Foreign Policy has published a piece I wrote on how South American dictatorships can provide important lessons for Egyptians clamoring for military rule:
As Egypt struggles to cope with economic turmoil and political divisions, citizens are increasingly seeking alternatives to the current Muslim Brotherhood government. Discontent with the religious tenor of Islamist rule and rhetoric under Mohammed Morsy, some opponents of the current Egyptian government are now looking to the military for help, viewing the military as a legitimate political actor that could intervene and save the country before the Muslim Brotherhood’s government becomes entrenched.
These pleas sound remarkably similar to those used by Brazilians, Chileans, Argentines, Paraguayans, and Uruguayans who were discontent with their own governments in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Their tortured histories provide powerful reminders of what can happen when people turn to the military as a country’s savior. During the second half of the 20th century, military regimes in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, all came to power in ways that many Egyptians now seem keen to emulate. However, far from “saving” their societies, these military regimes relied on political repression, torture, and state-sponsored terrorism, even while reaffirming the economic policies that created instability and led to a “lost decade” for the region in the 1980s.
You can read the whole thing here [it requires registration, but it is free].
Greg Weeks points to this incredible, if harrowing, collection of photos from Operation Condor. The photos were found in Paraguay’s “Archives of Terror,” which documented the deaths of tens of thousands of South Americans at the hands of military regimes and the collaboration between dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Peru. We can and do talk about the horrors of human rights violations, the injustices of regimes that extrajudicially murdered their own citizens, and the sheer numbers of those who died under such regimes, but there is something about the photographs like those from Operation Condor that convey in a unique way exactly what that violence looked like on a daily basis for many.
-Though the higher-profile case, the conviction of Guatemala’s Efraín Ríos Montt was not the only triumph for human rights and justice last week. In Uruguay, General Miguel Dalmao was sentenced to 28 years in prison for his role in the murder of a professor during Uruguay’s military dictatorship (1973-1985).
-Brazilian indigenous peoples have once again occupied the site of the Belo Monte Dam to protest the impact it would have on their lands and on the environment, even while government officials accused the indigenous people of being tied to illegal gold-mining. Though failing to provide any actual evidence of mining among indigenous peoples, the government’s charge is discursively not-insignificant; illegal gold mining takes a significant toll on the environment, while arguments against the dam are often predicated upon the negative impact it will have on the environment. By leveling such accusations, the government seems to be trying to delegitimize indigenous claims by portraying them (again, without offering any actual evidence) as hypocrites who protest environmental damage even while enriching themselves through other forms of environmental degradation.
-In another reminder of the detrimental impacts of liberalization of markets and free trade agreements on local economies, over one hundred thousand Colombian farmers have gone on strike in protest over the weakening of the Colombian agricultural sector, as cheaper products from North America and elsewhere flood the Colombian market, destroying the livelihoods and jobs of Colombian farmers.
-In a powerful reminder that in military dictatorships, members of the military can and do also suffer repression, sixteen Brazilian soldiers spoke before the Brazilian Truth Commission, testifying about the persecution and torture they suffered when they remained loyal to the government of João Goulart, whom the military overthrew in a coup in 1964.
-Pope Francis proclaimed sainthood status for hundreds this past weekend. Included on the list were Mexican María Guadalupe García Zavala and Colombian Laura Montoya, the first saint from Colombia. However, not all popular saints (those whom people praise as saints but who lack official canonization from the Church) received the Pope’s endorsement, as the Vatican recently declared Mexico’s Santa Muerte, or “Holy Death,” to be “blasphemous.”
-Hundreds of Cubans, led by Mariela Castro, marched against homophobia in Cuba, seeking to further equal rights and treatment for members of the LGBT who have faced cultural, social, and political repression over the years.
-Speaking of homophobia and hatred, homophobic Brazilian congressman Marco Feliciano (who is currently the head of Congress’s human rights commission, offering a sad commentary on the nature of Brazilian congressional politics), cancelled a hearing on a homophobic project to find a “cure” for homosexuality after having earlier taken to Twitter to defend his project.
-After months of relative silence, former Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide has recently begun speaking out about the challenges facing Haiti and offering some criticisms of the current government of Michel Martelly.
-Finally, Brazil has announced a plan to bring thousands of Cuban doctors to Brazil to help in Brazil’s underserved areas. Greg Weeks does a great job unpacking the various aspects of the story, including how the plan reflects ongoing inequalities in Brazil (a sample take-away point: “When asked if any doctor was better than no doctor, CFM President Carlos Vital responded in the negative. “Pseudo treatment is worse than no treatment,” he said. “If you don’t have a doctor in your city, you can go to the next city and have a quality doctor.” Sure, just go 100 miles to the next city if you don’t have a doctor. Nothing to see here!”)
There has been a recent wave of stories regarding human rights in Latin America in both the past and present worth covering.
-With the ongoing issue of the disappeared in Mexico in the 21st century, and, after a tortuous path that saw initial rejection before Enrique Peña Nieto signed it into law, there is now a Victims’ Law that seeks to provide compensation and closure for families whose loved ones have gone missing. While the law has some issues to work out, and while it’s not clear how it will be institutionalized, it’s an important step in dealing with the issue of violence and memory in Mexico.
-In Uruguay, hundreds gathered to protest a Supreme Court ruling that effectively restores an amnesty that exempts military members who committed human rights violations during the Uruguayan dictatorship of 1973-1985. Congress had initially overturned the amnesty in 2011.
-The recent death of former New York mayor and congressman Ed Koch brought a reminder of his human rights efforts. In the 1970s, Koch sponsored legislation to cut off funding to Uruguay after reports of human rights violations under its dictatorship. The legislation was ultimately successful, and, as detailed in John Dinges’ excellent The Condor Years, two Uruguayan officials threatened to assassinate Koch. Although the CIA discovered the death threat in July 1976, it was only in October that CIA Director George H.W. Bush told Koch of the threat.
-Families of victims of the Stroessner dictatorship (1954-1989) used the 24th anniversary of his downfall to demand justice for the more than 400 people murdered and disappeared and the 20,000 detained and often tortured during his regime.
-In a disturbing trend, the number of attacks on and murders of human rights defenders and activists has increased, with a murder every five days on average, and an attack once every 20 hours on average. Suffice to say, the attacks undermine efforts to ensure human rights in Colombia are respected.
-Mike Allison recently put the degree of human rights violations during Guatemala’s Civil War in succinct but devastating terms that shows the common flaw of the “both sides committed atrocities” arguments in Guatemala: “Of the 1,112 massacres (more than four people but usually much more than four), government forces were responsible for 1,046 (94.06%). Government forces include the army, military commissions, PACs, death squads, and police. [...] The guerrillas were responsible for 46 (4.14%).” It’s hard to imagine a more disproportionate use of state force and terror than that.
-While former human rights violators in Argentina have been sentenced to house arrest, it turns out that the “punishment” is in many ways nominal, as rights violators continue to move freely about in public, pointing to real loopholes and problems in enforcing more lenient “punishments” for older rights violators.
-Authorities in Brazil arrested 61-year-old Gonzalo Sánchez, a fugitive Argentine officer charged with participating in the torture, murder, and disappearance of dozens during the military dictatorship.
-With Dutch monarch Queen Beatrix recently stepping down, her son Prince Willem-Alexander is set to assume the (symbolic) throne, creating the first ever “Argentine Princess.” For Prince Willem-Alexander’s wife is Argentine Máxima Zorreguieta. However, while Argentina has celebrated at the rise of one of its own citizens, it turns out her past is not without its own dark roots, as her father was Minister of Justice under General Jorge Videla, when the government tortured, murdered, and disappeared tens of thousands, during the military dictatorship of 1976-1983.
-A couple of years ago, I posted a series of photos (here, here, here, here, here, and here) on ways in which the Argentine dictatorship continued to be criticized and memorialized in public spaces. Lillie Langtry points us to this article (in Spanish) with more examples of how Argentines continue to remember the regime and its victims, thirty years after it finally collapsed.
-Speaking of public space and memory, many of the prisons and sites where torture took place during Brazil’s dictatorship are disappearing from public space in São Paulo. The destruction of these buildings is significant, as they served as physical memory-sites that served to remind people of the deeds and impact of the military dictatorship; as scholarship on memory, human rights, and space has repeatedly demonstrated, the removal of such buildings can and does accelerate the receding of memorialization of human rights violations in public memory itself.
-It’s not just the physical landscapes of cities where the dictatorship is disappearing. Brazil’s military schools sadly, if unsurprisingly, are using textbooks that gloss over or ignore the military dictatorship and its deeds (original in Portuguese here), prompting scholars and members of the Truth Commission to suggest the need to overhaul military educational materials so as to better address Brazil’s past for future soldiers and officers.
-Even while markers of the dictatorship disappear both from public spaces and textbooks, however, the deeds of the dictatorship are being recorded in other ways. Brazil’s Truth Commission, which has been drawing on interviews, documentary evidence, testimony, and other materials to investigate the regime’s deeds, recently reopened an investigation into the death of former president Juscelino Kubitschek. Kubitschek, who was one of the regime’s highest-profile critics after 1965, died in a car crash in 1976, and rumors swirled around his death, including the possibility that the regime forced the crash (rumors aided by the fact that another high profile critic, fashion designer Zuzu Angel, whose son the regime “disappeared,” died in similar circumstances that the state ultimately acknowledged responsibility for).
-Not all are happy with the Truth Commission, however. Marcelo Rubens Paiva, the son of a politician who the regime arrested and disappeared, criticized the commission for being “timid” and needed to be firmer and stronger in its investigations.
-While the Truth Commission investigates the deaths of people the regime killed, the Organization of American States has announced it will launch its own investigation into the death of Vladimir Herzog, a journalist who died under torture during the administration of Ernesto Geisel.
-Meanwhile, a former torturer was recently discovered as having worked as a teacher for 24 years before his death in 2009. Under a false name, Cleber de Souza Rocha taught geography classes in São Paulo, often showing up to class drunk.
-The recent execution-style killing of Cícero Guedes, a leader for land reform and peasants’ rights in Brazil, provided another tragic reminder of the dictatorship, as his murder took place in a region where the dictatorship killed and disappeared land activists during its most repressive years.
-While Chile has had several official investigations into the Pinochet regime’s rights violations, some mysteries remain unsolved. One of those mysteries is how Pablo Neruda died. Officials are exhuming the Nobel laureate’s body to see if he may have been poisoned when he died just twelve days after the Pinochet regime overthrew democratically-elected president Salvador Allende.
-Neruda isn’t the only high-profile cultural figure who died in the Pinochet era. The regime infamously arrested and cut off the hands of folk singer Victor Jara before ultimately murdering him. In the wake of the arrest of several officers connected to his death, J. Patrice McSherry has this great report on the case, its history, where it stands, and the impact of his widow Joan’s efforts to keep the case and his memory alive.
Brazil’s Truth Commission continues to conduct hearings and accept testimony from a variety of witnesses as it investigates human rights violations during the military regime of 1964-1985. Much of this testimony has been helpful in further fleshing out details that were previously assumed or generally known, helping to further enrich our understanding of the regime’s repressive measures and their impacts on those who were tortured or suffered political persecution in both the short- and long-terms. However, some of the testimony has been a bit surprising, perhaps most notably the testimony of Jair Krischke, who claimed that Brazil’s military regime was the “mastermind” behind Operation Condor.
Suffice to say, this is a somewhat surprising claim. Thanks to John Dinges’s excellent work, in which he worked in the (at the time) relatively-underutilized “Archives of Terror” in Paraguay, we know a good deal about Operation Condor. At its most basic level, the intelligence services from right-wing military regimes in Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, and Peru collaborated in political repression, torture, and “disappearing” alleged “subversives” from the region in an attempt to stamp out what they viewed as the communist threat. Through Operation Condor, which formally (albeit secretly) began in 1975, these countries would trace exiles’ movement throughout the region, and assist one another either by arresting and extraditing political targets to their home countries, or by torturing, murdering, and disappearing exiles from other countries (e.g., Argentina’s repressive forces would arrest and torture a Chilean exile). Operation Condor took the repressive violence of these regimes into the international arena, including not just the torture and disappearances of political opponents in the region, but even the attempted assassination on Chilean Bernardo Leighton in Rome in 1976 or the successful assassination of Orlando Letelier in a car bomb in Washington D.C. in 1976. Though the military regimes of South America collaborated, scholarship suggests that Augusto Pinochet’s government played the central role in Operation Condor’s operation, from its creation in 1975 onward, something Dinges’s work compellingly argues.
Which is why Krischke’s recent claims about Brazil’s role as a “mastermind” in Operation Condor are intriguing. Krischke points to Brazil’s use of torture and political repression in the immediate aftermath of the 1964 coup and in the increasing repression of the “years of lead” under Artur Costa e Silva (1967-1969) and Emílio Garrastazu Médici (1969-1974) as setting the stage for broader international collaboration between the new right-wing dictatorships in Bolivia (1971), Chile (1973), Uruguay (1973), Argentina (1976), and Peru (which joined Condor in 1980). Admittedly, Brazil did set the stage for many of the military regimes that followed (only Alfredo Stroessner’s dictatorship, begun in 1954, preceded Brazil’s), something that scholarship tends to overlook (too often, one sees phrases along the line of “the South American dictatorships of the 1970s”). Likewise, Brazil (and Paraguay) were among the first to use the types of repression and terror that would come to define the right-wing dictatorships throughout the region, albeit to varying degrees. But Krischke’s claim that Brazil “created” Operation Condor seems to stretch Brazil’s role to somewhat incredible degree. The mechanisms of repression and torture may have appeared in Brazil before in Chile and elsewhere, but Dinges’s work again does a very good job of showing just how involved Pinochet was, and how much the establishment of Operation Condor was a Chilean initiative. Indeed, by 1975, when these countries formed the secretive pact, Brazilian president Ernesto Geisel had already begun the process of “distensão,” or a gradual move away from the most repressive phase of the Brazilian dictatorship. Though Brazil was involved with Operation Condor, it was not nearly as dominant as Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, or Paraguay. That’s not to deny culpability or responsibility to Brazil’s regime, but it is to contextualize what we know about Operation Condor, and different member countries’ involvement in it. Either Krischke’s claims are overstated, or we will be forced to completely reevaluate Condor’s origins and history; given the detailed research from people like Dinges and Peter Kornbluh and the political context of Brazilian military politics at the time of Operation Condor, it seems likely that Krischke’s claims, while perhaps not-incorrect in some regards, are an overstatement of Brazil’s involvement in Condor.
The New York Times recently ran an excellent story discussing the challenges facing Peruvian society, culture, and politics as the country continues to try to confront the past of a civil war that tore the world’s 20th-largest country apart in the 1980s and 1990s as leftist guerrilla movements and the Peruvian government entered into an increasingly escalating civil war that left civilian populations caught in the middle. As is the case with other South American countries that faced civil conflict and human rights violations in the latter half of the twentieth century, the issues confronting Peru provide a powerful reminder of the ways in which memory struggles continue to impact and affect society even decades after the violence “officially” ends.
Peru’s civil war began in 1980. That year, the country held presidential elections for the first time after twelve years during which the Peruvian military governed. The day before elections, five members of the Partido Comunista del Perú-Sendero Luminoso (the Communist Party of Peru-Shining Path, later known simply as Shining Path) burned ballots in a public display of protest. The Shining Path, a Maoist group founded by Abimael Guzmán with roots in the Andean highlands region surrounding Ayacucho, called for an open war against “imperialism” and the “bourgeois” democracy of Peru (hence the destruction of ballots on the eve of the 1980s election). Leaders and intellectuals in Shining Path sought cultural revolution and a dictatorship of the proletariat that they argued (or hoped) would lead to a worldwide revolution and the emergence of new, forms and understandings of democratic societies. While the movement proclaimed its goal to incorporate and fight for the Peruvian masses along class lines (even actively encouraging women to join its forces, a rare policy among guerrilla movements in the region at the time), although this broad support never materialized, and the movement counted upon only several thousand supporters in a country of more than 17 million citizens at the start of the conflict.
Periodic skirmishes took place from 1980 until the end of 1982, when the “Manchay Tiempo,” or “Time of Fear” (in Quechua and Spanish) began. Bewteen 1982 and the end of the 1980s, the Shining Path and other guerrilla movements targeted any and all individuals it associated with the Peruvian state, including police officers, mayors, teachers, and civil servants, many of whom were far from economic or political elites. In response, the government, then headed by president Fernando Belaúnde, opted for military intervention, leading to an escalation in violence from both the guerrillas and the military, with the Peruvian population caught in the middle. By 1985, 27 provinces were in a state of emergency, and over 5,000 people had died or been murdered in political violence that often targeted citizens who were not associated with either the government or the Shining Path. In a militarized state of exception, Peruvian armed forces arrested, murdered, and “disappeared” more than 1,000 peasants it suspected of having ties to the Shining Path and other emergent guerrilla movements (like the Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru, named after the leader of a 1780 uprising in colonial Peru). The military destroyed any village that aided or even showed the slightest sympathy for the guerilla movements; in response, the Shining Path’s guerrillas murdered any who disagreed with it or whom it suspected of aiding the Peruvian government. As a result, by the end of the 1980s, tens of thousands of people had died at the hands of the guerrillas or the military, and entire regions were emptied as people tried to flee the violence. Although the Peruvian government captured Guzmán in 1992, the administration of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) continued to go after guerrillas and any it suspected of supporting it, thereby perpetuating human rights violations that ultimately landed Fujimori in prison for his role in state-sanctioned violence just as Guzmán was imprisoned for his role in guerilla-violence. By the end of the 1990s, the violence had noticeably wound down, with Fujimori’s exit from office (amidst evidence of electoral fraud and corruption) marking the end of the conflict for many (though isolated instances of violence continued, albeit not nearly on the scale as during the 1980s and early-1990s). Ultimately, Peru formed a truth commission that interviewed over 15,000 victims of political violence, finding that over 69,000 people had died in the civil strife between 1980 and 2000.
Although the truth commission completed its work, the legacies of the war continue to make themselves felt in society far beyond the ongoing periodic instances of small-scale guerrilla violence (though that violence is certainly not small to the victims). There continues to be significant support for Fujimori, whose daughter Keiko was nearly elected president in 2011. Additionally, a new generation of youth that has no memory of the “Time of Fear” is supportive of and seeing the Shining Path as a legitimate political party. And while Guzmán and Fujimori both serve time for their roles in the murder of Peruvian civilians, the question of justice for human rights abuses has not faded with time; indeed, new evidence continuously emerges that shows the extent of state violence and the military’s own use of summary executions in what had previously been seen as “heroic” acts, undermining and complicating narratives and understandings of the Civil War that framed the Shining Path as the group primarily responsible for violence. Thus, more than twelve years after the Truth Commission’s final report, Peru continues to struggle with memory and narrative as it deals with the impact of violence and human rights violations on society and politics, confront the issue of if and how to assign culpability and/or prosecute past violators, and how to commemorate the recent past.
Of course, as several of us have discussed here, memory struggles are an important ongoing issue throughout Latin America. More than twenty years after the last military dictatorship in South America collapsed, the Southern Cone countries of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay are still facing the challenges and struggles over if and how society and the state should remember, commemorate, ignore, or move on from the legacies of systematic human rights violations. Their own experiences in confronting the past may provide some important lessons and examples for Peru. However, Peru’s case from its Southern Cone neighbors is significantly different in three regards.
First, the political contexts were markedly different. Peru’s civil war took place during a comparatively open democratic system. By contrast, the human rights violations in the Southern Cone in the 1960s-1980s took place in the context of bureaucratic authoritarian dictatorships that did not hesitate to employ brutal forms of torture (including administering electric shocks to prisoners’ ears, mouths, and genitals; committing rape on both women and men; using simulated executions; sleep deprivation; random incidents of assault; and other mechanisms of torture) against anybody they considered to be threats to the state or society as “subversives.” Within these repressive dictatorships, military officials and soldiers tortured tens of thousands of individuals and murdered and “disappeared” tens of thousands more between 1954 and 1990. The governments even collaborated together to ensure that perceived “enemies” of one country who resided in another were arrested, tortured, and even killed. ] Certainly, these actions in some regards resemble those committed in Peru, and the use of states of exception and increased militarization in Peru and the facade of elections at the local level in the Southern cone make the differences between the two cases blurrier than a simple “democracy/dictatorship” dichotomy allows for. Nonetheless, these institutional differences matter, for they shaped the ways in which leaders of the respective countries could and did act against what they perceived as threats against the state (and the defenses of those actions). While Peru’s government did employ terror, murder, and “disappearances” like its southern neighbors, the existence of a democratically-elected civilian government there made it more difficult (though not impossible) for Peruvian presidents to employ the types of repression that the Southern Cone utilized.
The second difference rests in the nature of guerrilla movements in Peru and in the Southern Cone. As mentioned above, the Shining Path ultimately was able to mobilize several thousand troops in its war against the Peruvian state. By contrast, the openly repressive nature of the Southern Cone’s military regimes, combined with internal divisions and factions within leftist groups that split over how to fight and for what to fight, ultimately stunted the ability for large-scale guerrilla movements like the Shining Path to form. As a result, the Southern Cone generally confronted a situation in which the more centralized, coherent, and larger forces of military regimes were able to use broad information networks, repression, and the sheer size of the national military to stamp out much smaller guerrilla movements. Indeed, Brazil’s largest rural guerrilla movement in Araguaia never counted on more than seventy or so members (and, in this regard, the experiences of radical leftists in Brazil did not differ much from their counterparts in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay), a far cry from the thousands of guerrillas in the Shining Path.
The third difference flows directly from the second one, and involves the impact of guerrilla violence on local populations. Because the guerrilla movements of the Southern Cone were much smaller than the Shining Path or MRTA in Peru, and because they were resisting repressive authoritarian regimes, the violence of these guerrilla movements generally did not target civilians. Certainly, many groups (including the guerrillas in Araguaia) tried to “educate” civilians and recruit local support from civilian populations, but specific acts against non-military populations were extremely rare throughout the Southern Cone. By contrast, the Shining Path, the MRTA, and other offshoots were sizeable enough and controlled enough territory not only to directly challenge the Peruvian state, but to inflict a much broader and deeper level of violence against civilian populations that it deemed “unsupportive” of the guerillas’ demands. Thus it was that thousands of civilians unaffiliated either with the guerrillas or with the government died at the hands of the Shining Path, an experience that civilian populations of the Southern Cone by and large were spared from.
If one wants to find a useful point of comparison for the types of violence Peruvian peoples confronted during the civil war, the place to look is not to Peru’s south, but to its north. In terms of violence and the context of human rights violations, Peru much more closely resembles Colombia than it does the bureaucratic dictatorships of the Southern Cone. Since 1964, Colombia (like Peru) has faced a protracted civil war between guerrilla movements (in this case, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC, and other offshoots) and Colombian armed forces,as well as right-wing paramilitary groups. Like Peru, Colombia has been engaged in an open armed civil struggle for decades even while successfully maintaining continuity in relatively open democratic processes and institutions; like Peru, the guerrillas in Colombia could count on a larger memebership than guerrilla movements in the Southern Cone, and thus could more directly impact the lives of civilians not directly involved in the struggle (especially in the countryside); and like Peru, Colombian civilians allied neither with leftists nor with the government have nonetheless witnessed basic human rights violations at the hands of the opposing forces, with tens of thousands of civilians dead in the armed struggle. Certainly, there are significant differences between the two, including Colombian guerrilla movements and paramilitary groups alike having direct ties to the drug trade and the role of US corporations, most notably Chiquita, that provided financial support to right-wing death squads. Yet in terms of increased militarization in a (relatively) democratic context, in terms of the types of guerrilla institutions and mobilization, and the impact on society (including death tolls), and in terms of the impact on a variety of social sectors throughout the country, Peru’s recent past more closely resembles that of Colombia than of the military regimes of the Southern Cone.
That is not to say that the memory struggles of the Southern Cone have nothing to offer in terms of understanding the issues Peru is confronting or how the country confronts its past. Indeed, in broad strokes, the recent memory struggles and quests for justice in the Southern Cone point us towards some of the issues that Peru confronts today. Like their counterparts in the Southern Cone did (and continue to do), Peruvian citizens still face difficult questions over issues of human rights violations, memory, and public commemoration and/or memorialization. Like their counterparts in the Southern Cone did (and continue to do), Peruvian citizens still face difficult questions over issues of human rights violations, memory, and public commemoration and/or memorialization, questions on how they should mark the past and remember it, and why.These are not meaningless, esoteric issues, either; as numerous scholars across a variety of fields have suggested, questions of memory cut to the heart of issues of nation and historical narrative in Latin America in the twenty-first century. They tell us what countries value in their national narrative; they tell us who is included or excluded from shaping that narrative; they tell us what potential counter-narratives exist or may emerge, and from whom; they establish new hierarchies and networks of power within national politics and society; they shape and define national political processes not just in the past, but in the present sand future as well.
For these reasons, it is worth paying attention to Peru as it continues to confront its past. Because while the historical contexts and the legacies of violence in Peru may be unique, the way it faces that past and constructs society going forward can tell us much more about memory struggles and the legacies of violence (state and guerrilla) on societies decades after the last shots are fired.
-While Mexicans try to cope with the damages of the 7.4 magnitude earthquake that struck on Tuesday, there is some silver lining. Although structural damage was not-insignificant, nobody died in the quake, suggesting Mexico is “better prepared” for an earthquake after 1985′s disastrous 8.0 earthquake pointed to real design and structural problems with building codes.
-On behalf of the government, Uruguayan President José Mujica accepted responsibility for the death of Maria Claudia Garcia, the daughter-in-law of Argentine poet Juan Gelman, during the Uruguayan military regime of 1973-1985. The 19-year-old died while in custody of Uruguayan troops who had arrested her under the auspices of regional collaboration between right-wing military dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil in the 1970s (with assistance from the United States) .
-A new report says illegal logging in Brazil is threatening the Awa people of the eastern Amazonian basin, one of the world’s most “endangered” indigenous groups.
-Colombian armed forces killed 33 members of the FARC guerrilla movement yesterday as part of a new governmental strategy that targets financial and military targets, rather than focusing on the FARC leadership. There is no word yet as to whether this attack will derail the FARC’s pledge to release 10 police soldiers the guerrillas had taken hostage.
-Ex-soldiers who served in Argentina’s Patagonian region during the Malvinas War occupied the Torre Monumental in protest this week, demanding that they too be recognized as official war veterans for serving during the war even while not fighting directly in the theater of combat.
-Mexican courts have rejected a Frenchwoman’s appeal who says her 60-year sentence for kidnapping was unjust. In 2005, Florence Cassez was convicted in helping a kidnapping gang led by her then-boyfriend, though she insisted she knew nothing of the kidnappings. The case has divided the French, who believe Cassez has been unfairly punished, and Mexicans, who generally support her conviction and sentence, even as the case is one of several that also has forced Mexicans to ask questions about the ways in which the arrest- and sentencing-process is carried out in their home country.
-Reuters has a profile up on the Brazilian prosecutor behind efforts to charge Chevron executives for offshore oil spills that have recently struck Brazil.
-Finally, Mexican tequila mogul Julio Gonzalez Estrada has died at the age of 87. Estrada, who began making tequila as a teenager trying to support his family, ended up being one of the key figures in making premium tequilas popular outside of Mexico.
-One of the remaining leaders of Peru’s guerrilla movement Shining Path recently hinted that the movement had been defeated and that the guerrillas were willing to negotiate with the Peruvian government.
-Speaking of guerrilla movements, the U.S. government is aiding Paraguay with equipment and “training” as the land-locked South American country tries to suppress the Ejército Popular de Paraguay uprising in the northern part of the country.
-Popular Mechanics has an excellent article up that uses flight recorder data to analyze blow by blow the events that led to the 2009 crash of Air France 447. It’s a fascinating if horrifying account of what went on in the cabin in that flight, and only reinforces the terror and fear those passengers must have felt. More importantly going forward, however, the article has some frightening conclusions. I won’t ruin too much, but among other things? Increased computerization of the flight process may make the tragedy of Air France more likely in the future.
-Another in the excellent “What is Latin America saying about China?” for the month of November is up over at the China and Latin America blog.
-Brazil is launching a massive effort to combat the increasing use of crack cocaine in the country.
-Chilean students protesting the worsening conditions and elite nature of education in Chile are not alone in their complaints. UNESCO recently released a report that says Chilean education leads to “exclusion and discrimination.”
-Greg Weeks has an excellent op-ed in the Miami Herald that suggests that argues Latin America would have expanded its global emphasis in seeking trade partners whether or not U.S. policy emphasized Latin America.
-The Uruguayan army has pledged not to cover up or protect those responsible for the murders and disappearances of victims who have recently been discovered. Time will tell if the generals are true to their word.
-Apparently, after the failure of Bay of Pigs, Cuban exile pilots went to the Congo to fight leftists there.
-Of the many ways to die, suicide by piranha is among the odder options.
-Chile has requested the extradition of an ex-officer from the US Army for his role in human rights violations and murder. Raymond E. Davis is wanted for his role in the murder of two American citizens, including Charles Horman, in Chile in the days following the September 11 military coup in 1973. Horman’s story was made famous in the remarkable 1982 film Missing, in which Jack Lemmon portrays Horman’s father trying to find out what happened to his son.
-The University of Texas has made available millions of documents related to torture, murder, and “disappearances” of victims of the Guatemalan military between the 1960s and 1996. The documents shed even more light on the depth of horror and systematic practice of human rights violations in the Central American country, and are a boon for human rights activists and historians alike.
-Officials in Uruguay have unearthed the remains of another victim of the military dictatorship of 1975-1983. The body of Julio Castro, a teacher who was taken to a detention center in 1977 and never seen again, was uncovered on a military installation. While the discovery does not shed any new light on the human rights abuses of the military regime in Uruguay, it does give Castro’s family and friends the opportunity to have some closure over the fate of their loved one.
-The lower house in Chile’s Congress passed a governmental education budget that had met the opposition of the center-left and, more visibly, students. The vote, which easily passed the Senate when the opposition abstained, passed the house by a 3-vote margin. Meanwhile, Chilean students vowed to continue protests and marches, demanding free tuition, a greater state presence in education (rather than private initiative), and reforms ot the educational system.
-Argentina has recognized the rights of transsexual members of the police and armed forces to self-identify by recognizing their adopted identities that individuals in the transsexual community have adopted.
-The 2010 election of Dilma Rousseff in Brazil is showing real returns for women in politics, as a record number of women candidates are running for office in Minas Gerais, one of Brazil’s largest and more powerful states.
-The head of Mexico’s PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), Humberto Moreira, has stepped down after a financial scandal that witnessed the disappearance of public money during his term as governor of the state of Coahuila. While there is no direct connection between Moreira’s actions as governor and the candidacy of PRI presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, the accusations do undermine the PRI’s claims that it has reformed. The PRI, which governed Mexico from 1929-2000, became increasingly associated with corruption and politicians enriching themselves while serving in office from the 1950s onward.
-The “Occupy” movement arrived to El Salvador, as protesters gathered outside the U.S. Embassy to demonstrate against free-trade policies and business models that continue to work against the majority of the population not only in the U.S., but throughout the world.
-Mexican activist Norma Andrade was shot and wounded this week in what police are initially claiming was a robbery attempt. Andrade is known for her role in speaking out against the murders of women in Ciudad Juárez, many of which have gone uninvestigated even as the numbers officially exceed 400, although unofficial estimates place the numbers in the thousands. While Andrade may have been wounded in a simple robbery, the fact that another anti-violence activist, Nepomuceno Moreno, who spoke out against his son’s murder, was also murdered this past week, suggests at least the possibility of a more politically-motivated attack on Andrade.
-Some U.S. officials are considering the possibility of withdrawing support for Nicaragua in the wake of questionable elections in November that witnessed the election of Daniel Ortega to a third term as president (and second consecutive term).
-For the first time in its history, Brazilian census data has found that a majority of Brazilians define themselves as black or mixed race. To be clear, this isn’t the first time Afro-descendants are the majority in Brazil’s history; they regularly outnumbered the Portuguese in the early colonial period as slavery took hold in the Northeast. And certainly, census data has its own problems in terms of how categories are created and defined, how people identify (or are identified), and other issues. Still, this is a big story if for no other reason than this marks the first time that a majority of Brazilians have been comfortable acknowledging their own status as at least partly Afro-Brazilian at the personal level.
-Lillie has an excellent roundup on the immediate impact of Uruguay’s recent decision to revoke the amnesty law from it’s military dictatorship of 1975-1983. Reports and cases have already been filed for hundreds of victims, hopefully allowing them to begin proceedings against their torturers and against those who murdered their loved ones and ultimately bringing at least some small degree of closure to those who suffered for decades.
-This blog has focused heavily on the 20th-century military dictatorships of countries like Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Peru, but they were not the only countries who violated human rights. Mexico [whose Institutional Revolutionary Party scholars now consider a "party dictatorship"] had its own share of repressive violence, most notably in the 1968 Massacre in Tlatelolco. That was not the only example of state-sponsored violence and tactics common to Latin American dictatorships, however, as many opponents to the government also were “disappeared” in this period, including folk singer Rosendo Radilla, who sympathized with guerrilla movements. Radilla was last seen at an army checkpoint in 1974, and his fate remains unknown to this day. This week, the Mexican government apologized for his disappearance.
-Speaking of violence in Mexico, Human Rights Watch has issued its findings on human rights abuses in Mexico’s drug wars. Suffice to say, the results are not good; among other things, formal abuse complaints increased from 691 between 2003-2006 to 4803 between 2007-2010.
-Brazilian officials are defending themselves against accusations that their recent invasion of Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, was a media spectacle and little else. Meanwhile, the always-outstanding Rio Real has excellent photos and a write-up on the invasion itself, its execution, and implications for what it means going forward.
-Peru’s Vice President, Omar Chehade, has stepped down over allegations of corruption.
-Students in Colombia have ended their month-long strike over educational reforms after Congress withdrew the educational reform legislation that had spurred the protests.
-Also in Colombia, the government continues its efforts to completely and finally dismantle the FARC by launching an ad campaign designed to target child-soldiers in the FARC (as well as those thinking of joining the guerrilla movement).
-Brazil has granted residency to a Brazilian citizen’s spouse. While this happens on a daily basis, this particular event is notable in that it is the first time it has granted residency to a same-sex couple, making Brazil one of the most open and accepting countries in the Western hemisphere in terms of legal rights for same-sex couples.
-Facing economic turmoil at home and throughout Europe, some Spaniards are again migrating to Argentina. Although nowhere near the size of the immigration wave to Argentina that took place in the late-19th and early-20th century, over 24,000 Spaniards migrated to Argentina in 2010 alone.
-Outgoing Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom has authorized the extradition of former president Alfonso Portillo to the United States over charges of money-laundering. Portillo, who served from 2000-2004, is accused of laundering over $70 million during his time in office, charges he denies. Colom is leaving office after the recent election of conservative ex-general Otto Perez Molina.
-A São Paulo man can now add ”getting drunk and then invading the pen of spider monkeys” to the list of things that aren’t a good idea.
-Finally, it is no secret that Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of the seminal band Sonic Youth are separating, throwing the future of the band (in its thirtieth year) into doubt, and they may have played their last show in São Paulo. You can watch the show in its entirety here.