Sunday, 28 April 2013

Argentina: Astiz's mother charged with child abduction

Alfredo Astriz is, of course, one of the most notorious perpetrators of human rights abuses during the Argentine dictatorship and currently on trial in the "death flights" case.

Now, a judge in Mar del Plata has also started proceedings against his mother and two other people over the approproation of a child during dictatorship, La Nación reports.

The judge, Santiago Inchausti, maintains that the accused are "prima facie co-authors of the crimes of taking and hiding a minor". The facts are related to an incident on 9 March, 1977, involving a newborn baby at a clandestine maternity clinic operating at the time in Mar del Plata. The handing over of the baby was allegedly conducted via the intervention of Astiz's parents, María Elena Vázquez de Astiz and the late Alfredo Bernardo Astiz. The judge is investing the hypothesis that the baby was the child of disappeared people from the area.

Procesan a la madre de Alfredo Astiz por la apropiación de un menor durante la dictadura (La Nacion)
Procesan a tres imputados en una causa por la apropiación de un menor (CIJ)

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Book review: Ways of Going Home

Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra, trans. Megan Mcdowell (original Formas de volver a casa)

This is the second memory-related novel I've read recently, and yes, I read this one in the English translation by Megan Mcdowell.

It's a slight book, and it starts off fairly traditionally, as the first-person narration of a young boy who meets an intriguing girl in his neighbourhood. But this is only one level; at another level, another narrator considers his progress in writing the novel of a young boy who meets an intriguing girl in his neighbourhood. And all this is tied up with the dictatorship in Chile and the narrator(s) memory of it.

Both the boy (and his adult self) and the writer are bystanders of Chile's trauma. As he says, "The worst always happened to other people". In this sense, he speaks for the generation growing up during the 1970s and 1980s in the country."While the adults killed or were killed, we drew pictures in a corner. While the country was falling to pieces, we were leaning to talk, to walk, to fold napkins in the shape of boats, of airplanes. While the novel was happening, we played hide-and-seek, we played at disappearing." 

It's an interesting concept and I found the book interesting, as a study of memory literature. But I wasn't gripped by it as a work of fiction, as I was with The Sound of Things Falling. I can't, therefore, wholeheartedly join in with the praise found in the reviews (spoiler alert - be careful with the NY Times one; it basically describes the entire story. This book is not one based on suspense so you may not mind this, however). This book is not one thing or the other, for me. It's not a fully-formed novel, but it's not a memoir either. It slots into place in this blog, but for leisure-time reading - I want more.

El Salvador: Monumento a la Memoria y la Verdad

Thanks to Tim at Tim's El Salvador Blog for linking to this video from the Pro-Historic Memoric Commission in El Salvador, it's worth watching:

This led me to look for a little more information about the Monumento a la Memoria y la Verdad (Monument to truth and justice) in San Salvador. Wikipedia tells me it is located in the Parque Cuscatlán and is a wall 85 metres long, of black granite and engraved with over 25,000 victims' names - which puts me in mind of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The video above and this blog post tell us that it took private groups and fundraising to get the memorial built and that it was not initially recognised as a site of cultural patrimony.

Image by Jorge Montenegro from Wikicommons.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Argentina: Visit to the ESMA

Spanish daily El País recently visited the ESMA, "the biggest centre of torture and extermination", something it described as "almost a moral obligation".

The paper starts off saying that "you hardly see anything", because "it's not a theme park". The actual instruments of torture are not laid out for visitors to gaze out - I wonder if anyone would expect them to be? While from the outside, the site certainly appears large, the area where the prisoners were kept is "surprisingly small". But what you do get is a guide to answer questions.

The correspondent's experience seems to be on the one hand that almost all of the evidence of torture and imprisonment has been cleared away, but on the other, that the very act of standing in that place and listening to what happened there is in itself impressive (even though the facts of what happened there could be easily found out elsewhere). I felt something similar at Dachau, which is also a very stark, quite empty space but full of the visitor's knowledge of what took place. Opening up these places of memory is quite a balancing act because clearly, if they are not made interesting enough to visit there is little point, but the "theme park" option is generally not seen as desirable either. One way in which Argentina gets around this, I suppose, is by keeping the actual torture centre with its informative guided tours, but by also having a cultural centre on the site for exhibitions, shows, etc. Obviously not everyone would agree they get the balance right all the time (remember the "barbecue at the ESMA debate" around New Year?) but the site is, at least, open after having been closed to the public for years.

Anyone in Buenos Aires wanting to visit the ESMA needs to book in advance; the details, according to El País, are 00-54-11-4704-7538 or

Visita a la ESMA, el mayor centro argentino de tortura y exterminio (El País)