Sunday, 6 July 2014

Argentina: Mothers' headscarf recognised as national symbol

The white headscarf worn by the Madres de Plaza de Mayo has been declared an Argentina national symbol by the country's chamber of deputies.

A little bit of background: the mothers looking for their children in the early, and extremely dangerous, years of the dictatorship needed a way of identifying each other. They chose a white cloth nappy (diaper) to wear on their heads, but this soon developed into the proper headscarf, often with the name of their child embroidered on it. The mothers of the Linea Fundadora group (see image above) still wear these, but the Asociación Madres do not single out any one of the disappeared over the others. The headscarves are now painted on the square in the front of the Casa Rosada where the mothers have been gathering for over 30 years.

The initiative of Leonardo Grosso (FPV) was backed by 176 deputies, while seven voted against and four abstained. 

There has been some opposition to the move on social media, however, with users drawing attention to the links between the Madres group and the Kirchner regime, and the allegations of corruption the Madres have been linked with.

An editorial in La Nación also criticises the decision as one of "political correctness" and accuses it of fostering division in the country rather than reconciliation.

I do see the headscarf as an important symbol for Argentina, but I cannot deny that the reputation of the Madres (by which I am referring to the Asociación Madres led by Hebe Bonafini) has suffered in recent years. The group has broadened its mandate very significantly from a focus on justice for the disappeared to education and explicit political aims. It has also been linked with a shady housing scheme. It's hardly surprising if these things stick in people's minds more than, or alongside, the original uses of the iconic headscarf.

El pañuelo blanco de las Madres (Pagina/12)
Siete diputadas opositoras rechazaron declarar “emblema nacional” al pañuelo de las Madres (Telam)
Los pañuelos de las Madres de Plaza de Mayo serán símbolos patrios (La Gaceta)
Un nuevo e inaceptable emblema oficial de la Nación (La Nación)

Peruvian interior minister accused of murder

The new Peruvian interior minister, Daniel Urresti, has been accused of the murder of a journalist in 1988 when he was an intelligence officer fighting the Shining Path.

Ideele Radio broke the news that Urresti - a former soldier - is alleged to have been involved in the killing of Hugo Bustíos, of Caretas magazine, in 1988. Bustios was investigating extrajudicial killings in the Ayacucho region, which was the centre of the violence. He was unarmed and riding a motorbike when he was killed by the army.

Two military men, Víctor La Vera Hernández and Amador Vidal Sambento, were later convicted of the crime. Vidal has now pointed the finger at Urresti as having given the order.

It almost beggars belief that someone could take up a ministerial position with this hanging over them, but Urresti claims president Ollanta Humala knew of the accusation when he was appointed.

The interior minister denies that he ever met Bustios, and says he had no involvement in his murder. He stresses to La Republica that he was "brought up to have respect for life" and claims there is no proof of his guilt.

Humala appears to be backing Urresti so far, saying the government "does not see his guilt" and "believes in the presumption of innocence". Writing in El Comercio, Fernando Rospigliosi points out that some think that if "Carlos" (the nom de guerre of Ollanta Humala) can be president, why can't "Arturo" (Daniel Urresti) be interior minister?

The case is certain an illustration of the unresolved cases at the heart of the Peruvian political system. When it will be resolved remains unclear, since the prosecutor has indicated that he has other major cases to process first.

Ministro Urresti está procesado por el asesinato de periodista Hugo Bustíos (Ideele Radio)
Ministro Urresti es procesado por asesinato de periodista (La Republica)
Daniel Urresti: “No existe ninguna prueba sobre mi supuesta participación en el crimen de Bustíos” (La Republica)
Ollanta Humala: no vemos culpabilidad en Daniel Urresti (La Republica)
‘Carlos’ y ‘Arturo’, por Fernando Rospigliosi (El Comercio)

Guardian special report on transitional justice

I thought it was worth linking to this special report from the Guardian newspaper on how various countries, including Chile and Colombia, have dealt with their traumatic pasts. The article is necessarily an overview so it doesn't reveal much to someone who is already well-read about a particular country - but I'd be surprised if anyone was well-read about all those countries, and the transcontinental comparison is really interesting.
[Colombian] President Juan Manuel Santos, re-elected in June to a second term, denies impunity is on the table, but says demanding full punishment would derail peace. "If you ask a victim today he would lean towards having more justice," said Santos. "If you ask a future victim, he will lean more towards peace."

Special report: Truth, justice and reconciliation (Guardian)

Colombia: Axis of memory

Bogotá's Centro de Memoria, Paz y Reconciliación has been worked on what it calls "axes of memory". You can see on the website how they use Google maps to pinpoint sites of memory in the city, with images and information.

Peru: Captor of Abimael Guzmán arrested

This is an odd postscript to the capture of Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmán.

This week Benedicto Jiménez, the leader of the police squad which arrested the terrorist head, was himself arrested on suspicion of involvement in moneylaundering and organised crime. He was acting as the lawyer of Rodolfo Orellana, who is accused of masterminding a network of corruption in Peru.

Jiménez generally comes out of the Shining Path period as one of the good guys, so if these allegations are true it's disappointing.

Héroe en 1992... Villano en 2014... La historia de Benedicto Jiménez (
¡Cayeron! Benedicto Jiménez, detenido. Rodolfo Orellana, prófugo. Estas son TODAS las acusaciones en su contra (

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Argentina: RIP Clyde Snow

Forensic anthropologist Clyde Snow died just over a month ago aged 86. Sometimes known as the "Sherlock Holmes of bones", he played a key role in training Argentine forensic anthropologists to identify victims of the country's dictatorship. He also worked with remains in El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, Brazil and other countries outside Latin America. One of his major achievements was helping to identify fugitive Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele.
“Witnesses may forget throughout the years, but the dead, those skeletons, they don’t forget,” he told The Times in 2002. “Their testimony is silent, but it is also very eloquent.”
 Argentine human rights defenders expressed their gratitude to Snow.
Chicha Mariani, founder of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, told the Herald last week how grateful she was to him for his work: “He was such a good man, he dedicated so much of his time to us.”
The Argentine forensic team went on to advise others, including those from Peru, so Snow's pioneering work continues to contribute to clearing up atrocities all around the world.

Clyde Snow, Sleuth Who Read Bones From King Tut’s to Kennedy’s, Dies at 86 (NY Times)
Clyde Snow - obituary (Telegraph)
Stories in bones (The Economist)
Farewell to the Sherlock Holmes of bones (The Buenos Aires Herald)
Un hombre que hizo justicia con la ciencia (Pagina/12)

Chile: The Year I was Born

A couple of years ago, I wrote briefly about Lola Arias' play My Life After (Mi vida despues) in which the Argentine characters discuss their parents and their involvement in the dictatorship. Now, Arias has turned to Chile with a piece called The Year I was Born (El Año en que nací), which also uses material like photos, letters and old clothing in the performance.

As the name suggests, the cast were all born during the Pinochet dictatorship.
"To be part of this show was a big decision for all of those involved and not always an easy one," explains Arias. "Those whose family history includes relatives who were killed or suffered badly under Pinochet stand side by side on stage with those whose family members worked for the regime. Some come from families who chose to stay and resist, and others from those who went into exile."
While Viviana Hernandez was researching her history for the show, she discovered that the father she had been told was dead is serving a prison sentence for his part in the murder of two opponents of the Pinochet regime.

Pinochet generation draw on real-life tensions to play out Chile's dark days (Guardian)

For more on Hernandez' amazing story, see: The Father I Never Knew