and to keep asking:
Where is Jorge Julio Lopez?

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Blog Round-Up

It's hectic here, so apologies for the absence of posting, but others are doing great stuff on their blogs:

Inca Kola News points out that not only is Berlusconi prone to horrendously offensive remarks, he was a member of a banned masonic group as well, and in pretty unpleasant company. If he used to hobnob with members of the Argentine far-right military crowd, I'm not surprised he thinks that murdering civilians is a subject for jokes.

Aside from that, consideration of the Uruguayan amnesty law from Impunity Watch, and Plan Colombia and Beyond on the subject of reparations.

Friday, 20 February 2009

"I object, because my client has been deprived of the right to buy up tv channels and newspapers, like he did during his presidency, and that's why he is losing the trial by media."

La Republica.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Argentina/Italy: Berlusconi Mocks Disappeared

I'm never sure whether to give people like this any more publicity, but here goes: Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi has made light of the 'death flights', in which disappeared Argentines were thrown - still alive - from planes into the Rio de la Plate estuary to drown, during the dictatorship. Tasteful.
Talking specifically about the Dirty War and the body dumping he said, "The days were beautiful (back then), it made them descend from the skies", an ironic use of "them" to refer to angels, it seems, all delivered with that smarmy grin of his.

Otto's report here.*

See the report in Spanish here.

* Not really worksafe due to nudity... don't ask me, ask Otto!

Updated to add: really interested in finding out what the death flights were all about and how it was that army officers came to be chucking their fellow citizens into the sea? You need to read Horacio Verbitsky's Confessions of a Dirty Warrior, now republished by The New Press.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Argentina: Interview with Martín Caparrós

I've also read* an interview with Argentine writer Martín Caparrós (and I admit, I'm not familiar with his work, but I know that he fled Argentina to exile in 1976).
Here's a partial translation of the article:

Are the wounds of the dictatorship still open?
It's not that the wounds are still open but that there is a different type of wound. There is an insistence in presenting the principle effects of the dictatorship as its cruelty and excess, and above all its torturers and disappeared people, when, in my opinion, the direct consequence of the dictatorship is the Argentina of today.

What do you mean by that?
They try to give the dictatorship a museal character, without really studying the reasons why those men decided to kill thousands of people, that they were seeking an important social and political change, and they got one. Argentina today is sharply socially divided, we are living a process of latin-americanisation of the country, which wasn't the case several decades ago, and which meant that the State abandoned its obligations in health, education, housing. And continuing to talk about the torture and the deaths is a way of covering that fact. The present is what is important.

So it's about wiping the slate clean?
Absolutely. We need to keep talking about this void and understand that everything was done for a reason and that those atrocities took place to create the Argentina of today and this way of not wiping the slate clean is to keep on discussing contemperary Argentina and not lamenting what happened 30 years ago.

There's a bit more; Spanish speakers can read the whole thing by following the link below.

I find these statements actually really interesting and find myself nodding along with much of them. Caparros is quite right; the effects of the dictatorship are to be felt not only among the families of the disappeared themselves or in the courtrooms where a very few human rights abusers are finally feeling the long arm of the law. It provoked a social fragmentation which went very deep and which is difficult, if not impossible, to separate from other social, economic and political issues.

So what is the answer? Is remembering the torture and disappearances doing more harm than good? Naturally if I was going to answer 'yes' I'd have to change the direction of the blog pretty drastically. Groups such as the Madres of the Plaza de Mayo led by Hebe Bonafini have, indeed, over the years moved away from a consideration of their specific relatives to a general commemoration of all victims, and also to a collaboration with other leftist groups, including the children of the disappeared (HIJ@S) and the piqueteros. They do not involve themselves with purely memorial activities, but prefer initiatives such as educational projects, human rights courses, and so on.

For me, remembering the abuses is an important part of building a new society. Added to that is the simple point that when perpetrators are living free and have not been tried, and adults are still growing up ignorant of their true parentage, the crimes are continuing and there can be no 'forgetting' when justice is still lacking. But Caparros gives a timely reminder that memorials must not be used as an excuse to ignore continuing injustices; simply reciting 'nunca mas' does nothing.

La Argentina de hoy es consecuencia de la dictadura (Cambio)

* Thanks to Listen, Yankee! for pointing out this article.

Cultural Sunday

It's been a while since we had a cultural Sunday post, so here we go:

Peruvian film La teta asustada (The Milk of Sorrow)* has carried off the Golden Bear award at the Berlin film festival, which means we'll almost certainly be hearing more of it in the future. It deals with the aftermath of the political violence in 1980s Peru as well, so I'm certainly interested in seeing it.

Colombian magazine Cambio has an article about art projects designed to draw attention to human rights issues, including the silhouettes which represent the disappeared in Buenos Aires. It warns that such works may be "well-intentioned" but can quickly lose their meaning and end up explaining little about the atrocities they refer to. I wouldn't be as pessimistic as all that, but I do agree it's a point worth making.
Obras de arte sobre conflictos recientes contribuyen al duelo colectivo, pero tambian lo banalizan

Finally, Petrona Rivas has won first prize in the Daily Life category of the World Press Photo competition, for her image of a victim of gang violence in El Salvador.

*I noticed one English-language source, apparently from Cuba, translated the film's title as The Frightened Tit. Thankfully the translators of movie titles don't need to be quite that literal.

Peru: Urgent Action for Julio Vasquez

*Post updated to include full details below*

Amnesty International has started an urgent action for Julio César Vásquez Calle, the journalist who was first a victim of the torture at Minera Majaz in 2005 and then, this week, received death threats for publicising it.
Amnesty International believes that he and the 28 members of peasant communities pursuing the same complaint are in grave danger.

The threatening caller said, "Since when is your job to help terrorists? We are going to make sure that you rot in prison if you don’t withdraw your complaint, if you don't drop your complaint you will go to prison in pieces."

Go here to read the full piece and write to protest the threats and call for Vasquez's protection. YOU can do something to help. Please write - in Spanish* or English - and feel free to pass on this call for action too (and if you prefer to read the appeal in Spanish, here it is).

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in Spanish or your own language:

- expressing concern for the safety of Julio César Vásquez Calle, who was threatened on 5 February;

- urging the authorities to do everything possible to guarantee his safety, and that of the others pursuing a complaint that they were tortured by police and security guards working for the Majaz mining project;

- calling on them to order a prompt and impartial investigation into the death threat and bring those responsible to justice;

- calling on the authorities to order an independent and impartial investigation into the allegations against the police and security guards, and bring those responsible to justice;

- urging them to guarantee the right of local communities affected by mining projects to information and to participate in an open, transparent and fair consultation process before any mining activities take place.


Minister of the Interior

Ministerio del Interior

Ministro del Interior

Sr. Remigio Hernaní Meloni

Plaza 30 de agosto s/n Urb. Corpac

San Isidro

Lima, PERU

Fax: + 51 1 225 7234

Salutation: Dear Minister/Sr. Ministro

Attorney General

Ministerio Público

Fiscalía de la Nación

Fiscal de la Nación

Dra. Gladys Echaíz Ramos

Av. Abancay Cuadra 5 s/n

Lima 1, PERU

Fax: + 51 1 426 2800

Salutation: Dear Attorney General/Sra. Fiscal de la Nación


Human rights organization

Fundación Ecuménica para el Desarrollo y la Paz (FEDEPAZ)

Jr. Trinidad Morán 286


Lima 14, PERU

Fax: +511 421 4747

+511 421 4730

and to diplomatic representatives of Peru accredited to your country.

* If you prefer to write in Spanish but aren't one hundred percent confident of all your grammatical bits and bobs, the last link I give includes a suggested model letter. Then the work is all done for you, you just need to sign and send. What are you waiting for?

Thanks to Matt Heil for tip.
Post updated to include address details.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Argentina News

Just a few days ago I write that Massera has been declared fit to stand trial, and now he's apparently been admitted to hospital - to the cardiac unit.
Former Argentine junta leader hospitalized (AP)

"Argentina has broken with its violent and bloody past," is the reaction of one former desaparecido to the opening of a UN human rights center in the grounds of the ESMA:
Symbol of Argentina 'dirty war' now rights center (AP)

And, to end on a happy note, I'm very pleased to report that the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo have announced the finding (or 'recuperation of identity') of another grandchild. She is the daughter of Beatriz Recchia and Domingo Garcia, both disappeared by state forces in 1977. Although both her parents were killed, she has now found a sister she didn't know she had. It's truly stunning that, more than thirty years on, the activist Grandmothers - most of them in their eighties - continue to uncover a disappeared child - now in his or her early thirties - every few months.
Abuelas confirmo la recuperacion de otra hija de desaparecidos (Pagina/12)
Edited to add - this is found grandchild no.97.
Un espacio mundial para cultivar la vida (Pagina/12)

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Argentina: Trial Behind Closed Doors

The trial of Jorge Olivera, accused of 120 abductions and 4 murders in 1976, is taking place behind closed doors in Argentina. Human rights groups are disappointed that the judges apparently went back on an agreement to allow in cameras and only admitted one photographer for a three-minute period before the hearing started, and then he wasn't even allowed to photograph the defendant.

Una imagen que los jueces no quieren admitar (Pagina/12)

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Peru: Radio Presenter Receives Death Threats

A radio presenter has reported receiving multiple anonymous phone calls threatening him with death for his involvement in publicising the images of the torture that took place at Minera Majaz in 2005. His name is Julio Vásquez Calle; I'm going to assume that this is the same man who was himself one of the victims of the attack, although his second surname isn't given in the original report. Human rights organisation FEDEPAZ have condemned the threats. It's a timely reminder that while denouncing atrocities is something some of us bloggers can do on our warm sofas without a care in the world, it's still a highly dangerous business in many areas in Latin America.

Periodista de Radio Cutivalu es amenazado de muerte por denunciar torturas en Majaz (CNDDHH)

Peru Events in London

For those in Britain, there are events taking place organised by the Peru Support Group in the next couple of weeks. "If I don't come back, look for me in Putis" is a photography exhibition by Domingo Garibaldi. It opens on Wednesday 18th February, when there will be a documentary screening and Q&A at Amnesty International's offices. Then on Friday 20th February Professor Jo-Marie Burt of George Mason University will be speaking about the Fujimori Trial at the Institute for the Study of the Americas. For more info or to register, contact the Peru Support Group at info AT

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Bolivia/Argentina Testimonies

I was just browsing the Guardian Weekly online and found two pieces that may be of interest. In both cases, you don't often get to read such detailed first-person accounts (the result of interviews) in English.

The first is the story of Rufo Yanarico, a member of indigenous group the Red Ponchos in Bolivia.

The second is the testimony of Victoria Donda, the daughter of disappeared parents who only discovered her true identity as an adult.

Colombia: Uribe, Human Rights = Terrorists

Do you think that perhaps massacring civilians is a pretty poor move? Have you wondered if Alvaro Uribe might, after all, not be the best thing since sliced bread? Then you're in league with the FARC and probably a terrorist yourself. I'm quite sure I qualify. Surprised? You shouldn't be:

The FARC’s “intellectual bloc” is very clever. In the past, in Europe, they said: “the FARC are justified, because Colombia is a very unjust country, there is no democracy in Colombia,” knowing that they taught this country and they taught the paramilitaries to murder mayors, to pressure governors, to eliminate democracy, and knowing that they cause more and more poverty, that they and the paramilitaries were the largest causes of displacement in Colombia, of unemployment, of the absence of investment.

And they shield themselves in something else: at all hours they live talking about human rights, simply to make our soldiers and police more timid.

It's just Uribe, lumping all his opponents in with armed guerrillas again. Why is this important? Well, we could just say "Hm, not a particularly nuanced argument there, my good man," and move on. But the fact is that in repeating, over and over, the statement that anyone who does not support him is a probable terrorist, and in particular that human rights organisations are part of the guerrilla machine, he puts more lives at risk. The lives of those brave activists struggling to do a dangerous job defending ordinary Colombians, and the lives of those Colombians who are victimised by military and paramilitary forces. Uribe's not alone in dismissing those pesky human rightsy folks as subversives, but he does seem to be the worst culprit right now.

The 'Intellectual Bloc' of the FARC
(Plan Colombia and Beyond)

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Bolivia: Torture Cells Found

I learnt from Impunity Watch that evidence of torture during military dicatorships has been found in the basement of the Ministry of Government in Bolivia. The secret cells may contain human remains.

Clearly these rooms have been there under the ministry for decades and were not completely secret; it's always interesting to wonder who knew about them and how the decision was made to do something about them now. Apparently some human rights organisations have been lobbying for action. But the reaction of the Bolivian government now is exemplary, I think:
- They have brought in victims' organisations to help clarify exactly what was where
- They have asked for help from bodies from other countries experienced in this work, including the Madres de Plaza de Mayo
- They have announced plans to commemorate the victims with a memorial

Torture Rooms Discovered in the Minstry of Government (Impunity Watch)

Descruben sotanos de tortura en el ministerio de Bolivia (El Universal)

Sospechan que victimas de la dictatura estan enterrados en el sotano del Ministerio del Gobierno (Erbol)

Friday, 6 February 2009

Peru: Reuters on Majaz

Reuters has a piece on the private security firm Forza's involvement in the torture at the mining project.
"The photos clearly show that personnel of Forza played an active role in the repression and torture," said Javier Jahncke at Fedepaz

Peru mining security firm faces investigation

See the full story at Inca Kola news.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Peru: Rio Blanco Responds on Majaz Case

Thanks very much to Matt for passing along an update in the Majaz torture case which I might otherwise have missed.

The mining company, now called Rio Blanco Copper S.A., has published press releases in Spanish in the La Republica newspaper (which you can see here, not fantastic quality but readable) and translated into English and available as a PDF here.

In it, the company first distances itself from its predecessor, which "represents the interests of a financial group completely different from those represented by Minera Majaz S.A.". They then claim to be "grateful for the vigilance of the media, other civil institutions and the relevant authorities concerning the correct development of our company’s activities" - hm, I bet they are. Anyway, here is the important bit, in a slightly odd translation (not mine!):
We have the firm conviction that any type of aggression against the Human Being is extremely serious and deserves an exhaustive investigation and sanction by the authorities, who must not leave these acts unpunished.

Not much meat in this press release then, but they have responded and maybe it's a claim that they can be held to.

Argentina: Massera Fit to Stand Trial

The Argentine and Italian press are reporting that an Italian expert has declared former junta leader and head of the navy Emilio Massera fit to stand trial in Italy for the abduction and disappearance of three Italian citizens.

Massera is 83 and claimed to be suffering from dementia. The expert witness said he was exaggerating symptoms and effectively making it up (remind you of Pinochet, anyone?), and is in possession of his faculties.

He was declared "insane" six years ago, according to Clarin, after a stroke, meaning he can't face trial in Argentina for the cases which were open at the time.

I think the chances of Massera being extradited to Italy and standing trial are almost nil, considering his age, the distances and laborious legal systems involved. Nevertheless, even a judgement in absentia (5 other sailors have already been convicted in their absence) would send a strong message.

Un perito italiano dice que Massera simula y puede ser enjuiciado (Clarin)

Massera, en plenas facultades para ser juzgado (Critica)

De la maceta al jardin (Pagina/12)

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

News Round-Up

The Public Prosecutor’s Office finished presenting final arguments for [the Fujimori] trial, reiterating its request for 30 years of prison and a reparation of 100,600,000 Peruvian soles (just over US$32 million) to victims — 100 million soles ($32 million) for the victims of Barrios Altos and La Cantuta, and 300,000 soles (nearly $96,000) each for kidnap victims Gustavo Gorriti and Samuel Dyer.

Public Prosecutor Reiterates Request for 30-year Prison Sentence (Fujimori on Trial)

Peru's Attorney General narrowly escaped a murder attempt last weekend.
Police initially believed the attack was a carjacking gone wrong. The events of the attack, however suggest that the attack was an assassination attempt. An inquiry has begun into the shooting.

Peruvian Attorney General Survives Assassination Attempt (Impunity Watch)

Paraguayan society is marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of former dictator Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989) amid uncertainty surrounding the loss of power of the Colorado Party, which ruled the country for 61 years.[...]
The Truth and Justice Commission, created by law in 2003, recorded 128,076 direct and indirect victims of the dictatorship, of whom 19,682 were arbitrarily detained, 18,722 were subjected to different forms of torture, 59 were executed and 337 disappeared.

Twenty Years of Transition (IPS)


Any evenhanded comparison of the Colombian and Venezuelan governments’ human rights records would have to note that, though Venezuela’s record is far from perfect, that country is by every measure a safer place than Colombia to live, vote, organize unions and political groups, speak out against the government or practice journalism.

But a new survey by FAIR shows that, over the past 10 years, editors at four leading U.S. newspapers have focused more on purported human rights abuses in Venezuela than in Colombia, and their commentary would suggest that Venezuela’s government has a worse human rights record than Colombia’s. These papers, FAIR found, seem more interested in reinforcing official U.S. policy toward the region than in genuinely supporting the rights of Colombians and Venezuelans.

Human Rights Coverage Serving Washington's Needs (NACLA)

Sunday, 1 February 2009

What to do with places of memory?

I promised a post on places of memory and what we should do with them, so here it is. ;-)

First of all, let me get a little bit technical and start with the definitions. What do I mean when I talk about remembering? I wasn't personally there during any of Latin America's military dictatorships or civil wars. So I can't 'remember' in a personal sense. Neither, now, can millions of Latin Americans, since they weren't yet born. Argentina has now been a functioning democracy, albeit at times a shaky one, for twenty-five years. Nevertheless, we hold such events in memory, we commemorate them, we enact civil performances so that they were not forgotten, and therefore I speak of 'remembering' them. This is not uncontroversial, naturally, and some would argue that only first-hand witnesses can remember the past. [For an introduction to questions of social memory from a Latin American expert, you could do a lot worse than Elizabeth Jelin's State Repression and the Struggles for Memory]

What are places of memory? The term comes from Pierre Nora's seminal study of French historical memory and the phenomenon he terms lieux de memoire. Now, Nora is sceptical of the, as he sees it, contemporary proliferation of places that are particularly significant for memory. He maintains that they are not 'real' memory, but are artificial ways of shunting off the process of remembering into handy little compartments of our lives and not really living it.

Nevertheless, I use the term to mean those sites which are particularly significant for commemoration. Obvious examples include the ESMA and Club Atletico in Buenos Aires, Uchuraccay and Putis in Peru, the Villa Grimaldi Park in Chile. Different countries deal differently with such places and the question of whether, and how, to preserve them.

In the case of the ESMA, the idea was mooted to demolish it. Human rights groups opposed the plan on the grounds that this was merely an attempt to erase the past and not to learn from it. In the meantime it was still in use by the armed forces, as if they had not used it to torture and kill innocent civilians. Schoolchildren used its swimming pool. Eventually, it was handed over to become a Museum of Memory, although progress for this is slow, in part because of disagreements over the final use for the site. Should it contain a sombre historical exhibition about the dictatorship? Or should more emphasis be given to spaces for education, culture and human rights teaching? Should it be a place for respectful quiet, mourning the dead, or for exorcising ghosts with the laughter of children, or somehow (how?) both? I have confidence that the solution, when it comes, will do justice to the significance of the ESMA and believe that destroying the buildings would have been a huge obstacle to Argentina's commemorative efforts. This is not to say that every one of Argentina's over 300 detention centres should be preserved in aspic, dotting the landscape. The ESMA's symbolic role has a long reach.

What happens when a site of terror starts to decay and would need to be restored? Is it better to let it die slowly or should it be kept as a permanent symbol? In the case of Auschwitz, I would suggest that its status as a global icon of horror means that it should stand, even if part of this is artificial. In other cases, local people may feel that the place can be transformed or simply left to slowly cleanse itself. There is no one answer. It's hardly possible to be objective in the representation of the past; political issues inevitably creep in. But I would argue that each nation needs to keep some sites on which to focus memorial activities and to teach about them. For me, the crucial factor is that people actively engagely with the place of memory and keep it alive; whether that means setting up and visiting exhibitions, holding memorial services, performing plays, educating schoolchildren, or whatever. The place cannot just have a plaque attached to the wall and the subject closed.

Places of Memory resources:

Memoria Abierta's map of detention centres in Argentina

International Coalition of Sites of Conscience

Sites of Memory website

APRODEH's website on sites of memory in Peru

Collective Memory Project blog

Marita Sturken articles

Guatemala: Controversial Images of Violence

I came across this article about Daniel Hernández Salazar, a photographer who exhibited his photographs of the Guatemalan civil war at the UN in Geneva. Some of Hernández Salazar's images, which "straddle the line between photojournalism and art", were considered potentially offensive and removed from the exhibition because they contained nudity. However they may be viewed at this website.* I'm not really going to address the censorship issue - I can see why an international institution shies away from the exhibition of particularly controversial objects in its buildings, although in general I find objecting to depictions of nudity, but not violence as such, rather odd. Anyway, the images are interesting in their highly stylised composition, consciously reminiscent of depictions of the dead Christ. There's a certain aesthetic quality about the male bodies laid out on the railway line. Why is the body beautiful? Does this help or hinder us to remember the actual dead? What is the role of art in remembering? Certainly questions about which much can be said, and which I may come back to. I wish the website showed the whole exhibition and not just the removed images!

*Quite obviously, nudity after the jump. You worked that out already, so don't click if you're at work and it could get you into trouble...

Peru News

A Peruvian navy officer has been sentenced to 20 years for the murder of a boy who was burnt alive in 1995. Three other officers were freed. His attackers suspected him of involvement with terrorism.

Here's the only English-language story I could find:
Peru navy officer gets 20 years for burning death (International Herald Tribune)

La Republica's story on the subject:
20 años de carcel a ex oficial de la Marina

And a personal reflection on the story from the blog of Susana Villaran (Span).

The BBC also has a story on the resurgence of Shining Path. All of the mainstream media seem to have run a "resurgence of Shining Path" article in the past few months... it makes sense I guess but they are all much of a muchness.
Recently the Shining Path has sprung back from relative obscurity to launch its most deadly attacks in more than a decade.

Yes, yes, we know.

As far as Gen Flores is concerned, it is not the same Maoist group which practically toppled the state in the early 1990s.

It is a breakaway group led by three brothers Jorge, Victor and Carlos Quispe Palomino, whom he accuses of being a drug-trafficking clan.

This is interesting. It's not so clear to me that the current hierarchy of Shining Path is really known, but I'll keep an eye out for these names. Sources seem to agree that they have moved into drug trafficking in a major way - whether to fund the political ideals or as a replacement for the revolutionary cause or a mixture of both remains to be seen.

Peru guerrillas tread a new path (BBC)