Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Happy Birthday Blog/Bye Bye

When I began thinking about this post this morning, I didn't realise that it was two years to the day since I started the blog. Seems like some kind of a sign...

The point is that I set up the blog with no idea if anyone would ever read it, and well, gradually some did (hi, all of you!). There is something very satisfying about sharing an interest with others all across the globe, and I remain fascinated by the subject of this blog. Thanks to everyone who has commented, emailed, and otherwise provided feedback.

Two years ago I was working part-time and living somewhere where I hardly knew anyone. In short, I didn't have much of a life ;-) Things have changed, happily for me, and I no longer have the time to devote to the blog as I want to. That is generally a good thing, but I'm still disappointed because I really enjoy blogging. But seeing interesting stories continually pass me by is getting frustrating. I simply can't keep up with all, or even a good selection, of the memory developments in Latin America.

So with regret, I'm taking a back seat, at least for a while. The archives will stay, and perhaps I will write again if and when circumstances allow, but I will no longer make any claim to blogging daily. Those of you who have your own Lat Am/memory blogs - keep up the good work!

p.s. Let's end with some good news.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Peru: Guzman Threatens Hunger Strike

The jailed leader of Peru's Shining Path rebel group and his girlfriend say they will go on hunger strike unless they are allowed to wed.
It's difficult to take Guzman seriously these days, to be honest - even his own followers don't seem to. I think it would be an odd end for him to starve himself to death over a marriage ceremony, and to be honest I doubt he would go that far, but I have to agree with Otto that there wouldn't be many tears shed for him. There was discussion of him facing the death penalty at the time of his capture, but the fear was that an execution (or the not unlikely possibility of an extrajudicial killing by some faction of Peru's armed forces) would turn him into a martyr for his loyal band. I think that fear has passed. Peru is still dealing with the legacy of the bloodbath he unleashed, but it is no longer in thrall to him as a person.

Peru Shining Path leader Guzman in hunger strike threat (BBC)
Jailed Shining Path founder plans hunger strike if he cannot wed (Peruvian Times)

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Argentina/Spain: Turning the Tables

Spain's adherence to the principle of universal justice led judge Baltasar Garzon, now himself facing trial, to pursue Argentine human rights abusers, among others. Now it's Argentines who are looking for redress for crimes committed during the Spanish Franco regime.

The three cases being presented in Argentina on Wednesday are the civil war shooting deaths of Spanish citizens Severino Rivas, Elias Garcia Holgado and Luis Garcia Holgado, and Argentine Vicente Garcia Holgado. The plaintiffs, both Argentines, are Dario Rivas, son of the first victim, and Ines Garcia Holgado, the niece and grand-niece of the others.

The plaintiffs want the Argentine courts to expand the case to include any murders and disappearances committed by Franco's forces between July 17, 1936, the day before Franco's military turned against Spain's Republican government, and June 15, 1977, when Spain held its first democratic elections following the dictator's death in 1975.

Argentines Try Probing Crimes of Franco's Spain (NY Times)

Argentinian Court Considers Spanish Civil War Inquiry (Guardian)

Relatives of Franco's victims file lawsuit in Argentina (AFP)

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Argentina: First Lesbian Marriage

Heartfelt congratulations go to Norma Castillo and Ramona Arévalo, who yesterday became the first female couple in Argentina to be married. The two 67-year olds have been together for over 30 years. They lived in exile during the dictatorship but returned to their country, as they explained in a press release, "to break down prejudices and share their belief in the necessity, not just of rights, but also of judicial equality in people's lives". They seem like people we could learn from.

A los 67 años, Norma y Ramona sellaron el tercer matrimonio gay de la Argentina
"El amor nos toco con la varita magica" (Pagina/12)

Argentina: Noble Case

Here's this week's update on the case of Marcela and Felipe Noble, adopted children of Clarin owner Ernestina Herrera de Noble and suspected children of desaparecidos.

You may recall that the DNA testing was facing yet another delay after Marcela and Felipe's lawyers had submitted another appeal against it. Well, yesterday the appeal was rejected. This is another small victory for the Grandmothers in their quest for the truth. But the ruling was on technical legal grounds and the DNA tests still have not taken place; the case lumbers on.

Comunicado de prensa
(Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo)
Casacion Penal rechazo planteo de los hijos de Herrera de Noble (Centro de Informacion Judicial)
Mas cerca del examen de DNA para los Herrera Noble (Pagina/12)

Spain/Lat Am: Good News/Bad News

First the good news: Spain has approved the extradition of Julio Alberto Poch to Argentina. The Dutch-Argentine pilot is accused of flying some of the 'death flights' in which prisoners were thrown, still alive, into the Rio de la Plate estuary during the dictatorship. Ah hem, I am aware that I have reported this before, in January, but extradition procedures are long and convoluted things; at least it seems that progress is still being made.

Spain Approves Extradition of Pilot to Argentina (NY Times)

Now the bad: renowned Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón is apparently to face trial on charges of overreaching his powers in his investigation of the disappeared from the Franco regime. This will be close to the hearts of many Latin Americans, and others, who have followed Garzón's tireless pursuing of Pinochet and Scilingo, among others. One can only echo the words of the New York Times editorial:
The real crimes in this case are the disappearances, not Mr. Garzón’s investigation.
An Injustice in Spain (NY Times)
Spanish Judge Garzon Faces Trial over Franco Probe (BBC)
Profile: Judge Baltasar Garzón (BBC)

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Peru: More on Design for Lugar de la Memoria

A couple more articles about the winning project for the design of the Lugar de la Memoria in Lima, including positive remarks about the transparency of the competition and the results.

Un lugar para la memoria
(La Primera, via CNDDHH)
Aqui vivira nuestra memoria (El Comercio, here via CNDDHH, here in PDF, also source of image above)

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Argentina: Judges under Suspicion

This story has some pretty incredible aspects, and it's also a good illustration of the challenges facing those pushing for justice in Argentina.

Two serving judges are now suspected of involvement in the appropriation of babies during the dictatorship. One of them, Jorge Martínez Sobrino, works in Federal Oral Court No. 6 - yep, that's the court that the major human rights trials take place in, and the same court in charge of the "appropriation of babies" megatrial. Anyone smelling a conflict of interest yet?!

According to the accusation made against him by Isabel "Chichi" de Mariani and the Human Rights Secretariat and now facing Attorney General Esteban Righi, Martínez Sobrino was part of the process in which Simón Riquelo was adopted. Aged just three weeks, Simón was kidnapped along with his mother, Uruguayan citizen Sara Méndez, in 1976. While she was detained in the site known as "Automotores Orletti", her baby son was given up for adoption, and the court made no effort to discover his true origins. Instead, they handed him over to Osvaldo Parodi, part of the taskforce which had kidnapped his mother.

As it turned out, Méndez was among a tiny minority of the disappeared - she survived. 26 years later, she was reunited with her child. How amazing for them... but how terrible for justice in Argentina that people like Martínez are still in their jobs. Indeed, Martínez and fellow judge Wagner Gustavo Mitchell have not yet been convicted of a crime, but I think it's safe to say that there are professionals still working in the courts who were complicit with the dictatorship. How is this supposed to inspire trust in due process?

Denuncian a un camarista y a otros dos jueces por el robo de un bebe (El Litoral)
Dos jueces en manos de Righi (Critica)

Monday, 5 April 2010

Latin America: Memory Museums

At their best, these museums are an attempt to inoculate societies against their basest inclinations. "We must consolidate a democratic culture that can save us from fanaticism and drive home [the idea] that terror cannot be combated with terror," says Mario Vargas Llosa, the novelist who heads the planning group for the Peruvian museum. The danger is that remembering turns into a political banner, reviving historical animosities and institutionalizing an ideological battle over who controls memory. "In Latin America this is not a disinterested process, much less an effort to work at forgiveness," says Brazilian political analyst Amaury de Souza. "It's a struggle over who gets to write history."
Newsweek has a comparative article on the various commemorative museum projects underway in Latin America. I could quibble on a few points (plus the word 'memoria' is sporting an additional accent!), but it's good to see a piece like this, and with a nice photo too.

The Politics of Memory Museums

Peru: Architects for Museum of Memory Announced

The winning proposal for Peru's Lugar de la Memoria was announced today.

The international jury, consisting of architects Kenneth Frampton (UK), Rafael Moneo (Spain), Francesco Dal Co (Italy), José García Bryce (Peru) and Wiley Ludeña (Peru), selected the design submitted by Paris and Lima-based Sandra Barclay and Jean Pierre Crousse (see their website here).

Head of the commission for the museum, Mario Vargas Llosa, stated that the project was chosen for the functionality of its structure, sobriety of its design, and harmony with the surrounding area. Barclay explained that visitors will travel from the lower part of the space, where the tragedy of the victims will be emphasised, to the upper areas with views over the ocean and a focus on liberation and reconciliation. Building is now slated to begin in three months.

Construccion de Lugar de la Memoria se iniciara en tres meses
Eligen dos arquitectos para construir el Lugar de la Memoria (RPP)
Seleccionan proyecto arquitectónico para Lugar de la Memoria (via APRODEH)

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Argentina: Ex-detention Centres Under Threat

Los ex centros clandestinos estan en riesgo (Critica) - trans mine
The Former Clandestine Centres are at Risk
They are buildings where torture took place during the dictatorship. The Buenos Aires government is supposed to maintain them, but it is not using its budget

Seven of the clandestine detention centres (CCD) which functioned in Buenos Aires city are spaces of memory today. In the majority of these, time and lack of maintenance is wearing away their structure on a daily basis and with it, their legal and historical value. In 2009, the Buenos Aires administration used just 6% of the budget intended for the conservation of the sites where thousands of people were tortured and disappeared. To guarantee their preservation, a bill is proposing to declare the structural conditions an emergency. "The maintenance work for the detention centres is really behind schedule, often because the necessary funds aren't available and in other cases because the local executive branch is using the budget earmarked for this end for other purposes," according to Social Equality deputy, Martín Hourest, who also warned that the Buenos Aires government may not avail themselves of these funds without prior authorisation from the legislature.

The Instituto Espacio para la Memoria (Memory Space Institute, IEM) is a decentralised organisation which is tasked with "ensuring the preservation, protection and valuing of the various sites where CCD functioned", such as Olimpo, Atlético, Automotores Orletti, ESMA y Virrey Cevallos. However, this often does not happen and the deterioration continues.

Hourest's proposal intends to provide the IEM with the necessary resources to attain the objective which is not expressed in concrete works, generally because the city authorities have not transferred to it the funds already approved by law. In some cases, also, a lack of staff has caused delays to the tendering process.

One of the most urgent cases for conservation is the site on which El Atlético was situated, at the intersection of Paseo Colón and Cochabamba. The demolition of the building to construct the motorway 25 de Mayo, which occurred during the dictatorship, meant that only the basements where the detained-disappeared prisoners were held could be saved. This space is open to the elements. Exactly two years ago, the space in front of it was inaugurated as a Memory Square, which remains closed until today due to lack of funds. It is essential that restauration takes place to save the remains which are already 33 years old. In the past year, inscriptions made by disappeared persons have been found on the walls of the Capuchita (Little Hood) in the ESMA. Even more than artefacts for memory, such marks and any object which can be identified in the detention centres becomes evidence in the trials of the murderers.

News Round-Up

A bill awaiting a vote in the Chamber of Deputies would permit documents classified as "ultrasecret" to remain sealed forever by allowing an unlimited number of 25-year renewals
Brazilian lawmakers want to keep documents secret for 75 years (Journalism in the Americas)

Mass graves uncovered in Colombia (Presente!)

Gen. Delgado is accused of aggravated homicide of 11 students and kidnapping of six others, Gen. David Jaime Sobrevilla of the murder of one student and the kidnapping of five, and Gen. Pérez of the kidnapping of eight students.
Generals on Trial for Murders of 36 Students (IPS)

Spain's Most Famous Judge May Be Suspended (IPS)

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Brazil: Dealing with the Dictatorship Past

The following post is based on the points made in the article 'Vom Umgang mit der Diktaturvergangenheit' by Klaus Hart, from the supplement Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, 12/2010.

In the article mentioned, Hart posits that Brazil is far behind other countries in the hemisphere in the clarification of its dictatorship history.

In December 2009, President Lula signed a decree to create a truth commission to investigate the crimes of the military years. But, faced with threats of resignation from his Defense Minister and the heads of the armed forces, he partially backed down and softened the wording of the decree. This, despite the fact that the official figures for deaths during the dictatorship are suspiciously low - 376 killed by the armed forces, and 119 by the armed resistance movement.

Amnesty International representative Tim Cahill is cited as stating that, "Torture and extrajudicial executions carry on, conditions in jail are still terrible - and even death squads and slavery still exist. It just goes on like before - Brazil is the Latin American country to have made the least progress in the examination of its past. The biggest problem of the country today is that official discourse has nothing to do with political practice" [trans mine]. Officials active during the dictatorship also continue to enjoy political power.

The author also points to a generalised apathy in the population when it comes to looking back and to political commitment, which he attributes to a lack of education and widespread functional illiteracy.

Hart takes the case of Argentina as a contrast, noting the progress that this nation has made under the Kirchner administrations. This is true, although the situation is painted rather more rosily than it actually is; there is still a great deal of work to be done in Argentina, dangers remain for human rights activists, and the majority of the military perpetrators will probably die before they can be tried. Nevertheless, within the confines of the space afforded the article, the point stands that Argentina has made greater strides than Brazil in assessing its dictatorship legacy.

Photo credit: Blog Sao Paolo Urgente of the Memorial de Resistencia

Friday, 2 April 2010

Argentina News

"What happened to the fathers?"
More on the fathers of the disappeared, who are the subject of a new documentary film Padres de la Plaza: 10 recorridos posibles (Fathers of the Plaza: 10 Possible Journeys). This is a fascinating article and I'd love the chance to see the film too.
Fathers of the disappeared (NACLA)

Remembering the Falklands/Malvinas invasion
On the 28th anniversary of the 1982 invasion of the islands:
Message from the Falkland Islands Government on the 28th Anniversary of the Invasion by Argentina (Mercopress)
Argentina to See Biggest Anti-British Protests for Years (Mercopress)

Anti-Semitic Grafitti in Buenos Aires
Anti-semitic slogans appeared on the walls near a hotel where Jewish families were celebrating Passover. Note that the article says that these were in German; I strongly doubt that they were painted by a native speaker, as "Morten" is not actually a German word ("Tod" means death, "Mord" means murder). Still, the point is pretty clear.
"Repudio e indignacion" (Pagina/12)

Noble Case Still in Limbo
The magistrate who was involved in the case which led to the brief arrest of Ernestina Herrera de Noble in 2002 discusses the current controversies
"Felipe y Marcela Noble son hijos de desaparecidos (Proyectos Desaparecidos)
Meanwhile, legal disputes continue about the fate of the DNA samples:
Aceptan "recurso de queja" de los Noble Herrera (Critica, via Proyectos Desaparecidos)

National Database of Torture Victims to be Founded
Registro Nacional de Casos de Tortura: Un banco de datos a prueba de golpes (Pagina/12 via Proyectos Desaparecidos)
Primer Registro Nacional de Casos de Tortura (Comision Provincial por la Memoria)

Argentina Revisits Dictatorship: A Year of Human Rights Trials (Latin America Activism)
Photos of one year anniversary of Raul Alfonsin's death (Critica)