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Major Fossil Bed Discovered in San Juan ‘Pre-Dates’ Dinosaurs

Scientists found animal remains that pre-date the dinosaurs (photo: Télam/dsl)

Scientists found animal remains that pre-date dinosaurs (photo: Télam/dsl)

Scientists have discovered an extensive collection of microfossils more than 200 million years old in the province of San Juan.

The fossils were found in an area of 80m2 by researchers from the National University of San Juan (UNSJ) in Marayes, around 150km east of the provincial capital. The concentration of bones from small animals have led the team to believe that they were prey to larger animals that fed near the site.

The scientists say the discovery, which includes over 100 specimens and up to a dozen unknown species, is vital to understanding more about life during the Upper Triassic period.

The prehistoric age occurred when the Earth’s landmass was one giant super-continent, and pre-dates the era when dinosaurs were the dominant species.

“It is a new faunistic discovery, with the implication that we can find out more about a unique period in the evolution of vertebrates, before dinosaurs became dominant,” Ricardo Martínez, chief paleontologist of the UNSJ’s Institute and Museum of Natural Sciences told Télam.

“It is not just any moment in evolution – it includes a dozen unknown species and is filling us in about an era that we did not have records of before.”

So far only about 3% of the relevant area has been inspected, with scientists hopeful of finding many more fossils from the era.

The latest find comes after a series of major dinosaur discoveries in Argentina and Latin American in recent months. In May, paleontologists announced two important finds in Patagonia, including what is likely to be the world’s largest ever dinosaur skeleton.

Meanwhile, in September scientists officially presented the dreadnoughtus schrani, a massive dinosaur discovered in Santa Cruz in 2005 (see video below). Also in September, scientists in Mexico found what is thought to be the world’s largest concentration of dinosaur fossils in the northern Chihuahuan Desert.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

Tax Office AFIP to Monitor Tourist Rental Agreements

AFIP Offices (photo: Beatrice Murch)

AFIP Offices (photo: Beatrice Murch)

Property owners and agencies that rent to tourists will be required to declare the information at the tax office AFIP from March next year, according to a resolution published in today’s Official Gazette.

Resolution 3687 establishes an “information regime with respect to temporary housing rentals to tourists”. The measure will apply to rental agreements at furnished properties that last between one day and six months.

Those who administer and manage the rental agreement will be subject to the new requirements, this being the owner of the property if no third party is used.

From 1st March, 2015, the relevant person or entity must register with the tax office and declare any tourist rental operations via the AFIP website by the 10th day of the month after the agreement is signed.

If no operations are carried out, the party must still declare this to AFIP by selecting the option ‘no movements’. If this option is selected for six consecutive months, there will no longer be a requirement to declare until a new rental agreement is made.

According to the resolution, those who do not comply with the new regulations will face penalties, including the possibility that their tax code will be temporarily deactivated.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

President Sends New Criminal Procedure Bill to Congress

President Fernández talks about the new Criminal Procedure Law in a TV address (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

President Fernández talks about the new Criminal Procedure Law in a TV address (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner formally sent a new bill to reform the Criminal Procedure Law to Congress last night.

“We are sending an instrument that is agile, swift, and modern,” declared President Fernández in a televised address to the nation. “[The reforms were] demanded by judges, academics, and the current reality of a society that feels unprotected due to slow and burdensome criminal procedures.”

The bill, which includes several reforms to the existing 1991 law, proposes a switch from an inquisitorial system – in which judges both conduct criminal investigations and rule on them – to an accusatory system, where prosecutors take charge of the investigation.

“The judge – as the name implies – will still judge cases, ruling to absolve or condemn. But the investigation is conducted and led by the prosecutor, with an important addition. This bill also includes the victims [of a crime], not just as plaintiffs but also as participants in the process, alongside the prosecutor and judge,” said President Fernández.

Other changes proposed in the bill include the stipulation that criminal investigations must be completed within one year, and trials must be carried out 5-30 days after the investigation is concluded. Judges and prosecutors could face sanctions for taking too long to complete their tasks.

“One of the problems we have today is that when nothing happens with a case, nothing happens to the judge or prosecutor involved. This bill proposes that if prosecutors or judges do not comply with the time limits they will face severe sanctions,” said the president

The bill also establishes terms for the imprisonment of those charged with crimes, based on the nature of the act, whether the accused has a criminal record, and the impact of the crime on society. Fernández added that those accused of committing serious crimes will be detained from the start of the investigation and will be tried within ten months.

Another contentious issue surrounding the new bill is the possibility to deport foreigners who are caught committing a crime and do not have the proper migratory documents for up to 15 years. The measure has received support from sectors of the opposition, but the recent focus by some government officials on foreign criminals has drawn criticism from human rights groups.

“I think it is a protection that Argentines deserve when faced with trends showing an increase in foreigners that come into the country to commit crimes,” explained Fernández.

The president also confirmed that the bill, if sanctioned, would only apply to new cases, while existing cases and investigations would continue under the existing procedures. She said that this should debunk claims from some in the opposition that the reforms were being pushed through to alter the course of existing criminal investigations involving members of the government.

Fernández ended with a call for members of Congress to overcome party politics and approve the reforms quickly, adding that it would provide the legal system with better tools to combat crime.

“Those who say that a particular formula or procedure or government will end problems of insecurity are lying, and those who believe them are fools…I believe we must act swiftly and responsibly, independently of political parties, to sanction this law for the good of society,” concluded the president.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

Uruguay’s Election: The Pending Questions of Justice and Human Rights

Uruguay’s Election: The Pending Questions of Justice and Human Rights

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily representative of The Argentina Independent.

On Sunday, Uruguayans will be electing their new president for the next five years. Browsing newspapers headlines, many are the themes on the political and social agenda, ranging from the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the capital, Montevideo, to rising levels of insecurity.

Leading presidential candidates in Uruguay, from left to right: Tabaré Vázquez, Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, Pedro Bordaberry  (Photos via Wikipedia)

Leading presidential candidates in Uruguay, from left to right: Tabaré Vázquez, Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, Pedro Bordaberry (Photos via Wikipedia)

Thirty years have passed from the historic elections of 25th November, 1984, which hallmarked the return of democracy in Uruguay after more than a decade of dictatorship and 13 years without an election. So much has changed since then. In 2013, Uruguay was selected by The Economist as the country of the year for “path-breaking reforms that do not merely improve a single nation but, if emulated, might benefit the world,” such as gay marriage and a law legalising and regulating the use of cannabis.

But much has stayed the same. In particular, coming to terms with the legacy of the dictatorship – that is, the systematic human rights violations such as political imprisonment, enforced disappearance and torture – is an unfinished business, and remains an open wound within society. Last year, the newly established and appointed United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, unambiguously summarised the situation in Uruguay at the end of his first visit to the country.

De Greiff stated that “a chapter of Uruguay’s recent past is yet to be resolved adequately”, pointing to how there had been “little progress” since the end of the dictatorship in confronting the serious human rights violations committed between 1973 and 1985. The expert further asserted how this was “not about revenge or looking only to the past, but about laying a solid foundation for a just and equitable society that will allow new generations to address the challenges of the future.”

More recently, in August and September 2014, the director of Amnesty International Uruguay, Mariana Labastie, met with the four presidential candidates – Pedro Bordaberry of the Partido Colorado, Pablo Mieres of the Partido Independiente, Luis Lacalle Pou of the Partido Blanco and Tabaré Vázquez of the Frente Amplio – to discuss their commitment to human rights and the struggle against impunity.

Labastie underscored how “the topic of human rights is often absent from the agenda of the electoral campaign or it does not occupy the place it should.” She also highlighted how all the four candidates committed themselves to continue investigating the truth about victims of enforced disappearance. But is this enough?

Former dictator Juan María Bordaberry (photo: Wikipedia)

Former dictator Juan María Bordaberry (photo: Wikipedia)

Forty Years On

The Uruguayan dictatorship, in power between June 1973 and February 1985, perpetrated countless human rights violations inside and outside the country’s borders – the latter committed within the framework of Operation Condor, a continent-wide operation set up by the dictatorships of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay to hunt down political opponents across borders.

It has been estimated that approximately 200 Uruguayans were victims of enforced disappearance, while there were approximately 6,000-7,000 victims of prolonged political detention, and thousands more instances of torture, sexual violence, and inhuman treatment and individuals having to flee into exile. Three decades from the democratic transition in 1985, responding to the human rights violations of the dictatorship can no longer be delayed. This is particularly so since, between 1986 and 2011, a law – the so-called Ley de Caducidad – effectively blocked the investigation and prosecution of all dictatorship-related crimes. Time is now of the essence. Many relatives of disappeared individuals as well as survivors of secret detention and torture have already passed away in the three decades elapsed. If there are any more delays, the opportunity for justice may be long gone.

A year after his visit, the UN Special Rapporteur presented his report on his mission to Uruguay at the 27th session of the Human Rights Council (8th-26th September, 2014). De Greiff’s report is a rather accurate diagnostic as well as a useful checklist of pending matters in Uruguay; his recommendations should be seriously acted upon by the next president of Uruguay.

The Report

The Special Rapporteur underlined in his report to the Human Rights Council that, in Uruguay, the burden to investigate the past has largely fallen on the shoulders of victims of serious human rights violations, their relatives, and human rights activists. They were the ones who tirelessly mobilised to push for – up to the present time – initiatives in favour of the promotion of truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition. The Rapporteur also noted how the lack of progress and the passing of time has generated fatigue in the victims and their relatives. Taking into account that many of them are of an elderly age, it is urgent that their requests are attended to.

UN Special Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence Pablo de Greiff (Photo via UN)

UN Special Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence Pablo de Greiff (Photo via UN)

The Rapporteur organised his report according to the four elements of his mandate. In terms of justice, he acknowledged the important progress since 2005, especially pointing to the verdicts against two former dictators, Juan María Bordaberry in 2010 and Gregorio Álvarez in 2009, sentenced to prison for human rights violations, and the overturning of the Ley de Caducidad in 2011. At the same time, however, de Greiff joined the choir of critical opinions about the stance of the Uruguayan Supreme Court of Justice that, in 2013, considered the crimes of the dictatorship to be common crimes and, therefore, susceptible to the application of statutory limitations according to the national criminal code. Moreover, the Rapporteur expressed his concern about the transfer of criminal judge Mariana Mota last year and the unwarranted delays and obstacles that still hinder the resolution of ongoing criminal investigations and trials.

In terms of truth, de Greiff welcomed the efforts of civil society, especially the 1989 Never Again Report by the Peace and Justice Service, and the work of forensic anthropologists that located and identified four disappeared individuals in Uruguay in the past few years. However, he lamented a lack of attention paid to the larger universe of victims beyond the disappeared, to include victims of prolonged detention, torture, the kidnapping of children and sexual violence, and the establishment of policies to secure access to state archives.

On reparations, the expert applauded the sanctioning of several laws since redemocratisation to remedy different groups of victims, including the setting up of a special reparatory pension for former political prisoners and compensation for victims of state terror. Still, as of June 2014, only 360 cases of economic reparations were granted to victims of state terror, while confusion between different sets of rights characterises these laws, forcing victims to choose between pension rights and reparation benefits. Finally, in terms of guarantees of non-repetition, de Greiff commended the establishment of the National Institution for Human Rights in 2012 while highlighting the lack of vetting and thorough reforms to the Armed Forces and the Judiciary.

Tasks Ahead

The report ends with a list of conclusions and recommendations spanning across three pages, all needed in order to respond adequately to the unfinished business of the recent past. The most urgent recommendations that the new government must at least work on in its five-year mandate are -in the opinion of this author- the following three: the removal of all of the obstacles that block the denunciation of past human rights violations to the courts and the progress of judicial proceedings without undue delays; the establishment of an official mechanism to investigate past crimes; and the design and sanctioning of reparations policies encompassing both material and symbolic reparations and targeting all different categories of victims.

The next government in Uruguay has a historic opportunity to finally deliver truth, justice and reparations to victims of human rights atrocities and their families, as well as to the rest of society. This opportunity for justice should not be missed.

Dr Francesca Lessa is a specialist in issues of justice and human rights in Argentina and Uruguay based at the Latin American Centre, University of Oxford.

Posted in Analysis, News From Latin America, TOP STORY1 Comment

Mexico: Missing Students Not Among Bodies in Mass Graves

The state of Guerrero in Mexico (photo via WIkipedia)

The state of Guerrero in Mexico (photo via WIkipedia)

The search for 43 students missing since 27th September continues in Guerrero after authorities confirmed yesterday that they were not among the bodies found in mass graves last week.

Federal state prosecutor Jesús Murillo said that DNA tests on the 28 bodies found on the outskirts of the city of Iguala did not match any of those provided by relatives of the disappeared students.

This means that after nearly three weeks there is still no sign of the students, who went missing after being attacked by local police and armed civilians on 27th September. A national security commission set up to investigate the case said that it was not ruling out any theory.

Close to 900 federal police and gendarmerie officers have been sent to Iguala to support the search for the students and prevent any further incidents.

So far 44 people have been arrested, including 22 police officers from Iguala, 14 police officers from the nearby town of Cocula, and eight members of the criminal gang ‘Guerreros Unidos’. Meanwhile, Iguala mayor José Luis Abarca, his wife María de los Ángeles Pineda, and the city’s secretary for public security, Felipe Flores, remain fugitives.

Meanwhile, Benjamín Mondragón Pereda, a Guerreros Unidos leader, yesterday committed suicide after his house was surrounded by police.

The arrest of 14 officers from Cocula was announced yesterday by the director of the Criminal Investigation Agency (AIC) Tomás Zerón de Lucio, who said that the suspects admitted to handing the missing students over to members of ‘Guerreros Unidos’. “As a result of intelligence work we were able to show the intervention of Cocula police… they confessed to participating and we were able to verify this,” said Zerón de Lucio.

Earlier today, President Enrique Peña Nieto reaffirmed his promise that the state would “find those responsible and treat them with the full force of the law.”

However, students from the Ayotzinapa Rural College, where the missing youngsters study, said the investigations so far have been “a joke”.

“They are laughing at us,” they told a gathering of other student groups at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) yesterday. “We still hope to be reunited with our colleagues.”

Riot police had been called in on Monday after students and relatives of the disappeared staged a violent protest outside the Guerrero state government building. Some protesters ransacked the offices and set fire to the building, causing widespread damage. The students promised to “radicalise” their protests if there were no advances in the investigation.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

Colombia: Farmers Sue BP in UK High Court

BP_LogoA group of Colombian subsistence farmers are suing British oil giant BP for environmental damages in a case that began today in the UK High Court, in London.

The 109 farmers are seeking £18m (US$29m) in compensation from BP, claiming that negligence in the construction of a pipeline in the 1990s led to a big impact on the local water supply and caused serious damage to land, crops, and livestock.

One of the farmers in London to testify in the trial told The Guardian that: “Our water supply has been damaged by sedimentation since the pipeline was laid, and I have lost cattle. I can no longer keep pigs or chickens because there is not enough water for them. The reason why we have travelled so far is because we have hope and faith that the high court in London will deliver justice to us.”

A lawyer for the farmers, Alex Layton, told the court that BP had “blamed everyone else while not accepting its responsibilities,” reports AFP.

BP defends itself against the allegations, saying it took “significant steps” to engage with local communities and pay fair compensation for any impact. Last month, the company was found guilty of gross negligence in the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

This landmark trial is the first to feature a UK oil company in a UK court for alleged environmental damages caused to private land overseas. If the ruling goes in favour of the farmers it could open the path to other claims.

The trial is expected to last around eight months.

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Bolivia: Morales Wins Third Term With Landslide Victory

President Evo Morales voting yesterday - he won a third term by a landslide. (Photo: AFP/Aizar Raldes/Télam)

President Evo Morales voting yesterday – he won a third term by a landslide. (Photo: AFP/Aizar Raldes/Télam)

Bolivian president Evo Morales has been re-elected for a third term after picking up 60% of the vote in yesterday’s election.

According to preliminary results Morales’ nearest rival, Samuel Doria Medina of the Concertación Unidad Demócrata (UD), received 25%.

Morales won in every department in the country except Beni, surprising observers by gaining 51% support in Santa Cruz, a traditional opposition stronghold.

The ruling Movimiento a Socialismo (MAS) party also won a comfortable majority in Congress with 80 out of 130 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, and 24 out of 36 senators.

“Thank you brothers and sisters for this new triumph for the Bolivian people,” declared Morales last night in a victory speech. “How do I feel? There is a deep feeling – in Bolivia and in Latin America – of liberation. How long must we continue to be subjected to the North American empire and capitalist system? This is a triumph for anti-colonialists and anti-capitalists.”

The results show how Bolivia’s first indigenous president, in power now since 2006, has won vast support by combining a socio-economic revolution with relative political stability and fervent anti-capitalist rhetoric with pragmatic macroeconomic management.

However, he will face challenges in his third term. Poverty levels have fallen by around a third since 2005, but at around 40% are still high in regional terms. After easing some of the country’s worst economic ills, the long-term future will require greater industrialisation and diversification to reduce the heavy dependence on primary exports from extracting oil, gas, and minerals. Finally, the government is facing growing pressure to tackle social issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion, which are both prohibited.

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President Fernández Defends New Civil and Commercial Code

President Fernández holds up a copy of the new Civil and Commerical Code, which will come into force in Argentina in 2016. (Photo: Raúl Ferrari/Télam)

President Fernández holds up a copy of the new Civil and Commerical Code, which will come into force in Argentina in 2016. (Photo: Raúl Ferrari/Télam)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner last night promulgated the country’s new Civil and Commercial Code, while also stating that reforms to the Criminal Procedure Law would be sent to Congress “within days”.

The updated Civil and Commercial Code was approved by Congress last week, more than two years after the reform bill was initially presented.

“Though the Constitution is obviously the most important legal instrument of a nation, this is the most important instrument that deals with people’s daily lives, their personal and commercial rights,” said President Fernández in a national address yesterday.

The president said the new law, which combined the Civil and Commercial Codes for the first time in the country’s history, was an “authentic cultural product of Argentina”, replacing the previous version based on European law. “It does not belong to any political party or government, it is the Civil and Commercial Code of democracy,” she said.

President Fernández also addressed the subject of debts and legal tender, an issue that has caused controversy with some claiming the wording of the new code could allow dollar-denominated debts and deposits to be converted into pesos.

“All of these affirmations and headlines to frighten people about how their deposits would lose their value or be paid back in pesos, or that no one could sign a contract… please, this is absolutely out of place,” she remarked.

Article 765 is at the centre of the debate, as it states that a debtor can fulfill his/her payment obligations with the equivalent value of legal currency (the peso).

However, President Fernández said that this would not override several other articles in the code that guarantee the validity of a contract and ensure that banks must respect the currency agreed upon with clients when accepting deposits or issuing loans.

Aside from the issue of currency, the president also highlighted changes to family law within the code, including changes to rules governing divorce, adoption, same-sex marriages, civil unions, and assisted fertilisation.

The new code will come into force on 1st January 2016.

Criminal Procedure Law

The second part of the president’s 50-minute speech was dedicated to the forthcoming reform of the country’s Criminal Procedure Law.

“In the next few days we are going to send Congress a new Penal Code bill, which will transform the existing system from an inquisitorial system to a more agile accusatory system,” declared Fernández.

This means that prosecutors will investigate a case, defense lawyers will act on behalf of the accused, and judges will reach a verdict. In the current system judges fulfill the duel role of investigating and ruling on cases.

President Fernández yesterday claimed that reform was necessary to update the “dysfunctional” existing law. “As I’ve said many times it’s not about being tough or soft on crime, it’s about having the adequate instruments and resources.”

Today, Justice Minister Julián Alvarez added that the main focus of the new law would be to reduce delays in the country’s judicial system. “The timings are going to change. Today it takes an average of four years to bring a case to trial, when it needs to be six months or a year at most, as it is today in Chile.”

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

Operation Condor: Justice for Transnational Crimes in South America

Operation Condor: Justice for Transnational Crimes in South America

The Operation Condor trial in Buenos Aires has implications for justice and accountability in Argentina but also for the rest of South America.

“Could you please tell us your date and place of birth?” the president of Federal Criminal Court 1 in Buenos Aires asked the young woman testifying at the court hearing. Macarena Gelman replied that she was probably born on 1st November, 1976, in Montevideo, Uruguay, after her mother had been illegally transferred there from Argentina weeks earlier. Mystified by how her mother, María Claudia Garcia de Gelman, originally detained in Buenos Aires had ended up in Uruguay, Macarena suggested that Operation Condor (Plan Cóndor) offered the “only explanation” for what had happened.

Macarena Gelman (Still from TV Publica)

Macarena Gelman (Still from TV Publica)

Macarena’s testimony before the tribunal in November 2013 exposes some of the challenges and difficulties that victims of human rights violations have had to face since the return of democracy. Numerous South American countries experiencing similar violations share this legacy. The question of date and place of birth is one that many of us answer frequently and we do so without the blink of an eye. In the case of Macarena, as well as other victims of identity theft and illegal adoption, answering that question is anything but easy.

For Macarena, it required solving a puzzle; rejoining all the component pieces scattered across Argentina and Uruguay, but also within the entire South America region. Reconstructing her life story took over 30 years and included a grandfather who incessantly looked for her. It was also the journey of two countries in the aftermath of the shadow of dictatorship, struggling to come to terms with the brutality of the crimes that had been perpetrated.

Macarena’s identification in Montevideo in 2000 proved even further the existence of the transnational coordination of terror known as Operation Condor. Over ten years later, on March 5, 2013, in a packed Buenos Aires courthouse, two former Argentine military dictators, together with other 19 defendants, were finally put on trial for their alleged role in Operation Condor, including the atrocities committed against Macarena’s parents.

Operation Condor was a continent-wide operation set up during the Cold War by the military dictatorships of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay to hunt down political opponents across borders, murdering and disappearing hundreds of left-wing activists outside their home countries’ borders in the 1970s and 1980s in Latin America.

Responding to Human Rights Violations

The rapidly growing field of transitional justice studies “strategies employed by states and international institutions to deal with a legacy of human rights abuses and to effect social reconstruction in the wake of widespread violence.” In the past 30 years, countries have developed innovative ways to confront atrocities committed during political violence or conflict. Latin America has pioneered many tools such as truth commissions, trials and reparations that have been adopted subsequently throughout the world. Yet, up until recently, the main focus has been on offences perpetrated by national actors within individual states, thus neglecting consideration of how to respond to transnational crimes such as those of Operation Condor.

Nonetheless, since the late 1990s and early 2000s, investigations into Operation Condor crimes have gradually come to play a crucial role in the struggle for accountability in South America. The strategic litigation of instances of transnational crimes, together with a parallel strategy focusing on the illegal appropriation of children born to women held in clandestine detention, turned into key tools in the struggle against impunity and in questioning the validity of broad amnesty laws that were approved soon after the dictatorships.

These ground-breaking strategies and legal tools developed by human rights activists and lawyers purposefully circumvented amnesty laws and began chipping away at the wall of impunity: the first judgment issued in March 2009 against military and police officers in Uruguay related for instance to the murder of 28 Uruguayan citizens in Buenos Aires in 1976. Likewise, in Chile, after decades of absolute impunity, Augusto Pinochet was eventually indicted by Judge Juan Guzmán for crimes relating to “Operation Condor” in December 2004.

The current trial in Buenos Aires is the first prosecution to tackle the whole terror network and its operations to persecute opponents across borders in all its six member states. This prosecution is exceptional internationally and even in Argentina. Kathryn Sikkink labelled Argentina a “global protagonist” in the struggle for international human rights, where 121 criminal trials for dictatorship crimes have already been completed in recent years. Yet the ongoing Operation Condor trial is still a seminal moment. Even the landmark investigations by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón in the late 1990s only focused on atrocities perpetrated inside state borders of Argentina and Chile.

Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (left) and his Argentine counterpart Jorge Videla, in 1976. Both were active members of Operation Condor.

Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and his Argentine counterpart Jorge Videla, in 1976.

Opportunities for Justice

The criminal investigation into the case of Operation Condor began in the late 1990s when the relatives of five victims from Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay presented their case to the judiciary in Buenos Aires. The amnesties that existed at the time could be circumvented because the defendants were either foreign individuals or Argentine military commanders. In the early 2000s, the federal judge charged former Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla and also requested the extradition of several other former dictators, including Augusto Pinochet and the former Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner. There were delays in the judicial and investigative process in Argentina, due to the context of impunity until the amnesty laws were overturned in 2005. Then the deferrals, due to the large numbers of trials for dictatorship crimes that resumed in 2006, and the trial only began in 2013.

The trial advances justice in new respects by tackling national and transnational human rights violations against 106 victims. The judges are investigating atrocities and perpetrators across multiple and overlapping jurisdictions: crimes perpetrated in Argentina by foreign operatives and Argentine agents, atrocities committed abroad by Argentine forces and their local counterparts as well as the transnational conspiracy of terror by South America’s dictatorships to perpetrate human rights violations. While other criminal prosecutions have established criminal responsibility for specific crimes, this trial, by examining illegal kidnappings and the circumstances surrounding them, aims to prove the actual existence of the Operation Condor network.

The trial is innovative in four respects vis-à-vis previous prosecutions in Argentina: it is the only one to have amongst its 21 defendants a foreigner, retired Uruguayan military officer Manuel Cordero. It addresses atrocities committed in the six countries that composed the Operation Condor network. It has a large number of foreign victims, including 48 Uruguayans and 22 Chileans. It uses the criminal charge of asociación ilicita (the establishment of a joint criminal conspiracy) to prosecute the transnational enterprise created to perpetrate crimes against humanity across borders. This specific charge is commonly utilised by domestic courts investigating cases relating to local criminal gangs or mafia groups; it has never been used for crimes committed during the dictatorship.

Automotores Orletti, the garage used as a clandestine detention centre during the dictatorship is closely connected to the Operation Condor trial (Photo via wikipedia)

Automotores Orletti, the garage used as a clandestine detention centre during the dictatorship is closely connected to the Operation Condor trial (Photo via wikipedia)

The Road Ahead

In less than a year’s time, the sentence in the trial will be known. It is too early to speculate on a sentence yet to come, but some preliminary evaluations can be attempted. Whatever the final verdict, the strategic importance of this trial cannot be underestimated.

This prosecution has played a key role in undermining the structure of impunity that existed in Argentina. The trial is truly unprecedented in its attempt to capture the complexity of repression in South America. It tackles domestic human rights violations but also transnational ones: it includes both Argentine and foreign victims, and there are Argentine perpetrators and foreign counterparts. It is the first time that a criminal court is probing the whole transnational terror network that existed in the region to enable cross-border repression of exiles and activists. The 106 cases are representative of the coordination of terror. Defendants are being prosecuted according to the criminal code not for establishing a domestic criminal conspiracy but an international one.

Activists and lawyers remain hopeful that the trial will have an impact on other countries in the region, especially those that lag behind in accountability for dictatorship crimes, such as Brazil and Uruguay. It is noteworthy that the Operation Condor trial began in Argentina just a few days after the Supreme Court of Justice in Uruguay released a very controversial and internationally criticised sentence regarding past human rights violations. In this context, a condemnatory verdict in the Operation Condor trial, where the majority of victims are Uruguayan citizens, may become a tool for local activists to mobilise on this issue and put pressure on the judiciary and the government to respond to myriad past crimes.

Dr Francesca Lessa is a specialist in issues of justice and human rights in Argentina and Uruguay based at the Latin American Centre, University of Oxford.

Posted in Human Rights, TOP STORY0 Comments

Mexico: Fears for Missing Students as Mass Grave Found in Guerrero

The state of Guerrero in Mexico (photo via WIkipedia)

The state of Guerrero in Mexico (photo via WIkipedia)

Authorities in the state of Guerrero have confirmed that 28 bodies have been found in mass graves near the city of Iguala, where dozens of students were reported missing after coming under attack last week.

Guerrero state prosecutor Iñaky Blanco said it would take weeks for the results of DNA tests to confirm if the bodies are those of some of the 43 students that remain ‘disappeared’ since 27th September.

However, he admitted that it was “probable” that some of the students were among the victims, who he said had been found murdered and badly-burned.

“According to the verdict from forensic specialists we can reveal that in the graves the bodies of the victims were laid on top of a bed of sticks and branches and then covered with a flammable substance such as diesel or petrol,” said Blanco.

Police Involvement

The graves were found on the outskirts of Iguala on Saturday, based on information given to police by several suspects with links to organised crime group “Guerreros Unidos”, who were detained after the attacks last week.

According to Blanco, two of the suspects confessed to murdering 17 of the students and dumping them in the mass grave on the instructions of a gang leader known as ‘El Chucky‘.

The investigation has also uncovered more information about members of the Iguala police force who were reportedly behind the attacks on the students on 26th and 27th September, including the city’s security director.

“The instruction [for the gang hitmen] to go to the site where the students were was given by the municipal public safety director Francisco Salgado Valladares, while the order to take the students away and kill them came from a subject nicknamed ‘El Chucky‘, leader of the ‘Guerreros Unidos’,” continued Blanco.

So far 30 people, including 22 police officers, have been arrested for the original attacks on students over a week ago.

Meanwhile, Iguala mayor José Luis Abarca, the focal point for protests by relatives of the student victims, is currently missing after taking a 30-day leave of absence to “facilitate the investigation.”

Abarca and the deputy head of security in Iguala, Felipe Flores, have been summoned to provide testimonies about the case but there whereabouts remain unknown.

No Impunity

Parents and friends of the missing students said that it was not yet a fact that the bodies belong to their loved ones, adding that they doubted the official version of events.

“We don’t believe any of the comments made by the public prosecutors. We still hope our children will return ok, because they were taken alive and they should be returned to us alive. This is a massacre that we cannot allow,” one father told news portal Milenio.com.

The parents said they did not trust the authorities to investigate the case properly and called for a protest march on 8th October.

Amid the confusion as the grisly discovery was made over the weekend, Reuters reported anonymous local officials as confirming that there were 34 bodies in the graves, six more than the number officially reported.

Meanwhile, President Enrique Peña Nieto today ordered his cabinet and national security institutions to find those responsible and bring them to justice.

“Like all Mexicans, as president I am deeply angered and dismayed by the information emerging over the weekend,” said Peña Nieto in an address to the media. “I am very upset by the violence of the actions, and especially because young students have been affected by it… Faced with this violence, there must not be even the tiniest room for impunity.”

This afternoon, local press are reporting that a contingent of the national gendarmerie is being directed to Iguala to take control of security and aid in the search for the missing students.

The National Commission for Human Rights and the UN High Commission for Human Rights in Mexico are also investigating the case for severe abuses, including extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances.

Attacks

The students, who had been fundraising in Iguala, were attacked on several occasions, reportedly by local police officers and unknown armed men, as their convoy travelled on the main highway leading out of the city.

In total, six people were killed – three students and three bystanders – and another 25 were injured in the incidents.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

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