Tag Archive | "Argentina"

Congress Passes Bill to Ensure Free University Education

The Senate passed a bill on Wednesday to ensure higher education remains free of charge. The bill, which introduces modification to the Higher Education Law, was authored by Frente Para la Victoria (FPV) legislator Adriana Puiggrós.

The amendment incorporates specific wording that defines free access to higher education as an obligation by the State and a human right. It also stipulates that no citizen can be excluded from accessing higher education based on their social background, and that it is in the hands of the government to ensure this right.

Senators debate the bill to modify the Criminal Procedure Code (photo: Fernando Sturla/Télam)

Argentine Senate (photo: Fernando Sturla/Télam)

The first of the two main articles in this law sets forth that public universities will no longer be permitted to charge “any kind of charges, duties, taxes, tariffs or fees”. Puiggrós stipulated that in time, when the enactment of the law goes into discussion, a plan to wean higher institutions off their dependency on fees will be outlined.

The second article bans Argentine universities from taking entrance exams, making access to higher education now “free and unrestricted”. Therefore, competitive examinations and any “exclusion mechanisms” are forbidden.

The law was passed with support from the FPV and UCR, and despite opposition from the PRO party, which had already voted against the initiative in the Chamber of Deputies. PRO Senator Gabriela Michetti was absent during the debate in the Senate. Some universities have also attempted to ward off this measure, stating that the legislation encroaches on their autonomy.

Puiggrós highlighted that this small success does not diminish the need for a major overhaul of the Higher Education Law, passed in 1995.

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Buenos Aires Province Establishes Transgender Jobs Quota

The province of Buenos Aires has approved a pioneering law requiring that at least 1% of jobs in public agencies be set aside for transvestites, transsexuals, and transgender people.

The provincial senate passed the law unanimously last week and it will go into effect in a few months.

A pride umbrella displays a rainbow of colors (Photo: Beatrice Murch)

A pride umbrella displays a rainbow of colors (Photo: Beatrice Murch)

“We are very happy because we did not think that we could get to such an important moment,” said the secretary of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association in Buenos Aires, Diana Sacayán, in an interview with Télam.

In a recent report by Americas Quarterly, a publication with a focus on Latin America, Argentina was ranked second among its neighbours for the rights it gives to its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens.

Gay marriage has been legal in Argentina since 2010 and in 2012, Congress passed a law that makes it much easier for people to change their gender on legal documents by not requiring gender-reassignment surgery or a diagnosis from a doctor. Since the law was approved, more than 4,200 transgender people have changed their identity on national ID documents.

The country also covers the cost of gender reassignment surgery, but LGBT people across the country are still victims of hate crimes and discrimination in the workplace.

Frente para la Victoria (FpV) Legislator Karina Nazabal, who put forward the bill, called the transgender community “one of the most historically vulnerable populations in the country” in an interview with El Dia.

“The reality of this group is marked by prosecution, exclusion and marginalisation,” she said. “They have great difficulties gaining access to equal opportunities and treatment and the majority lives in extreme poverty, deprived of economic, political, social and cultural rights.”

Despite recent advances, transsexuals still have a life expectancy less than half the national average in Argentina.

The law will affect the provincial government, government agencies, state owned companies, municipalities, companies subsidised by the state, and those which have contracts from the state to provide public services.

“Everyone is entitled to decent and productive work, to just and favorable conditions of work, and to protection against unemployment, without discrimination based on gender identity,” read the law.

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Welcome to Mesopotamia – Chapter IV

Daniel final

In January 2015, Daniel Tunnard and his wife left Buenos Aires after 16 years to move to the small town of Concepción del Uruguay in Entre Ríos, Argentina, build a house and start a family. This is the story of everything that went wrong.

Leelo en castellano aqui.


The man from Telecom comes to install telephone and internet, some two weeks earlier than optimism had permitted me to hope. Because nothing is simple in this simple life, the engineer can’t get the cable from our flat to go down to the connection on the ground floor. He wants to check the phone cables in the garage, but since the new building we live in while the house is built is so cheap and made of cardboard and doesn’t employ a caretaker for such eventualities, I have to phone my mother-in-law who has to phone up the guy who sold her the flat and get him to send over a taxi with the remote control to the garage, charging me $67 for the empty pleasure.

'Welcome to Mesopotamia' (Photo by Daniel Tunnard)

‘Welcome to Mesopotamia’ (Photo by Daniel Tunnard)

While we wait the ten minutes for the taxi to arrive, Clemente the engineer – late fifties, stocky build, face like someone who’s spent too long squinting at the sun— keeps the conversation going in that admirable way locals do. He asks me what I’m doing here, where I’m from, Carlos Tévez, etc. He tells me that he loves Concepción del Uruguay (Clemente does, though El Apache probably enjoys yachting as much as the next man), he thinks it’s the best place in the world, he wouldn’t swap it for Mendoza or Iguazú or a mansion in Recoleta. The people are particularly special here, they’re like no one else in the rest of the country, he says. He says he sits outside his house under the shade of two ficus trees and the coaches to Concordia pass and all the passengers look down and see what a good life we live here. He says the women in Chajarí, 200km north, are the most beautiful in the country, a mix of Italian, German and native blood, dark black hair and green eyes all of them, even the men, not that he’s into men. He tells me the story of Yuyo Barragán, which goes on for so long I have to put it in a separate paragraph below. A propos of nothing, he asks me what shoe size I am. I’m a 42, he’s a 43. He takes this particular branch of the conversation no further. He asks me if I’m a Catholic, I tell him I’m Church of England, anglicano, he looks like he needs an explanation, but before I can go into a potted history of Henry VIII he says he’s an Evangelist and that the evangelists cured his knee. He tells me about his daughter, an English teacher training to be a translator, asks me if translation is profitable. He tells me about the Renault Duster he bought at a steal, and shows me the text message from 2011 when the owner told him it was valued at 115,000 pesos but he could have it for 92,000 pesos. I admire the text message, and the man who has saved it all these years, as if they were the last words of a missing loved one.

We open the garage and I check Charlie the cat isn’t there. Of course he isn’t. Clemente opens the phone box, pulls at wires, can’t find mine, goes back into the lobby, pulls at wires, thinks he’s found mine, goes back up to the flat, lubricates a cable with washing up liquid and feeds it down a hole in the wall, it gets stuck again, so he goes downstairs and tries to feed it upwards, nothing doing. This goes on for some time. It must be infuriating for him. He has faith that God will show him the way, he says. Faith is good. God is good. After two hours he admits partial defeat and leaves, saying he’ll come back with a workmate and get it fixed. Half an hour, he says. It’s 11.30. Time passes. It’s 12.30. I know how things work here. If you’ve not done something by 1pm, you won’t get it done until 5pm, unless it’s a Friday. Today’s a Friday. I’m dubious as to how many people work here on a sunny Friday afternoon before the 4-day weekend for Carnaval. If anyone does, I want to believe, it’s Clemente. He’ll come through. If not for me, then for the green-eyed girls of Chajarí. He pulls up in his van at 1.03, a-smiling and a-waving. God is good. Neither He nor Clemente can work out how to get the damn cable down to the cable box, but there’s no faulting their disposition.

Raúl ‘Yuyo’ Barragán, late of this parish, was a local Robin Hood-cum-gifted genius and arguably the country’s first hacker. While working for Aerolíneas Argentinas back in the late 70s, he figured out how to use the reservations system to send a false ticket request to another airline, who would send back confirmation. Yuyo would then use that confirmation to print out the ticket and thus fly all over the world first-class and sell cut-price flights to friends and acquaintances. He and a friend once found themselves in Rio de Janeiro with three days left and no money, so he printed out a couple of first-class tickets to Tokyo and they spent the next forty-eight hours flying to Tokyo and back, enjoying all that first class had to offer which, back in the 70s, forget about it. So infamous was he that he was invited to appear on that pinnacle of infamy, the Susana Gimenez chat show (previous guests: Carlos Menem, Michael Bublé, Shakira) where he appeared with his face concealed in a hood. He was ‘homosesual’, Clemente of Telecom tells me, ‘not that that matters’, he says, although the whole scam apparently started because he had a girlfriend in Caracas and wanted to visit her every weekend. There are a lot of “apparentlys” in this story, so legendary was Yuyo. What is for certain is that Barragán was arrested and investigated in 1993, but no airlines would testify against him. He was eventually convicted in 2003.

'Yuyo' Barragán appears on TV with Susana Gimenez

‘Yuyo’ Barragán appears on TV with Susana Gimenez

Much of this information comes from Auntie Marta, who knows everything about everyone in Concepción, quite a feat considering she’s from Villa Elisa herself. Josefina asks Marta if this is the criminal that her father was related to. No, says Marta, that was Fernandito Ibarra, promising tennis player, dashing dandy, treacherous thief, who would go and play tennis with his upper-class friends, and while the rest were engaged in a round of doubles, sneak into the changing room, take a friend’s house keys, and go and help himself to the family jewels. He’d do the same when his mother had her card-playing old dears round, knowing that he had a good couple of hours to do a thorough job of looting their homes. His grandmother was my father-in-law’s cousin. I could tell you the exact relationship (second cousin once removed) but these things get very fraught in Spanish and it isn’t worth the trouble, to the extent that everyone is referred to as a cousin. My wife has 18 proper cousins and an innumerable list of vague non-cousins who are called cousins, some of whom are in prison, probably.

We’re at Uncle Jorge and Auntie Marta’s, a paradisiacal leafy hectare, sitting by the pool and chatting about master criminals we might be related to, when a wasp stings me on the arse. ‘There’s a wasp on the back of your chair’, says Marta. ‘Don’t worry, it’s a bit woozy.’ I stand up just as the wasp contrives to fall down the back of my shorts, its panicked sting inevitable. I share its panic. I want to strip naked, but not in front of my aunt and mother-in-law, not now. It doesn’t occur to me to jump into the pool for comic effect. Instead I run into the house, squealing at my wife to follow. The wasp stings me at the top of my arse crack just as I wrestle my Walter whites off. Then it sits in my Y-front gusset, biding its time to sting my frightened scrotum, until Josefina spots it, and my scrotum breathes again. It hurts a little, but way less than the time I was stung by a bee as a kid and spent the rest of the day in bed. In fact, the endorphins kick in and I just giggle for a minute. It’s quite pleasant. I may become a beekeeper. Think about it, you get honey, which is good, and endorphins, which are also good. And royal jelly, whatever that is.

There are benefits to being covered in bees...

There are benefits to being covered in bees…

I ask Marta to talk to me about trees. Typical pseudo porteño that I am, I only recognise linden and plane trees, and even then I’d have trouble picking them out of an identification parade. What’s that tree? That’s a fresno. What’s that tree, a eucalyptus? I guess. No, that’s an álamo. ‘Remember the Alamo’ I growl. No one gets this joke, and even if they did they shouldn’t laugh. What’s that tree? That’s an oh no I’ve forgotten the name of that tree already. We’re in the market for buying trees. It’s a nice market to be in. We’re advised to start planting now so that we have shade when we move in. We say we’ll plant the trees as soon as we have water. It’s a long time before we plant any trees. We had a naïve idea about planting fruit trees in the garden: blueberry, blackberry, boysenberry, huckleberry, raspberry, strawberry, cranberry, peach. Even though we only ever eat bananas. But Auntie Marta says fruit trees, even if they do give fruit, are highly prone to pests and plagues and destroy your garden and are more trouble than they’re worth. Plus, you can buy better fruit at the shop. Yeah, all right, killjoy. We only eat bananas anyway.

Daniel Tunnard’s first book ‘Colectivaizeishon, el ingles que tomó todos los colectivos de Buenos Aires’ is available from Buenos Aires bookshops and mercadolibre.com.ar and as an e-book from Amazon and megustaleer.com.ar.

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Hand of Pod: River and Boca Joint Top, and the Problem for Independiente

Hand Of Pod is a podcast dedicated to discussing the domestic football scene in Argentina, with the inevitable occasional digressions into the land of the continental cups and the national team.

In the 181st episode of Hand of Pod, Sam, English Dan, Andrés, and Peter look back on a weekend of action that left River Plate and Boca Juniors joint top of the table as they prepare to head into their clash at La Bombonera on the 3rd May (there are no matches this weekend). The two will also clash twice after that in the last 16 of the Copa Libertadores, but we’ll do a full preview of those matches next week; this time round we look at Racing and Independiente, who both drew their matches 0-0 last weekend, and consider some of the league’s less heralded heroes so far. This week’s history bit has Dan telling us about the time Alfredo Di Stéfano was kidnapped by a Venezuelan group of political protesters.

There’s no Mystic Sam this week, but as a team we’re predicting a River win over Huracán in Saturday’s Supercopa Argentina, and for Aldosivi to turn their 1-0 advantage with an hour to play into a win away to Arsenal when that match is finished (which is what Sam originally predicted for that game anyway), also on Saturday.

You can find out more about the team behind HOP here.

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March Movies to Catch

las-enfermeras-de-evita-c_6326_poster2Las Enfermeras de Evita (Marcelo Goyeneche)

The film ‘Las Enfermeras de Evita’ by director Marcelo Goyeneche follows in the footsteps of Leonardo Favio’s ‘Sinfonía de un sentimiento’, sweeping viewers into the magical populist realism of Peronism. This documentary recounts the rise and fall of the free nursing school established by the Eva Perón Foundation during Perón’s first presidency through the voices of four of the school’s graduates. Goyeneche cleverly combines a plethora of film archive material from the period with black-and-white film clips that provide a fictionalised visual to the story of how these women came to nursing: María Luisa saw an ad in the paper, Lucy did a first aid course at the company where she was working, María Eugenia was moved by a sick young girl she saw at a local hospital, and Dolores was encouraged by her sister. In portraying how these women’s lives were changed by their career, the film hints at a much-neglected topic in relation to Peronism: the empowerment of women at the personal, professional and political levels.

Unfortunately, instead of dedicating more time to this fascinating aspect of the story, Goyeneche opts to add an off-kilter Hollywood musical element to his film, splicing in scenes of four young women dressed in crisp nursing uniform from the period doing musical numbers about Peronism. Now, we all know that Peronism had plenty of its own kitschy songs back in the day (La Marcha Peronista and others—like the march of the nurses that the four elderly women struggle to remember on camera), so was it really necessary to come up with modern-day songs that rehash Peronism? Goyeneche appears determined to let viewers know how decidedly pro-Peronist the film is through these musical scenes; he would have done better to let the story speak for itself.

Still, seeing the film is a worthwhile endeavour, especially since it is only showing at that nationalist bastion, Cine Gaumont, where a film can be seen for a very reasonable $8. On a Saturday night, the audience booed and hissed when former dictator Aramburu appeared on screen and cheered on anyone onscreen making pro-Peronist commentary; it was like a nationalist criollo version of the Rocky Horror.

For more information on where to catch Las Enfermeras de Evita, visit their facebook page

el 5 de talleresEl 5 de Talleres (Adrián Biniez)

This film tells the story of Patón Bonassiolle, the captain of a minor league football team–not Talleres de Córdoba, but Talleres of the province of Buenos Aires—when he comes to the realisation at age 35 that it’s time to give up on soccer. The film stars Esteban Lamothe, the up-and-coming actor who starred in Santiago Mitre’s brilliant film ‘El Estudiante’, and his real-life partner Julieta Zylberberg (one of the stars of the Oscar-nominated ‘Relatos Salvajes’). With some great footage of all of the action surrounding the game, ‘El 5 de Talleres’ sets out to be a novel twist on the usual story of the rising football star (or “crack”) that dates back to ‘Pelota de Trapo’, a classic from the golden age of Argentine film.

However, when it moves off the field, the film turns somewhat lacklustre. Patón’s character is trapped within an infantile version of manhood associated with football—an inability to control his temper, express his emotions, or think of anyone but himself. In addition to plenty of preening and fist pounding, Patón is plagued by regular prank calls from the anonymous fan of another team. The caller taunts our number five as Patón swears, insults and challenges the caller to a face-to-face encounter. The player’s flair-ups definitely leave the viewer wondering what a nice girl like Ale (Zylberberg) is doing with him. Of course, the looming question of the film is what Patón will do with himself once the season has ended. I’ll toss in a mini-spoiler: the answer has something to do with salami, which I guess is the director’s tongue-in-cheek way of suggesting that Patón’s manliness will remain strongly intact after he has hung up his cleats.

To find out where to watch El 5 de Talleres, visit their facebook page

el guriEl Gurí (Sergio Mazza)

Set in a drab little town in the province of Entre Ríos, ‘El Gurí’ is the story of ten-year-old Gonzalo and his baby sister. Their mother has left on a journey from which she may never return, leaving them alone with their great-grandmother. As the film plods forward, we eventually learn that the mother is gravely ill and has chosen to die alone, leaving the fate of her children in the hands of a former lover who may or may not be their father. The one lesson that the film seems intent on sharing is that its characters, stuck in this middle of nowhere either by fate or by chance (like Lorena, played by Sofia Gala Castiglione, who runs over a dog and is stranded in town until her car can be fixed), can only depend on one another: the state is notoriously absent from everything that occurs, especially in relation to the two children and who will eventually take responsibility for them.

According to director Sergio Mazza, the making of ‘El Gurí’ involved less visual exploration than his earlier films ‘Graba’, ‘Gallero’, and ‘El amarillo’, and more personal reflection on his own childhood in the care of a grandmother after his own father passed away. Unfortunately, the film falls short of transmitting this emotional charge to the spectator.

To find out where El Gurí is showing, visit their facebook page.

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Hand of Pod: Late goals, and Central’s 100% start ends…

Hand Of Pod is a podcast dedicated to discussing the domestic football scene in Argentina, with the inevitable occasional digressions into the land of the continental cups and the national team.

The 177th episode of Hand Of Pod sees Sam and Andrés discussing a weekend of Primera action that was notable for late goals deciding the outcomes of matches, and for Rosario Central’s perfect start to the campaign coming to an end with a draw away to the bottom club, Atlético de Rafaela (Central remain top, though). Argentinos Juniors’ unbeaten record came spectacularly undone, Aldosivi and Unión produced a 3-3 draw and Boca Juniors goalkeeper Agustín Orión is in hot water after breaking San Martín forward Carlos Bueno’s shin (though we say it was accidental). Perhaps most surprisingly of all, both Independiente and River Plate managed to keep clean sheets! All this and more awaits, though we’ve almost no discussion of Argentina’s upcoming internationals, since they’re only friendlies.

Mystic Sam’s seventh round predictions (last week: 6/15)
Quilmes v Sarmiento
Central v Colón
Olimpo v Atlético de Rafaela
Banfield v Huracán
San Lorenzo v Lanús
Crucero del Norte v Temperley
Belgrano v Newell’s
Boca v Estudiantes
Gimnasia v River
Godoy Cruz v Independiente
Racing v San Martín
Unión v Vélez
Arsenal v Aldosivi
Tigre v DyJ
Argentinos v Chicago

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ARSAT-1 Satellite to be Launched Today

ARSAT-1 will launcxxx

ARSAT-1 (photo courtesy of Ministerio de Planificación)

Argentina’s first geostationary satellite ARSAT-1 will be launched at 6pm today from a base in French Guiana.

From orbit, the satellite will offer communication services to Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay, saving Argentina millions of dollars as the government will no longer have to rent expensive satellites from other countries.

Planning Minister, Julio de Vido, called today’s launch was “historic” and said that it highlighted the potential Argentina had in technology. He added that it would generate many jobs, and that next year the country planned on launching a second satellite for Latin America-wide communication.

ARSAT-1 – the first of three satellites – is the first satellite be designed, assembled, and tested in Latin America. ARSAT-2 and ARSAT-3 will also be developed Bariloche, in the Patagonian province of Río Negro. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner called them an example of “satellite sovereignty”.

Argentina is the first Latin American country to launch its own satellite, and joins a select group of eight countries that have developed such technology, including the US, Russia, China, Japan, India, Israel, and the EU.

The public will be able to watch the launch live on television as part of a presidential address today at 6pm.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups ArgentinaComments (0)

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.

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Book Review: The Militant Song Movement in Latin America

militant song“Without an understanding of the emotional component of political involvement it is impossible to fully understand a movement for social change such as the one operating in Latin America at that time. Without an account of how music was pervasively used in the construction of these emotional components, the political and social explanation of what occurred in Latin America during that period will be always inexcusably partial.”

Pablo Vila’s introduction to ‘The Militant Song Movement in Latin America: Chile, Uruguay and Argentina’ (Lexington Books, 2014) succinctly defines the complexities of a movement whose narration differs across the three countries discussed in the book.

The militant song, which emerged as a powerful movement from the 1950s until the mid 1970s, swiftly became an expression of “el pueblo” – the people. The political mobilisation of the masses, constructed upon the validation of subaltern experience and memory, incorporated traditional folklore, as well as the ramifications of poverty and social injustice. The triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 increased anti-colonial sentiment in Latin America and emphasised the importance of cultural dissemination which, in Cuba, was epitomised by its own variant of militant song known as “Nueva Trova Cubana”.

The book incorporates history and memory, as well as the processes that have constructed divergent forms of remembrance with regard to the militant song movement. While the militant song departed from common objectives – namely the repudiation of colonial and imperialist influences – the memory frameworks in Chile, Uruguay and Argentina differed following the brutal dictatorships and subsequent transitions towards a democratic framework.

Thus, while political mobilisation against oppression provided a common foundation in all three countries, the memory processes in the aftermath of their respective dictatorships reflected the variations in remembrance of the militant song. In Argentina, songs that nurtured the militant song yet lacked a militant element took precedence within the country’s collective memory. The de-politicisation of songs, aided by the emphasis upon aesthetics and poetry, became a characteristic of Uruguayan memory. On the other hand, militant song in Chile emerged as the strongest with regard to memory, owing to the dictatorship-imposed rupture on society.

La nueva canción chilena was the militant song movement that had a profound impact on Chilean society (Photo courtesy of Memoria Chilena)

La nueva canción chilena was the militant song movement that had a profound impact on Chilean society (Photo courtesy of Memoria Chilena)

Three phases characterise Uruguay’s militant song: the triumph and inspiration of the Cuban Revolution, cultural resistance to dictatorship, and the 1985 return to democracy. While the emphasis upon resistance to colonial influence and the incorporation of local traditions remained for a time, within a limited audience, exposure to the intellectual society and the international left by Daniel Viglietti aided dissemination. Viglietti, a radical Uruguayan singer who collaborated also with Chilean nueva canción musicians, stands out as the epitome of the militant song genre in Uruguay.

Uruguay’s militant song encouraged dialogue between the singer and the audience, placing value upon aesthetics and the literary quality of the songs as the primary means through which to combat dictatorship oppression. As the inspiration of “el pueblo” becomes a disseminated collective experience, political oppression is challenged through “simultaneous and complicit engagement”, according to Maria Figueredo. The prominence of aesthetics in Uruguay’s militant song, while failing to act as a deterrent for the exile of more radical singers such as Viglietti, enabled the manoeuvring and rewriting of songs in a manner that challenged authority within censorship restrictions. However, the shift in focus is also testimony to the later trend of depoliticisation, thus minimising remembrance of Uruguayan militant song and its fusion with politics.

Atahualpa Yupanqui, pioneer of the militant song movement in Argentina is considered to have vindicated previously inaccessible social commentary departing from the subaltern and the consciousness of the indigenous, marginalised for a long time by successive governments. A reflection also of the silence imposed upon the indigenous, Yupanqui’s militant song is immediately distanced from the “hegemonic collective imaginary”, particularly with regard to the song “El arriero va”, which is considered to be the first song endorsing critical commentary about social conditions in 1944.

As Carlos Molinero and Pablo Vila state in their chapter, the recognition of difference from within strikes the first challenge against the hegemony, thus bringing social inclusion of the masses to the fore. This also aided in the expansion and exploration of socio-political themes by other singers such as Mercedes Sosa, thus making the change from political representation to using song as a political weapon. With the singer as protagonist, the song is allowed the freedom to become the epitome of struggle – one particular reference and inspiration for the genre being Che Guevara’s utopian metaphor of the “new man”.

However, unlike the continuous experience of Chile, Argentine militant song was less widespread – a fact reflected in the remembrance of non-militant repertoire that nurtured the movement, rather than an affinity to militant song itself. For example, despite its lack of militant content, “Gracias a la Vida”, authored by Chilean nueva canción pioneer Violeta Parra but mostly associated with Mercedes Sosa, remains at the helm of Argentine remembrance of the genre.

A mural for Victor Jara in Santiago, Chile (photo: Wikipedia)

A mural for Victor Jara, one of the leading singers in Chile’s militant song movement, in Santiago. (photo: Wikipedia)

Chile, on the contrary, remains the embodiment of militant song. ‘La nueva canción Chilena’, incorporated within Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular campaign, was an active movement of political mobilisation and consciousness that rendered the masses participants in political events. Vehemently shunning commercial snares, the nueva canción movement proved formidable in countering imperialist culture at a time when Chilean society was riddled with turbulence, military violence and the resonating clamour for social change. Nueva canción artists willingly pledged their support to Allende’s campaign, with groups and singers such as Inti Illimani and Victor Jara becoming deeply involved the process of rendering the song a viable political vehicle.

Perhaps the most poignant of all was the composition of ‘El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido’ (The people united, will never be defeated’) in August 1973 by Sergio Ortega and Quilapayun, just a few weeks prior to the brutal US-backed military coup led by General Pinochet. The immense inspiration generated by the movement led to the detention and torture of several nueva canción singers such as Angel Parra and Victor Jara – the latter being brutally tortured and murdered in the aftermath of the coup. Other singers and groups, such as Patricio Manns and Inti Illimani, were forced into exile. Records pertaining to the nueva canción movement were destroyed along with other material that reflected the mobilisation of the subaltern, such as literature and indigenous instruments. The fusion of militant song with politics in Chile remains evident – particularly in the ongoing battle for memory and the challenging of dictatorship oblivion – a characteristic that is still enshrined in Chile despite the return to democracy.

Drawing upon valuable historical resources, interviews and a vast repertoire of songs, the book is a valuable reference that highlights not only the role of the singers in this enduring movement, but also the political dimension that is allowed to preserve its emotive aspect. A movement that “has outlived the historical conditions that engendered them,” as Nancy Morris states in her contribution, the relevance of the militant song, epitomised in particular by the Chilean experience of memory in relation to the epoch, needs a constant regeneration to avoid the pitfalls of the political periphery.

The Militant Song Movement in Latin America: Chile, Uruguay and Argentina‘ (Lexington Books, 2014)

Posted in LiteratureComments (2)

Dams and Deforestation: The Human Contribution to Natural Disasters

As the southern hemisphere Spring approaches, widespread areas of the Río de la Plata basin are still picking up the pieces after suffering a winter of heavy flooding. During June and July, at least 360,000 people in southern Brazil, northern Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay were evacuated after several of the region’s major rivers broke their banks, causing some of the worst floods in decades.

Disaster hit after heavy downpours in June around the triple border between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay – an area already soaked by months of unseasonably high rainfall – caused a surge in the region’s key tributaries.

The town of El Soberbio, in Misiones province, was hit hard by flooding after the Uruguay River burst its banks (Photo: Sofia Schiavoni)

The town of El Soberbio, in Misiones province, was hit hard by flooding after the Uruguay River burst its banks (Photo: Sofia Schiavoni)

Over 190 municipalities in southern Brazil declared a state of emergency as the Paraná, Iguazú, and Uruguay rivers overflowed, killing a dozen people and affecting around 50,000 more. In Paraguay, the country worst affected, a quarter of a million people were displaced along the banks of its eponymous river, which cuts 537km from north to south. This included 88,000 from mainly impoverished and informal riverside settlements in the capital Asunción, where many remain in temporary shelters today. Finally, as the swell moved downstream towards the Río de la Plata, thousands more were evacuated in Argentina’s north-eastern provinces and, to a lesser extent, parts of Uruguay.

Though the emergency situation has now eased after a relatively dry and warm August for much of the region, thousands of families remain stranded after their riverside homes were destroyed. And with river levels still well above normal in many areas, the full extent of the damage to infrastructure, livestock and crops has not yet been calculated.

More Prone

A wet autumn and freakish storms in June – some areas received more than three times the average monthly rainfall in just a few days – are widely accepted as the principal cause of the recent floods. However, several NGOs and environmental groups say it is human activity – namely rampant deforestation and the construction of huge hydroelectric dams on major rivers – that has left the region more prone to devastating floods when such rainfalls occurs.

“The jungle acts like a sponge,” explains Manuel Jaramillo, investigator at Fundación Vida Silvestre. “Water that hits leaves on a tree 20 or 30 metres off the ground trickles more slowly down branches and trunks and can filter into the ground. If the earth is bare, or cultivated year round – as is the case mainly with soy – it is quickly saturated with rainwater, which then runs into streams and rivers.”

The Atlantic Forest in Alto Paraná (Photo courtesy of WWF Paraguay)

The Atlantic Forest in Alto Paraná (Photo courtesy of WWF Paraguay)

According to Vida Silvestre, the Bosque Atlántico, or Atlantic Forest (also known as the Selva Paranaense or Mata Atlantico), once covered an estimated 500,000km2 of land in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. After decades of unchecked deforestation, mainly to clear land for soy production and cattle ranching, only around 7% of the original forest remains today. Not only does this make the area less absorbent and more vulnerable to landslides, but the excess run-off also carries top soil and sediment into the rivers, adding to the overall increase in water levels.

Concerns over the environmental impact of human intervention in forests and rivers are not new, says Hernán Giardini, coordinator of Greenpeace Argentina’s Forests campaign. Yet little has been done so far to control them.

“Deforestation in important river basins has repeatedly caused flooding in Argentina,” he says. “There was Tartagal [in Salta] in 2009, and in Santa Fe in 2007, where the local university reported a direct link with deforestation in the north of the province. These incidents keep on occurring, and we argue that they are not just down to natural causes but have been influenced by man.

“It is not about a lack of scientific information, but of political will.”

The Agri-Boom

The expansion of the agricultural sector has been a feature of economic development in the Southern Cone countries in recent decades. Driven by elevated market prices and the proliferation of genetically modified seeds, the territory used to plant soy has doubled in Argentina since the turn of the century, with Paraguay and Brazil experiencing a similar story.

Seduced by rising export revenues and pressured by a powerful lobby, governments in the area have shown little appetite to place stringent restrictions on the large agribusinesses that dominate the sector.

“The three countries see in investment in agricultural and livestock a means of development for a poor region, but in reality this implies serious environmental and social problems. It’s a problem because the same countries favour greater production by any means, even at the cost of the trees and the people that live there,” says Giardini.

Illegal deforestation in Salta (Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Argentina)

Illegal deforestation in Salta (Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Argentina)

There has been new legislation introduced in the last decade to protect native forests: figures show that the 2009 ‘Forest Law‘ in Argentina and to a lesser the 2004 ‘Zero Deforestation Law’ in Paraguay have had a significant impact in slowing the rate of deforestation in some areas, especially in the Bosque Atlántico, though Jaramillo notes that this is also partly due to there being so little forest left.

Moreover, even when improvements are made in some territories, they are often undermined by limited scope or weak enforcement. In Paraguay, the Zero Deforestation Law applies only to the eastern part of the country, where WWF Paraguay says it has reduced deforestation by as much as 90%. In the west, however, deforestation in the Gran Chaco forest remains among the highest in the world, with 236,000 hectares cleared last year alone, according to Guyra, a private, non-profit environmental organisation.

In Argentina, too, the progress has been uneven. Earlier this year, Greenpeace Argentina launched a new campaign denouncing the provincial governor of Salta for issuing decrees that would allow the deforestation of 120,000 hectares in territory protected by the national Forest Law. Greenpeace says around 400,000 hectares of the Gran Chaco forest have already been cleared since the law was approved in 2009. “There is a clear decision at the provincial level not to comply with the law, and a clear decision by the national government not to pressure the regional authorities to do so,” says Giardini.

Dam Politics

The other major man-made contribution of increased flood risks, according to environmental groups, are the large hydroelectric dams that line major rivers. Together, the Iguazú and Uruguay Rivers have nearly a dozen large-scale dams either in operation or under construction, having a major impact on the natural water flow.

According to Jaramillo, who is based in Misiones, after the heavy rains in June led to rising water levels in dam reservoirs, the energy companies were obliged to open their flood gates to prevent damage, sending a surge of water that can have devastating consequences further downstream. It was this that led to water smashing a new dam under construction (Baixo Iguazú), causing the Iguazú river swell to 37 times its normal volume and forcing authorities to close access to the Iguazú Falls for several days.

“There are many issues that result in the dams having a negative impact on the local population, even if they are not directly responsible for the flooding,” says Jaramillo. This includes the creation of massive reservoirs in forested areas: building one of the world’s largest dams, Itaipú, on the Paraná River involved flooding an area of 1350km2. “Changing the surface of the earth from one that can absorb water to one that contains water itself has a big effect [on drainage].”

The debate over the environmental impact of hydroelectric dams, which ostensibly represent a clean and renewable source of energy, is arguably even more contentious. In the search for energy self-sufficiency without carbon emissions, many South American countries have turned to large hydroelectric power projects, accepting the environmental and social impact on local wildlife and communities that are displaced by reservoirs.

Paraguay already generates enough hydroelectric power to satisfy its entire energy needs through its huge bi-national dams with Brazil (Itaipú) and Argentina (Yacyretá), both of which lie on the Paraná River. Meanwhile, Brazil and Argentina are moving forward with projects for two dams (Garabí and Panambí) on the Uruguay River, dams that Jaramillo says would have made the recent flooding much worse by slowing the discharge of excess water towards the Río de la Plata.

Even aside from environmental concerns, recent research suggests that these mega projects are not even a viable economic solution for developing countries. A data study published earlier this year by Oxford University revealed that building large dams typically take nearly a decade with cost overruns of around 90%. The report highlights that the Itaipú Dam, one of the largest in the world, cost 240% more than budgeted, while Yacyretá took nearly three decades to complete and was shrouded in so many murky political and business dealings that it became known as “a monument to corruption”.

It can take decades of full operation for these dams to recover the initial outlay, during which time the project remains vulnerable to economic or political crises that affect energy markets. The economic life of a dam can also be cut short if excess sediment carried in rivers – itself a symptom of deforestation – gradually fills up the reservoir and reduces the dam’s capacity to generate energy over time.

The Itaipú Dam from the air. Recent research from Oxford University claims the dam, one of the biggest in the world, may never recover the full costs of its construction. (Photo via Wikipedia)

The Itaipú Dam from the air. Recent research from Oxford University claims the dam, one of the biggest in the world, will never recover the full costs of its construction (Photo via Wikipedia)

Though Yacyretá now produces around 20% of Argentina’s electricity needs, Jaramillo says the communities in Misiones most affected by the dam’s haphazard construction do not see the benefits because the energy generated is not suitable for the local power infrastructure.

“The energy produced by flooding rivers in Misiones goes to feed cities like Rosario or Buenos Aires,” he says. “It would be more logical and useful for the development of the local economy to use smaller hydro projects to generate energy for local residents and industry but without affecting large areas of land or involving astronomical constructions.”

Preparing for the Future

According to forecasts from the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), rainfall anomalies (positive or negative) will be larger for tropical areas of Latin America, while the frequency and intensity of weather extremes is likely to increase. The region is already bracing itself for the possibility of an El Niño event later this year, which meteorologists say could lead to above-average rainfall and accentuate the threat of extreme downpours in the Spring and Summer months.

A man uses a boat to travel around his neighbourhood in El Soberbio, Misiones (Photo: Sofia Schiavoni)

A man uses a boat to travel around his neighbourhood in El Soberbio, Misiones (Photo: Sofia Schiavoni)

As the probability of recurring natural disasters like flooding and landslides rises, considering how human activity can exacerbate the damages caused has never been more important. Even more so as Argentina plans to increase its output of grains by 60% before the end of the decade, a programme that Greenpeace’s Giardini says could further undermine the Forest Law.

Moreover, estimated 412 large dams are planned or under construction in the Amazon basin alone, according to a report released in Lima a few months ago. The study concluded that this “hydroelectric experiment on a continental scale” could lead to the “end of free-flowing rivers” and “ecosystem collapse”.

“It’s a big challenge,” says Jaramillo, who nevertheless remains optimistic. “A lot of forest cover has been lost, but we have managed to reduce the rate of deforestation and create more awareness. The challenge now is to work closely with the political sector.

“We believe it is still possible to revert the situation, so that in 50 or 100 years the Bosque Atlántico still exists and society learns to live in harmony with the forests while also obtaining the necessary resources for genuinely sustainable development.”

Posted in Environment, Social IssuesComments (0)

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