Tag Archive | "cuba"

Cuba: US Sent Youth Undercover to Provoke Unrest


Flag_of_CubaAccording to an investigation published by Associated Press (AP), the US government sent young Latin Americans to Cuba using the cover of health and civic programmes to provoke unrest and political change.

According to AP, the project, overseen by USAID, began in 2009 and saw youths from Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Peru dispatched to Cuba in the hopes of “ginning up” a rebellion. They worked undercover, often posing as tourists, travelling the island and scouting for people they could turn into political activists. They were paid around US$5 an hour for their work.

USAID is said to have worked on the initiative with Creative Associates International (CAI), a contractor that was previously involved in creating ZunZuneo, a ‘Cuban Twitter’, also created to incite rebellion on the island state.

Drawing on documents and interviews worldwide, the AP found the travellers programme went to extensive lengths to hide the workers’ activities.

They were to communicate in code: “I have a headache” meant they suspected they were being monitored by Cuban authorities; “Your sister is ill” was an order to cut their trip short. To evade Cuban authorities, travellers installed innocent-looking content on their laptops to mask sensitive information they were carrying. They also used encrypted memory sticks to hide their files and sent obviously encrypted emails using a system that might have drawn suspicion.

However, there appeared to be no real safety net for the inexperienced workers if they got caught. “Although there is never total certainty, trust that the authorities will not try to harm you physically, only frighten you,” read a memo obtained by the AP. “Remember that the Cuban government prefers to avoid negative media reports abroad, so a beaten foreigner is not convenient for them.”

It was revealed that US officials privately told their government contractors to consider suspending travel to Cuba after the arrest of contractor Alan Gross, who remains imprisoned after smuggling in sensitive technology, but USAID and CAI continued with the programme.

Both ZunZuneo and the travellers programme were part of a larger, multimillion-dollar effort by USAID to effect change in politically volatile countries, government data show.

The travellers programme was launched when newly inaugurated President Barack Obama’s administration was talking about a “new beginning” with Cuba after decades of mistrust, raising questions about whether the White House had a coherent policy toward the island nation.

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Latin America News Roundup: 29th April 2014


Cuba and the EU Begin Negotiations: Representatives from the Cuban government and the European Union will begin today the first of a round of negotiations in order to normalise relations between the island and the European bloc. The first meeting, which will extend until tomorrow, will seek to “establish a method and a roadmap for the negotiations.” The following meetings will be held alternatively in the Belgian capital of Brussels and the Cuban capital of Havana, according to European sources. Cuba is one of the few American countries that does not have a cooperation and political agreement with the EU, due to a ‘Common Position’ policy implemented by the bloc against it in 1996. In 2008, both parties made the decision to reactivate negotiations, and experts from both sides have already met to exchange information on economic and trade issues, ahead of today’s meeting. Miguel Ángel Martínez, vice-president of the European Parliament, has stated that European governments are now better predisposed to normalising relations with the island, something that, he said, will benefit both Europe and Cuba. The EU ambassador in Havana, Herman Portocarrero, said that these talks will help “update the Cuban socio-economic model.”

Alemão Complex in Rio de Janeiro (photo: Marcello Casal Jr/Agência Brasil)

Alemão Complex in Rio de Janeiro (photo: Marcello Casal Jr/Agência Brasil)

Brazil – New Protests in Rio de Janeiro: Roads were blocked and a Pacifying Police (UPP) station was attacked as residents of a favela protested the death of woman yesterday. The 71-year old woman was killed at the Alemão favela on Sunday as she was walking home with her ten-year old grandson, after getting caught in a shootout between police and drug traffickers, according to the Rio Military Police. Residents of the favela reacted by blocking off roads and setting objects on fire, whilst two young men were arrested for attempting to set a bus alight.

Also in Rio de Janeiro, residents of the Morro de Chapadao protested the death of a 17-year old boy by setting five buses on fire, after making the passengers descend. The boy was also killed in a shootout between police and drug killers, though in this case the police have informed that the victim allegedly had links with drug dealing gangs. These are the latest in a series of protests sparked by incidents with the police, just weeks before the beginning of the football World Cup.

 

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Latin America News Roundup: 4th April 2014


ZunZuneo logo CubaCuba – US Government Secretly Funds Social Network: A report by news agency Associated Press (AP) revealed that the US government funded a social network called ZunZuneo between 2010 and 2012, “aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government.” According to the AP article, the SMS-based social network was secretly funded through aid agency USAID, which channelled U$S1.6m hidden behind a “byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account.” Through it, the US government would initially spread “non-controversial content” such as information on sports, hurricanes, and music, with the intention to later on “introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize ‘smart mobs’ (…) that might trigger a Cuban Spring.” On a press briefing yesterday, Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the US Department of State, acknowledged the involvement of USAID in funding the ‘Cuban Twitter’, as it was known, however she stated that “there was nothing classified or covert about this program. Discreet does not equal covert.” She also argued that “we [the US government] were not generating political content of any kind on this platform. We were letting the Cuban people do that themselves.”

Chile – Overfishing Leaves Half of Species in Crisis: A report by the Secretariat of Fishing has revealed that over 40% of the country’s major fisheries are under threat from overfishing. According to the 2013 review of resources, 16 of the 33 main fishing grounds are classed as either ‘over exploited’ or ‘exhausted’. Among the most vulnerable species are the anchovy, golden kingklips, skate, and alfonsin. “The situation is critical,” said Undersecretary of Fishing and Agriculture Raúl Súnico. “This report imposes on us a great challenge to recover the over-exploited and exhausted fisheries and create a more sustainable future for our fishing industry.” Years of poorly regulated industrial fishing have been blamed for the current shortages, with artisanal fishermen critical of authorities for favouring large-scale operations under a new Fishing Law that came into force last year. Fishing is one of the most important industries in Chile, which has the world’s seventh-largest commercial catch.

Mexico and Panama Sign Free Trade Agreement: The governments of the two countries formalised a free trade agreement (FTA) yesterday, which brings Panama closer to joining the Pacific Alliance. The FTA, which was 15 years in the making, is expected to benefit companies which will use Mexico as a manufacturing base and Panama as a gateway for global distribution, according to experts consulted by Mexican newspaper El Financiero. Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli also highlighted that, once the FTA is approved by the congresses of both countries and the Colombian congress, his country will be able to join the Pacific Alliance. “The incorporation of Panama to the Pacific Alliance Group will be greatly beneficial to all Panamanians. [Mexican] President [Enrique] Peña Nieto has promised he will support us in this undertaking,” he said, adding that “Panama would be the natural seat of the Pacific Alliance, being in a middle point between Mexico and Chile.” The Pacific Alliance is a trade bloc made up of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. New members must sign FTAs with all existing members in order to join in; in the case of Panama, the country only needs to finalise its FTA with Mexico.

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Latin America News Roundup: 31st March 2014


Bolivian National Assembly (photo: Wikipedia)

Bolivian National Assembly (photo: Wikipedia)

Bolivian Miners Protest New Law: Mining cooperatives have blocked major roads in Bolivia, including accesses to La Paz, in protest again a modification to the Mining Law passed by the Chamber of Deputies. The new law, which must still be voted in the Senate, establishes that only the Bolivian state can sign contracts with private investors to exploit natural resources, effectively banning cooperatives -which have special tax benefits- from doing so. “If mining cooperatives sign contracts with private parties, they will become companies and will lose their ‘cooperative’ category,” said Mining Minister Mario Virreira, who justified the amendment to the law by explaining that “there is the risk that, once again, multinational capitals will enter Bolivia without any state control.” The National Federation of Mining Cooperatives, however, oppose the modification and threatened to paralyse the country “until we achieve our aim, which is to have a mining law consistent with our daily work,” said its president Alejandro Santos. The independent mining sector, made up of approximately 100,000 miners, is a traditional ally of the Bolivian government.

Cuba Approves New Foreign Investment Law: The National Assembly in Cuba approved on Saturday a new foreign investment law to attract international investment and encourage development. The law will come into force in 90 days, and includes cuts and exemptions in taxes on profits, legal guarantees, and speedier processes for new foreign investors. The government said it would initially target investment in industrial infrastructure, agriculture, and energy production, and claimed that the country needs US$2.5bn in foreign investment a year to achieve its growth targets. Presenting the bill at the Assembly, Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca said foreign investment was fundamental to the country’s development, but assured that the new law would not undermine sovereignty over resources. “We will not return to the past or hand over our riches. We will never again sell our country,” he said. The law comes as part of a series of gradual economic reforms introduced by President Raúl Castro, including a plan to end of the dual currency system, announced in October last year.

Chile – President Bachelet Introduces Tax Reform Bill: President Michelle Bachelet today sent a comprehensive tax reform bill to the National Congress, with the hope of boosting tax revenues by 3% of GDP. The four main objectives of the reform are to provide permanent income stream to cover spending requirements, encourage a more equitable distribution of wealth, incentivise savings and investment, and reduce tax evasion. “Today more than ever we need to decisively and responsibly use this powerful instrument of development, on the one hand, and justice on the other,” said Bachelet. The bill includes a proposed increase in corporate taxes and reduction in income taxes for individuals, except for politicians. It also provides specific benefits for small and medium sized enterprises and incentives to encourage the use of clean technology. The tax reform is the first of three major policies promised by Bachelet, the other two being education reform and an updated constitution.

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Latin America News Roundup: 28th February 2014


The 'Cuban Five' (photo: Wikipedia)

The ‘Cuban Five’ (photo: Wikipedia)

‘Cuban Five’ Member Returns to Cuba: Cuban intelligence agent Fernándo González, a member of the ‘Cuban Five’, was released from prison in the US and deported back to Cuba. González left the Arizona prison where he completed his sentence on Thursday, and was immediately turned over to the Immigration Department. He was deported and arrived at Havana’s international airport this morning. González was arrested in Florida in 1998 and sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2001 after being found guilty of conspiracy charges and for failing to register as a foreign agent in the US. Both the ‘Cuban Five’ and the government have admitted they were intelligence agents, but claimed to have been informing on terrorist groups within the exiled community in Miami which were planning attacks on the island. González is the second of the ‘Cuban Five’ to have completed his sentence. René González was released in 2013, whilst Antonio Guerrero will be released in 2017, and Gerardo Hernández and Ramón Labañino are serving life terms. Cuban authorities have indicated their willingness to carry out a prisoner exchange, swapping the remaining members ‘Cuban Five’ for US State Department contractor Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year sentence on the island.

Agreement Reached on Panama Canal: The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) announced the end of talks with construction consortium GUPC over the conclusion of the canal’s expansion project. The talks resulted in a “conceptual agreement,” which is still “subject to documentation, review and final signature by the parties.” As the agreement does not modify the price or the terms of the contract, the project – which involves the construction of a set of locks – must be completed by December 2015. It was also agreed that GUPC will pay US$100m and ACP will advance US$100m, which will enable works to return to a normal pace in March. APC administrator, Jorge Quijano, said that “We have reached a conceptual agreement that protects the interests of the Panama Canal, within the terms of the contract and respecting our position.” The conflict broke out when the ACP refused to pay cost overruns of US$1.6bn, which it deemed “exorbitant and unjustified,” and the consortium ordered its sub-contractors to abandon the work sites. GUPC resumed work on the project on 20th February.

Brazil – Supreme Court Reduces Corruption Sentences: Eight people who had been found guilty of corruption in Brazil’s ‘trial of the century’ had their sentences reduced by the Supreme Court, including Lula Da Silva’s former Chief of Staff José Dirceu. Six out of the eleven court judges, including two of its newest members, voted to acquit the accused of the charges of conspiracy, which will see their jail terms reduced, and will also exempt them from serving them in a closed prison, doing it instead in a ‘semi-open’ jail in Brasilia. Supreme Court president Joaquim Barbosa said that a “circumstantial majority” was formed specifically “to undermine all the great work carried out by this court on the second semester of 2012.” “It is a sad afternoon for the Supreme Court,” he lamented.

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Latin America News Roundup: 3rd February 2014


Salvador Sánchez Cerén, El Salvadorian presidential frontrunner (photo: wikipedia.org)

Salvador Sánchez Cerén, frontrunner in the El Salvadorian presidential elections (photo: wikipedia.org)

El Salvador Presidential Elections go to Second Round: With nearly all the votes counted, results indicate yesterday’s presidential election in El Salvador will go to a run-off on 9th March. Current vice president Salvador Sánchez Cerén from the governing left-wing FMLN party received 48.9% of the votes, and will face conservative Norman Quijano from the Nationalist Republican Alliance, ARENA, who took 38.9% in the first round. The winner will take power on 1st June and will govern the country for the next five years. Both candidates accepted the results and announced their willingness to form alliances with other political parties. Sánchez Cerén has already reached out to the UNIDAD movement’s candidate, Elías Antonio Saca, to work together in the next government. Sunday’s election had a turnout of just 53%, according to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, almost ten percentage points lower than the 2009 elections.

Costa Rica Elections: Residents of Costa Rica also went to the polls yesterday to vote in the country’s general elections, choosing new representatives in congress, new governors, and a new president. With no outright winner, the two leading presidential candidates will face a run-off on 6th April. The governing Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN)’s candidate, Johnny Araya, who obtained 29.5% of the vote, will face Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC)’s Luis Guillermo Solís, who obtained 31% of the vote. Neither candidate has so far spoken of potential alliances, but it seems likely the winner will have to form some kind of coalition to govern, as they will face a divided congress when they take power on 8th May. PLN received 18 of the 57 legislative seats, PAC took 13, with the remainder divided between five other parties.

Honduras – Diplomatic Relations Re-established with Latin American countries: The governments of Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador officially recognised Juan Orlando Hernández’s government in Honduras at last week’s Celac summit in Cuba. Following this, the three countries announced at the weekend they would re-establish diplomatic ties with the Central American nation after almost five years, when a coup ousted democratically-elected Juan Manuel Zelaya, leading to a political crisis in the country, and a diplomatic crisis in the region.

Cuba has Highest Literacy Rate in Latin America: According to a UNESCO report published on Saturday, Cuba has the highest literacy rate in Latin America. The annual report, entitled ‘Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality for All‘, highlighted the Caribbean island’s achievements, noting that 13% of the country’s GDP goes towards education, compared to a regional average of 5.5%. The report looked at countries’ progress under the Education for All global commitment to provide basic education for all children, youth, and adults, as agreed at the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000. At the forum, 164 governments pledged to work towards six goals to be met by 2015, and are working with development agencies, civil society, and the private sector to achieve the targets, under the coordination of UNESCO. In Latin America, around 10% of children of school age are not achieving basic standards in reading and writing, and 30% are lacking in mathematics. Standards varied widely by country, and within social groups within national borders, with the poorest often faring the worst. For example, in Haiti only 42% of young people from a poor background know how to read and write, compared to 92% of their better off compatriots. The report highlighted that if current trends continue, developing countries will not achieve their targets until 2072.

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Latin America News Roundup: 30th January 2014


Opening of Celac II summit in Cuba (photo courtesy of casarosada.gov.ar)

Opening of Celac II summit in Cuba (photo courtesy of casarosada.gov.ar)

Second Celac Summit Ends in Cuba: The second summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) ended last night with a declaration of the region as a ‘Peace Zone’. The meeting saw heads of state from 33 nations meet over two days in Havana, the capital of the country presiding over the summit: Cuba. In the closing declaration, Cuban President Raúl Castro spoke of the region’s commitment to deepen regional integration and of the “inalienable respect for each state to choose its political, economic, social and cultural system”. He went on to pledge that the region would resolve issues in a peaceful way “banishing forever” the use of force in the region, and fulfilling its obligation to not intervene directly or indirectly in other country’s internal affairs. The rotating presidency was then handed over to Costa Rica.

Brazilian Foreign Minister in Washington for NSA Talks: Brazil’s foreign minister, Luis Alberto Figueiredo, has travelled to Washington to meet with national security advisor Susan Rice, and receive explanations about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) spying on his country. It is hoped that the countries will be able to reestablish ties, which broke down after it was revealed by documents leaked by Edward Snowden that the NSA had spied on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her chief advisors, as well as Brazilian corporations such as the state oil company Petrobras. Rousseff’s government has said that the explanations given by Barack Obama’s administration were not satisfactory, and that the country was still awaiting an official response from the US. Rousseff cancelled a trip to Washington, set for last October, as a result of the spying scandal. The Brazilian government is organising a conference in São Paolo in April on internet governance, and the US has confirmed attendance.

Mexican Leftist Movement Aims to Become Political Party: The Mexican National Regeneration Movement (Morena) today presented a formal request to the Federal Electoral Institute to become a registered political party. The movement is headed by former mayor of Mexico City Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who ran for president in 2012 as a candidate for the PRD. Last Sunday, the movement overcame the last hurdle in their formation as a party, by celebrating their National Constitutive Assembly. It has also hosted assemblies in 30 of the 32 federal states, and registered 500,000 members. A commission will evaluate Morena’s request and decide if the left-wing movement is to become Mexico’s newest political party within 120 days.

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Latin America News Roundup: 28th January 2014


CELAC (photo: Wikipedia)

CELAC (photo: Wikipedia)

Cuba: President Raúl Castro inaugurated the second summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) today in Havana with a call for the region to tackle “poverty, hunger, and inequality.” After holding a minute silence in memory of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, Castro spoke of the need for greater cooperation to ensure lasting peace in the region and to use the abundant natural resources to eliminate poverty. The Cuban president also reiterated his support for Argentina in the dispute over the sovereignty of the Falklands/Malvinas, calling on the UK government to enter into dialogue. The CELAC summit will continue tomorrow with further meetings between the heads of state of the 33 members, who are expected to sign a joint declaration on dozens on regional issues before the rotating presidency is handed over to Costa Rica at the closing ceremony.

Nicaragua: The National Assembly of Nicaragua today approved reforms to the country’s constitution. The changes, voted for by 64 of the 92 deputies, include a removal of presidential term limits and redraws the country’s maritime territorial boundaries in accordance with a 2012 Hague ruling. “The constitutional reforms deepen democracy and the political participation of families and communities,” declared deputy Edwin Castro of the ruling Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN). Opposition legislators, meanwhile, criticised the reforms, saying they were designed only to extend the power of President Daniel Ortega.

Brazil: FIFA president Joseph Blatter reiterated concerns today about delays in construction ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, though added that he was “confident” everything would be ready on time. “It’s the first time a country has had seven years to prepare for the World Cup and there are delays,” said Blatter. Last week, FIFA gave the host city of Curitiba an ultimatum to accelerate the construction of the new stadium in the coming four weeks or face being excluded from the tournament. Meanwhile, social tensions have increased again following a protest over the high cost of hosting the tournament turned violent in Sao Paulo on Sunday. Protest groups have called for another rally in the city on 22nd February.

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Latin America News Roundup: 10th January 2014


President Nicolás Maduro (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

President Nicolás Maduro (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

Venezuela: President Nicolás Maduro announced yesterday that his entire cabinet handed in their resignation in order to allow for a reshuffle. Seven changes have already been confirmed in the ministries of University Education, Industry, Education, Youth, Sports, Presidency, and Labour. Many of the new ministers simply switched positions, thus providing an element of continuity in the cabinet despite the changes. Maduro said that “within the next few days” he will announce more changes “[to fight] the economic battle.” The cabinet reshuffle comes two days after the murder of a former Miss Venezuela and her husband, which highlighted the serious public safety problems facing the country.

Colombia: Thousands of people are expected to gather today in the capital of Bogotá in support of deposed mayor Gustavo Petro. The demonstration, called for 4.30pm (local time), has been organised via social networking sites and is expected to attract as many as 140,000 people. Protesters will meet at Plaza Nacional and march towards Plaza Bolívar. As the protest was being organised, it became known that Gerson Martínez, a 29-year old human rights activist who campaigned against the removal of Petro and for today’s protest, was murdered on Monday. Whilst his family denounced irregularities in the investigation, Petro went as far as to say that Martinez’s death was “a political murder.” Petro was removed and banned from running for office for 15 years by Colombia’s Inspector General on 9th December.

Brazil: The protest organised by favela residents facing eviction in Rio de Janeiro was ended last night after the military police intervened in order to avoid the protesters blocking a major road and a metro line. The police informed that no arrests were made and that the situation is “under control.” The protest came amid fears by the Brazilian government about possible demonstrations during this year’s football World Cup. In that regard, President Dilma Rousseff told some of her ministers that she is willing to call in the army if the police is unable to guarantee public safety during the sporting event. The government is also in talks with different social organisations which are planning to hold protests on 25th January under the banner “There will be no World Cup” in at least 35 Brazilian cities.

Cuba: Fidel Castro made his first public appearance in nine months on Wednesday night. The former president attended the opening of an art studio in Havana, as reported by the Cuban press yesterday. His appearance coincided with the 55th anniversary of the day in which he led the Rebel Army into Havana during the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Castro, 87, retired from the presidency in 2006 due to ill health, at which time his brother Raúl Castro took over. Some pictures showing him next to Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and Spanish journalist Ignacio Ramonet were published last month, however he had not been seen in public since April. The frequency of his regular columns on Granma newspaper, ‘Fidel’s Reflections’, decreased in the last couple of years. The latest one, which paid homage to the late South African president Nelson Mandela, was published on 19th December 2013.

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Latin America News Roundup: 7th January 2014


Augusto Pinochet and his wife Lucía Hiriart (photo: Chilean Congress Library)

Augusto Pinochet and his wife Lucía Hiriart (photo: Chilean Congress Library)

Chile: A judge has ordered the arrest and prosecution of nine former members of the air force for the 1973 disappearance of Etienne Pesle de Menil, a French former-priest and activist of the Socialist Party. Pesle de Menil disappeared on 19th September 1973 from the city of Temuco, around 800km south of the capital Santiago. He was picked up from his work by a patrol from Maquehue air base, which is now known to have functioned as a clandestine detention centre from the military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet on 11th September 1973 until the end of the year. The nine defendants have been detained in a Santiago air base whilst they await trial.

Venezuela: Actress and former Miss Venezuela, Mónica Spear, was killed yesterday in a shooting, in what appears to have been a robbery that went wrong. Her husband, Irishman Henry Thomas Berry, was also killed in the incident, and their five-year-old daughter was injured. All were shot inside their car, which investigators believe had pulled over because of car trouble. Spear, who resides in the US, won Miss Venezuela in 2004, and was in Venezuela on a visit when the incident happened. Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the world, with 45 deaths per 100,000 citizens.

Cuba: Dutch foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, has called on the European Union to ‘update’ its relationship with Cuba on a visit to the Caribbean island. Cooperation between the two sides was suspended in 2003 after the arrest of 75 opposition activists on the island. Dialogue began again in 2008, and Cuba has signed bilateral accords with some European countries, although the bloc as a whole maintains its ‘Common Position’ adopted in 1996, which conditions ties with Cuba to advances in human rights. Trade between Europe and the island has continued, however, with both the Netherlands and Spain being major trading partners, and such commercial transactions between Cuba and the EU increased 8% in the first half of 2013.

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In the week that Estela de Carlotto, president of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, found her grandson, ending a 36-year search, we revisit Vicky Gashe's 2010 article on the human rights organisation.

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