Monday, 15 December 2014

Uruguay: Update on Graf Spee eagle

Despite being a bit of a detour from the main focus of this blog, my 2010 post on the eagle of the Graf Spee pocket battleship is one of the most-read posts I've written.

We're over four years on and not much progress has been made. Now the BBC asks "What should Uruguay do with its Nazi eagle?".

The country's supreme court has ruled that the Uruguayan state is the owner of the artifact, but that the salvage company should also receive half of the profits in the event of a sale. Businessman Alfredo Etchegaray, one of the men who led the operation to recover the eagle, told the BBC that the eagle could be worth up to US$ 15 million."Having the eagle in a box doesn't benefit anybody," he said.

There has been reporting that the eagle is not appropriately stored, but Uruguay denies this.

I'm tempted to agree with Etchegaray that the country could make good use of the cash and possibly display a replica of the eagle instead of the real thing. It's an amazing historical piece and while I certainly understand the concerns of the German government, I think it should be on display somewhere. I was just listening to a piece on the radio this morning about the difficulties of knowing what to do with the house where Hitler was born, in Austria. These are always thorny issues because the last thing you want is a shrine for neo-Nazis, but letting the sites/objects rot hardly seems to be the solution either.

What should Uruguay do with its Nazi eagle? (BBC)

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Brief update on Brazilian truth commission report

Obviously there's been a lot of reporting on Brazil's truth commission, happily Colin from Americas North and South has saved me the job of doing a massive round-up by providing an excellent one here.

I would just add this post by Nina Schneider at Transitional Justice in Brazil on the report ceremony itself.

Also, the report itself can be accessed here (Portuguese).

Uruguayan prison diary protected by Unesco

A diary written on cigarette papers by a Uruguayan political prisoner has been added to Uncesco's Memory of the World programme.

Jorge Tiscornia, a member of the MLN-Tupamaros, kept the diary (known as "El almanaque" in Spanish) during the 12 years he spent in prison during the 1970s and 80s, hiding the papers in a pair of hollowed-out clogs.

In a statement, Unesco said it was "a living memory of long isolation, revealing the strength of perseverance".

An amazing document.

Uruguay prison diary preserved by Unesco (BBC)

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Brazil releases truth commission report

Brazil's truth commission report is out.

Here are some of the stark facts:

- illegal arrests, torture, executions and disappearances were systematic during the dictatorship
- 377 perpetrators of human rights abuses identified, around 100 of whom are still alive.
- 434 deaths, probably more but findings limited by difficulty in gaining access to information.

As the Guardian notes,
“Under the military dictatorship, repression and the elimination of political opposition became the policy of the state, conceived and implemented based on decisions by the president of the republic and military ministers,” the report states. The commission “therefore totally rejects the explanation offered up until today that the serious violations of human rights constituted a few isolated acts or excesses resulting from the zeal of a few soldiers”.
The report points the finger at five ex-presidents as ultimately responsible for the atrocities.

Brazil has waited a long time for this information and it's good to see it out there and being reported on - and on International Human Rights Day. However, the report is not just an end in itself; now we need to see trials.

Brazil truth commission: Abuse 'rife' under military rule (BBC)
Brazil Truth Commission: Victims revisit torture cells (BBC)
Rousseff in tears as Brazilian report details junta’s killings and torture (Guardian)
Relatório final da Comissão da Verdade pede revogação parcial da Lei da Anistia e responsabiliza ex-presidentes (O Globo)

Monday, 27 October 2014

Colombia: Calls for archives to be made public

Colombia's Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica (CNMH) is calling for documentation and archives on the country's violent conflict to be made public, and particularly to be made available to victims, reports "El Tiempo". It is seeking to consolidate an archive of documents of serious human rights abuses, a project which has been ongoing for over two years now.

The archives of the former intelligence agency DAS and of the armed forces, which are restricted "for reasons of national security", should be opened to those needing access "for the development of investigations, defense of rights and establishing of the truth", says the CNMH. It says that restriction should be the exception, not the rule.

'Archivos del DAS y de militares deben abrirse a ciudadanos' (El Tiempo)

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Chilean exiles in East Germany

I was really interested by this half-hour documentary on Chileans behind the Berlin Wall which I found via Memoria documental.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Response to "Memory is not history"

The Economist's Bello column this week has a column entitled "Memory is not history", which argues that "there are dangers [in South America’s] intellectual fashion for “historical memory”." It goes on to accuse "the left" of "rewriting history" - in fact, of imposing "memory" over an accurate "history".

I would argue that the piece contains several important distortions, aside from trying to lump together a region from Colombia down to the Southern Cone.
The historical truth silenced by “memory” is that the cold war in Latin America was fought by two equally authoritarian sides.

But it was not. To take the example of Argentina, yes, there were Montoneros and there were incidences of left-wing violence before the 1976 coup. But to suggest that the small leftist group, which was largely destroyed before the military took power, was in any way equivalent to the forces of the State is very far off the mark.

The Economist points out that some human rights groups in Argentina tend to use the figure of 30,000 disappeared and it contrasts this with the nearly 9,000 victims recorded by the CONADEP commission. It is inaccurate and unfair to use the CONADEP list to undermine estimates of the disappeared, and I explained why in detail years ago. See also here for more on the numbers.
None of this mitigates the inexcusable barbarity of Pinochet or of the Argentine junta. 

The problem is that it does. You can't equate State terrorists with their victims, suggest that calculations of the disappeared are deliberately inflated, and then claim that you're not weakening the accounts of the dictatorships' crimes.

Memorials are a shorthand, yes. You can't include the whole complexities of a country's experiences on a plaque. Memory, in its wider sense, tends to include the testimonies of victims and relatives and it encompasses a whole range of commemorative acts, both formal and informal. Pulling out the memory/history dichotomy and reiterating the dos demonios theory ("each side was as bad as the other") is a means of obscuring human rights abuses and seeking to paper over the crimes of the past.