Monday, 25 April 2011

Argentina: Witness disappears, reappears

Last week, an important witness in an ongoing trial was kidnapped in Argentina. Víctor Martínez was a witness to the death of Bishop Carlos Horacio Ponce de León in a supposed car accident in 1977. Martínez disappeared on Monday and was found on Wednesday in a confused state, having apparently been drugged. According to his lawyer,
"He was taken by people we don't know. From what he was able to tell his wife, he was kept in a room. They didn't use force on him. He was told what to say. They gave him drugs, anti-anxiety pills, to keep him semiconscious."
This case is obviously concerning; I think there can be little doubt that Martínez was taken both as an attempt to disrupt this specific case and also as a threat to other witnesses, but it is heartening to see that the government acted swiftly, demanding his release and ordering security forces to search for him. This may have provoked his release. In another notorious case of recent years, the victim has not been so fortunate.

Argentine witness to bishop's killing freed by kidnappers (NY Times)
Argentine Dirty War witness kidnapped and released (NY Times)

Colombia: Impunity

A trailer for the film Impunity (Juan Jose Lozano and Hollman Morris).

Thanks to Narco News for drawing my attention to this.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

News Round-Up


President of the Grandmothers, Estela de Carlotta, has had a crucial day in court testifying about the disappearance and murder of her daughter. She has not yet found her disappeared grandchild.
Argentine rights leader testifies about daughter (AP)

Juan Peron is a lasting icon in his home country.
Argentina's Peron follows Che, goes commercial (AFP)

Argentina's last dictator, Reynaldo Bignone, has been sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity (he was already jailed for other crimes).
Argentina's last dictator gets life in prison (AFP)
Argentine de facto president following Falklands’ war defeat sentenced to life imprisonment (Mercopress)


Relatives of former Brazilian president Joao Goulart have taken heart from the example of Chile, where the authorities are to reinvestigate the death of president Salvador Allende. Goular died in 1976 in Argentina, and his family suspect that he may have been poisoned by agents working as part of Operation Condor.
Investigation on Allende's death gives hope to relatives of former Brazilian leader (Mercopress)


Chile is to exhume the body of Salvador Allende again. His family still tend to believe that he did commit suicide, but they are going along with the renewed investigation.
Aiming to end a mystery, Chile will exhume Allende (AFP)


A detailed article about the "false positives" scandal in Colombia, and the Mothers of Soacha group which is fighting for justice.
"The government say human rights lawyers pay us to say this, that we are liars, that we collaborate. But they are the liars. We respect the state, but we reject their criminal actions. I swear to you that this is true."
The devastation of Colombia's civil war (The Guardian)

El Salvador

A former defense minister of El Salvador, Eugenio Vides Casanova, is undergoing trial to decide if he will be deported from the US to El Salvador to face charges of torture
Torture trial starts for ex-El Saldavor official (AP)


A former Peruvian prime minister, Juan Carlos Hurtado, has given himself up after spending the last decade in hiding. Hurtado went into hiding in 2000 over corruption allegations during the Fujimori administration.
Wanted ex-prime minister turns himself in after 10 years in hiding (Peruvian Times)

United States

The US denies entry to a German journalist, Gabriele Weber, who specialises in South American human rights issues.
US denies visa to German investigative journalist (AP)
Children thefts in Argentina: German investigative journalist barred from the US (Mercopress)

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Peru: Fujimori anniversaries

Several anniversaries collide this week. On 5 April 1992, Alberto Fujimori dissolved parliament in the so-called "self-coup" (auto-golpe), giving himself extraordinary powers and ushering in a new era of human rights abuses in Peru.
On 7 April 1999, he was convicted for some of the crimes committed during this period and sentenced to 25 years in jail.

Some people have been commemorating these events in Peru this week.

On Sunday, Alberto's daughter Keiko is standing in the presidential elections.

Daughter of disgraced president seeks to run Peru

Tracing child Holocaust survivors

This is not directly Latin America-related, but it has obviously resonances for the region. The BBC drew my attention to a new project by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum hoping to find out what happened to some of the children who survived the Holocaust but became separated from their families.

The BBC article also included an amazing radio clip of 1945 broadcasts made in the UK. It's quite eery to hear the extremely well-spoken presenter (as they all were, in those days) reading out the horrors the young people had lived through. I'd not heard of these broadcasts before. I wonder what the chances were of them finding their relatives?

Remember Me: Displaced Children of the Holocaust
Tracing children of the Holocaust using social media (BBC)

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Argentina: 4 human rights abusers sentenced for Operation Condor

Four human rights abusers have received long sentences in the conclusion to an important case in Argentina, which impacts on many other countries as well.

Former Argentine General Eduardo Cabanillas has been sentenced to life in prison for his role running the clandestine detention centre known as "Automotores Orletti" in Buenos Aires. He was found guilty on charges of illegal imprisonment, torture and homicide involving 65 people. Former intelligence agents Honorio Martinez and Eduardo Ruffo were sentenced to 25 years each, and former military intelligence officer Raul Guglielminetti was given 20 years.

This is important partly because of the length of the sentences handed down, which in all cases except that of Guglielminetti matched what the prosecution has asked for.

It is also a key case because of its exposure of the workings of Operation Condor, the intelligence agreement between various authoritarian states in Latin America which funtioned with the knowledge and backing of the USA. The majority of victims in Automotores Orletti were not Argentine; many of them were Uruguayans who had fled from the dictatorship in their own country, thinking they would be safe across the border. Operation Condor meant that military governments did not have to limit their programme of repression to their own country but could coordinate it with neighbours. Its aim was to silence the opposition by sending teams into other countries to track, monitor and kill dissidents.

The story made international news:
Former Argentine Gen Eduardo Cabanillas jailed (BBC)
"It is a glorious and historical day that we are living and that the 'mothers' didn't think we'd live to see. This is legal justice," said Tati Almeida of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an Argentine human rights group.
Argentina: Ex-agents sentenced in Operation Condor (AP) - This is a generally good article, until the last sentence, where it states that official estimates put the number of disappeared at 3,000. I have never seen a figure less than about 9,000 anywhere - CONADEP had about that many specifically documented cases. I've no idea where 3,000 comes from, and it surely seems to cast doubt on the far higher figure of 30,000 used by the human rights organisation. The BBC accepts the 30,000 estimate without qualification.

In Argentina, Pagina/12 ran a lovely front cover yesterday highlighting the celebrations of human rights activists.

Una condena que atraviesa fronteras

See also
Condenan a ex agentes argentinos por Orletti (La Repubica, Uruguay)

Finally, in this video from last year, you can see some of the witnesses to the trial talking about their testimony (in Spanish):