Archive for the ‘Alfredo Stroessner’ Category

On South America’s Lessons for Egypt

June 19, 2013 Comments off

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].

South American Dictatorships in Images

May 17, 2013 1 comment

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.

Around Latin America [Human Rights Edition]

February 28, 2013 Comments off

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 (hereherehereherehere, 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.

Paraguay’s “Argo”

February 25, 2013 Comments off

Apparently, Argo wasn’t the only stranger-than-fiction story of its kind. In Paraguay, former members of Argentina’s Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (People’s Revolutionary Army; ERP) hatched a similar plan to assassinate Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle. Anastasio was the third in a line of Somozas who had exercised dictatorial authority in Nicaragua since the early-1930s. By 1979, the Somoza family owned 20% of the soil in the country, and had practiced both widespread repression and corruption so grotesque as to defy any sense of decency. When a massive earthquake struck in 1972, destroying much of the capital city of Managua, Somoza pocketed much of the $250 million in foreign donations that came in to aid the country. Somoza quite literally profited off the blood of his subjects: among other things, he owned a blood plasma factory that paid the poor $1 for their plasma, then sold it to the US at a profit. These blatant abuses of power were too much for Nicaraguans to bear, and the middle class and elite joined the opposition Sandinistas who had formed in the early-1960s and who sought his overthrow. By 1979, even the US withdrew its support, and Somoza went into exile as the Sandinistas marched into Managua in July.

Which is where Paraguay’s own “Argo” enters into the story. After Jimmy Carter denied Somoza asylum, he headed to Paraguay, where General Alfredo Stroessner’s right-wing military regime governed. Outraged at the presence of this symbol of right-wing repression, corruption, and greed, according to archival materials four men and three women from the ERP pretended to be actors and producers working on a film about Julio Iglesias. Renting a house under the auspices of working on the “movie,” they plotted the assassination of Somoza. On September 17, they successfully carried out their plan, ambushing Somoza near his home and killing him. Paraguayan authorities managed to arrest only one of the seven, Santiago Irurzún, who died under torture. And so it was that one of the most infamous of 20th century dictators in Latin America died, and Paraguay was host to its own strange “Argo.”

On Brazil’s Involvement in Operation Condor

December 17, 2012 Comments off

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.


On Impeachment in Paraguay

June 22, 2012 Comments off

Yesterday, Paraguay’s Chamber of Deputies voted to impeach President Fernando Lugo. The vote came after seventeen people died in a conflict between landless farmers and police forces who were sent to evict the peasants from a farm this past Sunday. Lugo has received much of the blame for the violence, given his role in ordering the police to dispatch the squatters; additionally, many who supported Lugo’s election four years ago in the hopes that Lugo, as the first president in 61 years not to hail from the Colorado party (with former military dictator Alfredo Stroessner serving for 35 of those 61 years). Some analysts have even suggested the impeachment is a case of partisan politics, with the conservative Colorado majority in the Chamber trying to remove the progressive president who broke their hegemony over the executive branch.

While the impeachment vote was abrupt, Paraguay’s neighbors were quick to react. UNASUR is already sending a delegation to Paraguay to “ensure the right to defend democracy” in the landlocked country. Meanwhile, individual diplomats and presidents also spoke harshly about the impeachment:

UNASUR Secretary General Ali Rodriguez of Venezuela, speaking to reporters here, later expressed “grave concern” over the proceedings and said Lugo must be given “due process” and the right to defend himself.

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa went further, warning that Lugo’s impeachment without due process could lead the regional bloc to sever ties with Paraguay over a “democracy clause” written into its charter.

“We cannot recognize a new government, and may even have to close the borders,” Correa told reporters late Thursday at the UN summit in Brazil.

For his part, Lugo has refused to resign, insisting he will defend himself before the Senate today, in accordance with the constitutionally-defined proceedings for impeachment. At the same time, he has also appealed to the Supreme Court, saying the process is unconstitutional due to its failure to provide him with enough time to prepare his defense (the vote was just yesterday, while he is supposed to defend himself before the Senate today at noon in Asucion). He makes a strong argument in this appeal – as I commented here, if it is legal to impeach a president that quickly, then Paraguay’s Congress will effectively have demonstrated that it can remove a president at will over partisanship rather than over violating the constitution.

Still, his impeachment is not guaranteed, as he needs a 2/3 vote for conviction (though the Chamber also needed a 2/3 vote to bring forth charges, a majority that it had no trouble acquiring). At least for now, though, Lugo’s refusal to resign is an important step in ensuring democratic processes in Paraguay, as he has made clear through his willingness to endure the impeachment that the opposition-led Legislative branch cannot simply pressure a president from another party to step down. That said, Lugo’s continuity as president (he is scheduled to leave office after elections next year) is far from certain, and his removal could have significant political, economic, and social consequences for years to come. It will certainly be worth watching what happens in Paraguay’s Senate today, and the region’s responses to the events there, throughout today and beyond.

On Human Rights Violations and Memory Struggles in Peru

May 29, 2012 Comments off

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.


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