Tag Archive | "dictatorship"

Brazil: Tribunal Rules on Crimes Against Humanity

The Brazilian Supreme Court upheld the amnesty law (photo: Fabio Pozzebom/ABr)

The Brazilian Supreme Court upheld the amnesty law (photo: Fabio Pozzebom/ABr)

The regional federal tribunal of Rio de Janeiro has, for the first time, characterised as crimes against humanity the murders and disappearances carried out during the military dictatorship (1964-1985).

An amnesty law has so far prevented Brazil from trying military officers involved in the dictatorship. However, the Rio court has given the go-ahead to the process against five officers charged with murdering and concealing the body of a deputy critical of the regime, Rubens Paiva, in 1971.

The accused had lodged an appeal before the second instance court to stop the trial, carried out by a first instance judge, claiming protection under the 1979 amnesty law. They will now appeal this ruling before the Supreme Court.

“It is the first time that the Brazilian justice recognises that certain crimes committed during the dictatorship are crimes against humanity,” said prosecutor Silvana Batini. “There were previous decisions in that respect made individually by some judges,” she explained, but never by a second-instance collegiate tribunal.

In a statement, tribunal member Messod Azulay said that the amnesty law —ratified by the Supreme Court in 2010— does not deal with crimes such as homicide and concealment of bodies, which fall under the criminal code. He also pointed out that the Inter-American Convention of Human Rights does not recognise amnesty laws in cases of crimes against humanity. “We have a specific chance to be held accountable to society, as it should be in mature democracies,” said the judge.

In 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ruled that “the provisions of the Brazilian
Amnesty Law that prevent the investigation and sanctioning of severe human rights violations are incompatible with the American Convention [and] have no legal effects.” With this ruling, Brazil became the fourth country in Latin America (after Peru, Chile, and Uruguay) to have its amnesty law invalidated by the IACHR. However, only Argentina and Uruguay have repealed their respective amnesty laws.

Brazil officially recognises 400 people dead and disappeared during the dictatorship.

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Chile: Three More Charged over Víctor Jara’s Murder

Víctor Jara was one of the xxx (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Víctor Jara was one of the fathers of Chile’s New Song Movement (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

A judge in Santiago has charged three more former military personnel with the murder of Chilean singer Víctor Jara who was killed on 16th September 1973, just days after Augusto Pinochet’s military coup ended Salvador Allende’s government.

Former military officers Hernán Chancón Soto and Patricio Vásquez Donoso were charged with taking part in the killing, whilst ex-army prosecutor Ramón Melo Silva was charged as an accomplice. They join a list of eight other former army officers who were charged in late 2012 and early 2013 with the killing of Jara, who was a singer, songwriter, poet, political activist, and member of the Communist Party.

“This decision has to be celebrated and we hope this investigation can continue,” Jara’s widow, Joan Jara, said at a press conference. “We know this marks a milestone.”

Jara was arrested the morning after the 11th September coup and taken to the Estadio de Chile along with thousands of others. He was tortured and ultimately shot dead, and his body, riddled with 44 bullet bounds, was dumped outside the stadium. He was 40 years old.

Jara became famous in the 1960s for his protest music. He was one of the founding fathers of Chile’s “New Song Movement” which was instrumental in bringing Allende’s left-wing administration to power in 1970.

The contrast between the themes of his songs on peace and social justice and the way in which he was killed transformed Jara into a symbol for the struggle for human rights and justice during the Pinochet regime.

Jara was one of around 5,000 political prisoners taken captive during the dictatorship, over 3,000 of whom have never been seen again.

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Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo Find 115th Missing Grandchild

Press conference by Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo on Friday (photo: Belvedere Alejandro/Télam)

Press conference by Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo on Friday (photo: Belvedere Alejandro/Télam)

Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo announced on Friday the identity of the 115th recovered grandchild, the granddaughter of one of the organisation’s founders.

Ana Libertad -the name given by her birth parents- is the granddaughter of Abuelas founder Alicia Zubasnabar de De la Cuadra, who died in 2008. Her parents, Elena de la Cuadra and Héctor Baratti, who were part of the Partido Comunista Marxista Leninista (PCML), were kidnapped by the military dictatorship on 23rd February 1977 in La Plata. Elena was five months pregnant.

They were both held at the Police Station number five in La Plata, where Ana Libertad was born. Whilst Elena remains disappeared, the remains of her partner Héctor, who was thrown from a plane into the Río de la Plata in one of the so-called ‘death flights’, were identified by the Forensic Anthropology Team.

Ana Libertad is currently living in Europe, and she underwent the DNA testing at her local Argentine consulate. The judicial case dates back to 2010, when the National Commission for the Right to Identity (Conadi) received an anonymous email with information about the young woman. The file was then transferred to the office of special prosecutor Pablo Parenti, who deals with these cases and who continued with the investigation. Upon finding out that there were legal proceedings in place, Ana Libertad decided to voluntarily undergo DNA testing. She gave a blood sample at the consulate of the country where she lives on 25th April, which arrived in Argentina on 8th May.

“This is not the first test that is carried out overseas. For years now those who have doubts don’t have to travel to the country. We have worked with the Foreign Affairs Ministry to create an adequate legal and scientific custody chain. Many tests have been carried out, including those of the families. This is the first case with a positive result, but it’s not chance or luck, it’s the result of years of hard work,” said Claudia Carlotto, head of Conadi.

Church Links

The links between the Catholic Church and the dictatorship were brought under the spotlight again as information surfaced on Ana Libertad’s case.

A survivor from the clandestine detention centre set up at the La Plata police station, Luis Velasco Blake, recalled a conversation between Chaplain Christian Von Wernich -convicted for his participation in crimes against humanity- and Ana Libertad’s father, Héctor Baratti. In a visit to the cells, Von Wernich told the prisoners: “You must not feel hate when you’re being tortured,” to which Baratti responded: “Why is my baby girl responsible? She was kidnapped and was born in custody.”

“Children have to pay for the sins of their parents,” replied Von Wernich.

Velasco was a witness in the trial against Von Wernich, where he demanded the priest give information as to the whereabouts of Ana Libertad. “My lawyer in the trial against Von Wernich, Guadalupe Godoy, was the first person that phoned me to tell me the news [about Ana Libertad having been found]. I was surprised. Of course, I am happy,” he said in an interview with the Buenos Aires Herald.

Though Von Wernich was sentenced to life in prison for a number of kidnappings, tortures, and murders, he has not been excommunicated.

It is also known that the family of Elena de la Cuadra had a meeting with the then-Jesuit provincial Jorge Mario Bergoglio -Pope Francis- shortly after her abduction, where they asked for his help in finding their daughter and granddaughter.

When in 2010 Bergoglio said he had only learned about the kidnapping of babies after the dictatorship ended, Elena’s sister, Estela de la Cuadra, criticised him, saying that “I think I have demonstrated with the letters we sent to the Episcopalian Conference in 1979 that there was awareness and concern; there are also documents about how the news of the disappearance of people and children were spread: no one can say they didn’t know.” Though she did not think Bergoglio knew where the disappeared were, “he has a lot to say about what happened and about the mechanism they used, and here’s the letter my father sent him [in the '70s],” Estela told newspaper Página 12 in 2011.

Ana Libertad is the first grandchild to have been found after the recovery of Estela de Carlotto’s grandson Ignacio Hurban (known as Guido) on 5th August, although her DNA test had been carried out over three months earlier. Abuelas have reported that the number of inquiries from people with doubts regarding their identity soared after Guido’s case became known.

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Estela de Carlotto’s Grandson Found

Estela de Carlotto showing picture of recovered grandchild 109 (photo: Télam)

Estela de Carlotto showing picture of recovered grandchild 109 (photo: Télam)

The grandson of Estela de Carlotto, founder and head of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, has been found, after a search for more than 35 years.

Guido Carlotto, now 36, is the son of Estela’s daughter Laura, who was kidnapped by the military, along with her partner, when she was two and a half months pregnant, at age 23.

According to local press, he currently lives as Ignacio Hurban in Olavarría, province of Buenos Aires, and is a musician.

“I’ve found what I was looking for,” declared Estela in a press conference today. “Now I have all 14 of my grandchildren with me – he will sit in the empty chair, his image will fill the empty photo frames.

“I didn’t want to die without having hugged him, and now I will be able to hug him very soon,” added Estela, smiling broadly.

It was revealed that Guido went in to have a DNA test voluntarily, as he had doubts regarding his true identity.

Federal Judge María Servini de Cubría, who broke the news to Estela, indicated that the accuracy of the DNA test is of 99.9%. “I gave Estela de Carlotto the news, she was very moved,” said the judge.

Earlier today Guido’s uncle, also called Guido Carlotto, said that “we told him that the test results were positive and he’s deciding what to do. We gave him all the time in the world to think about it and to meet with us.

“We’re very happy with the news. For legal reasons, all I can say is that he’s a musician and he did the DNA test voluntarily,” said Estela de Carlotto.

Remo Carlotto, Estela’s other son, said that the family is “thinking about Laura, my sister, and the struggle of the Abuelas,” adding that “today we got to live this moment of happiness which we shared so many times from the Abuelas’ house.”

“We want each step to be taken, we’re profoundly happy and anxious to meet him so he can reunite with the history that belongs to him,” said Guido’s uncle.

Guido was born in the Military Hospital of Buenos Aires on 26th June 1978 and, according to witnesses’ accounts, only spent five hours with his mother before she was taken away to a clandestine detention centre in La Plata. Two months later she was murdered and her body given back to the family.

According to the Abuelas, Guido Carlotto is the 114th recovered grandchild. An estimated 500 babies were taken from their parents while they were held in clandestine detention centres during the 1976-83 military dictatorship. Some, including Guido Carlotto, were born in captivity, while others were infants when their parents were kidnapped.

The Abuelas have gained plaudits worldwide for their efforts to recover the identity of the missing grandchildren, including five nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Abuelas were also influential in the discovery of new scientific techniques and DNA tests to confirm a person’s identity with 99.9% accuracy even in the absence of biological parents.

“Today we found my grandson, Guido, but I’m not going to stop now, just as the other grandmothers have not stopped,” said Estela. “This is a triumph for all of Argentina.”

Lead image: José Romero/Télam

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Uruguay: Thousands March Against Impunity

Silent march UruguayLike every 20th May for the last 19 years, thousands of people took part in the ‘Silent March’ in remembrance of the victims of the military dictatorship yesterday. This year’s slogan was: “Where are they? Why the silence?”.

Protesters walked down Avenida 18 de Julio in Montevideo last night, and were joined by president José Mujica and his wife, senator Lucía Topolansky. The march is conducted in total silence, which is only broken to read the names of the victims.

Óscar Urtasun, from the organisation Mothers and Families of the Disappeared of Uruguay, expressed his satisfaction over the response of the people that attended the march. “Our great concern is that all this will be forgotten and we need to fill up that space devoid of memory. And it’s still happening. People are moved and they participate.”

Despite the attendance of high government officials, including Mujica, Urtasun highlighted, referring to the march’s slogan, that “for us, the silences of the state are important, as it is not giving us answers and it’s not finding out the truth.” Though he admitted that under the Frente Amplio governments, since 2005, there has been some progress on the matter, he feels that what has been done is not enough.


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Operation ‘Para Ti': Spinning the Dictatorship

This is an exclusive English translation of an article that originally appeared in Periódico Mu No.74.

Her son disappeared when he was 17 years old. And she was reborn as a mother, activist, and founder of the organisation ‘Familiares’. She was kidnapped and tortured at ESMA and forced to pose for a fake article published by women’s magazine ‘Para Ti’ as part of the dictatorship’s media campaign, designed by a multinational that today works for Monsanto.

Thelma Jara de Cabezas today, at 90, with a picture of her disappeared son (photo: Lina M. Etchesuri, courtesy of Mu)

Thelma Jara de Cabezas today, at 90, with a picture of her disappeared son (photo: Lina M. Etchesuri, courtesy of Mu)

The most degrading moment for Argentine journalism has a date: September 1979. That was when the dictatorship spread to the media, using the services of multinational agency Burson Marsteller. It paid US$1m for the agency to design a campaign to neutralise the first visit of an international commission prepared to investigate reports of human rights violations.

We know now that Burson Marsteller was behind the unforgettable slogan “Los argentinos somos derechos y humanos” (Argentines are upright and humane) that then interior minister, Albano Harguidenguy, ordered be printed on 250,000 stickers. What we don’t know is whether the story of Thelma Jara de Cabezas should be read as part of this campaign, as one of its most successful and long-lasting lies.

A Mother

I’m sat in the kitchen of Thelma’s modest home and timidly place the recorder on the table. It is no coincidence that in this moment she shows me the mobile phone given to her by the witness monitoring programme in the trials for crimes against humanity. “At 2.30pm they will call me as a control check,” she warns. I note the paradox: the phone and the recorder are the same size. And on this table, they become a weapon.

The story of every survivor [of the dictatorship] is like a gun loaded with memories. Thelma fires them off chaotically. There is no full account, only fragments – shards of such intensity that they shoot across the table. “My head is not that clear. There are some things I can’t remember, and some that I can’t forget. For those, I pray.”

Thelma is a Guaraní princess. Born in Corrientes, she married in Ushuaia, gave birth to two children in Buenos Aires, and returned to the end of the world until deciding that was enough moving. After that she stayed in Carapachay, where she raised her two boys alone. She worked as a dental assistant; she was active, modern, determined. In the ’70s she had little time for politics, but encouraged her children to pursue their dreams. The oldest, Daniel, went to Mexico to study cinema. Gustavo, the youngest, became involved with the Montoneros group. On the 10th May 1976 he was kidnapped in a street operative. He had been active for just six months. And he was 17.

Gustavo’s disappearance turned Thelma into one of the founders of Familiares, the first human rights organisation to be born during the dictatorship. “Familiares was just a desk in the apartment of the Argentine League of Human Rights, at Callao and Corrientes, just above the Odeón café,” remembers Thelma. “At that time I did not understand why they didn’t want me to go to Plaza de Mayo. I went anyway and stayed there a while, to speak to the other mothers. They had a lot of ideas, they were always thinking about what to do. In time, I realised that my colleagues didn’t want me to go for security reasons. But I only understood that much later, the danger.”

The Guaraní princess converted, anyway, into a Montonero cadre. In the middle of the dictatorship, her courage took her to the Mexican town of Puebla, where in February 1979 she met with the Latin American diocese and was able to personally hand Pope John Paul II the reports of disappearances in Argentina. From there, she travelled to Spain to interview the leadership of the Montoneros. She was escorted during the whole trip – they had followed her.

Daniel Jara, Thelma's other son, testified in the ESMA trial (photo: Lina M. Etchesuri)

Daniel Jara, Thelma’s other son, testified in the ESMA trial (photo: Lina M. Etchesuri)

The Kidnapping

Thelma was kidnapped on 30th April 1979 at the entrance of the Spanish Hospital, in the heart of the capital. She was there to look after her ex-husband. “They brought him in an air ambulance from Ushuaia. Terminal cancer, moribund. It’s 7am – I know because just then a doctor came in and was angry that I was there outside of visiting hours. I go out and see a row of cars, one after another. I feel someone behind me, walking quickly. There is something strange in the car lights. What do I do? I decide to head to the corner because there is a bus stop and see people waiting. That’s when the person behind me grabs me by the hair, puts his hand over my mouth, and pushes me into a car. They take me somewhere – the ESMA – where the torture begins.”

Daniel, Thelma’s oldest son, adds some context to this memory. “At that time, Familiares had gathered a group of strong, determined women. There was Cata Guagnini (Trotskyist leader, two disappeared children: Diego and the journalist Luis Guagini), Lita Boitano (mother of Miguel and Adriana, both disappeared), Graciela Lois (her husband, Ricardo, was 24 when he was kidnapped), and Lilia Orfanó (who also has two disappeared children: Daniel and Guillermo), all women who worked hard and with a lot of character. Someone told me, I don’t remember who, that the idea was to kidnap one of them and they chose my mother. We found out why later: Julia Sarmiento, who was a member of Familiares, had been kidnapped and started to collaborate with the military in the ESMA. She went [with Thelma] to Puebla, and probably knew that Thelma was the only one of the group that answered to the Montoneros leadership.”

Thelma shoots: “During the first three weeks they tortured me, one day a week. I don’t remember if I cried, if I screamed, if I felt pain. Nothing, nothing: I don’t remember now. I remember that they took off my clothes. And the shouting: “Talk you old bitch!”. How long did it last? It wasn’t a short time, I can tell you.”

Did you pray?
“No, not there.”
There is no God there…
“No, there is nobody and nothing. Just them, five or six of them. There is Marcelo: I see his face when he lifts up my blindfold and says ‘look’, and puts the electric prod on my hand. ‘It’s burnt out from using it on you so much, and you do nothing,’ he would complain, and I would be tortured for it. Afterwards, some other survivors told me that when I was in the torture chamber, they were in a room nearby and the lights would flicker, because when they turned up the machine it would lower the tension. They also told me that they saw Marcelo come out sweating, soaked through, complaining about how I was making him work so hard. Marcelo kidnapped me and tortured me. I later found out he was the one who followed me to Puebla and Spain. He was also the one who accompanied me to Uruguay to give an interview to a newspaper while he sat across the table – in the bar where I gave the interview to the magazine, Para Ti.”

Marcelo is Ricardo Miguel Cavallo, sentenced to life in prison on 26th October 2011, in the first trial for crimes committed at the ESMA. Another of Thelma’s torturers was the naval doctor Carlos Octavio Capdevilla and nurse Juan Barrionuevo, who at the time of his arrest was a provincial deputy in charge of the Health Commission in the Tierra del Fuego legislature.

Thelma shoots again: “After torturing me they would throw me down on a blanket on the floor. They would say ‘no food or water for this one for 72 hours’. My eyes are blindfolded. I hear the sound of a sweet wrapper. I remember that one of the guards, the youngest, eats sugary sweets called Media Hora. He doesn’t say anything. There is just the noise of the wrapper – close, as though he made the sound right next to my ear.”

Thelma Jara in her kitchen with a list of names she prays for every day. (photo: Lina M. Etchesuri)

Thelma Jara in her kitchen with a list of names she prays for every day. (photo: Lina M. Etchesuri)

The Agency

It was the unmentionable José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz who recommended the military junta hire international agency Burson Marsteller to counteract the reports that the Mothers [of Plaza de Mayo] and families of disappeared managed to publish in forums and the international media. His right-hand man, Walter Klein, then head of economic coordination and planning, travelled to New York to meet Victor Emmanuel, responsible for the Argentine ‘account’. Emmanuel admitted his role in the design of the campaign for the Argentine dictatorship in an interview with Marguerite Feitlowitz that was published in 1998 in her book ‘A Lexicon of Terror’, which cites Thelma’s case extensively. In the interview, Emmanuel justifies his actions: “The violence was necessary to open up the protectionist, statist economy. Nobody invests in a country embroiled in a civil war,” he says, also admitting that “many innocent people were probably murdered” and adding that “given the situation, it required a lot of effort.”

From that era, only the octogenarian founder, Harold Burson, remains at Burson Marsteller. In a recent interview, he explained his company’s area of expertise: “A PR agency buys spaces in the media to send a direct message. We are dedicated to creating areas of influence, be it through people or media. Our goal is to narrate our client’s story so as to rise above their critics and make them see things from our point of view.”

Burson Marsteller’s specialty is crime. Some examples:

1. The Nigerian government hired the firm in the late 1960s to refute accusations of genocide in Biafra.
2. During the rule of dictator Nicolae Causcescu, the company successfully assisted Romania’s efforts to become the preferred trade partner of the US. The campaign included a visit to Romania by television’s NBC Today, for a show that lasted a full week.
3. It represented Union Carbide Corporation, which makes Eveready batteries, as it faced its responsibility for the 1994 disaster in Bhopal, India, which caused the death of at least 2,000 employees and people living near the factory.
4. In the ’90s it specialised in training executives and managers of multinational oil companies in methods of communicating to the public after spills and explosions.

Harold Burson says he has a limit: his firm does not accept campaigns that favour the decriminalisation of abortion. When his interviewer reminds him of his past with Argentina’s dictatorship, Burson responds: “That’s correct, but we did not interfere in internal politics.”

The objective of the work Burson Marsteller did for the dictatorship was something else: to design a campaign to discredit the report that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the OAS was going to release to the world after its visit to Argentina.

The IACHR was in Buenos Aires from 7th to 10th September 1979, in Córdoba for 10th-14th, in Tucuman for 14th-15th, and then passed through Rosario on its way back to the capital. It visited the clandestine detention centres that had already been dismantled – La Rivera and La Perla in Córdoba and El Atlético and El Olimpo, in Buenos Aires. The Commission also visited the ESMA, and for that reason the kidnapped prisoners were transferred.

Thelma fires: “They take us to Tigre. There is a large group of us in a bunker, underground. There, I find the husband of a niece of mine. I know because I cook for everybody – other girls also cook – but the second or third time I cook I hear a voice shouting from the bunker: ‘Thelma made this one as it has the smooth taste of her cooking’. It’s Eduardo, my niece’s husband.”

They were in El Silencio, the island in Tigre that Monseñor Emilio Graselli sold to the ESMA ‘gang’, according to the investigation published by Horacio Vertbitsky. “In that book,” says Daniel, Thelma’s son, “Vertbitsky writes three times that my mother gave an interview to ‘Para Ti’ magazine. She didn’t give it, they forced her to – that’s very different. I called him several times to clarify this, but he never answered me.”

Thelma was one of the last to arrive on the island. Cavallo and the ESMA gang had taken her with false documents to Uruguay to pose for a fake interview that was published on 22nd August 1979 in the false newspaper News World, part of the Unification Church cult. The article included the phrase: “I’ve been kidnapped by the Montoneros”.

The article was reproduced by the official state new agency, Télam, and several local newspapers that published it as fact. In this way, the dictatorship preempted the reports of Thelma’s disappearance that would be filed a few days later by Familiares in a meeting it had with the IACHR. Carlos Muñoz, another ESMA survivor transferred to the island, testified in the trial: “Orlando González, alias ‘Hormiga’, who was photographer for the Navy Club, took the photos of Thelma in Uruguay, which I developed, where she was shown in typical places in Montevideo, as though in some kind of exile.”

Thelma in the 'fake' article in Para Ti magazine in 1979 (photo courtesy of Mu)

Thelma in the ‘fake’ article in Para Ti magazine in 1979 (photo courtesy of Mu)

The Operation

The same day that the IACHR arrived in Buenos Aires, Para Ti magazine published on its cover a fake report with the headline ‘The Mother of a Dead Subversive Talks’. Five pages, several photos, and one argument: a mother discredits the accusations of the Mothers.

When Thelma gave an extensive testimony in the trial of the ex-commanders of the dictatorship, on 24th July 1985, she detailed that before that interview she was taken to a hairdresser on Av. Cabildo. Then they bought her clothes in Once. The interview was held in Cafe Selquet, in the Belgrano neighbourhood. The byline of the article belongs to Eduardo Scola and Tito La Penna was the photographer. Both testified as witnesses in the investigation into the crime committed with this fake report.

Thelma shoots: “They don’t give me any explanation. They tell me that Para Ti wants to know some things. They tidy me up a bit. The journalist puts a recorder on the table and asks me two or three questions that have nothing to do with anything. All very dry. The photographer is standing; he moves around, and looks nervous. It’s all very quick. Afterwards I see that in ESMA everyone has the magazine. They pass it around – ‘look’, they say. They don’t show me. But something happens after the article. They take me to an office where every day I have to copy out something – clips from newspapers, with some paragraphs highlighted. I have to copy out these paragraphs by hand. It’s crazy. I think it’s just a way to keep us there, obeying, like slaves. This goes on for a long time, quite a few months. In that office, with the door closed. One day the door flies opens suddenly and a young officer shouts at me: ‘You must hate us for what we have done to you’. I tell him: ‘I don’t think that. I don’t hate. I just feel a great pain, for you and for us.”

What did they do to you with that report?
“I didn’t know while I was kidnapped nor for a long time after coming out, because I had never read Para Ti.”


Thelma realised what they had done months after being released, on 7th December 1979. Her son, Daniel, who had returned to Argentina to form part of the so-called ‘counter offensive’ [by the Montoneros] was detained. Thelma heard the news from Cavallo, who travelled especially to Corrientes to tell her personally. Outside the jail, as she waited to see her son, she was rebuked by the relative of another political prisoner, who shouted “Traitor!”. He had read – and believed – the article in Para Ti.

This time, Thelma closes her eyes and shoots: “Sometimes they hold dances. The guards, they like to dance. They put the radio or some records on – tango and anything modern. The guards start to dance. The kidnapped girls – they are so young – are forced to dance. And the bosses come, the ones that give the orders, and dance too. Like in the hall of a club or living room, they dance. And we watch, without saying anything. We never know how anything will end. Never. So we look at each other, silent, like watching a dream, a bad dream.

“Seeing those faces, so evil and repugnant, making sure they don’t do anything bad to us, that we don’t hit the bottom. Those faces, right out of a horror film. Terrible, so terrible. The effort to guard even your expression, because it seems like any gesture we make could serve as an excuse to harm us further. It’s so strange what happened to us. Not to speak, to observe. Not do anything that might give them a reason to make things worse. Hold it in, so that they don’t kill or torture anyone. Holding on, and holding on… To think now that my sister-in-law is going to ESMA to dance. She is retired – they pick her up at 9am, take her to ESMA, they have breakfast, talks, conferences, lunch, everything. And they dance.”

You never went back?
Never again.

Daniel, Thelma’s son, asks me if I think it’s possible that a torturer, a monster like Cavallo, could have come up with a media strategy like the one they forced on his mother. He connects the dates, the coincidence of the campaign designed by Burson Marsteller and that article in Para Ti, in the context of all the support that [the magazine's publisher] Editorial Atlántida gave to the dictatorship. He is aiming at the heart of press operations that are now prestigious: Burson Marsteller has just been named Latin American Agency of the Year 2013 by the specialist marketing publication, The Holmes Report. In Argentina, its brand new client is Monsanto.

Thelma has an altar in her room with images of Christ, Sai Baba, the pyramid of Plaza de Mayo, and the photo of her son Gustavo. Every afternoon she recites a long list of prayers that she writes herself for an infinite list of names that she chooses herself. She has a bundle of little papers where she writes the prayers and names.

I ask her to write my name, and the photographer does too. Thelma writes them by hand, for her infinite list. And she fires: “My son Daniel asks me what I find in this spirituality. Peace, I tell him. That’s what I need. That’s what we all need.”

I understand: Thelma’s eternal prayer is against impunity. And for the truth.

Translated by Marc Rogers.
lavaca logolavaca.org is a communications co-operative founded in 2001, and produces a web page, monthly magazine MU, and radio programmes that can be reproduced freely. Our home is the cultural centre ‘MU Punto de Encuentro’, at Hipólito Yrigoyen 1440, Congreso, Buenos Aires.






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Army Chief Denies ‘Irregularities’ in Kidnapping Investigation

César Milani after being promoted by the president (Photo: Tito La Penna/Télam/dsl)

César Milani after being promoted by the president (Photo: Tito La Penna/Télam/dsl)

Army Chief César Milani has denied receiving any special treatment or immunity in the investigation into his alleged role in the kidnapping and torture of Ramón Olivera and his father, Alfredo, in 1977.

In an official press release issued yesterday, Milani rejected claims made by the Centre of Legal and Social Studies (CELS) that his testimony and defence was given more weight than those of the victims. “It is false that, for being the current army chief, I am afforded impunity or the possibility to be tried under a different standard of proof,” said Milani.

On Saturday, CELS reported that there were “serious irregularities” in the Milani case in La Rioja after the prosecutor Michel Horacio Salman called for the investigation into the army chief to be closed because the acts of which he is being accused are not considered crimes.

Milani, who in 1977 was a sub-lieutenant based in La Rioja, has been named by Ramón Olivera on several occasions as being the person that transferred him from a clandestine detention centre to the courts in La Rioja. In July 2013, Olivera also declared that he recognised Milani as leading the operation to kidnap his father, Alfredo.

However, Salman determined that the accusations of Milani’s involvement in the detention of Olivera were “unfounded”, and that participating in the transfer of prisoners as ordered by a federal judge was not a crime. In response, CELS said that this gave validity to anti-subversive legislation approved in the 1970s that has since been repealed.

“Salman is the third prosecutors to be involved in the case. He has not pushed the investigation forward, and only three months after taking the case he asks judge Daniel Herrera Piedrabuena to close it,” read the statement from CELS, which also published a detailed and critical analysis of Salman’s actions.

The organisation concluded that if the request to close the investigation was upheld by the judge, it would mark “the biggest setback since the reopening of trials for crimes against humanity in 2001.”



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Brazil: Dictatorship Trial to go Ahead

The incident took place during the regime of João Figueiredo, Brazil's last military leader (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

The incident took place during the regime of João Figueiredo, Brazil’s last military leader (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

For the first time, Brazil’s judiciary will open criminal proceedings against five military and one police officer for events that occurred during the country’s 1964-85 dictatorship.

The group are accused of a foiled bomb attack on a Rio de Janeiro convention centre on 30th April 1981, where 20,000 people were gathered for a Labour Day concert. However, the bomb exploded prematurely, inside the car of one of the agents, killing him and wounding another, Colonel Wilson Luiz Chaves Machado, one of the accused. At the time, the military junta blamed the attack on the radical left.

Judge Ana Paula Vieria de Carvalho has allowed the prosecution to move forward with the charges of manslaughter, criminal conspiracy, and transporting of explosives, among others.

She said: “The crimes of torture, murder, and forced disappearance committed by agents of the state as a form of politicla persecution during the dictatorship are crimes against humanity,” and as such don’t have a statute of limitations.

The Truth Commission, created in 2012 by President Dilma Rousseff, herself a victim of torture during the dictatorship, said that the decision was “a victory for those who fight for memory and truth in Brazil”.


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Argentina News Roundup: 16th April 2014

Minister Axel Kicillof announces inflation for March (photo: Florencia Downes/Telam/dsl)

Minister Axel Kicillof announces inflation for March (photo: Florencia Downes/Telam/dsl)

March Inflation Revealed: Inflation for March, as informed yesterday by Economy Minister Axel Kicillof, was of 2.6%. This number, measured by the new Consumer Price Index (IPC-Nu), brings the total for the year so far to 9.7%. Compared to January’s 3.7% and February’s 3.4%, Kicillof stated that March’s inflation “implies a considerable slowdown” in the inflation rate. The minister explained that “the slowdown can be seen in all items, except in Clothing and Education, where there’s a seasonal variation,” and that the increase in prices is mostly due to this year’s peso devaluation and its impact on the prices of machinery, imported supplies, and fuel and transport. The numbers, published by statistics office Indec, were lower than those estimated by private consulting firms, though the latter also reflected a declining inflation rate. The IPC for March published by the opposition in Congress showed a price increase of 3.3%, whilst others ranged from 3.2 to 3.8%. Kicillof doubted the reliability of these alternative indices, “because we don’t know absolutely anything about the methodology they use.”

New Bill to Regulate Street Protests: Pro-government deputies introduced a bill in Congress today which seeks to regulate street protests and pickets. The 34-article bill states that protests must be notified 48 hours in advance, and can only be cleared out after civilian mediation. However, security forces can dissolve demonstrations that are deemed to be “illegitimate”. It also states that police officers in direct contact with protesters cannot carry firearms, and that they must be wearing uniforms and badges at all times. With regards to other kinds of weapons, it says that “weapons that are not firearms can be used for the defence of authorities if they are in imminent danger, but never as a way to dissolve a protest.” The bill comes after president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner mentioned the need to regulate street protests in her State of the Nation address before Congress on 1st March. The authors of the bill said that “Against other solutions that seek to restrict [people's] rights, using the Criminal Code to increase penalties or creating new crimes, we propose to guarantee and to strengthen rights.”

Ex-Policeman Arrested Over Crimes Against Humanity: A former police officer accused of killing 19 people and kidnapping and torturing another 285 during the last military dictatorship was arrested on Monday. The man, Gerardo Jorge Arráez, had been a fugitive from justice for over two years and was using fake identification documents when caught. Witnesses have stated that Arráez, aka Nito, displayed an “excessive fondness” for Catholicism, placing a small chapel with an image of the Virgin within the Olimpo detention centre, and that he used to photograph victims after they were tortured. He is being prosecuted by judge Daniel Rafecas, who is investigating crimes against humanity committed in the ‘Banco’ and ‘Olimpo’ clandestine detention centres.

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Argentina News Roundup: 8th April 2014

Susana Trimarco (Photo: Natasha Ali)

Susana Trimarco (Photo: Natasha Ali)

Long Prison Sentences for Ten Convicted in Marita Verón Case: Judges in Tucumán today handed prison sentences for the ten people convicted of the kidnapping and sexual exploitation of Marita Verón. The harshest sentences of 22 years were given to brothers José and Gonzalo Gómez, considered the leaders of the organisation that captured Verón and forced her into prostitution. Daniela Milhein and Alejandro González, found guilty of holding Verón prisoner in their house, received 18 years each. Carlos Luna, Cynthia Gaitán, Domingo Andrada, María Márquez, Juan Derobertis and Mariana Bustos, all considered “necessary participants” in the crime, received sentences ranging from 10 to 17 years. “I was hoping for more, but we achieved some justice today,” said Susana Trimarco, Verón’s mother, after the verdict. “We are going to keep fighting until the day we know what they did with her.”

The tribunal was ordered with delivering the sentence by the Supreme Court of Tucumán, which in December partially overturned an original ruling to acquit all defendants. Verón disappeared on 3rd April 2002, when she was 23, in the provincial capital San Miguel de Tucumán. Sex workers in prostitution rings have spotted her in several locations in the country, including La Rioja, Tucumán and Córdoba, according to reports.

Proposal to Investigate ‘Economic Collaboration’ During Dictatorship: Legislator Héctor Recalde introduced yesterday an initiative to investigate civilian and business collaboration with the military during 1976-83 dictatorship. The bill, which is supported by the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) and the National Securities Commission, proposes establishing a bicameral commission to identify “those that collaborated with the dictatorship, and from which companies.” It calls for an in-depth report about the consequences of the economic, monetary, industrial and commercial policies of the dictatorship, and those who where complicit in their application. If approved, the report will be presented 180 days after the commission is created, and will pass any suspected illegal activity onto the judiciary to begin proceedings. Julián Domínguez, president of the Chamber of Deputies, said the bill would allow the country to discover “the civil face of the worst dictatorship in our country,” adding that over 600 companies were illegally appropriated by state terrorism during the period.

Heavy Rains Leave Flooding and 3,000 Evacuated Across Argentina: Days of heavy rains have caused flooding and damage across much of Argentina, with around 3,000 people evacuated. Neuquén remains the worst affected province, with up to 1,500 still evacuated as more rain last night added to damage caused over the weekend. The provinces of Río Negro, Entre Ríos, Catamarca, Santiago del Estero, Santa Fe, Chubut and Córdoba were also hit hard by recent storms, resulting in flooding and landslides. In the province of Buenos Aires, 100 people were evacuated after the Luján river burst its banks, while a collapsed road left a 40m crater in Ramos Mejía, west of the capital. In the city of Buenos Aires, which suffered mild flooding overnight, a lightning strike hit an empty LAN plane at the Jorge Newberry airport, injuring one maintenance worker. The bad weather has now moved on for much of the affected areas, though the National Meteorological Service maintains an alert for further rains in Río Negro, and parts of Neuquén and Chubut this afternoon.

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On the 8th anniversary of the disappearance of Jorge Julio López, we revisit Patricia di Filippo's 2011 article on the case.

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